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Amy Sedaris Likes To Watch You Cry

Sedaris

First Posted: 09/02/11 08:54 AM ET Updated: 11/02/11 06:12 AM ET

Amy Sedaris does what she wants these days. The North Carolina-bred writer and performer has had her hands in everything from offbeat, Canadian television to classic stage plays, though she's still best known for portraying the perpetually grotesque and hilarious high school student and ex-junkie Jerri Blank -- heroine of the cult comedy, "Strangers with Candy," which she co-created with Mitch Rouse, Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert in the late 90s.

In the past, Sedaris has said she feels more free when performing as someone else, embracing flawed and uniquely damaged characters other female performers might not touch with a 10 foot pole. Recently, however, she's been getting a bit more personal, tapping into a deep-seated love she'd always held close.

Her first book, "I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence" -- which taught us how to throw a dinner party for lumberjacks, among other things -- was released in 2006 and stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for three months, while her second, "Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People!" came out last year. Her child-friendly decorating style was further featured in New York Magazine last May, where she discussed, for one, her fondness for "prosthetic skin disorders, artificial nails, and stage weapons."

But on Sept. 9, the prolific Sedaris will put on her Serious Acting Hat again, appearing as a dorm mother in the indie boarding school flick "Tanner Hall," starring Rooney Mara.

She spoke to The Huffington Post about the joys of watching other people cry, her hatred of hearts and her next dream project.

You started shooting 'Tanner Hall' back in 2007. Is it weird to talk about it now, like it's a brand new thing for you?

Amy Sedaris: I know, right? It's so strange, after all these years. I'm like, "Tanner Hall"? Oh, right. Yes, I hope I can answer some of these questions for you.

What drew you to this project originally?

AS: I knew I was going to work with Chris Kattan, and I'd never met Chris Kattan and I always liked him on SNL, so I thought: perfect. He'll be my husband, and that'll be fun. Plus it had two female directors, which was really interesting to me. They seemed really passionate about the story. And we shot it in Provincetown when "American Gangster" came out in the theaters, so I just went and saw that a bunch of times.

You've said in past interviews that memorizing other people's lines seems weird to you. Is it still weird?

AS: Yeah, I think it's still kind of weird to memorize a line, because you're supposed to "be" this person, you know? So then its like, if I'm really this person how can I be in the moment if I know there's just one line I'm supposed to say? It doesn't feel natural. I always just kind of want to say whatever comes up. Luckily [the directors] would always encourage improv, so that was fun.

Do you still feel more comfortable performing comedy over drama?

AS: Yeah, I prefer a line to get a laugh. Like a crew or whatever, I always want to feed off that energy. But then I guess the things that I watch or read are much more drama-based. I like to watch other people cry, see them go through some personal pain.

So you don't gravitate toward things that are labeled "funny" right off the bat?

AS: No, that’s a big turn off for me. Like if on the backside of a book it says, "This is hilarious!" I'm like, ugh. But if it has the word, "psychiatric," I'll buy it.

You've done so much in the past 10 years. Do you like bouncing from project to project all the time?

AS: I always like to try different things, get my own projects going, get my own people involved in it. It comes from people not thinking I’m right for anything else, and the fact that I just don't think I'm capable of doing what other people want me to do. I still prefer to do something with a character, because it feels more like you're playing. When the [character is] just supposed to look like you and you're you, it's like, what fun is that?

But you always seem so natural and funny when you're playing "yourself" on Letterman. Are you just really nervous on the inside?

AS: Sure, I still get nervous, I still get anxious. It's Letterman, you know, it's David Letterman, and he appreciates it when you're prepared. The minute you get out of the chair, you're working on the next time you do his show. They only have an hour with the audience and you just want to try to do the best you can. And I'm not a good storyteller. I always think I'm going to get interrupted or something's going to get edited. I think that comes from being in a large family so you have to get your story in really quick or someone cuts you off.

You've got a couple more TV projects you're working on. What are you most excited about?

AS: My hospitality show. Hopefully that’s coming up. It's going to be like [my] books. I would take it seriously, but hopefully it would have some humor to it. Lots of cooking, decorating, crafting. I grew up with "At Home with Peggy Mann," this [public access] show in North Carolina. It was all in black and white, and she never introduced herself. They had an exterior shot of a postcard -- this huge white, colonial house. I want to do something like that, where people come into my home like they're looking through a peephole or something. It's going to be my retirement show; I think I'm ready for it.

Have you re-watched any episodes of "At Home With Peggy Mann" to see if it holds up?

AS: I followed up with WRAL, [the channel that] aired it, and I guess they taped over all the tapes. They never saved them. But I talked about Peggy Mann in the press before, and somebody actually sent me part of an episode they'd had. I don't know why this person had it but that's the only thing that I know exists. A fisherman comes over to Peggy's house. Or something.

Your brother, David, writes a lot about you and your family. Is it ever strange that people know so much about your personal history from his stories?

AS: [David] always makes us sound good. He hasn’t said anything that’s embarrassed me. He'll send us a story sometimes and say, "Are you OK with this?" It doesn't bother any of us, really. But I sometimes forget other people have read the books and they're sitting and looking at you in a weird way, and you wonder what's going on.

I heard you don't like seeing hearts on any of your sets. Is that true?

AS: Yes, they're my least favorite shape. I don't like them. Like, when someone's writing a letter and they put a heart instead of a dot. I'm always, like: can you change that to be a mushroom instead?

Finally, a friend of mine has a very distinct memory of meeting you in a bathroom when she was about fourteen and you offered her a cupcake. You were also dressed as an Amish person. Do you remember the context of this encounter?

AS: Hm. Maybe it was during "The Book of Liz?" [the play she and David wrote together which was produced off-Broadway in 2001]. I sold cupcakes during that show. But I don't know why I would have offered her one [in the bathroom]. I think there's a big puzzle piece missing here. I bet she was trying to kill herself and I was trying to save her. Or maybe she was a he, and I had wandered into the men's bathroom and I offered her a cupcake because it was uncomfortable. There's got to be a reason.

"Tanner Hall" opens September 9 in select cities.

WATCH the trailer below:


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