At age 30, Zoe Jarman, who plays Betsy Putch on The Mindy Project and was camp counselor Poppy on the late lamented ABC Family show Huge, already has a long history of playing weirdos. She spoke to Slate about her role on the show and learning to be a character actor.
Slate: On The Mindy Project, you’re the “weird character.” Amanda Setton played the “hot character.” You’re just as hot as she is. How does that sort of niche-casting happen?
Zoe Jarman: That’s something that’s out of my hands. Weird, for me, is very visceral. When you play a weirdo long enough, you get to understand what makes them weird. If I played the New Jersey hot character, for it to be a real character, I think I’d have to work with an acting teacher to make it very grounded. I’m lucky to have enough self-esteem and self-confidence—I think that any character actor has to, because you get audition breakdowns where they’re asking for, “Plain” or “Just fine-enough looking,” and you’re like, “OK!”
Slate: For your characters on The Mindy Project and Huge, you didn’t use your normal voice.
Jarman: “Doing a voice” isn’t necessarily a choice that I made, but I think the character comes out in the inflection. I try to keep that to a minimum, because I don’t want to get trapped in a character voice that isn’t sustainable. It’s a mixture of accident and choice.
Slate: The Mindy Project is very much an ensemble show. Is that tricky?
Jarman: Being one note in an ensemble is incredible, because not only do I get to have a funny moment, but I get to set up funny moments for other people. Betsy is a weirdo straight man.
Slate: I always wonder about the psychology of actors—dealing with rejection is such big part of the job. Isn’t that hard, even though you know it’s not personal?
Jarman: It’s just practice. The more you audition, the more distance you get. The trick is not to get worn-down or jaded by it and just to be open.
Slate: That seems useful in real life too.
Jarman: Right? It’s equanimity, which is very hard to practice. I don’t necessarily know if it’s as big of a virtue as it’s supposed to be, but I try to at least think about that word.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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