After playing the student for some time — as the only Jewish girl in a Christian high school in Saved!, or as an aspiring writer-stripper on Californication — Eva Amurri Martino has finally traded up. In the new Adam Sandler/Andy Samberg comedy That’s My Boy, her character is at the head of the class, though not quite a model of professionalism. We talked to Martino about sexual misconduct, sex ed, changing lives, and her fictional campus of choice.
MARK SVARTZ: So, in That’s My Boy, you play a teacher?
EVA AMURRI MARTINO: Yeah, but probably not the best example of one. I play a teacher who also happens to be a sexual predator — I guess in the funniest sense of the word? I start a relationship with my student, who’s supposed to be thirteen or fourteen — the young version of Adam Sandler — and it kind of plays off all those stories in the news, when the female teacher sleeps with the young male student, and everyone’s like, Whoa! He pulled that off!
MS: It’s weird how many cases of female teachers doing that we’ve seen lately.
EAM: There was one just the other day! She was, like, 27 — she’s my age. And two months after she got married, she carried out four affairs with four different eleventh-grade boys.
MS: Do you think there’s any chance this is because teachers have been getting hotter?
EAM: [Laughs] I don’t know if they’re getting hotter, or younger… Maybe they’re just crazier? The movie that resonates most with me is My Girl. She had a crush on her teacher, Griffin Dunne, remember? Those are the teachers I remember having: established, married, older guys. And I also remember having really hot camp counselors. Why do they keep letting these hot guys around all these hormonal young girls? It’s just going to lead to trouble.
MS: Back then we always had those tweed-wearing professors, but where were all our gorgeous female teachers?
EAM: Maybe they were all stripping? But we grew up under the Clinton administration, when there was an emphasis on education. So maybe now we have a generation of young women who want to make a difference as teachers. And some of them occasionally have problems with sleeping with students.
MS: As a kid, I always wanted to be either a writer or a Ghostbuster. One of those worked out. Did you ever want to be anything other than an actress?
EAM: It’s funny. I actually wanted to be an astronaut, but I don’t have a mathematical brain. It’s just not how my brain works. So those hopes were dashed. But the great thing about acting is that you get to be a lot of different things in one lifetime. You get to explore different personalities and characters. Honestly, I don’t know if I’d want to be an educator. I find teachers to have more responsibility, in a way, than being a parent. You’re molding hundreds of minds every year.
MS: Yet it’s one of the most underappreciated jobs on the planet.
MS: They’re essentially field-goal kickers. No one notices when you do well. That’s just your job. But you screw up once, and everyone hates you.
EAM: Yeah, the shit teachers have to go through is criminal. A good teacher who can take the zero pay and help kids develop physically, emotionally, socially, is literally an angel.
MS: You know how, in movies, there’s always that one badass Michelle Pfeiffer teacher who changes lives to a Coolio soundtrack? Did you ever have one that affected you?
EAM: Yeah, I’ve had a couple. I had one in fourth grade, named Linda Chu, who was incredible. We got to hatch baby ducks in her class. And then I had an English teacher named Mr. Byrne in eighth grade. It was kind of like in Dead Poet’s Society, where he was tough on us but challenged us with unexpected projects, like a ten-page paper on nose hair. He always had this saying: “If you have one foot in the past and one foot in the future, you shit on the present.” [Laughs] I’ve always loved that.
MS: That’s genius. It’s interesting how teaching has gotten more challenging because of the Internet. In our day, cheating meant watching the Leo DiCaprio version of Romeo and Juliet. But now kids can Google entire Shakespearean Ph.D theses.
EAM: When I was in high school, it was kind of the start of the Internet. No one really used it — you still went to the library to look stuff up. But now it’s like I don’t even remember how I’d go about finding information if it wasn’t for Google.
MS: We’d be completely lost and hopeless.
EAM: But the Internet is also such a great tool for kids. Even just for your sexuality, to be able to search online for any questions you might have — what an amazing opportunity.
MS: Definitely beats those awkward sex-ed classes.
EAM: I remember having one of those in middle school, which is probably the right age for it considering how young kids are having sex nowadays. I remember it was girls and guys together, which is a complete problem, because what tween wants to ask questions with the opposite sex in the room? And plus, it was our weird, old, lady-principal putting a condom on a cucumber…
MS: They seriously did the cucumber thing?
EAM: Oh, yeah. Condom. On a cucumber. And, first of all, a cucumber is not a penis. Like, no twelve-year-old dick is the size of a cucumber! That’s just completely ridiculous. But I guess it was better than nothing.
MS: We never had a sex-ed course in my private school.
EAM: So how’d you learn?
MS: Skinemax. When I was twelve, we got cable, and one late night, I flipped channels, and it was like, “Oh, so that’s how it works!” And it’s been twenty years of awkwardly figuring out the rest.
EAM: Well, that’s what a lot of people do. But if you’re not giving your kids a sex talk by eleven, you’ve failed.
MS: Did your parents give you the sex talk?
EAM: I don’t remember it, so it must not have been too traumatizing. But my mom has always been open and non-judgmental about that stuff, which is great.
MS: Yeah, mine were less open — mine weren’t Susan Sarandon. But they grew up in the Soviet education system, where things were strictly controlled. The government would look at your five-year-old shoulders and say, “You will be an Olympic wrestler!” or “You will be a cosmonaut!”
EAM: But you know what? I think there’s part of our country’s education system that’s gotten a little bit lazy about letting kids do whatever they want. I think structure, on some level, is extremely important. For example, I went to a very liberal-arts high school in Brooklyn, where all the kids smoked pot, and we had free reign, almost like college. You studied what you wanted to. I mean, it’s amazing to go to a place that lets you develop your creative side. But when I have kids, I’m going to send them to a more classic school. As a parent, you can always expose your kids to the arts and take them to museums, but it’s not like I’m gonna teach them algebra.
MS: Well, since you brought up your weird liberal-arts school, I’ve got one last question. If you got to choose a fictional high school to attend, would it be West Beverly from Beverly Hills, 90210, Bayside High from Saved by the Bell, or William McKinley from Glee?
EAM: Oh god, definitely not William McKinley. Um, probably West Beverly, because they’re all forty-year-old guys. None of them were under eighteen. Which works out.