Amy Schumer on the I Feel Pretty Backlash: ‘There’s Been a Lot of Projection’

Photo: Getty Images

Some spoilers below for I Feel Pretty.

Do yourself a favor and never Twitter search “Shallow Hal + I Feel Pretty.” It’s no surprise that there are people online who don’t much like Amy Schumer, but rarely does the vitriol come with this level of misplaced specificity. A vocal faction of viewers decided sight unseen that Schumer’s new comedy vehicle is the second coming of the execrable 2001 rom-com in which Jack Black falls in love with an obese woman solely because he sees her in the svelte form of Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s a vicious piece of work, and bears little resemblance to the anodyne feel-good ethic of I Feel Pretty, in which Schumer stars as a meek wannabe cosmetics executive fittingly named Renee. She’s reborn when a spin-class bonk on the head raises her confidence to high-concept studio-project extremes, and finds that if she can just believe in herself, everyone else will follow suit. To put it in pitch-meeting language: If Shallow Hal is a film about a man deigning to love an imperfect woman, I Feel Pretty is a film about a woman learning to love her imperfect self.

I Feel Pretty doesn’t make its jokes at the expense of its heroine, but that’s tough to tell from the trailer. What is for the most part a harmlessly cornball date movie came off looking like clips from “Pam, the Overly Confident Morbidly Obese Woman,” and with Schumer now making the press-circuit rounds, she’s eager to set the story straight. Vulture sat down with the lightning-rod comedian and actress to discuss learning from Tina Fey, body positivity, and the secret to lasting happiness.

I saw the poster in the train station on the way over here, of you on the white background pumping your fist in the air.

Had it been fucked with?

Not this one! Not yet, anyway. But it got me thinking that this must have been a difficult movie to advertise, or generally communicate to the public.

It’s been really easy once they’ve seen it! But, you know, there was a backlash to the trailer, and that was kind of disappointing. Even then, though, I understood it, and knew that the film wasn’t about what they thought it was about. I just wished they could see it.

It’s pretty uncontroversial, the moral of the story being that confidence is the secret to success.

Yeah, but that doesn’t matter. People find something.

Has that been frustrating, the gap between what you know this movie is and what people perceive it to be?

There’s been a lot of projection. I heard a lot of, “She doesn’t have a right to feel bad about herself because she looks however she looks.” But first off, it’s not about an ugly troll becoming beautiful, it’s about a woman who has low self-esteem finding some. Everyone’s got a right to feel that feeling, regardless of their appearance. We all struggle with self-esteem. I certainly have. Your friends who you think are so beautiful, they could be struggling too. You want them to see themselves the way you see them, but it’s not our place to say who should be allowed to have low self-esteem.

But this projection, yeah: I heard the comment, “Why does she have to think of herself as skinny?” a lot. But you never see how I see myself! That’s a guess, that Renee thinks of herself as skinny. In the scene after the head injury, the assumption is that the woman I see when I look in the mirror is skinny, but I’m just seeing my same self and perceiving my body as beautiful. She doesn’t say, “I’m so thin!” She just says that she’s amazed by her jawline, and her boobs, and her ass. If anything, that sounds like a more voluptuous woman to me.

As for your first point, the movie kind of addresses that with the scene where Emily Ratajkowski’s character talks about her insecurities in the locker room. Then there’s the turn where Renee goes from being resentful — “shut your face, you’re gorgeous” — to feeling reassured in the knowledge that everyone else feels this way.

The first instinct, at least for me, is to skinny-shame or to be jealous. But look: I have become a rich and famous person, and I am no happier now than I was when I was waiting tables. That’s the truth. I have more security, and that gives you peace of mind, which is great. There was a time when I didn’t have anyone to borrow a hundred bucks from, and having some money is a luxury, sure. But in terms of actual happiness, it’s all the same. I have friends who are more successful than me, friends who are still struggling, and they’re no happier than each other. To me, that’s a little comforting and a little depressing. Happiness can’t start with external stuff, whether that’s money or success or your body.

It starts with confidence, sure. But at least, in my life, the trouble has always getting from mind-set A to mind-set B. This film is instructive about how to live well, but for those of us without magic head injuries, how does a person with less confidence build it up?

By the end of the movie, when she realizes there was no head injury, she’s able to stay confident because she’s already proven to herself how much she’s capable of. She gets herself as far as she does at work with her own ideas and contributions. And it really is her that Ethan falls in love with. She realizes that all she ever had to do was try. All anyone’s got to do is try. I want people to live to their full potential, not to hold themselves back because of insecurities, and especially not women. I see too much of that. Of course it’s not unique to women, but that’s where you see it most: women afraid of being shunned if they speak up during meetings, women afraid of being insulted on dates. I hope that people can see this movie and know that there’s nothing wrong with making your voice heard a little bit more.

One part of the movie gave me pause, the big monologue at the end —

I know what you’re gonna say.

Really? Now I’m curious, what am I going to say?

About how she plugs the beauty line in the big inspirational speech?

I guess you’ve heard this before, then. I see a lot of ad campaigns using “you go, girl!” language just to sell stuff, which can feel disingenuous.

Dove soap stuff, yeah. I’m with you, honestly. That scene gave me pause too. I love this movie a lot, and [writer-directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein) were really gracious to let me collaborate on the script. But that last scene needs to tie into the plot. In that moment, Renee’s being sincere, she really wants to lift up the people she’s talking to, and not just inflate the company’s stock or anything. But yeah, I would’ve loved if maybe it didn’t have to tie in and mention the brand, the line she’s working with. All I can say is that I understand that objection, and I agree with you.

That raises a more salient point: Inside Amy Schumer was always understood to be a creative extension of yourself, but now in situations where you’re only working as an actor, people still see you as synonymous with the project.

Well, even on the show, I was doing a lot of curating of stuff that the staff had written. That wasn’t pure me or anything. But then and now, it was my name on the show and it’s my name on the poster for this movie both as star and producer, so I’ll take responsibility for that. Your point is valid, and I’ve accepted that that’s the position I’m in, and that audiences are going to think that way no matter what I do. Every tweet, every official post about this movie, it’s going to end up reflecting on me. So I’ve had to fight hard. I cleared every social-media post, specifically because I know this is how public thinking works. I’m trying to do my best, but some stuff falls through the cracks. I’m not resentful of the standards people hold me to, though.

Being famous always seems stressful to me, and this has not been one of the interviews that suggests otherwise. What brings you pleasure in your day-to-day life?

It’s so disconnected from my work. It’s stuff like anyone else would say. It’s my dog. I can’t wait to see my dog, and to go to sleep. I love watching TV. I got married a couple months ago, and I love him so much. I once thought I’d never find someone I’d want to partner up with forever, and I’m so grateful to have him in my life. I love my friends. I can go to the Comedy Cellar and because most of my friends are comedians, I’ll be surrounded by people I know, and we get to make fun of each other and make each other laugh. It’s cliché, but plenty of clichés are true. I love standing at a microphone and making a room of people laugh. That’s the part of the work I love, everything else is extraneous.

I remember one of the faculty from my old high school once saying that he loved teaching but hated being a teacher.

Right. There’s a lot that comes with any gig. Actors joke, “You shoot the movie, but you’re really getting paid to do press.” It’s just the repetition that gets you down, if anything. Last year, it was funny doing press with Goldie Hawn [for the buddy comedy Snatched], because she hadn’t worked for a while. When she was promoting movies, you’d go on Johnny Carson and talk to the San Francisco Chronicle and that’d be your day. Now, it’s like, “Will you call in with this Brazilian podcast?” But it’s mostly cool to do this, I get to feel more connected to the production.

I know what I’ve learned, and that I’m still learning. But I’m really proud of this movie, and I think people will feel better about it if they just see it. I hope people give it a chance.

One other thing: I’m always rewatching 30 Rock, and noticed that you pop up in one episode for a throwaway line. Is there a story there?

Sure! I was so psyched I got cast. I’ve got two stories about that day: the first is just getting to hang with [creator] Tina [Fey], who really did hang out. She was cool, not on her phone or in her trailer. She talked to everyone. I have a line where I’m doing her makeup and I say, “I’m gonna get some tape.” I wrote that, and she was really good about making me feel like I had done something right. I was so nervous, that was an early job for me, and I learned a lot from her that day. She was running the whole circus and still managed to be a lovely person to be around. Everyone liked her, and so nobody had the right to treat her shittily. That was major, to see while I was coming up.

But the other thing is that when it was going to come out, I had a screening at my house. I invited my friends over to watch the episode I was on, as actors starting out will sometimes do. The role had initially been written a different way, to be a slightly bigger part, but they’re always overwriting sitcoms and slimming it down in editing, so I ended up with the one line. I was nearly cut out, and having invited everyone over, I was humiliated. Then, after about two minutes, I thought the situation was just funny.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Amy Schumer on the I Feel Pretty Backlash