If you think being an ex-con, junkie and prostitute is difficult, try writing material for one. Comedy writing trio Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert discovered they needed a break after Comedy Central's "Strangers With Candy" was cancelled before proceeding with the show's big screen adaptation.
"After the show wrapped, we sort of made a conscious effort to move as far away from Jerri Blank as we could," says Dinello, referring to the fictional 47-year-old protagonist. "We had just done 30 episodes and we [wrote] them as short films because that was sort of the inspiration with after-school specials. So we were sort of burned out.
"Besides, Stephen was having a moral collapse at the time," he adds. "He said it was hurting his soul to think like Jerri."
While the team was off writing the book "Wigfield," they kept thinking of various ideas for Jerri Blank, which they dutifully filed away on the computer. Eventually, they had so much material, a film was the next logical step.
Dinello makes his feature directing debut with this prequel to the popular series, in which the 47-year-old Jerri (Sedaris) finally returns to the bosom of her family after running away from home as a teen, living off the streets, turning tricks to support her drug habit and being released from prison. She finds her dad (Dan Hedaya) in a coma and a brand new stepmother and stepbrother at home. Convinced that she has to pick up her life where she left off in order to cure her father, Jerri goes back to high school.
There, Jerri enters the science fair with the help of new friends Tammi Littlenut (Maria Thayer) and Megawatti Sacarnaputri (Carlo Alban), a guy whose Indonesian heritage plays a part in Jerri's success at school. Dinello explains why they randomly chose to make Jerri's friend Indonesian.
"We were trying to pick on someone that we hadn't before that we didn't know much about," he says. "And then it occurred to us that the only thing we knew about Indonesia was -- well we know a couple things -- peppercorns and Megawatti Sacarnaputri was the president at one time. We realized later that she's a female, not a male. So now I feel bad. Other than Henry Kissinger's involvement in the early '70s, you don't hear much about Indonesia anymore. But now it's in the news all the time with earthquakes and giant waves. Now we feel bad. We should have picked Sweden."
The film also drew numerous celebrities making meaty cameos, including Sedaris' friends Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, "The West Wing" actress Allison Janney, Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kristen Johnston, Justin Theroux, Dan Hedaya and Ian Holm. There were two more names, however, that never made it off of Sedaris' wish list.
"I wanted Willie Nelson to be my dad because then everyone would love me," says Sedaris, who goes in and out of the Jerri voice during the interview. "And who's the other actor? Danny Trejo. I am so happy when he pops up in a movie. I don't think he's in enough movies. He was on my fantasy wall. He has the scar on his face. I just wanted a love scene with him. I thought he'd be perfect, someone from Jerri's past."
Although Sedaris mainly performed opposite the younger actors, the scenes she enjoys watching the most were the ones between ineffectual science teacher Chuck Noblet (Colbert) and art teacher Geoffrey Jellinek (Dinello), who've been having an affair that just ended. The two have several awkward scenes where the married Chuck denies his attraction to Geoffrey.
Even though Colbert has been enjoying the attention his hit Comedy Central show "The Colbert Report" has received, Sedaris and Dinello insist that that success won't divide them. Their collaboration dates back to the short-lived sketch show "Exit 57" in 1995.
"It worked out great because now Colbert's got a huge head, I mean a huge show," jokes Sedaris. "Then maybe more people will go see [the film] because of him. And we know too much about each other. No one can change. We can bring him down."
Dinello adds, "We have all kinds of information hanging over his head that creates a ceiling that won't allow him to rise above."
"Strangers with Candy" is currently playing in New York and expand to select theaters on Friday, July 7.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times