Sarah Silverman Interview by Jessica Aymond

Sarah Silverman gets serious for “I Smile Back”

Sarah Silverman is best known as a stand-up comedian, writer, producer, and actress. Her satirical, black comedy typically focuses on controversial topics like religion and race. Silverman is so vulgar and inappropriate at times that it’s almost astonishing that someone could craft jokes like that. The combination of her delivery being both straightforward and oblivious makes her jokes seem that much more outrageous.

It’s very rare to see the serious side of Silverman, but she reveals it in the latest drama, I Smile Back. The indie film is adapted from the novel of the same name by Amy Koppelman.Silverman plays Laney Brooks, an attractive, smart and privileged suburban housewife to her husband Bruce (Josh Charles, Masters of Sex, 2015) and two young children. Behind the front lies a dark, depressed, delusional and different person. Laney has a secret side full of recklessness, shame and desire that she just can’t seem to shake even though she wants to be a good mother and can’t bare the thought of hurting someone. When she realizes the harmful effects that her actions have had on her family, she comes to a crossroads with how to move forward.

Sarah Silverman at the Chicago International Film Festival for “I Smile Back,” October 2015. Photo Credit: Bradley Todd.

Silverman recently visited Chicago during her I Smile Back publicity tour and a meet and greet was planned for the Chicago Film Critics Association at the Four Seasons Allium Restaurant and Bar. She entered with a sweet turned snide smile as soon she recognized her old friend Julia Sweeney (‘Saturday Night Live’) and Julia’s husband. Silverman dressed in a sophisticated, bright red cape dress that hit just above the knee, nude pumps and her hair perfectly pulled back in a high ponytail. I told her she very much reminded me of Lupita Nyong’o’s infamous red Ralph Lauren cape gown that she wore to the Golden Globes last year. Let’s just say, she probably didn’t think that’d be the first thing that came out of my mouth, but she seemed flattered and I don’t think she was faking it. She had a calm demeanor and was very friendly and (surprise!) open to talking about any subject with the guests.

Koppelman heard Silverman on Howard Stern’s radio show one day talking about her experience with depression, and it immediately clicked for her. As soon as Silverman agreed to play Laney, she texted longtime friend Josh Charles and asked if he could be her on-screen husband. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Although Silverman has been known to battle depression for the last 30 or so years and was able to connect with her character in terms of sadness, she said Laney was still a very challenging role and wearing at that. Laney was a good person with constant temptations and was just too weak to shut them down. The low budget film was shot in 20 days, so Silverman needed to be ‘on’ each and every day. No time could be wasted.

One of her favorite shows, ‘Law & Order’ allowed her to unwind after a long day of shooting. When I asked her if she’d be interested in doing another drama she said, “sure” with a shoulder shrug and a smile. While she didn’t seek out her role in this film, she felt such a deep connection with Laney’s character upon reading the script that she knew it was something she needed to pursue. It is clear Silverman wasn’t trying to prove herself in the industry, especially in a drama. The role was just a fit.

As one would imagine, we got off topic quite a bit and ended up talking about a wide range of subjects such as when she recently introduced Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) before a crowd of 27,000 people at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. She talked about how much of a surreal moment it was for her to be introducing someone who she admired and endorsed for the presidency, especially in such a political environment.

Knowing that Silverman has joked about how no one has approached her to create a fragrance, I asked if anyone has stepped up to the plate yet. She immediately smiled and was again, likely surprised to hear that question in a room full of mostly male critics. She talked about the familiar smell she inhales when she walks by her apartment’s laundry room and her local laundry mat. “I think there needs to be a laundry-mat-like fragrance out there, you know what I mean? There’s just something about that smell that I love!”

Silverman certainly expanded her acting chops in this role that was intensely layered. She also took a risk by diving into a subject that is so personal to her.

In 1998, the late comedian Robin Williams won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the drama Good Will Hunting by playing a psychiatrist. Even though, at the time, he was the funniest man on the planet, some of his best work was playing a serious role – Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poet’s Society, and One Hour Photo. Perhaps this is a foreshadowing of Silverman’s future.

Following the meet and greet, Silverman attended the Chicago International Film Festival Red Carpet Event at AMC River East before the film viewing, which was captured by staff photographer Bradley Todd. I Smile Back was featured at the 2015 Sundance Festival and is already receiving whispers of Oscar potential, specifically for Silverman. The film is set to release in Chicago on November 6.

Jessica Aymond © October 20, 2015