Brahms: The Boy II
It’s just a film that’s as blank as Brahms’ expression.
When the trailer for Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein’s “I Feel Pretty” launched in early February, it provoked a much more fervent reaction than you might ordinarily expect a three-minute, non-“Star Wars” trailer to receive. But the Amy Schumer-fronted film isn’t exactly a paint-by-numbers romantic comedy, and to many, the premise suggested by the trailer—that Schumer’s character hits her head, and hilariously believes herself to be supermodel-gorgeous—seemed not only unfunny, but offensive.
The reaction caught Schumer off-guard, but she’s not worried. “I think people will be pleasantly surprised when they see what the real story is. That it’s not about how disgusting I am,” she told me, sitting beside co-star Aidy Bryant in a Chicago hotel room in February. Throughout our conversation, which you’ll find in slightly condensed form below, Schumer spoke enthusiastically about what a film like this one—one that explores how damaging self-hate can be, and why the assumption that physical beauty is a cure-all can be equally as harmful—would have meant to her as a young person. But, in talking about the backlash to the trailer, she also found room for a caustic joke or two. After Bryant and Schumer acknowledged that, contrary to what the trailer might suggest, audiences won’t be asked to ignore that Schumer is a privileged, good-looking white woman, Schumer gave a wry smile. “But also, it’s very nice,” she added dryly. “I’ve never received that kind of feedback from the Internet when it comes to being in a movie.”
Audiences will have to make their own determination about the message of “I Feel Pretty” when it arrives in theaters on April 20. Whatever else it may be, it’s a film that rejects the idea what women can be pigeonholed or dismissed based on how they look or sound. It also places a great deal of emphasis on the importance of female friendships, and on how those friendships can fuel and strengthen you when the outside world, or your own inner demons, drag you down.
Bryant and Schumer spoke candidly with me about their own friendship, the problematic projects with which they’re often presented, what they hope “I Feel Pretty” will say to young women, and Schumer’s absolute refusal to simply “stand there and pose.”
You’ve got a terrific cast of women in this film, and I have to know: how did you not just stare at Naomi Campbell’s face all the time?
AMY SCHUMER: I mean, I did. How could you not?
AS: She really surprised me. She was so good.
AIDY BRYANT: I really agree. I was not expecting her to be a comedic little genius. I was like, “oh, she’s a serious actress.” But she was so fun.
AS: She really brought it. I went into her trailer before her first day of shooting and [said], “Let’s talk about the voice, what are you thinking?” And she said, “Well, I’ve been kind of working on something ...”
Because we could have taken that out. And she just did it! I was dying laughing. This whole movie, it was a real ‘none of this might work’ [situation]. There was a chance. But I think it did!
The story here, if we were to boil it down to a moral, it would be that confidence is something that you find inside yourself, that it doesn’t come from external factors, that it’s really internal.
AS: Yeah, that’s fair.
Is that something you’ve found in your own lives?
AS: Oh, hell yeah. Yeah. Every day, more and more. It’s like … you get confused about where your value lies. With everybody in the media, all the marketing and advertising, who we see in movies and TV, you get confused. For me, definitely in college was when I was really confused about my value. People make you feel like it’s all about how you look, and you realize slowly that it’s totally not true, and it’s all about how you feel. You determine your own self-worth. Some of [that] sounds like it would be on a fucking mug, but it’s true. When you’re a little kid, [adults will] say things like that to you, and you’re like, “um, you’re lying.” But then you realize, it’s really true. And I think [Aidy and I] would have loved to have seen this movie as teenagers.
One of the things that I really connected with was the friendship between your two characters and Busy Phillips’ character. It felt really familiar to me, these sort of tribes you form as an adult.
It felt so lived-in. Is that a camaraderie you had going in?
AS: We were friends before.
AS: We cheated.
AB: There was a moment where Amy[‘s character] said, “I stole all this,” and that wasn’t in the script, and I’m just fully laughing at her as my friend. Maybe that makes me a bad actor?
AB: I just was like, “Oh, that’s a good one, Amy!” in my heart.
AS: That’s really how I felt. It’s just your friends. They just trash you, and you can be real [with them.] I love that.
AB: I’m glad it felt that way. That is so, at least for me, so much of where I do find my strength and self-confidence and whatever—
AS: In your friends!
AB: In my friendships.
AS: That’s when I feel the prettiest, just being with your friends. [To Aidy Bryant] And even though the second this movie is done being promoted I will take you right out of my phone—
AB: [Sadly] Oh.
AS: Still, it’s good for the moment.
So there’s no friendship burnout [on this press tour.]
AS: How is that possible?
AB: [To Amy Schumer] Don’t you feel like we’re weirdly getting to know each other on these deeper, darker levels?
AS: I think we probably could have guessed all these things—
AS: —It’s like, you know, you fall in love with your friends, every day … I think we’re just proud of each other.
Is that what attracted you to the project? Were you looking for a chance to work together, or were you more specifically in what the story has to say? Both?
AS: For me, it was what the story has to say. Then I [said], “How about Aidy?” and everyone was like, “Yeah, would she do it?” And I said, “Yeah, just like, throw money at her.”
AB: And she kind of forced me!
AS: I did threaten you.
AB: I [thought,] “Oh, I’d love to hang with Amy over the summer, what a joy,” but then also, this is something I really believe in. It’s something we’ve talked about where we’ve both been sent scripts that are … demeaning, or dehumanizing, or whatever, and it’s just a joy to do something that’s not that.
AS: Where you get to play a human!
AB: A human being!
AS: You so rarely get to see women just play human beings, where they’re not just like, “He didn’t call!”
When you say that this is a film you wish you’d been able to see when you were a teenager, what do you think you’d have taken from it back then?
AS: I think I would have left this movie feeling really good about myself. I think I would have been able to hold onto that. In moments where you’re met with a kid being mean, or saying something to you— sometimes it’s not even people being [intentionally] mean. They’re just saying how they experience you, because that’s how they assume you live your life. What someone sees when they just look at me or Aidy is not at all the reality of our lives. We talk about how it’s like—we feel good. We feel comfortable in our own skins. It’s more about us comforting other people about our bodies. You have to explain why it’s okay to them. Seriously, people are like, “So … you just get up there, and everyone looks at you—”
AB: “And you’re okay with that?! Does it hurt?”
AS: And you say, “No, I’m a person, and I know who I am.” I think I would have liked to have seen [the film] as a teenager, in college, after college, and yesterday.
When the trailer came out there were some pretty negative reactions. Was that surprising to you?
AS: It was surprising to me, but it shouldn’t have been. That was an oversight. But I think people kind of projected what they thought it was going to be … They’re not at fault, because that’s what their experience was. [But] the movie’s not about a horribly ugly woman finding her self-worth. It’s about a woman who really struggles with self-esteem and feels really invisible in the world. That’s not an issue just for a certain kind of person. That’s an issue for people you would never think it would be [an issue] for.
AB: I think a lot of it was people saying, “How could Amy Schumer, this blonde, beautiful woman have these feelings,” and [that’s all] true. Amy’s character has a good job, she’s beautiful, she’s blonde, she has great friends, she has all these things, but she still hates herself. And I think that’s so true for so many people. So I guess, for me, that’s [part of] the point. You know? Everyone can feel this way, and ultimately, it comes from your brain, and not from the size of your thigh or whatever. That’s where you’re going to find your self-worth.
AS: I think we both understood [the reaction]—
AS: … There are people who just want their movie stars to look the way movie stars have always looked. That’s fine, and that’s out there for them. But we [gesturing to Bryant] really think, just with ourselves, how much we want to see more people of color, more trans people, just a more diverse group of people.
AB: Of course, yeah.
AS: That’s reflective of the actual population, you know? That’s what people want. And that’s why we need to get not just old white men to be the heads of everything. They’re afraid they’re going to lose money, when time and time again, it’s like, no, look! "Black Panther” is breaking records. There’s “Hamilton,” which I saw last night. The cast here is unbelievable.
Aren’t they amazing?
AS: Yeah! And that’s a really good example. People want to see this, okay? Evolve, because everybody wants to see a more diverse group of people, everywhere. And if they don’t, they’re crazy.
Do you think it’s fair to say that your perspective of the movie hasn’t changed at all, since [the backlash]?
AS: Oh, yeah. It wasn’t like, “Oh god, they’re right.” It was, “Oh, I could see how they could think that, but that’s not what this movie is about.” I’m not playing the ugly duckling. I’m just playing a girl with low self-esteem. There’s no question that there’s white privilege in this. I think we’re pretty realistic with ourselves, and we’re trying to do better, and be self-reflective, and evolve every day, but there’s no part of me that was worried about the movie we had made. It just made me worried about the trailer.
AB: Totally. I also feel like, clearly from this year, we know that this industry particularly is sick, in its relationship toward women and their bodies and all of that. So to me, I just think this movie is at least a baby step in the right direction, if not anything else, in a world of movies that, for the last 50 years or whatever, have done nothing toward this message. Do you know what I mean? I wish we could have change overnight, but it’s just not reality, and I do think this movie is a step in the right direction.
AS: It’s not perfect, and I would never claim it to be.
AB: What could be?
AS: But I think people will feel good when they leave.
AB: And I think it’s funny, and they’ll have a fun time. And that’s ultimately the goal. It’s not all about teaching lessons. It’s a comedy.
To that end, one of the scenes that really surprised me was the bikini contest scene. For me, I think of that scenario—as a woman, with a lumpy body—as just a nightmare. That’s a hellscape for me. In the film, it’s like a joyful experience for her, it seems really empowering. What was that experience like?
AS: Well first, it’s really nice to hear that, and I’m glad. [In the way that scene was written,] I just stand up there in a bikini contest.
AB: And just pose.
AS: And I said, “yeah, no. I’m going to do a whole dance, and talk into the mic, and do a whole thing.” And they said no. “We don’t have the time, we don’t have the money,” and I said, “well, we have to make the time and the money, because this is really important, and I’m going to dump water on myself, and it’s going to be a whole thing.” They said no, many times, and I just truly ignored them.
It was really empowering to shoot. I said, “Don’t touch a frame of me in this movie. I don’t want anything to be changed, physically.” And I think so far, people seem to feel good about it. You [as an audience member] get worried [for her] ... then you say, “Oh, she kind of worked it out!”
People were really sweet. I really appreciated the extras that day, everybody, the crew … [they] were just really encouraging. It was fun.
It looked like fun. Sometimes you watch things and can’t really tell, but it seemed looked like you were having such a good time.
AS: I wasn’t like [grand dame voice], “Give me my fan!” It was fun. And now I know enough about camera angles that I [could say], “I want this sweep here, and do we have this shot covered?” Really knowing how [it works], and what will make it funny and empowering, and not just fucking disgusting. Like me just fucking the stage.
Last question: do either of you have any idea who bit Beyoncé?
AS: That’s a fair question. And no.
AB: And I want to know.
AS: But trust us, we are also on the case. We’ve got a spotlight on the case.
AB: I need someone to lay down the facts so I can really start to process and draw names and eliminate, but I want to say on record that it wasn’t either of us.
AS: We didn’t do it.
AB: We weren’t there. We wanted to be there. We would love to be invited.
AS: It’s an honor to be accused.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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