Fans of the Comedy Central cult hit that chronicled 47-year-old ex-con junkie-whore Jerri Blank's rematriculation into high school are in for a big-screen treat as Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert, Paul Dinello and a veritable feast of famous faces bring Strangers with Candy to multiplexes in select cities (adding additional venues on July 14).
Recalling the decision to revisit the overbiting "boozer, user and loser's" unglamorous life, Sedaris says, "Paul, Stephen and I were writing a book called Wigfield, and when we would stop we would think of funny things that Jerri Blank would say. Whatever would make us laugh we would write down in a file. By the end of the book, we realized there was a lot of stuff in this pile that was pretty funny, and Paul thought, 'We should write a movie.'"
After premiering a rough cut at Sundance, Strangers found a distributor... and then lost it, resulting in a minor setback. As Sedaris amusingly tells it, "Some shifty people said they were going to give us money to do this movie, and then I guess it fell through as happens with shifty things. And then I was at home one day and Worldwide Pants [David Letterman's production shingle] called me. They had gotten hold of the script somehow and said they want to do this in, like, three weeks. They gave us $3 million and we went into production."
Putting in appearances in the Strangers feature which is in essence a prequel to the TV series, and again set at Flatpoint High is a veritable who's who of Sedaris & Co.'s Rolodex, including Philip Seymour Hoffman and Allison Janey (as school-board officials), and Sarah Jessica Parker and her real-life husband Matthew Broderick (playing a guidance counselor and a science-fair ringer). Sedaris, who had guested on Parker's Sex and the City as well as done a play with her NYC neighbor, describes their friendship thusly to TVGuide.com: "Whenever I need something, like nut bowls, I call Sarah, and she's always so thankful that I'm not calling her for anything other than that. 'I'm so happy you're calling me for this reason, yes! I'm so honored!' And she'll have like 37 nut bowls hanging off her porch for me to pick up. She's great, very small-town for such a big star."
As Sedaris landed Parker and the first few others, she admits, "You get hooked, you've got the fever. You're like, 'Who else can we get?' I wanted Willie Nelson to be my father I was like, 'How can people like Jerri?' and I thought 'Willie Nelson!' but then Paul had the idea of Dan Hedaya, who's brilliant."
Of course there in the mix is Colbert (as science teach Chuck Noblet), whose star has risen quite a bit since the days when he, Sedaris and Dinello penned the TV series. "I am so happy for Stephen," says Sedaris, "because [during the show's run] I'd get all the attention while he and Paul were 'chopping the wood,' doing most of the writing, and that didn't make me feel very good. So I'm glad they [Stephen and Paul] are getting their due."
Stephen and Paul also get a bit busy, as Dinello's teacher finds himself locking lips with Colbert's. "He's a generous lover, a lot more refined than I thought," Dinello reports of his on-screen clinch with the Colbert Report anchor. "I'm a little too eager."
Sedaris' press-kit bio, it must be noted, sums her up as "a 5'0" Grecian spitfire who hails from North Carolina" few words of which, save for the height, also describe her hellion alter ego. Explaining how Jerri came to be (and in that "special" way), the actress says, "My brother David [Sedaris] and I do plays together, and I use that look for every one of them. I just change her background. Paul said in an interview once [that] Jerri's like a rash, or a cold sore, and you never know where she's going to reappear. I'm like, 'That's nice.' But she's fun to play and I like her because she attracts misfits, and I like misfits."
But isn't it a bit disheartening for a "Grecian spitfire" and in person, Sedaris is one to be associated with a character so... so... unconventionally pretty? "What are you sayin'?" Sedaris shoots back at us in Jerri's unique voice. She then goes on to say, "I like to play unattractive people because they have a harder time in life. I also like people who are unattractive who like themselves, because when they come at you with those teeth and that face and they like themselves, you're like, 'Oh, god, get away from me!'"
As for Jerri's rockin' roll-filled bod, Sedaris says it's actually a turn-on for her. "The fatty suit brings out this sexual person that I would never play in real life. If I read a script and I have to kiss or touch somebody, I can't do it. But give me a fatty suit and an overbite and it's [in horndog Jerri mode] 'This Tuesday at 5:30!'"
With the Strangers with Candy movie evoking memories of her TV run, and now that she's obviously earned the favor of Letterman, does Sedaris have designs on a return to the small screen in a new bid for big-network, TV-comedy stardom? In a word, no. "Nobody's going to buy this," she tells us, "but I want to be on a channel nobody watches because I like being discovered. The good thing about Comedy Central is they never really got behind the show, and we were fine with that. [It's better than] getting in your face, and then the show's canceled because it didn't get certain ratings."
So for now, instead of cooking up laughs as a sitcom queen, Sedaris wants to just cook. "A hospitality show, that's what I'd like to do next," says the actress who has a cupcake/cheese-ball business on the side, is about to launch a compound butter for steaks, and has a book on the way, titled I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. "I cook and entertain a lot, so I wanted to do a cookbook with all my jackpot recipes in it," she says. "And I like to craft, so it has a crafts section.
"It's entertaining my way, my style," she adds. "It's basically how to put together meals, what to shop for, how to shop...." Meaning? "Like, illiterate people shop by labels. They see 'cherry pie' on the can of Crisco and they're going to think there's cherry pie inside. But... it's Crisco."