Jess Weixler likely isn’t an actress you know very well. She earned her first large role in Teeth (2007), played opposite Justin Long in Best Man Down (2012) and has been featured on the TV show The Good Wife. But you might know her better soon.
She is currently starring in Nate Benson’s ‘The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby Them’, a re-edited romantic drama that debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last year as two separate films told from different perspectives, which will release in its entirety in early October.
She plays Katy and sister to Eleanor, played by an emotionally volatile Jessica Chastain, who very early on tries to take her life. Eleanor is reeling from a tragedy that has spun her into this depressed state and moves away from her husband (James McAvoy) from New York City to Connecticut to stay with her family. Katy soon becomes a therapeutic resource for her older sister, holding conversation for her misery, then pushing it aside to choose a dress for a frivolous date– sister kinds of things. Katy’s presence provides a breath of optimism to a melancholic, darkly lit film, which also features Viola Davis, Ciarán Hinds, William Hurt, Nina Arianda, Bill Hader, and Isabelle Huppert.
Weixler will finish her year with a few more appearances on screen. She’s starring in Listen Up Phillip, premiering at this year’s New York Film Festival, and will shortly release the comedy Trouble Dolls, her first foray into writing and directing.
Jake Kring-Schreifels recently sat down with Weixler, returning to New York City where she had previously lived 11 years (residing now in Santa Monica), to discuss her beginnings, being roommates with Chastain, and directing a film for the first time.
So I had some free time last night and I watched The Big Bad Swim.
Oh my god. You did?! That is the first movie I ever did. When was that? That was like, 2006?
Yep. 2006. Bring back some memories?
Oh my god. Yeah. I remember being so, so stoked when I got that movie, it was like, “I’m an actress now!” It was right before Teeth and it warmed me up for it because I’m one of the supporting characters in The Big Bad Swim, which was enough responsibility where I felt like, “Alright, I can handle this, I can take it on.” It set me up for the idea that, “What is it like if you’re in every single scene?” Which is what Teeth was. And in this movie, with Jessica and James, you have to be so ultra-focused and absorbed in the world. And as a supporting character you’re really there to come in and help their story, but it’s a much more relaxed situation.
I recognized one actor in The Big Bad Swim—Raviv Ullman — from Disney Channel’s Phil of the Future.
He was so popular right when we did that movie that I think the whole movie got made because Raviv was in it. He was just the cool guy, like [in the movie] this kid who has a crush on me and he’s quite a few years younger [laughing].
So what was that first real film set experience like for you?
It’s all so cool when you show up and you’re like, “Look at all this equipment!” You know that there are different shots, but I think until you get on a set, you don’t quite understand how broken up it is. “We’re going to take a few takes from this angle and a few talks from this angle,” and suddenly you feel like you’ve done the scene 20 times. So my brain coming from the theater world was, “How many times do we do this scene in a movie?”
And of course it’s harder in a supporting role to grasp that when you don’t see all that’s happening off the set.
Totally. I definitely had that experience watching [The Big Bad Swim] where I’m like, “Oh that’s what they did.” And with [Eleanor Rigby], it really touched me when I saw it all put together because I had no idea what was going on behind the scenes. To see Bill Hader in that movie, counter to what we were doing.
Your first role was playing a stripper.
Yeah, super scary.
Was playing Jessica Chastain’s sister easier to relate to, or was it still new territory for you?
No, this did not feel like new territory. It felt like very special, sacred territory because Jessica is actually like a sister to me. We went to Julliard together and were roommates and have been very close and have been best friends ever since. There was something that felt sacred about this movie, getting to play out, “What is a sister, the comfort and intimacy that comes with just knowing somebody?” I’ve actually never had that in anything I’ve done before. I met a few people that I’ve worked with before, but most of the people I got to know while working with them. And this is the first time I sort of took our history and we got to put it into the movie as well.
Our dynamic is a bit different than the one in the movie but the essential parts of it are there. A sister gets to need something from her and everybody else is so scared to rub her the wrong way because she’s depressed. But the sister needs help getting on a dress, getting ready for the date, and tell her that she’s mad at her. Not many other people say how mad they are at her, and a sister can do that, which was nice.
And also just watching your best friend work. She’s brilliant, so watching her work on this was beautiful. Watching everybody on this set, because they’re all such heavy hitters.
Were you able to relate to living with someone who had experienced a similar tragedy in their life?
Without bringing up any specifics, the short answer is yes. I’ve had several people go through intensely tragic times. With tragedy, there’s no way to fix it, it’s just time, it’s being able to sit with something because you just have to bear it. There’s nothing you can say. The person’s tragedy, no one can really know what that person is going through. They have to bear that alone.
So did Jessica help you find this role?
[Director] Ned [Benson] and Jessica and I were all roommates together when I moved to L.A. about five years ago. He was writing this and when he wrote the sister role, he was like, “I’m writing this role for you, and this role for Jessica.” He really wrote these movies with certain people in mind to play them out.
I think if this were a shorter film, your character doesn’t have the opportunity to explore her relationship with her sister.
Well, the subject matter of this film is so deep that I think everybody’s role in it has weight to it because you’re not just filling a gap. You serve the purpose of her really needing you there because her needs are so great that everybody around her becomes more important by the situation. We really hope that people see the two because it’s fleshed out in a totally different way, but [Jessica] really tried and worked on playing two different people in each movie. [In] the Him movie, its his version of her. The Her movie, it’s actually her.
So what was your reaction when you found out both were being re-packaged into one edited version?
I was totally freaked when I heard they were being packaged into one [laughing]. I was like, “Well, there goes the sister role.” At least some of it made it in. My heart is with the two movies, because that’s what I read first and saw first. But [Them] is beautiful I have to say. I was like, “Alright, this works.”
And then your reaction when Harvey Weinstein picked up this film?
You don’t know what’s going to happen with these movies. It was exciting to know we have somebody backing this who makes things happen, who gets it out there. There are so many brilliant movies that nobody ever sees, and you have to have heft under it. Certain things just get the right amount of press. The press is everything on these movies to help them get momentum. There’s so much out there, nobody knows what to see [laughing].
I’d imagine you’ve seen both sides of that, getting that extra push, and sometimes not seeing it, too.
Yeah. It was really exciting to know that this one was going to have a life because of Weinstein and also that he promised to keep the two alive even though the one was going to come out first. It’s hopeful. We always wanted to save the two.
You’re co-directing and writing a new film, Trouble Dolls. Is that something you’ve always wanted to do?
Yeah. I did. I always wanted to direct as well as act. Acting is my main love. I wrote something about my dad that I’m going to direct next and that’s sort of the one I’ve been prepping my whole life to do. And [Trouble Dolls] is like a bizarre existential comedy, an homage to Withnail and I, this British cult film, to really dip our feet in for the first time and see what it’s like.
But it gave me a massive amount of appreciation for directors, to be supported by somebody else, to have somebody else take care of you as an actor and I think Ned did amazing with everybody on the set, especially into a situation where he’s a first time director and everybody else is incredibly experienced. He really had his heart in the right place and knew how to focus on the scene and the people in a way that they could do their best work because people are doing such beautiful work in this movie. Ned manned the show.
So maybe you can get Harvey Weinstein to fund your new film?
Ha! Yeah. I don’t know if Harvey’s going to buy my film. I don’t think it’s big enough [laughing].
– Interview Conducted, Edited & Transcribed by Jake Kring-Schreifels