Jenny Slate and Isabella Rossellini reflect on the importance of improvisation

Debut in the 2010 short titled Marcel the shod shell, the titular Marcel is an adorable little stop-motion shell with a wide eye and an appreciation for a world much bigger than himself. Directed and co-written by Dean Fleischer-Camp, the short starred Jenny Slate (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Fleisher-Camp) as Marcel, and quickly became a cult classic. Now Slate returns in Marcel’s little shoes, bringing the character and his world to the big screen in Marcel the shod shell alongside some welcome new faces, like Isabella Rossellini as the last surviving member of Marcel’s family, Connie.

During an exclusive interview with CBR before A24 Marcel the shell with shoes Premiering in theaters on June 24, Slate and Rossellini reflected on the importance of improvisation in forging the bond between Marcel and his grandmother Connie. They also discussed the challenge of not letting critical response – positive or negative – define the release of such a moving story.

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CBR: What was it like working on this film together and discovering the bond that defines Marcel and Connie’s relationship?

Isabella Rossellini: For me, it was a whole new experience. Because usually you get a script, you memorize the lines, you try to make them sound natural and it’s spontaneous. That’s what an actor does. In this situation, there was a glimpse of history. But Jennifer and I improvised a lot. So it was a completely different process. It’s fun and fun and adventurous and curious, and I didn’t know what to expect. A lot of time passed between the improvisation and the moment when the film was finally made because they first had to turn up the sound. And then they had to shoot live action, then stop-motion. So it took a long time.

Jenny Slate: I love to improvise. I just felt very honored to have Isabella join me. It was really, Isabella, like when you first came in, you said, “Okay, let’s go.” It’s so exciting to work with an actor that you really respect, but you have to create the moment together. When you have a script and you show up, and there’s an actor you like so much, you can rely on the scripts — but when you’re really just each other to make sure as the story emerges, you know that the feeling of connection is a very great privilege. The story is as it is, not just because of what I add as Marcel, but because of the irreplaceable thing Isabella adds as Nana Connie.

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I loved the movie, and I’m not the only one — as of this writing, it’s currently 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. How does it feel to see the response to the film being so positive?

Isabella Rossellini: So far so good. I saw it being adored by journalists, friends who saw it. But of course, it is this weekend that we will see.

Jenny Slate: Yeah, I would say that’s so true. I think for the most part keep to yourself what you know you liked about the job and why you are doing it. Because it wouldn’t be such a tragedy if, right now, I felt good. But you know, a lot of people couldn’t make it to the theater this weekend. And then all of a sudden, I threw it all away. You know, that seems really shortsighted. But I think in the end, the fact that everyone really likes it, that’s very good, but it’s also up to them. I don’t really know what to do with it. I know what to do when someone says “you got the part!” So I feel proud, then I get all my energy going. I can’t wait to go to work. I look forward to putting that energy into this art.

But it’s always been difficult for me to properly receive a compliment. I think it’s the same thing that suddenly I strongly believe that people should enjoy this movie, otherwise I wouldn’t have done it at all. I don’t really like doing anything. We did it on purpose, and that’s good, but I don’t know exactly what to do with it, it’s not more than what I already do. I enjoy my daily life with my little baby and my husband, and I live in Massachusetts. You know, it’s kind of where I am.

Enjoy Marcel the Shell’s Sweet Ride with Shoes On in theaters June 24.

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