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You're en route to L.A. as we speak. As a New Yorker, how do you feel about L.A.?
I used to be appalled in the early days of my career; it seemed so corporate compared to New York. I have more of a sense of humor about it now. But serendipity is a very crucial part of my life, and there, if you run into someone by accident, you've had an accident.
Is New York more serendipitous?
If you're a New Yorker and you're having a bad day, you just start walking around and you'll find something. I like to be surprised, and very often the unexpected things you never would have thought of turn out to be wonderful—like having a Ping-Pong club.
Are you good at Ping-Pong?
No! [Laughs] I'm more of a propagandist than a player. I love the whole philosophy of it, and the fact that it cuts across gender and age and body type and every expectation you might have.
The movie is about Jeff, an unemployed thirty-year-old who lives in his mother's basement, and who looks for signs from the universe to guide him. Do you listen to what the universe is telling you?
Yes, I would say I'm like Jeff. I believe there are signs all around us. I think that being open and saying yes to life is very important. I guess I'm an old hippie.
You play Jeff's mother, Sharon, who's at a dead end in her life. Have you ever felt that way?
I think there are times when every woman who has children wishes that she didn't have to be the glue in the family. It's difficult to appreciate people having a good time if you're stuck cleaning up the kitchen. Playing Sharon was uncomfortable in the first part of the movie, but I loved the take with the sprinkler system going off [indoors]. I wish I could've done that again.
Is that the turning point?
[The sprinkler] washes everything away. [In the scene] she's clutching her possessions and protecting them, and she looks around and sees people rushing out of the room, and she just gives it up. I think surrendering to the universe is an important thing to do. And once she does that, of course, everything starts to turn in directions she didn't expect.
Which son do you like most: Jeff, Pat [both her fictional sons from the movie], Jack or Miles [her real sons]?
Are you crazy? You think I'm going to talk about my children that way? [Laughs] I would find it easier to hang with Jeff, but I'd feel the sorriest for Pat. Someone who thinks they can control life the way that he does is so vulnerable. That would move me. Both my boys are more like Jeff.
You once said that you choose [to work on] movies you can talk about for days, because doing press for a film takes as long as shooting it.
It's a good test if you can stand to talk about it enthusiastically for a week. I'm proud of this film—the way that it unfolds and the values [it advocates], like family connection and being in the moment.
What were Mark and Jay Duplass like as directors?
Very collaborative, and that's one of the reasons I wanted to work with them. There was a lot of discussion before shooting, and they encourage you to improvise. That's a very special muscle—to be able to improvise and remember what the point of the scene was—and it's not too often I get the chance to use it. Jason [Segel] and Ed [Helms] are just the best at that, I think they did quite a bit between the two of them. I love the Duplass bros—they're so passionate about what they do and so big-hearted. And they play really good Ping-Pong.
Is it true that you keep your Oscar in the bathroom?
I keep all my awards in the bathroom. I didn't have anywhere to put them, and it seemed like a funny idea. But now the bathtub's full and the walls are covered.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home opens Fri 16.
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