Actress, writer, and director Zoe Lister-Jones’ new show Slip explores relationships and sexuality through the lens of a multiverse, inspired by her feelings of restlessness and desire for more. Lister-Jones’ work is often an extension of her previous projects, with each one exploring the complexities of relationships differently. Despite her extensive work as an actress, writer, and director, Lister-Jones is not constantly generating new ideas but waits for them to come to her and develop over time. In the following interview, Lister-Jones takes us through her multiverse of influences and conversations and how she pulls it all off with humor.
Photography and production by Michelle G Gonzales
Styling by Aisha Rae
Hair by Brian Fisher
Makeup by Katie Mellinger
Photo Assistant: Steve Limones
Styling Assistants: Tashe Pollard, Nathan Rodriguez, Elizabeth Margulis, Pauline Cornulabat
Videography: Lina Kraftsoff
Mark Benjamin: Hi, Zoe. It’s Mark with Rain magazine. How are you?
ZLJ: I’m good. I’m heading to the airport from New York after a whirlwind few days. I was doing the Tonight Show here and went back to LA to do some press. So it’s been busy, but all cool.
MB: I just watched your interview with Jimmy!
ZLJ: Oh, yeah?
MB: It’s how I prepare for every interview nowadays.
ZLJ: Watching other interviews.
MB: Yeah, Jimmy Fallon is the best! I wanted to talk to you about the same thing everybody’s discussing, Slip.
MB: How did the idea for Slip come about for you?
ZLJ: A couple of years before quarantine, I was struggling with just a feeling of restlessness in my life, depression, and anxiety. I tend to write from a place of internal questioning and reckoning.
I was interested in what people do with their restlessness and desire for more, not just in their relationships but in the broader strokes of their life choices and the sliding doors of those paths not taken, with the what-ifs that tend to plague us. I was also interested in exploring sex and sexuality, especially women’s pleasure. So, the convergence of those two interests birthed the idea.
I wouldn’t say I’m always writing. It’s not that I don’t have a ton of ideas, but I’m not the kind of filmmaker who’s like bouncing a thousand ideas at once. I generally get one idea, and then I let it sit and marinate for a while, and then it becomes apparent when it’s time for me to write it.Zoe Lister-Jones
A Romantic Mulitverse
MB: It’s funny because I’ve lived here in New York for ten years, and the premise is just so New York. There are so many different perspectives and people’s lives being lived. I’ve thought about it: what if you woke up one day here or there, or there, or there?
MB: You’re from New York originally.
ZLJ: I am, yeah. I was raised in Brooklyn. My mom is still in Brooklyn, and there is an element to, even when you’re not world jumping, trying on different versions of yourselves that might be intrinsic to New Yorkers, but it’s pretty universal. Especially in relationships, we tend to accommodate our partner by sometimes shifting our sense of style or humor or anything. That was also really fun to play with in building a multiverse. A romantic multiverse.
MB: You do it so well. It must be fun to act, also having written the story.
ZLJ: Yeah. Writing, directing, and acting are a fantastic trio. To inhabit all three of those roles as an artist is nourishing. They’re all in sort of an organic conversation with one another. It’s not without its challenges, but they all inform each other in a relaxed and holistic way. I love to do it all.
MB: You also pull it off with so much humor.
ZLJ: Thank you.
MB: Who are some of your influences as a humorist?
ZLJ: My first comedy idol was Gilda Radner. I’m always drawn to dark humor and humor that is grounded in a lot of pathos.
MB: I wonder if everyone picks up on how funny some jokes are. It reminds me a lot of Joan Rivers.
ZLJ: That’s cool!
ZLJ: There are so many influences. Gilda Radner, Elaine May, and Christopher Guest. That’s a good trifecta.
MB: I also wanted to ask you about Band-Aid because this was the first independent film that you directed.
MB: It must have been interesting coming from New York, going to LA, and making this movie about starting a band and a relationship. Is it an extension or inspired by Band-Aid at all?
ZLJ: All of my work is an extension of the last piece. I am fascinated by the intricacies and complications of relationships. And each time I try to navigate a central question regarding those complexities, I try to do it through a different lens. So, with Band-Aid, it was the nature of the way couples fight, and I wanted to do that through the lens of a musical in which the fights are turned into songs. There are some themes definitely in Slip, but this is now through a sort of more fantastical sci-fi lens of the multiverse and the orgasm as a portal.
MB: What are you thinking after Slip? I was looking at your Wikipedia, and my jaw dropped. There’s so much you’re doing, and you’ve done. How do you stay inspired?
ZLJ: Roku hasn’t officially green-lit a second season of Slip, but they green-lit a writer’s room. We just completed writing season two, which was exciting. I wrote all by my lonesome in season one, so with season two, I got to work with some brilliant minds on where May goes next. And that’s just been such a thrill. So I hope that next on the docket is shooting it.
MB: Are you always writing or thinking of stories?
ZLJ: I wouldn’t say I’m always writing. It’s not that I don’t have a ton of ideas, but I’m not the kind of filmmaker who’s like bouncing a thousand ideas at once. I generally get one idea, and then I let it sit and marinate for a while, and then it becomes apparent when it’s time for me to write it. And I have that idea for my next film. I need to sit down and write it once I can breathe.
MB: That’s so exciting. What were some of the highlights of making Slip?
ZLJ: It was a personal project for me, and I wrote all seven episodes because I wanted to protect the vision, which felt apparent to me and very singular. The fact that Roku gave me the green light to series without giving me one script note was a highlight because that is such a rarity in the development process. It meant that I could make the show that I envisioned. It was a dream from start to finish.
My crew was incredible. My cinematographer Daniel Grant; my production designer Danielle Sahota; my producer wrote Donnelly and Karen Harnish; and my editors, Ke and Sandy Perra, are all such highlights. I was working with such a fantastic team who elevated the vision, and my cast is unbelievable. Tamika Farra and Am Omar Shota Patel, Emily Hampshire, the list goes on. One of my favorite facets of filmmaking is the community and working with such great artists.
MB: We are a fashion magazine; first. Fashion became a part of Slip, and it’s a beautiful moment. I wanted to get your thoughts on that.
Always in Fashion
ZLJ: Fashion is a big part of my life, and the narrative of Slip, being that every world requires its own individuated world-building, was such a fun opportunity to build all of these new closets for May, depending on what character she’s inhabiting. That was just a thrill. I worked with my costume designer, Julian Clark, to build out those aesthetics. And I wanted to showcase a lot of my favorite designers, Rachel Comey, Sandy Liang, and Collina Strada, who’s Alexandra about Shepa. All of their pieces are in the show, and they shine.
MB: How were you feeling as this was coming out?
ZLJ: It’s so exciting. I’m still pinching myself, it doesn’t feel real, but it’s always a surreal crossroads to go from the space of something being so personal and private to being exposed to the world, but it’s the dream. I’m just thrilled to be sharing it.
MB: It seems people love it. You’ve got an almost perfect Rotten Tomato rating!
ZLJ: I’m so glad that people are responding to it in the way they are.
MB: I also learned your dad’s a photographer. That must have been interesting growing up in that environment.
ZLJ: Yeah, my dad’s a photographer, and my mom is a video artist, so I was pretty immersed in the New York art world as a kid, for better or worse. Check out their websites, Ardele Lister and Bill Jones; they’re prolific and ahead of their time. They’re both so brilliant, and their work has significantly influenced mine.
MB: Wow. Everything’s so visual.
ZLJ: Yeah, and conceptual. Sort of a personal and political mashup, in the way the best artists can do.
MB: I’m super excited to put this together, and congratulations again. What a moment. I’m so excited for you. I have secondhand excitement.
ZLJ: Aw, thank you so much.