Jerri has the hots for Brason

Amy Sedaris as Jerri Blank, a 46-year-old ex-junkie and ex-con

Time off for strange behavior

Stylists mark different characters' looks with Polaroids


Strangers With Headsets
On the set of Amy Sedaris' new joint

By Mark Jacobs
Photographs by Jonathan B. Ragle

It's hard to tell who is cast and who is crew on a set where everyone is special

LIVINGSTON. NJ—AMY SEDARIS IS WEARING APACHE BOOTS, APACHE EARRINGS, A FUR VEST, a fanny pack and something mesh as a woman in an Eastern Mountain Sports jacket positions an umbrella over the actress to protect her from the rain. Suddenly the umbrella is pulled away, the camera rolls, and Sedaris delivers a heavy line. "I'm a boozer, a user and a loser," she quacks.

It's early, near 6 p.m. at the start of an all-night shoot for the feature-length version of Strangers with Candy, the film adaptation of the now-defunct television series. Amy is playing 46-year-old ex-junkie, excon Jerri Blank, as she did on the show. In the scene they're shooting right now, Jerri, the star and conscience of the Strangers saga, has just been released from jail. Nearby, the crew is prepping a scene on a prison bus. That will be shot while en route to the final location of the day, a well-appointed home that belongs to a former Jewish wrestler called the Hebrew Hammer (no relation to the film).

From 1999 to 2000, Strangers with Candy enjoyed a brief and peculiar life on Comedy Central, where creators Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello—who all wrote for and will appear in the film—cultivated one of those weird cult followings of people who like jokes about blood-farts and quotes like "I like the pole and the hole."

Today is the last day of the shoot, and Strangers with Candy hasn't found a distributor yet, but it's cool. This is the first feature from David Letterman's Worldwide Pants production company—Dave loves his frequent guest Amy—which also produces Everybody Loves Raymond.

A teen party is underway at the Hebrew Hammer's thoughtfully landscaped home, and Jerri is about to smoke drugs for the first time since drying out in the joint. Jerri wants to fit in with the popular crowd and do it with Brason, a total hunk played by Chris Pratt, the blond jock from Everwood, who flew himself to New York and put himself up at a hotel to be a part of the movie. Sarah Jessica Parker, Allison Janney, Matthew Broderick and Philip Seymour Hoffman also appear in the film, as does a demon with a hundred eyes, played by a creative consultant on the project named Matt Lappin. He describes the experience: "There were googly eyes all over this skin-tight suit and then there was this big head made of plaster that also had googly eyes on it and then they put me in a closet and filled it with smoke and I was basking in red light and came out and did a little wave."

It's hard to tell who is cast and who is crew on a set where everyone is special. A man with a long black ponytail, shorts, black socks and an incredible Peggy-Moffit-and-Jimi-Hendrix–inspired print bowling shirt turns out to be Perfidia, the hairstylist who worked at Patricia Field for 13 years. He styles Jerri Blank. He is not in the movie. One of Amy's brothers, Paul, who runs a flooring business in North Carolina, wears a police badge. He's in the movie. Paul's baby girl has a Dr. Seuss topknot, but she's not in the movie. "Her daddy is playing the bus driver," the film's costume designer Vicki Farrell explains. "Her mommy's on the prison bus." A production hand barks out instructions: "For those of you not getting on the prison bus, the maroon van is waiting to take you back."

At the next location, in the driveway next door, a girl is freaking out on her cell phone. "They're filming a Strangers with Candy movie in the house next door! I swear! Should I try to get autographs? Or something? Isn't that crazy?" It turns out the set is less crazy than you might think. The craft services guy, Frank McKenna, who also catered The Interpreter, starring the actress Nicole Kidman, and Hitch, starring the actor Will Smith, says Amy brings her own lunch but might have a piece of his chocolate. He also says that the actress Sandra Bullock was on the Zone Diet when he met her and that the successful producer Scott Rudin is very Atkins. In the basement, teenaged extras watch the movie S.W.A.T. on HBO, starring Colin Farrell, under track lighting detailed with crossing neon sabers. It's discovered that the Jewish wrestler was also a fencing referee at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. There are photos, too, of him in a white Spandex tank with a teal Star of David on it and teal bicycle shorts, wearing a Mexican wrestler's mask embossed with an "M" that stands for the Mighty Maccabee.

Amy is calm during rehearsals as she improvises feeling gakked-out on drugs by crawling and moaning, "My baby," and "Old man!" She and Dinello work together to find their scene. "Am I still seeing bats and stuff all the way through here?" Amy asks, and Paul says, "You can see whatever you want. Destroy the plants." Her trip is so bad that Amy is scheduled to break three framed pictures (including a calla lily print), a lamp, one ashtray, two wineglasses and two sculptures. She will also throw chairs.

Todd Oldham is on the set, photographing the occasion (in real life, Todd and Amy are members of the same craft circle) with his lovely grandmother Mildred. The day before, production assistants and gaffers took off their shoes and socks for Paul and Amy, who were casting for a foot double for Jerri's famously unkempt tootsies, which are supposed to make a clicking sound like a German shepherd walking across the marble floor. "I'll just slap on some Lee Press-On nails," explains Kabuki Starshine, who is on makeup duty for the film. ("I love night shoots; it's like the club scene," he says.) Kabuki brought on Honey, a manicurist he works with on Steven Klein shoots, to make the beautifully overgrown nails a reality.

Well into the evening after the first party shots are finished, the cast and crew are enjoying supper at base camp, a social hall located a short van ride away. A Shriner named Todd Vicente is minding the facility. "We take care of children who don't have arms or legs," Todd says. "We have our own hospitals, and we make our own prosthetic arms, legs, fingers and toes at no charge. There are a million of us. I love this. I get excited when I talk about it. We have a dinner dance every Saturday." Nearby, Dinello is talking about a stop-motion cartoon he is working on with Amy, and I interrupt quickly to ask about the title of the movie. Will it be Strangers with Candy or Strangers with Candy: The Movie? "I think Strangers with Candy, probably," Dinello says. "The Movie sounds pretentious." Is he aware that he's making a new cult classic? "I'd be happy with that status, but I'm not shooting for it," he says. *

© October 2004 — PAPER