I’m very proud to be from Michigan. I grew up in Huntington Woods, which is a suburb just outside of Detroit, but also very much a world away. It’s a small little town that has that small town feel, but in the middle of a very bustling metropolitan area.
I’m from a super Jewish area where there were three bar and bat mitzvahs a weekend and people competed for who was going to which one. This might be an old statistic at this point but, historically, Detroit has the densest population of Jews in the United States outside of New York and Los Angeles. I am proudly a part of that. Yeah, I love Michigan.
I’m from a super Jewish area where there were three bar and bat mitzvahs a weekend.
My sister and I were raised with theater and movies and TV, and we were constantly playing dress-up, performing for each other and singing. It’s been in my bones for as long as I can remember.
I’m actually working on a screenplay about this right now, but my mom was an actress—is an actress. It’s kind of a was/is/maybe, or somewhere in between. Where to begin with this? She grew up doing theater. She comes from a very musical and artistic family. My aunt was a professional ballerina. My other aunt was a professional pianist. My mom went to the University of Michigan and studied theater and musical theater there. She went on to star in a movie called The Evil Dead—the original.
Then she went and had kids and a whole life. Ten years later, The Evil Dead became a huge cult film, and she started getting more recognition and opportunities, but it was this very strange, super delayed response. So she never really became an actor, but at the same time, she’s a professional actor known for a very famous movie.
I spent my adolescence finding weird acting opportunities. I was in ... I don’t even know what you would call this. I was in a musical review at the mall where we would sing and get a $25 gift certificate as payment. I was constantly doing that kind of stuff. By the time I was in high school, I was doing all the plays and the musicals.
Musical theater performers are fucking Olympians. I just didn’t have the strength or stamina vocally and I found it extremely stressful. I can sing one night really well, and then I have to let my voice rest for two weeks before I can sing really well again. By the time I went to college, I was like, This is too much. And also, I wanted to drink and smoke and have a life. You can’t do any of those things, especially if you have any weakness in your voice. I decided my life would just be easier if I kept singing on the side but didn’t make it a part of my career.
My parents are very liberal, but they were also strict. It was not a household that was like, “Well, you’re safer drinking here.” My parents were more like, “You’re not safe doing any of those things, and so you’re not doing it.”
So I did not grow up with cannabis. I smoked weed for the first time in high school, but only a handful of times. I learned very quickly that weed and alcohol don’t mix for me. That’s a spinning situation.
I started to get more into it in college. That’s also when I realized that my mom loves weed, too. This has a lot to do with the screenplay that I’m writing—but she’s very cool, and very funny, so everyone always loved her, including me. She was a friend, except that she was very strict, and in that sense she wasn’t cool at all. She was the first person calling people’s parents when parties were happening. So there was always this very weird kind of dance that she and I were doing where I was like, “Are you my friend or are you my mom?”
But as soon I got to college, she dropped the act instantaneously and was like, “Okay, I don’t have to hide anything from you anymore. I love weed! We can smoke weed together.”
My parents were getting divorced between my sophomore and junior year of college, so I really didn’t want to go home. Instead, I found this summer program in Antigua, Guatemala. The idea was to get certified to teach English as a foreign language, live in a home-stay for next to nothing, and teach English at a local public school for girls in exchange for getting private Spanish lessons.
When my mom came to visit, I took her to this volcanic lake that has two or three volcanoes in the middle of it. It was super Jurassic and all very ex-pat-y. We stayed at a bare bones bed and breakfast run by this gorgeous woman who I think was European, but who was definitely from somewhere.
I brought some weed with me, and now that I think about it, it was one of the first times that my mom and I had ever smoked weed together. I rolled a joint and we sat down on the dock, and we’re looking at this epic, volcanic lake. My mom is in the middle of a divorce after 23 years of being married. I’m in college. To me, the moment just feels so revelatory and meaningful: we’re in Guatemala, in the middle of nowhere, smoking this joint together, and we’re talking. There’s this long pause and it all feels so meaningful. Just like ... life.
I learned very quickly that weed and alcohol don’t mix for me. That’s a spinning situation.
Then my mom takes a deep breath and she looks over at me and goes, “I just really want some chocolate.” Turns out we were each having a totally different experience of that moment. But that’s weed to me! It is both of those things. And my mom’s vibe was so good. Just perfect.
I went to NYU, to the Tisch program there. It was conservatory style, but in a traditional university setting where we actually had to get an academic degree as well. I graduated in 2008—directly into the recession. As if it wasn’t already hard enough for actors to get a job or get representation. But I felt very lucky to already be in New York. My career started off very slow and steady, doing friends’ plays, a web series, and auditioning for non-union commercial stuff.
I started working at this place called The Flea Theater, which is really wonderful. It’s an equity theater in SoHo run by Jim Simpson, who is married to Sigourney Weaver. They do real professional equity theater, but then they have this non-equity program within it called the Bats. Plays at The Flea get reviewed by the New York Times and all the outlets you want to be seen by, and real people come to see their shows. So it’s one way to get into the industry when there are really not a lot of opportunities.
It was my first professional theater experience, and my last.
Through that experience, I was cast in a show called The Great Recession made up of six one-act plays about the recession. One was by Adam Rapp, who wrote Red Light Winter. Adam is a very prolific playwright and was one of my favorites when I moved to New York. He’s very edgy and cool and very downtown.
Adam asked me to audition for his next play at the Vineyard Theatre. I auditioned, and I got it. I was like, I have made it! This is the coolest thing I could be possibly doing! I’m making $330 a week! It was shocking even at the time. That was not enough to live in New York. After the excitement wore off, I remember thinking, This is not sustainable. How are people doing this? I literally was like, What am I missing?
That’s when I started to realize that a lot of people—not all, I’m not trying to make a sweeping statement—but a lot of people who are able to do theater in New York come from money. Or they grew up in New York, so they’re still able to live at their parents’ house, or there’s some other catch because I couldn’t see any path forward for how that was going to be sustainable. It was my first professional theater experience, and my last. I was like, I can’t do this. It’s going to take me until I’m 40 to be on Broadway and then I still won’t have any money. So I decided to move to L.A. to with the hope that someday I’d have the ability or the luxury to come back to do more theater.
For me, weed is about turning my brain off, not turning my brain on in some very specific way.
I was in L.A. when I got cast on my first show, Hindsight. It was such a sweet, enjoyable show, and honestly has one of the bigger fan bases of anything I’ve done. We waited eight months to start shooting the second season, and then the month before we were supposed to start, they canceled it. That sucked. It was so disappointing, because that show—it’s cheesy and whatever, but it is a little gem. People loved it.
I’m working on two screenplays. One is with a friend, and the other is by myself and is based on my life, and my mom’s life, and her experience with The Evil Dead. I just had a producer sign on to that, which is very exciting. We’re at the beginning of figuring out what that’s going to be.
I’m someone who responds to fear and anxiety by going into productivity overdrive—which, by the way, isn’t necessarily the most artistic state to be in—but it results in a lot of writing. It helps me feel focused, and I needed to do a rewrite anyway. That’s really been taking up all of my time right now.
I’ve never found a strain—sativa, indica, whatever—that doesn’t eventually put me to sleep.
For me, weed is about turning my brain off, not turning my brain on in some very specific way. It’s something I want to do at night, alone or with my husband to relax and be done with the day. I’ve smoked a lot of pot and eaten it and taken tinctures and done every version of it whatsoever and I’ve never found a strain—sativa, indica, whatever—that doesn’t eventually put me to sleep. That would be true even if I smoked it at nine in the morning.
We’ve definitely gotten into some lower THC strains. That that’s more enjoyable for us and more functional, because I can take a puff of something and still feel fine and, like, cook dinner. Otherwise, I smoke something and I’m on planet Zenon. Like, I have to go to bed immediately.
Smoking is such a nice ritual, especially at the end of the day. When I was shooting Indebted, I would get home and make or order food. Then I would roll a joint—or a spliff sometimes, because that’s also mitigating how high you’re getting—and sit in this hanging, swinging chair that we have. I’d sit on that and I just look out at the hills and swing and smoke. It’s such a ritual, and it’s so relaxing. It puts a cap on the day.
My husband Beck [Bennett] and I have historically tried to keep things as separate as we can. I know so many couples who, the second they get together, are like, “We’re working on a screenplay.” We have very much made an effort to not do that. I will say it creeps in, especially because we do really respect and trust each other’s work and instincts. Often we can’t help but be like, “What do you think about this?” We go to each other for input and collaboration in that way. Also, SNL at Home basically meant we didn’t have a choice. The other thing is that we both work with our friends a lot and we have the same friends. We actually met working together on a sketch where Beck was playing my boyfriend. But, at least right now, we work better when Beck is helping me with my thing, or I am helping him with his thing. We are both each other’s biggest fan, and we’re in the front row.
Quarantine kind of landed at a good time for me because I was already really starting to focus on making my own stuff. That’s going to be my reality moving forward, I think. Luckily, I feel excited about that. I don’t know, maybe once I have five screenplays written I’ll be like, Okay, that’s enough. I couldn’t shoot all those in a lifetime. But that’s all I can really focus on these days. So now I’m thinking like, How can I teach myself to direct from the confines of my home? And with Beck Bennett as my sole, but very talented and very diverse actor. He can be my muse and do every part, every accent.
I think about friends, or my cousin who is an event planner and is totally fucked because of quarantine. She’s learning Spanish and taking online classes. She’s like, “I’m just trying to get more skills for my job.” I’m kind of trying to look at quarantine the same way. How can I refine skills right now?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Jessy Hodges photographed by Maggie Shannon in Los Angeles. If you like this Conversation, please feel free to share it with friends or enemies. Subscribe to our newsletter here.