Amy Schumer knows Thanksgiving can be a nightmare.
“Your family at the holidays, what’s more triggering than that?” says the comedian, who’s always in charge of mixing drinks and making green bean casserole at her Thanksgiving gatherings. Schumer and her husband, chef Chris Fischer, host dinner “at our place and my parents come over, along with any stragglers that don’t have somewhere to go. It’s just this beautiful, dysfunctional, insane dynamic.”
Those three words could also describe her new film “The Humans” (now in theaters and streaming on Showtime), adapted from Stephen Karam’s Tony-winning play.
A family drama that’s shot like a horror thriller, “Humans” unfolds over one anxious Thanksgiving Day, as Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) and her boyfriend (Steven Yeun) invite her parents (Richard Jenkins and Jayne Houdyshell), grandmother (June Squibb) and sister, Aimee (Schumer), over for dinner at their dingy Manhattan apartment. Family secrets bubble to the surface, while Aimee puts on a brave face amid private battles with a serious intestinal disorder and recent breakup.
“The script just completely knocked me out,” says Schumer, 40, who’s best known for her Emmy-winning sketch series “Inside Amy Schumer” and box-office hit “Trainwreck.” The writer/actress – who’s also mom to a 2-year-old son, Gene – talks to USA TODAY about her critically acclaimed new role.
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Question: How did you get involved with “The Humans?”
Amy Schumer: When (the project) came to me, I was really pregnant and very sick. My agent was like, “You have an offer for this movie,” and then I read it and was so interested. Stephen and I met at a Le Pain Quotidien and I remember getting up like, four times to go throw up in the bathroom. And we just talked about it. I did this two-year Meisner (acting technique) intensive at the William Esper Studio (in New York), and Stephen had done that same training. So it was extra special that we spoke the exact same language.
Q: Had you been looking to do a drama for a while?
Schumer: My (comedy) movies usually have some sort of dramatic moment. And I did this drama that I don’t think a lot of people saw called “Thank You For Your Service,” but the women’s roles got cut down dramatically and drastically.
I really love acting. I went to college for theater and that was my main focus. I never intended on being a standup (comedian), it just kind of happened. So this feels very natural to me. But it is fun to have people see this other side of you that they didn’t know you have. It’s a delicate situation, because once people feel like they have you locked with who you are in their minds, it’s very difficult to change that. I was worried it was gonna be distracting to have me in this story, but I don’t think it was.
Q: You’ve been candid about your own health struggles. Was there something that you appreciated most about the nuance Stephen brought to your character?
Schumer: I believe your physical and mental health are so linked. The mental anguish of a breakup and how every breath hurts to take. Or the humiliation and struggle that comes with physical ailments, and how unforgiving the world is for them at work. Women especially are told to just suck it up, so I think most of the people in (Aimee’s) life wouldn’t know her struggle. I really identified with that.
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At the time (of making this film), I knew I had endometriosis. But that’s a disease where until they go in and operate, they don’t really know the extent of it and mine was severe. It’s these painful realities that set in that you mourn, and then you just accept and have to change your thinking. I think that’s a reality for a lot of people as you get older. When you’re young, you’re invincible and then life catches up to you and you can’t run away from your genetics. That aspect of (Aimee), and how she tries to have a good attitude about it, is definitely something that I did not have to reach too far to understand.
Q: Aimee has a rare moment where she breaks down crying after calling her ex-girlfriend. What moved you most about that scene?
Schumer: I really wanted to figure out exactly what was being said on the other end of the line and (Karam) left that up to me. I’ve been there where I’ve loved someone for a long time and believed we were gonna always be together, and then had them leave. I’ll never forget that pain: the reaching out and hanging on to any possibility, just to be handed more rejection. And just getting to the age where you realize that everything isn’t gonna work out. Everyone’s like, “It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine,” and she’s realizing that it’s not going to be fine.
Q: After your experience with this movie, would you like to do more dramas?
Schumer: Any opportunity to use my training is so satisfying as an actor. I’m not trying to get really sad movies, ’cause it’s not fun. Some people are fine after they say “cut” and then some people aren’t. I’m kind of in the middle. “Thank You For Your Service” was really difficult and sad, and I was really depressed (while making it). I’m open to whatever but I definitely want to have fun and also get to hang out with my son. So it’s really specific, the kind of stuff I want to do right now.