“I’m well-versed in backlash,” Amy Schumer told me cheerfully.
The remark was in response to my question about how she felt about the online haters who after only viewing the trailer accused her new comedy, I Feel Pretty, of body shaming and of reinforcing Hollywood’s impossible standards of beauty.
Schumer was making the press-circuit rounds last weekend at the Whitby Hotel in Manhattan to promote the film that she also produced. After I complimented her on her orange outfit, she quipped, “Yeah, it’s the new black.” Her only noticeable jewelry was a glittery diamond ring; the Trainwreck star married Chris Fischer, a chef, in a surprise wedding several months ago.
Directed by longtime writing duo Marc Silverstein and Abby Kohn (Never Been Kissed, The Vow, He’s Just Not That Into You), the uncontroversial message of I Feel Pretty is that confidence and self love are all you need for happiness and success. Schumer stars as Renee, a meek and klutzy online cosmetics worker who aspires to be a chief executive at the company’s fancy Fifth Avenue headquarters. (Lauren Hutton plays the company founder and Michelle Williams plays her brainy and beautiful but vocally challenged granddaughter.)
Schumer’s character lacks self esteem and confidence, and believes that all her problems will be solved if she is conventionally beautiful. Her prayers are answered after a fall during a SoulCycle class where she whacks her head. When she comes to, she looks in the mirror and envisions the image staring back at her is that of the most gorgeous woman in the world. We never see what Renee sees in the mirror, while to the audience and to her friends, her outward appearance never changes. What changes is how Renee’s newfound self confidence alters how she sees the world and how other people see her.
Schumer (talkative, cheerful and not her Inside Amy Schumer persona off camera) was happy to set the record straight about the film’s message and its misplaced criticism.
Paula Schwartz, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): You’re working with well-known screenwriters Marc Silverstein and Abby Kohn who are making their feature film directing debut. Why did you want to make the film?
Amy Schumer (AS): I was going to be in the Barbie movie and to send that same message about confidence and where it should really come from. So when I wasn’t going to do Barbie this script came to me right in that time and I was like, “Oh, this is so perfect.”
MM: How did you acquire your own self confidence?
AS: It’s an ongoing, constant forever kind of battle to keep yourself feeling good. Now my baseline and how I feel about myself is in a great place and it’s really hard to mess with at this point. I couldn’t read a mean comment on the Internet and feel it if I tried. I’ve now done stand up for 15 years and I’ve been in the public eye in some way for 10 years. So, yeah, it’s practice.
MM: How has success helped that?
AS: Success affords me opportunities with the people I’ve gotten to work with. When I was shooting Trainwreck, if I had an idea I would go over to Judd (Apatow) and bookend my sentences with “I’m sorry.” While I was on that movie I stopped doing that. I paid attention and I realized I really have an important voice and I have a lot to bring to these projects. I learned my value within this industry, and so I think that part of it, so the success has afforded me those opportunities. In terms of getting anymore confident when I became a famous person? Definitely not.
MM: How collaborative was this film?
AS: I was spoiled my first movie with such a collaboration with something I wrote. Now I’m in a position where I can be a producer on these things. So yes, this set was no exception to that. It was really collaborative. (Abby and Marc) were very cool about being open to my ideas and when they weren’t I said, “Well, we’re going to just do them anyway.”(laughs)
MM: What kind of advice do you give to a young girl whose dealing with body shaming or not feeling good about themselves?
AS: I really hope they see this movie because I think that they’ll leave feeling great about themselves. The general consensus from the audiences that have seen it, what I would say to those young women — tonight I’m hosting a screening for just teenage girls—is don’t let anyone tell you who you are or what you look like. You determine your own worth. And it’s about who you are—as a daughter, a friend, a sister, a writer, whatever it is that you do. And pay attention to the times where you feel the best about yourselves and carry that with you. Only surround yourself with people that lift you up and make you feel good.
MM: How challenging was it to do the emotional moments in the film when you are staring in the mirror and tearing up? Did you surprise yourself as an actress?
AS: I wasn’t allowed to stand there in an actual bra and underwear—Thank god for Spanx!—and that was important to me to just have that real vulnerable moment where you look at yourself and you’re angry at yourself for not being born differently. Those are moments I think most people can relate to. They were challenging just to let myself go there and really live that out. To be that vulnerable in front of this crew of people that you’re going to be working with. Especially because this was early in the shoot.
MM: The self-esteem aspect is so strong in the film. How important was it to balance the comedy with the emotional parts and get the message across?
AS: I get frustrated with movies that have no point. Which is fine, but then don’t at the end try to say what the message of the movie is in one sentence. You have to really show it. When I read the script it was all there. It was like, oh this is such a great way of sending this message. It was really important to all of us that you never saw me actually looking any different. And it’s been kind of interesting to hear what people thought I saw. Some people are like, “Why does she have to see herself be skinny to feel good?” And I was like, “You don’t know what I’m seeing, what I saw. That’s what you’re saying.” There was backlash after the trailer came out and it just made me so excited for people to see the movie, to see that’s not what it’s about.
MM: Does the backlash bother you? Did you feel you wanted to respond?
AS: I’m well-versed in backlash. I knew that the movie spoke for itself and so it was hard not to respond. I’m a comedian, I’m a communicator. I want to be understood. I wanted them to see it right away, you know, but I thought, “Let me not respond and chill. People will see the movie and they’ll see that it’s not what it’s about.” I hope (I’m a glass half full type person) that that actually helps the movie. Maybe it was just a free round of press. That’s what I’m hoping for, anyway.
MM: Is there any difference for you to be in front of a camera or in front of people on stage for a live performance?
AS: No. Maybe there should be more of a difference. If I’m doing stand up or on camera or sitting here with you, I think I’m pretty much the same. Maybe something’s wrong with me.
Also, you know, I am the producer. So I have a voice in the edit. I didn’t want even one moment of myself retouched for this movie. You know they kind of do an actress a courtesy, saying, “Is there anything you want (done)?” And I said, “Absolutely not!” I feel very free.
MM: You’re a physical performer. How do you think of your body as a tool in terms of communication?
AS: Annie Leibowitz didn’t want to photograph me without my shirt on. That was something that I pushed for. People were divided about the photograph where I sit on a stool in just underwear. They had feelings about my body and that’s just how it works. I feel good about my body, but I have to hold their hand, walk them through my body.
MM: Do you think the industry is more open to change and diversity?
AS: I think it is changing. And I think it’s not because they suddenly got better morals. They realize there’s money to be made. Black Panther is breaking records. Older white men leading all these studios are saying , “Hey, this is undeniable now, people want to see people of color and they want to see body diversity and all types of people.” There’s money to be made there. When a magazine does a plus size issue or a diverse issue it sells the best. I look forward to one that’s not like a fanatic thing. It’s just more diverse and it’s not a publisher patting himself on the back.
MM: How will marriage affect your comedy?
AS: It’s just different. I think it’s evolving and I’m not talking about dating [anymore]. I’m sure I’m going to be talking about marriage. I’m evolving as a person and I think the comedy will too.
MM: Who were the women who had great self esteem that you looked up to when you were young?
AS: I loved Whoopi Goldberg and Lucille Ball. They really shaped a lot of who I feel like I am. My mom would never wear a bra or anything. That’s how I am too. MM
I Feel Pretty opened in theaters April 20, 2018, courtesy of STX Entertainment.