For anyone who says that classic beauty cannot co-exist alongside superior acting chops hasn’t seen the work of Jess Weixler. A trained Juilliard graduate, Weixler has made a serious splash with her ample ability to create layered performances that linger. Her early role in the controversial film “Teeth” won her a Sundance Special Jury Prize, while her film “Peter and Vandy” showed the emotional range usually reserved for season vets of the craft – and that was just the beginning. Her latest film titled “Free Samples” (On Demand May 21 and in theatres May 31 from Film Harvest) is by far her best work yet, featuring Weixler in one tour-de-force wry comedic performance as a gal stuck inside an ice cream truck for a day forced to deal with both a barrage of colorful characters and her own life. What follows is almost an ode to Kevin Smith’s “Clerks,” but with the captivating Weixler playing a mix of both Dante and Randal with a pinch of heart. The film also stars Weixler’s former “Peter & Vandy” co-star Jason Ritter, Jesse Eisenberg, the lovely Jocelin Donahue (yes, she of “House of the Devil!”) and even “The Birds” film icon Tippi Hendren. We continue to pay tribute to the five-star work of Weixler by sitting down one-on-one to talk with her about “Free Samples,” playing such a caustically funny character, plus her thoughts on the memorable “Teeth” so many years later. We love giving credit where credit is due – welcome one of our favorite actresses…
You always seem to pick such original material, so what was it about the script for Free Samples that made you say yes?
Jess Weixler: Jesse was on board with this project first and then he brought the script to me. I was sort of thinking it was going to be a peripheral character and then I read it and I was like wait a minute – this is a sourpuss female lead. And there aren’t a ton of those where you get to play an anti-hero as a woman. So I just really loved the way she was written – I liked her voice. I also appreciated that some movies in this age group are slacker movies, but this was a movie about a girl who had worked very hard all her life. She had gone to law school, was engaged and all these things, but had just worked very hard in the wrong direction. She had worked hard at things she didn’t actually like, which is probably why she has such a bad attitude. (Laughs) So it seems like it’s a lot of arbitrary stuff going on, but really it’s a moment of course correction. Maybe at the end of this movie she starts to figure out what she actually likes, what she is attracted to, what makes her smile and what turns her on.
Jillian is caustic for sure, but seems to be doing it in more of an honest vein as opposed to being hurtful – what was your approach to the more harsh side of the character?
JW: Thank you for saying that! (Laughs) I did honestly make an effort to have it not be sarcasm. Sarcasm is not the strongest choice – it’s kind of like cheap shots. And just being frank can also be harsh, but it at least has the element of honest to it. Maybe it’s still not the appropriate thing to do – be really frank and tell somebody that they’re being annoying or that maybe they shouldn’t eat so much ice cream – but she’s just gonna say what she thinks. Because at least at this point she doesn’t really care what they think of her so she has nothing to lose.
Out of all her very funny and abrupt encounters with customers and the like which one was your favorite?
JW: Tricky question! (Laughs) I like the ones that play a larger part in her growth like the older woman, the Tippi Hendren character. It’s not necessarily the funniest scene or the scene where Jillian gets to show off her caustic side, but it’s when she finally lets somebody in. It was where I had to listen the most and let somebody have an effect on me. So I really like those scenes that I think are really important to the film. But the Jason Ritter scene was super fun because we all have those friends who are a little off but you just love. They’re kind of ridiculous and make ridiculous choices, but they’re just so super charming and you love to mess with them.
And I did love those scenes between you and Jason – having worked together on “Peter and Vandy” did you guys have a short hand this time around?
JW: I think so. After “Peter and Vandy” – and then we also ended up shooting a pilot together last year – we just very quickly hook into each other’s sense of humor. We know how to rub each other in the wrong way, the right way if that makes any sense. (Laughs)
Much of the film takes place in and around the famed Mike’s Dream Ice Cream Truck yet never feels stagnate – how did you and Director Jay Gammill work to keep things moving?
JW: Thanks for saying that – I was super worried about it! (Laughs) I was like so it’s just me…in an ice cream truck. Are people going to get really sick of it? I tried as much as I could to see how each scene was different and there was a cumulative effect for the day. So the hangover started to wear on her more and more, the need to use her phone and not have one started to build and the desire for coffee to keep going continuing to build. And the rest of it comes from having good people that visiting me at the truck. It’s funny, I was trying to figure out how to be somebody in an ice cream truck all day hungover and I was watching “Curb Your Enthusiasm” at the time and I was like I think Jillian should be based on Larry David! (Laughs)
I have to go back to “Teeth” as it’s one of the few horror films that features a layered, nuanced and all out outstanding lead female performance – how much of that was in the script vs. how much you brought to the character?
JW: I don’t know. I read the script and I was so shocked by it and didn’t know how to play it. I guess that’s what made it so interesting to me is it’s not like anybody understands what it would be like to suddenly realize you have vagina dentata. (Laughs) So I got to just create a scenario like you do when you go through life where you have no idea what’s coming next. You don’t know what’s happening to you, you don’t know how to deal with it and you’re just constantly trying to solve new problems. Some of that was definitely in the script like figuring out how it all works. Can she have sex with anybody? Oh, she can if she likes them. Those different steps of figuring out what’s going to work and not just what’s unfortunate about her circumstance – that it actually could be a good thing?! (Laughs) I just really had a good time playing something with no rules attached to it yet. There’s no blueprint on a part like that, which is what made it great. I just felt blessed to play a character that had never been played before.
What are your thoughts looking back on that film?
JW: I’m really glad I did it. I was really scared before I did that people would think I was a freak or would never be able to think of me as anything else. Because I think this sears the unconscious lines “Teeth” does, but I had so much fun doing it and hopefully that’s what comes across in the movie. It’s fun and thought provoking and it taught me that it’s okay to be brave. To make choices, not just because you want people to like you or see you in a good light, but part of making brave choices is taking a chance that some people are gonna think you’re weird. (Laughs) And that’s not the worse thing. If some people think you’re weird so be it.
“FREE SAMPLES” HITS ON DEMAND MAY 21 AND SELECT THEATRES MAY 31 FROM FILM HARVEST.