Jess Weixler in a scene from Peter and Vandy.

Jess Weixler

Interview with the co-star of Peter and Vandy

Oct 09, 2009 Web Exclusive
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Three weeks prior to the release of her new film Peter and Vandy, lead actress Jess Weixler followed through on two life-changing decisions. First, she moved to Los Angeles after living in New York for more than a decade. Second, she bought a car. "I've never had a car, ever," Weixler says with a laugh. "It makes me feel so adult."

Peter and Vandy, an official selection at Sundance this year, is adapted from writer/director Jay DiPietro's 2002 play of the same name. The film, which unfolds in nonlinear fashion, takes a look at the ups and downs, the bliss and the tension, endured by a New York couple through the years. We see Peter (Jason Ritter) and Vandy (Weixler) meet, fall in love and break up, but not in that order. DiPietro's story is hinged together by the moments that compel lovers to question whether they want to spend the rest of their lives together, and the centerpiece of the film is a humorously explosive argument between Peter and Vandy over how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich efficiently.

Earlier this year, Weixler received praise for her intimate, revealing portrayal of a romantically conflicted actress in Joe Swanberg's Alexander the Last. In 2007, she was awarded a Special Jury Prize for Acting for her starring performance in Mitchell Lichtenstein's horror film Teeth. I spoke to Weixler last week at the Los Angeles offices of Strand Releasing, which is distributing Peter and Vandy.

How did the script for Peter and Vandy come to you?

Jay decided he didn't want to audition people. He was just going to do meetings, and I was on the list of actors he was going to meet with, and we just really got along. I read his script and immediately could relate to it and thought it was very true to life and honest. It wasn't all princes and princesses and romance, but there is, "How do you live with the person you've fallen in love with? Can you do that?"

We had a very cinematic meeting, because it was raining outside. I was late, and I had to run and catch a cab, and I lost my shoe trying to catch the cab. And Jay found my shoe in the rain, in the street, and put it back on my foot. It was like, "Oh, this feels right. This is good. And then he went to L.A. to try to find a match for me, somebody whom he thought would seem like we could be in a relationship together.

What were your initial impressions of your character, Vandy?

What I like about her most is how much she loves Peter. She's really in love with him. She has issues, like all people do. She's a little OCD. It's one of those things where people have the best intentions. They just don't always know how to manifest those intentions. She's usually trying to do something nice for Peter. She just doesn't really know how to do it, so she ends up badgering him or making him feel bad about himself somehow. There are all those lines of communication that get really mixed up and crossed the wrong way with them.

The scene in the beginning of the film, with the Statue of Liberty in the background, it looked pretty cold out there. Was that a tough scene to shoot?

It was really cold, but more than cold, it was really windy. The bounce boards for the lighting were just flying all over the place. There were two guys holding the bounce boards, like the force of their bodies against them, to keep them from flying away. And we had to ADR everything that was shot there, because there was not an inch of usable sound. So, it was kind of a task, but it was one of the best days of shooting, 'cause it felt so magic to be standing there by the Statue of Liberty in the wind.

In the film, there are moments of intimate affection and, conversely, fiery arguments. Is one more difficult to portray than the other?

Sometimes it depends whom you're working with on what's more difficult. The great thing with Jason- Both were difficult 'cause it's hard to go to those places, but extremely natural to us, because we met two days before we started shooting. It's written in that mixed up order that it plays out, over the course of all those years, but we shot it almost entirely in chronological order. So when the characters were getting to know each other, we were getting to know each other. And, we were spending so much time together, and we really let each other in and told each other about our lives and our real stories so that we could genuinely feel like we had some history together and that we trusted each other. So, by the time we got to those fights, we had some depth there and some history there. And those two things almost go hand-in-hand. Being very intimate with somebody in a loving way kinda seems to go hand-in-hand with being able to actually get at them. Sometimes you just don't let people in or you don't let them affect you that much. But we're having, like, a great effect on each other when we're at that stage. So, I couldn't have had a better person to do that with.

Watching a couple have such an intense argument over just a sandwich, I began to reflect on how I behave when things annoy me. When you invest yourself in a scene like that, does it come home with you? Does it affect how you might approach a disturbance in your personal life?

Acting always has that about it, where if you go through something on set, or as a character- We're not robots. [Laughs] I feel like I've constantly dealt with this issue, and I think all actors do. We don't have an on/off switch necessarily, so you have to really tale care of yourself when you go through something difficult or emotional, where you expose bad things about yourself. You do have to take care of yourself afterwards. You don't carry it home, or you don't carry it to somebody else or think that it has actually happened to you in your long-term life. But, it takes its toll. It wears you out. You get exhausted by it. 

That's something you explored to a degree in Alexander the Last. How did you get involved with that film?

That was one where the director, Joe, had seen some things of mine or heard of me, and he just likes to surround himself with the people he wants to work with, and then you all come up with it together. And he had the basic premise set out of what he wanted to do, and when he approached me about it, I was like, "Oh, I can relate to that. It is a difficult, confusing job, and I'm willing to explore that gone a little wrong." [Laughs]

You grew up in Louisville? What's the art scene like there?

Surprisingly good for being Kentucky. Louisville's very well supported, and they've got the Derby there, and all of that. So they have enough funding in the state to give some of it to the arts. They have a pretty good-sized center for the arts, and they have the Actors Theatre of Louisville. I was exposed to a lot of theatre growing up, and so I was able to fall in love with the whole thing. I saw enough Chekhov or Shakespeare early on to think, "Wow! This blows my mind. I'm learning all the time."

Did you move to New York out of high school?

I did. Yeah, I went straight from high school to New York for school.

And that was for Julliard?


How important was it to you at the time to get into Julliard?

Oh my gosh, at the time it was incredibly important to me. I knew I wanted to be an actor, and I was just praying that some place would take me. And I was so nervous before my Julliard audition that I went in the bathroom and threw up. This is not bulimia. This is total nerves. I was so nervous about it. And, the day before, I had been almost too nervous to act at all. Nerves are a wicked thing, but I pulled it together for the audition. [Laughs} It was very special. I'm proud to have done that and gone there.

Was there a particular film or play that sparked your interest in acting?

I'm an only child, so I was always drawn to the TV or the theater to understand the way that people related to each other, and there was something very seductive about the communities that you get from it. Suddenly, you're hanging out with people all day. It's not a lonely job. It's a very communication-based, fun job to have. You're sort of given an instant family for a while, if you're in a good circumstance. But the two plays that affected me the most, that made me think, [gasps] "This is so important," for me, were The Seagull and Three Sisters for Chekhov and Richard II from Shakespeare. Those plays kind of blew my mind when I saw them and made me want to do this for my life.

Can you tell me about any of your upcoming films or projects?    

I just got done shooting a movie with Willem Dafoe called A Woman. It's kind of like a film noir. It's very stylized. And I'm about to make a movie with Joshua Leonard from Humpday and Mark Webber. We're all writing something that we're gonna start shooting in, like, two weeks.



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August 29th 2010

you are really very beautiful girl