In Aardvark—a beautifully unusual, mysterious and tonally intricate feature debut from director Brian Shoaf—we see a side of actors Jenny Slate and Zachary Quinto that we haven’t seen before. A versatile actress, comedian and former Saturday Night Live cast member who established her dramatic chops with Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child, Slate is stone-cold serious as depressed and lonely therapist Emily, who finds herself in way over her head, dealing with a patient (Quinto) who is suffering from hallucinations and delusional thinking.
“The story is about estranged brothers who are reunited because of, and almost in spite of, a therapist who’s sort of finding her way through the early days of her career,” Shoaf explains. “The character played by Zach, Josh, is more seriously mentally ill than maybe Emily gives him credit for. He has a special friend in his life whose name is Hannah, who kind of visits him periodically, and sort of brightens his day—although he only sees her at night.”
Produced via Quinto and Neal Dodson’s Before The Door Pictures, the actor is a long time friend of Shoaf’s from back in their college days—very familiar with the writer-director’s strengths—and came on board to produce and star fairly early in the process.
“I was really drawn to the accessibility of these characters, the emotional complexity of them, the humor, and the imagination that was a part of the story,” Quinto says, sitting down with Slate, Shoaf and Sheila Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night) at Deadline’s Tribeca Studio. “I just found it was a beautiful story uniquely told, and also deals with issues of mental illness and mental health, which I think is a relevant and valiant topic of storytelling.”
Approaching the project, Slate said she was drawn in by the distance between her own life experience and her character’s. “I really wanted to play this part for many reasons, but one of them is just that she’s so opposite from what I’m like,” Slate says. “Number one, I would really never try to do something that I wasn’t suited for. I don’t like to accept challenges that aren’t for me, and this woman is at the start of a career that she might not be suited for.”
To view Deadline’s conversation with the Aardvark team, click above. Upcoming New York showtimes for the film can be found here.