From writer/director Jesse Zwick, the indie dramedy About Alex follows a group of 20-something friends who reunite for a weekend aware after one of them suffers an emotional breakdown. While these young people clearly care about each other, their differences, old jealousies and unrequited love will become more apparent. The film stars Aubrey Plaza, Max Greenfield, Maggie Grace, Max Minghella, Nate Parker, Jason Ritter and Jane Levy.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Jane Levy talked about how she got involved with About Alex, what attracted her to this script, how her character is the outsider among this group of friends, her own complex and complicated relationship with technology, how much fun they all had living and working together, and that they got to do some improv. She also talked about her experience on the live-action/CG hybrid film Monster Trucks, not knowing what she’s going to do next, for the first time in her career, and what she’ll remember most fondly about her time on the comedy series Suburgatory. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did you come to this?
JANE LEVY: There was a revolving cast. Certain people were attached, and then someone would drop out because of scheduling and they’d get someone else. That’s how it is, a lot of times, with movies. I think Mary Elizabeth Winstead was cast to play Sarah, Aubrey Plaza’s part. The director and I had a Skype conversation about me possibly playing that part, but he said I was too young. And then, the role of Kate opened up. I think it was Emma Roberts. So, he asked me if I wanted to play that role, and I said, “Yes!” We all ended up in upstate New York together, and I had a really, really good time.
Obviously, nobody does a movie like this for the money and the luxury because that just isn’t there. So, what was it about this script and this character that made you want to get involved?
LEVY: It was written almost like a play. There were no grand sets. It was all one house. There were no locations or special effects. It was not about the weather. It’s just about people in a room together. As an actor, you’re always craving stories like that and scripts like that, and that was something that excited me. Everything I hoped it would be happened while we were there. We all lived together and cooked together, and we talked a lot about our relationships with one another. It was just a really nice, intimate time.
Your character winds up in the middle of everything going on because of her relationship with Isaac. What kind of relationship do you think Kate and Isaac had, prior to spending this weekend together, and how do you think this weekend affects them?
LEVY: I think they’ve been dating awhile, but they’re not incredibly close yet. I think it’s Kate’s first super serious boyfriend, as an adult woman, and this is a test. I think she’s really excited that he invites her. She wants to go really bad because she wants to meet his friends, know about his past and become even closer with him, and I think he’s a little trepidatious about that. In the end, it turns out to be a good thing in their relationship. At least, I hope so, even though Isaac was dishonest. I think he realizes that what he has in front of him is a really together, smart, cute girl that he should pay attention to a little bit more, or at least more so than he was before the trip.
It seems as though a group of people with unresolved issues, spending the weekend together in such a confined space, is a disaster waiting to happen. Do you think, if she knew how it would all turn out, that she’d do it all over again, or do you think she wishes that she’d just stayed home?
LEVY: That’s a funny question. I don’t know. I can’t think of a situation in my life where I thought, “I just wish I didn’t go.” Maybe I can. I’ve had a lot of friends recently who have been going or not going to their high school reunions, and I’m always like, “Why would you not go?,” but they’re like, “Why the hell would I go?” I’m under the impression that it’s going to be really hilarious and almost romantic and nostalgic, but maybe it’s just terribly depressing and awkward. Something I thought about with this movie is when you go home and stay with your family for Christmas, and you revert back to this person that you used to be, or that maybe you truly are at heart. The role you play within this group of people, whether it be your family or friends, comes out in this movie, which I find interesting.
This film makes a point to say that people are so obsessed with the technology in their own lives that personally communicating and staying in touch with people is missing from friendships. Do you ever find that happening in your own life, and do you try to make a point of personally seeing friends and family when you can?
LEVY: Yeah. I have very complex and complicated ideas about technology. It’s such a prominent way that we communicate with each other. In ways, I think it’s really positive, and in ways, I think it’s really negative. I try not to live my life on my phone or my social media pages. Most of the time, I feel better and happier and I learn more when I’m not on my phone, all day, or a computer, or an iPad. I find that going to bed without one of those things makes me sleep better and helps me wake up without obsessing over emails. It makes my day better. But, there’s also really great stuff about it. My boyfriend and I don’t get to live in the same city all the time, and the fact that I can text him or call him or even Skype with him is so wonderful. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I think it’s the beginning of a conversation that we’re going to be having for years and years.
LEVY: Your imagination is your most important tool, as an actor, as cheesy as that sounds. It’s always so much fun to create backstory. Even if there are more clues in the script, you still always have to invent a lot for yourself. I think that comes naturally. It’s a really fun thing to do. The way somebody speaks and their cadence gives you clues to why somebody is the way they are, and how they get to where they are.
The chemistry among this ensemble is really great, and there’s a real ease to it. Did that comradery happen in a natural way?
LEVY: Yeah, I think it was either chance or the way that (writer/director) Jesse [Zwick] casts. Maybe he was just way more aware than all of us. But, we all just got along and had a really fun time together. I lived with Aubrey. We all had our own ski lodge or ski cabin rental in an off-season ski town that was deserted and spooky. I thought that there were murderers, and so did Aubrey, so we lived together. And we all lived next door to each other. We cooked dinner together, we watched movies together, and we’d go swimming. It was like the ultimate summer camp. That’s what it felt like. But, we were making a movie.
You guys seem like a really laid-back, funny, low-maintenance group of people. Does that make the scenes that are more contentious and intense more difficult, or is it more fun when you actually get along and like each other, as people?
LEVY: I think all of that lends itself to better work. If you’re comfortable with someone, you feel creatively free. Whether it’s a comedic scene or a dramatic one, you don’t feel self-conscious because you feel safe with the people that you’re around. That’s what the set was like, and I think it made things easier.
There are some great moments in this film, between the characters. Were there any particularly funny moments when things got a bit carried away?
LEVY: This is a terrible answer, but I don’t even really remember. I actually also haven’t seen the movie yet. But I do remember worrying, a little bit, about what I was doing in the scene where she gets a little too stoned and drunk and whether it was too over-the-top. So far, everyone who’s watched it has told me that they really enjoyed that moment, so I guess it worked.
Did you guys improvise together a lot or try different versions of the scenes, or did you stick pretty closely to the script?
LEVY: There was some improvisation. There wasn’t that much of trying every scene in different ways, only because it’s an independent film and you don’t have all the time in the world to be trying stuff. But, we did a mixture of everything. If there are deleted scenes, I don’t think it’s noticeable because it was edited nicely. There was improv, but we did stick to the script. Max Greenfield is really good at improv.
You’re doing the Monster Trucks movie, right?
LEVY: Yeah, I just wrapped last month.
The plot is supposed to be a big secret, but how challenging is it to go through the process of working on a film that’s a blend of live-action and CG? Was it a very complicated and technical shoot?
LEVY: Yeah, it’s really hard. It’s actually the hardest work there is to do, as an actor, because you’re creating everything, in that moment. When you’re working on a blue screen and it’s just you with the director on a microphone telling you exactly what’s happening in front of you, it’s really hard and you can’t help but be self-conscious. You’re like, “I don’t even know what I’m pretending to be looking at. I’m pretending to be looking at something, but I have no idea what it’s actually ever going to look like.” And that’s really hard. It’s embarrassing, but I definitely feel protected by the director. He knows what he was doing.
With the Transformers movies being so successful, do you feel like you have that to live up to, or is this just very much its own thing?
LEVY: This is its own thing. Maybe I should think about it more, but when I make a movie, I just make the movie. I don’t think about the success of it. If it becomes successful, that’s an amazing treat. If it doesn’t, you had a great time making it and you learned from it, and then you make a new thing. That’s how I think about it. I’m sure the studio people are worried about the pressure of the success, but not me.
Do you have any idea what you’re going to shoot next?
LEVY: You know, I don’t. This is the first time, since I’ve started working as an actor, where I don’t have anything lined up. At first, I was really excited about it, and I still am, but now, I’ve been back for three weeks and I’m like, “Where’s my job?” But I only want to work on something that I really want to work on, for my next project.
Would you consider doing another TV show, or are you more focused on film right now?
LEVY: Yeah, I would consider it, but I am really attracted to films right now. It’s nice to do something new, all the time. That’s why I like being an actor. Sometimes when you’re on a TV show and you do the same thing for years and years, it can get a little bit boring. So, if something great comes up, I would do TV. But right now, I find the film world very romantic. I want to try to be in more movies.
Suburgatory was the little show that could for three seasons. What will you always remember fondly about that experience, and do you feel like you had a sense of closure with the show?
LEVY: I guess I had a sense of closure. As an actor, you realize that your whole life is about arrivals and departures. You’re always meeting people, you get really close, and then you all have to leave. Whether it’s a 20 day movie or a three-year TV show, that’s just the way it goes. I don’t feel like I got total closure, necessarily. It was basically my first job. I had worked briefly on Shameless, right before, and I’ll always remember that. I learned so much on that set that I feel like I grew up, as a person and as a actor. Every single one of the cast members and the creator feel like they’ll be my best friends forever, so I take that, as well.
Do you feel comfortable in your own skin now, as an actress, or do you feel like you still have so much to learn?
LEVY: Both. I feel like I’ll always feel that I have so much to learn, but I don’t feel uncomfortable in my skin. I’m always changing and learning about acting, and about myself. I just hope to always keep doing that.
Are you looking to find a balance between comedy and drama, or are you feeling more drawn to one over the other?
LEVY: I’m not really feeling more drawn to one over the other. I like doing both. I also like dramedies. I like movies and TV shows that are mixtures of the two.
About Alex is now playing in theaters and on VOD.