You probably recognize Ilana Glazer from the brilliantly hilarious Comedy Central series Broad City, which she co-created and co-stars in alongside Abbi Jacobson. And while she’s not unlike her wacky Broad City persona, she does have a serious side, as evident in her starring role in How to Follow Strangers, an indie comedy-drama that’s available today on iTunes. Glazer plays Ellie, a Brooklyn-dwelling street canvasser who finds herself enraptured by Casey, a stranger she keeps encountering on their daily subway commute. If you live in New York City, you’ve likely noticed a person who shares your schedule, but Ellie does what most of us wouldn’t dream of: she starts to follow him, and soon learns, from a distance, details of his life, his yearnings, and his insecurities.
Last week I got to talk to Ilana Glazer about making this charming film, the experience of being on her first movie shoot, and catching her athletic prowess on film.
Flavorwire: I’m sure you hear this all the time now, but I think Broad City is absolutely fantastic, and everyone at Flavorwire is obsessed with it. It is just the perfect show. I’ve watched it over and over again.
Ilana Glazer: Thank you so much! That is awesome. We’re currently writing the second season now. We are hoping for the numbers to reflect the enthusiasm of the people who watch it. But this is exactly how the web series was, too. You know, for us it’s like a loyal base of viewers. And we enjoyed it then and we enjoy it now. Thank you for watching and saying that. It’s like so incredibly appreciated.
Well, hopefully our love for it will reflect something! Let’s talk about How to Follow Strangers. How did you get involved in the project?
Well, [director Chioke Nassor] and I are good friends and have been for a while, and we just wanted to make something together. He wanted to make something serious, and like, dark, you know — darkly funny. And we just hadn’t made anything together before, and I think he kind of wrote it with me in mind, you know? I never thought that would be the case because I always write for myself. It’s such a strange privilege, someone writing something and thinking of you. And I’ve never done a movie before, and it was so incredibly indie. We were like running around and staying up late, and the feeling of this tiny core group making something together was incredible. It was also such an indie feel because it was all something we believed in. It was a really cautious endeavor, but because we were all so enthusiastic about it and enthusiastic about Chioke’s vision being realized. That feeling of being invincible, of creating something that sounds good to you, was all around that experience.
I was wondering about the group of people involved. It was funny because I recognized [New York stage actors] Michael Cyril Creighton and Hannah Bos, which made me think, “Oh, these are all people who know each other” I wondered if the movie came out of a group of friends who were like, “Let’s do this thing, and get people that we like working with.”
Yeah, it totally was. It’s interesting to experience bigger productions, too, but I just am really into that mindset, and it makes a lot of sense to me. I was just the actor in it, yet Chioke includes everybody in many different ways, and really cares about their opinions. He’s an incredibly inclusive director. And that was just a great, it was such a magical and on-the-fly experience.
I was going to ask if there was any improvisation with the script, especially between you and Chris Roberti. It felt like a lot of it was just very natural and didn’t feel super scripted. And I didn’t know if that was because there was a conscious effort to do that — to make it feel more real — or if it was because things were more loose and, you know, you got to kind of play around with the script.
That was a conscious effort, because Chioke wrote the whole thing. I think he wrote it with an improv feel in mind, but not too much was improvised.
I think that’s also the benefit of writing for someone in particular, and knowing how they would deliver a line, rather than just writing it as yourself and hoping the actor delivers it the way that you want them to. And it probably makes that a little bit easier for the actor, too.
For Chioke, I think a lot of it was based on certain truths that came out of a certain place, and he wrote it in a way that felt very natural and real.
Right. So you were saying, it’s kind of a dramedy — it has some dark humor to it. But in general, it has a pretty serious tone. The stuff that you’ve done before is obviously much more wacky and…
Yeah, fun and light. Had you done serious work like this before? Or was it something you were excited to embrace?
I was just lucky enough to get the opportunity to try it. I don’t do it very much, and I honestly don’t know… I straight-up don’t know how good I am at it, but I just wanted to try it and was so grateful to get the chance to. I don’t consider myself as an actor as much as I do a writer. It’s a real luxury, but it’s also nerve-wracking because you hope to express the person’s intention. I’m biased in like a bad way, or something; it’s tough for me to have to watch myself try to act well. Chioke liked it, and that’s like, my thing. But for me it was a great opportunity. It was my first one, you know? I just think that there’s value to newness in acting and writing.
Yeah, absolutely, and not putting yourself into one box. Maybe it’s because I know you and have seen you perform before, but there was like a very natural style to it, and your style of acting is very believable, too.
Thank you so much. I really have been trying to just throw it away a little bit and not be so precious. In real life, you’re not thinking about every fuckin’ thing you say, you know? I like to carry that over, and just be like, what if I wasn’t thinking so hard about this fucking sentence, you know? And if it’s like hard to say or articulate, just move on and try something else. It was the right environment to try that.
The last thing is more an observation and not so much a question: I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone run as much on camera as you do — between this movie and Broad City, and even on the web series. I just now associate New York City with you running down the street, which I think is a very specific experience.
That’s so funny. I’d like to write for myself, or write with someone for myself, an action movie one day. Because I think for some reason it just works…
Well, you have a very good… running gait, I guess? Which is a very good skill to have, I think, if you’re going to be on camera and running.
Thank you… I do, um, run a lot.
Oh, good for you!
Oh, no. No, no, no, not in real life. Not at all in real life.
Well, you’ve found a good way to get exercise as well as, you know, create great art.
It’s funny how adrenaline makes it so you can, like, DO IT, or something. Like I can do anything!