Interview: USA Today from I Smile Back press panel

USA Today‘s January 26 article quotes from the press panel Sarah was in after the January 25 screening of the I Smile Back at the Sundance Film Festival. 012615USAtodayHdln

PARK CITY, Utah — Sarah Silverman proves she has far more in her bag of tricks, as she put it, than acerbic wit.

The premiere of her harrowing new film I Smile Back at the Sundance Film Festival Sunday night had audiences talking about the comic actress’ impressive ability to play an intensely dark role.

Known for her sweetly girlish delivery, offbeat humor and sexually explicit jokes, Silverman, 44, tackles a particularly grim part for her first starring role.

In the film she plays Laney,a suburban wife and mother who struggles with depression, reckless behavior and addiction. She’s an alcoholic, cocaine-snorting manic depressive who has an affair with a friend’s husband, as well dangerous anonymous sex.

It’s a difficult film to watch Laney as she careens out of control. It’s also tough to observe her in her quieter, pain-riddled moments, her face a mask of guilt, confusion and disillusionment. Even the obvious joy her children give her is short-lived and tinged with sadness.

The self-destructive character was difficult to take on, Silverman admits.

“It hurt,” she said. “But I’m really glad I did it and came through on the other side.”

Directed by Adam Salky, the film was based on the eponymous 2008 novel by Amy Koppelman, who adapted it to the screen with co-writer Paige Dylan.

“The book was hard for me to read, “Silverman said, then added jokingly: “I had to learn how to read first.”

She somehow can’t help slipping into her comic persona.

“I feel such a pressure to entertain,” she said, with her signature toothy grin as she got up on stage for a Q&A following the premiere screening.

But she shed all traces of her comic self as she plunged into the part.

“I thought it was beautiful, and I didn’t know if I liked her or not,” Silverman said. “But I liked how complicated it was.”

Loss defines Laney. Though in her late 30s, she still feels abandoned by her father (Chris Sarandon) who left the family when she was 9. She becomes upset with her husband (Josh Charles) when he brings home a dog, explaining that dogs die and she wants to spare her children the pain of that loss.

Questions from viewers in the audience raised a debate over whether Laney was likable.

“I think it’s interesting we’re talking about whether she’s likable or not,” said Silverman. “We’re talking about our own little selves and life experiences.”

Added Koppelman: “Somehow we’ve all come to expect that everything should have redemption. But life isn’t like that. … Laney can’t rectify her good fortune with how she feels — undeserving and unentitled.”

But Silverman did convince Koppelman and Dylan to add a bittersweet scene that further defined Laney’s character.

Koppelman liked it so much she said she wishes she could go back and amend her book to include it.

Silverman explained that she wasn’t seeking a grim role, but when approached, she couldn’t resist.

“I wasn’t looking for this, but it came to me,” she said, adding that one of the writers heard her on Howard Stern and decided she had to play Laney.

“So I did it,” Silverman said. “Why wouldn’t I? What am I — busy? Why wouldn’t I do something so different?”

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