Jess Weixler talks The Normals, currently playing in limited theatrical release before debuting on VOD November 20
Jess Weixler burst onto the indie scene with Teeth in 2008, and she has been building a solid and diverse resume ever since, even moving into writing and producing with last year's The Lie. The actress returns with the independent comedy The Normals, currently playing in a limited theatrical release before its VOD debut November 20. The story follows a man (Bryan Greenberg) who enrolls in a clinical drug trial to get out of debt. He is transported out of New York with an odd assortment of patients known as The Normals, one of whom is Jess Weixler's Gretchen. I recently had the chance to speak with this talented young actress about her new film. Here's what she had to say.
Can you talk first about your initial reactions to the script, and what you took away from it that made you want to be a part of this project?
Jess Weixler: With this one, as I was reading it, I found myself laughing. I just really liked that it was such a cooky cast of characters, and it is 100% an ensemble comedy. I wanted to be a part of an ensemble of fun characters, and it was a part I hadn't played before.
I've talked to actors before who say it's rather rare that they find themselves laughing out loud while reading a script.
Jess Weixler: Yeah, it's a nice thing when you find yourself giggling when you're reading. I've also never read anything like it before. It's not a typical movie in any way. I haven't read anything where everyone is essentially set inside a ward with each other, where we're institutionalized. Half of us are on prescription drugs, half of us aren't, we don't know who's just crazy and who's on drugs. I was reading things I had never read before.
When I first of this, the first thing that came to mind is a much different movie called Das Experiment, a German movie about a group who volunteers for an experiment. Half of them become prison guards and half become prisoners, and they see how their behavior changes. It's a completely different movie, but that was the first thing I thought of.
Jess Weixler: Yeah, it's a setting you, at first, can't imagine what it would be like, because you have never been in that situation yourself (Laughs). Is that a drama, that German movie?
Yeah, it's a drama. It was a German movie from 2002, and they did an American remake The Experiment with Forest Whitaker, Adrien Brody, Clifton Collins Jr. and a lot of others. It's all based on the Stanford Prison Experiment from 1971.
Jess Weixler: I should check that out.
When you came on, was there anyone else attached to this? Can you talk about the cast coming together, and if you had a lot of time to get together before you started shooting.
Jess Weixler: I only knew that Bryan Greenberg and Josh Pais were involved. Josh Pais and I did Teeth together. He was the gynecologist in Teeth and the psychologist in this movie. I trust his sense of humor implicitly. He can do dark comedy beautifully. Bryan, I hadn't worked with him before, but I had met him a few times. He's the nicest guy, one of the nicest people I've ever met, and I knew I would get along with him. It's kind of one of those movies where you know you're taking a risk, because it's not a typical story with typical characters. I felt good about the fact that I was surrounded by people I definitely liked. We would have fun taking a risk in this weird ensemble world.
I was surprised to see filmmaker John Sayles in the cast.
Jess Weixler: I know! I didn't get to work with him. Of course, I also love him, and when I found out he was in the movie, I was super excited. I was never on set with him, unfortunately.
Can you take us through an average day on the set? Did you have a decent amount of time to shoot this, or was it fairly quick?
Jess Weixler: I think we shot for five weeks, just over a month. The average day was crazy, because we were shooting in this facility that was essentially a shut-down mental institution. It was super creepy. It's all of these buildings, which were essentially shut down but there were still some squatters in there. The set designers and the crew had to come in and re-awaken this dead building. We saw it before they made it how it looks in the movie, and they are miracle workers. The set designers are miracle workers on this movie. It was a scary, broken down mental institution in the middle of nowhere, which most of us were convinced was haunted. They came in and cleaned it and painted it full of bright colors and put silly rainbows everywhere. The experience was kind of crazy, because we were in that location. We always felt protected, because there are lots of people around, but it's an odd day because you were in the middle of nowhere with only your crew, and you didn't want to leave the group (Laughs).
You said everyone thought it was haunted. Were there strange sounds you would hear throughout the day?
Jess Weixler: At one point, we had scenes in the courtyard, and we had to walk through an area, another building that had not been cleaned up yet. There was wire grating everywhere and bars on everything and old hospital beds everywhere. There were creaking noises and stuff, and probably animals living in places. It was an abandoned, scary place. I think everyone would say that. It was super strange.
I went to this set way up north in Canada for this horror movie, Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings. They shot in this abandoned mental institution too, but they still had all this equipment like shock therapy machines. It was crazy.
Jess Weixler: It's crazy because you know strange things have happened there. I don't know if people believe in energy and all that, but you can kind of feel that weird things have happened there (Laughs). There was medical equipment there, nothing like shock therapy equipment though.
Just in looking through your filmography, it's very diverse. You don't seem to go after the same kinds of roles over and over again. Can you talk about your overall approach? Is there something specific you're always looking for, is it more intangible?
Jess Weixler: A lot of times, I have chosen things because it is a character I haven't played before, because there's something new I get to explore. I know it's going to be more of an adventure, because I have to figure it out as I go, or find the person. Sometimes, I make decisions just based on a script being beautiful and wonderful and already very right, and sometimes I feel like I just read a character and think it would be somebody really fun and interesting to play. I would say this is one where all the characters are really interesting, so it's going to be a good time exploring the dynamic between us.
I see you've done some writing as well. Are there any scripts you're working on, or anything else you're developing that you can talk about?
Jess Weixler: I helped write The Lie, which I was also in, and I loved writing for that movie. I actually just finished the first script that I wrote by myself. I really want to direct that one. I'm in the long haul right now, in what indie filmmakers have to do to actually get something made. I'm in that game right now, trying to figure out how to get it made. I am very exciting, and it will happen at some point, and I will direct it. I can't wait to do it.
Did you write a role for yourself as well, or will you just be focused on the behind-the-scenes stuff?
Jess Weixler: I think I'll also be involved in that, yeah.
Is there anything you can say about the story at all?
Jess Weixler: I think I'll keep it... It's about a topic that really hasn't been touched on before. The only thing I can say is... hmm, I think I'm going to wait, until I get it made (Laughs).
What would you like to say to anyone who is curious about The Normals, about why they should check it out in theaters or on VOD?
Jess Weixler: I would say see it because it's fun. It's a fun good time, and you're watching something that hasn't been made before. It's its own thing, which I personally really like about movies, when it feels one of a kind. The characters are really fun.
Great. That's all I have. Thanks so much, Jess. It was great talking to you.
Jess Weixler: Thank you so much for doing the interview.
You can watch Jess Weixler as Gretchen in The Normals, currently playing in limited theaters and debuting on VOD formats November 20.
The Normals was released November 16th, 2012 and stars Bryan Greenberg, Dan Hedaya, Jess Weixler, Josh Pais, Reg E. Cathey, John Sayles, Fred Weller, Brooke Bloom. The film is directed by Kevin Patrick Connors.