Though Jess Weixler has been working steadily for the last few years, she is still often referred to as an up-and-comer in the press. It’s a label the actor doesn’t mind. “I think you’re just an up-and-comer until you break out,” she says with a laugh. Recently seen as private investigator Robyn on “The Good Wife,” Weixler stars in “Free Samples” as Jillian, a bitter law school dropout forced to pass out free treats in an ice cream truck. The offbeat comedy is available on video on demand May 21 and hits theaters May 31. The versatile actor spoke to Backstage about forging a career in indie film.
Remember where you came from.
Weixler first came to the industry’s attention with 2007’s “Teeth,” in which she played a teenage girl who learns she has vagina dentata—a mythical condition that essentially translates to having teeth in her vagina. While it may sound salacious, the smart, clever film earned her critical raves and became a cult sensation. “It’s been really nice, some of the people who come up and are like, ‘Oh my God, “Teeth!”’ Weixler says with a laugh. “The joy some people have gotten out of a film that I wasn’t sure anyone would like has been wonderful. That film really started my career, and I’m very proud of it. I’m crazy about Susan Sarandon and her work and have always looked up to her, and she started with a film like ‘Rocky Horror.’ So I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s cool to start with a cult movie!’”
Keep your friends close.
Weixler didn’t have to audition to play the lead in “Free Samples”—it was given to her by co-star Jesse Eisenberg, who is friends with the writer, Jim Beggarly. “Jesse brought it to me and said, ‘Do you want to do this with me?’ Jesse’s so awesome, I wanted to work with him,” recalls Weixler, who adds she couldn’t believe her luck when she read the script. “It is so cool to get to play the part of a sourpuss at the end of her rope. She doesn’t have it in her, for so many reasons, to be nice to people.” Weixler admits she was surprised to be offered such a dark character. “I’ve got blonde hair and blue eyes and I’m usually handed characters that are quite innocent. So it was really fun when people want you to play against that,” she says. “It was really fun to play someone so sour, I’m not going to lie.”
Don’t let them know you care.
Weixler says she’s endured “a million horrible, disastrous auditions” to the point where she "walked out of the room covered in hives.” She adds that there is an inherent Catch-22 in the audition room, as actors desperately want to be cast, but that desperation can be unappealing. “You can feel yourself trying too hard, doing too much. Nobody wants to watch somebody when they’re needy, and actors are in the unfortunate position of needing to be cast and needing to be liked.” She admits she found her role in “Free Samples” particularly refreshing in that she could play against type. “That’s why it was so freeing to be Jillian—she doesn’t care if you like her or not.”
Listen to your critics.
However, it’s important to be open to hearing another point of view. Weixler graduated from the notoriously tough Julliard School and says she’s worked with coaches who really laid things out for her in blunt terms. “People say that one of the most important things about being an actor is to have thick skin, but I don’t think that’s it,” she says. “Because you can’t just walk around being tough, you have to be able to be vulnerable to do this. So really, it’s about not being defensive. When something’s wrong, even though you’re the one doing it, you shouldn’t feel defensive about it. Its hard because you have to protect yourself as a person in your life, but you can’t protect yourself as an actor. You have to just take criticism.”
Having done so many indie films, Weixler is used to short shooting schedules like the 13 days they had to make “Free Samples.” She warns, “Many times, you just don’t get a lot of takes. So you have to have faith. You have to go with your first instinct and have done enough of your homework to hope it will carry the story.”