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When we meet Ilana Glazer in the first few minutes of Hulu’s False Positive, out today on the streaming network, the actor-comedian-writer-director is unrecognizable. For starters, her signature fuzzy curls are styled straight, which is jarring for fans of her wisecracking hipster alter ego in Comedy Central’s beloved series Broad City. She also happens to be covered in blood. But the subtle feminist satire that runs through this horror flick, which was directed by John Lee from a script he fleshed out with Glazer, nods to Rosemary’s Baby while taking a critical look at the pregnancy industrial complex, which is very much in Glazer’s wheelhouse.
“As a woman, this is the one thing I’m supposed to be able to do and I can’t do it,” Glazer’s character, Lucy, an upwardly mobile millennial working at a boutique ad agency, laments early in the film after yet another pregnancy test comes back negative. With her consent, her doctor husband, Adrian (Justin Theroux), gets them an appointment at an elite women’s reproductive center, run by his former teacher John Hindle (Pierce Brosnan). Sterile and exclusive, with all of the accoutrements you might expect from an upscale ob-gyn visit (there is an almost uncomfortable amount of time devoted to Brosnan’s prep of his transvaginal ultrasound wand), the office goes from a place of promise and elation—Lucy successfully gets pregnant—to a place of distress and mistrust as she becomes convinced that Dr. Hindle and her husband are planning something sinister, enabled by an icy avatar of a fertility nurse, played expertly by Gretchen Mol. Lucy’s violent visions and persistent nightmares are only exacerbated as those around her—her husband, a new group of vapid expectant mom friends—begin to question her mental stability. She ultimately makes a last-minute, frowned-upon change to her medical care, engaging an Afrocentric midwife named Grace Singleton (Zainab Jah), who rejects modern gynecology and the disenfranchisement that can often swirl around birth.
Things eventually descend into almost supernatural territory as Lucy goes into labor, and her suspicions are confirmed by a ripped-from-the-headlines plot twist. “We have this villain, then this midpoint drop of, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe it’s that,’ and then we have this third act that’s kind of like, ‘Oh shit!’” Glazer says of the process of expanding Lee’s original idea into a feature-length film that underscores important themes rarely taken up on the big screen: the idea of losing agency over your body during pregnancy, and the way birthing mothers are often dismissed and discouraged from creating a collaborative environment for their care. Ironically, the push to explore these ideas originated with Lee, who was haunted by the experience of watching his partner have a miscarriage. “His nightmare of being outside of the pregnancy experience, that it’s this thing you have no control over, was really how I felt about it,” Glazer says—before, that is, she got pregnant with her first child last year during the pandemic. “It’s just creepy as hell,” she jokes of showing up to the film’s premiere last week at the end of her own third trimester.
Below, Glazer reflects on this uncanny case of life imitating art (minus the psychological torture), while offering a definitive guide to pregnant stand-up—because you’re going to need a few moments of levity after this one.
Vogue: The timing here is a little eerie! Did you know you were pregnant when this project wrapped?
Ilana Glazer: No, no. We wrapped in the spring of 2019, and the release date kept getting pushed. And I was like, “Guys, I can’t wait to get pregnant, because I am 34—almost a ‘geriatric pregnancy.’” I know the risk goes up after 35, but, like, get the fuck out of here. “Geriatric pregnancy.” It’s just so fucking rude!
So, you chose to have a pandemic pregnancy.
My partner and I always thought we’d have children together, but we took about two years to really make the decision. There’s obviously been great loss over the last year, and then also some gifts, and the gifts have been getting to be with my partner so much and, yeah, just sharing that love and affection. I don’t think it’s better or worse to have a kid or not, though, I really don’t. I think women who never have children, like, that is such a cool way to exercise your female-bodied lived-in experience.
Did Lucy’s struggles with fertility factor into you deciding, you know what, let’s talk about doing this for real?
I mean, the movie didn’t influence my decision to have a child, but it definitely pre-embedded this fear in my body about trouble getting pregnant because I had almost practiced and modeled it in my physiology. I had represented the struggle and had felt it in my bones in order to act it well. I increasingly think of acting as lending my physiology rather than pretending. So it lifted up the joyousness that I was lucky enough to feel around a simple path to pregnancy.
The film explores a lot of really big themes that so many women encounter, but that are too rarely talked about publicly—specifically around inequitable and disenfranchising maternal and fetal care. Have you experienced any of this in your own pregnancy?
I hate that notion that you have to advocate for yourself, but it’s so true. And for female-bodied people on the spectrum of race or gender, you have to advocate for yourself more. Just the idea of advocating for yourself at all, it’s so ridiculous. I’m not the best at advocating for myself. It takes me an extra space to create that critical thinking. But I’ve had a relatively healthy, positive experience thus far.
After devoting so much of your professional life to comedy, what about exploring a different genre appealed to you?
Well, John and the writer Alissa Nutting had done this not feature-length, but not really a short film—more like a 70-page sort of a fever-dream-tone poem—and it didn’t have a particular structure. It was really about the haunting feeling of a miscarriage. I was drawn to the project because of the particular horror that I felt when I learned about John’s birth experience. It just made me think of the male partners, or the nonpregnant-person partners in a way that really intrigued me. I mean, I still think the film rides that line of we’re not sure who’s going to take this for their own narrative; it could go a couple ways. And the way that politics steal women’s bodies is just interesting to me. I don’t even know which political party would back this movie! That’s really John Lee’s punk expression. It’s really cool to me when art is so specific that it doesn’t fall into a set of values—it just leaves you expanding your mind.
In a weird way, there is actually a lot of comedic and absurd material to leverage from Lucy’s pregnancy, down to her maniacal scrolling of baby pictures on Instagram.
Yeah, and everybody’s so hot [on social media] and has, like, abs above their baby bumps! It’s just like, What is this? It’s so bizarre. I love comedians. It’s just much more normal.
And there has been some really good pregnant stand-up recently too! Amy Schumer’s Growing, and Ali Wong’s Baby Cobra. Obviously, all of the clubs were closed during the bulk of your pregnancy, but would you have done pregnant stand-up?
Yes, I’m so sad! I’ve been feeling that loss, because it’s such a privilege to tour and do stand-up, and to talk to people around the country. I have to rewatch both of Ali’s specials, to remember what to steal from the hospital. Those were perfect specials, every second of them. I really just look up to those women so much. Also Wanda Sykes! She was married to a dude and then married a woman and they had kids, and she went through that whole transformation and then was a mom doing stand-up. She’s done multiple specials as a mom. And also, shout-out to freaking Whoopi Goldberg, who was a single mom when she was just starting to pop off. Comedians are just so powerful.
Originally Appeared on Vogue