By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Jessalyn Gilsig has perfected the art of playing flawed women, sometimes deceptive, manipulative and scheming as her characters were on “Nip/Tuck,” “Glee” and “Heroes,” but always interesting to watch.
The Montreal-born actress explains during a phone interview that she feels it’s her job as an actress to figure out what makes her characters relatable, even if they’re not always likable.
The 42-year mom now stars as another troubled woman in the independent drama “Somewhere Slow,” which she also produced. She plays Anna, a fortysomething beauty products sales rep, who is in a loveless marriage with a controlling husband. Constantly put down by her seemingly more perfect sister in front of her dying mother, Anna seems like a beaten dog. She reaches rock bottom when she loses her job for not bringing in enough sales.
On her way home, she stops at a convenience store, and while smoking a cigarette outside, she hears gunfire inside. Reentering the store, she sees both the clerk and the gunman are dead. Something snaps, and instead of calling the police, she grabs the loot and takes off with a passing trucker, who gives her a lift to the bus station. There, she buys a ticket out of Delaware, and meets a young runaway, with whom she strikes up a fast friendship.
Though Travis is at least 20 years her junior, the two misfits find more in common with each other than they ever have with anyone else. They wind up at a lakeside cottage Anna’s family once owned in Massachusetts, where their friendship blossoms into romance. The bittersweet drama is written and directed by Jeremy O’Keefe (“Wrestling”), and co-stars Graham Patrick Martin (who played Bill Engvall’s son on the comedian’s self-titled TV series) as Travis.
Gilsig, who has a seven-year-old daughter with producer Bobby Salomon, says producing her first film was like taking a master class, and she learned a lot along the way—such as the real expense of making a movie comes during post-production “when the money is gone and everyone has left.” That has not deterred her but, in fact, encouraged her to want to produce another film soon. “Somewhere Slow” is now available on iTunes and all major Video on Demand platforms.
Meantime, she is returning as Siggy, the dutiful wife of Earl Haraldson (played by Gabriel Byrne) for the second season of the History Channel series, “The Vikings,” which premieres Feb. 27.
Q: Why do you think you’re drawn to playing flawed women?
Gilsig: I feel like when you’re an actor, it’s your job. You have to do it in a way that has a lot of humility, but to represent the human condition. And I’m flawed too. (She laughs.) I’m a walking contradiction. I feel like when I receive a character, I’m always trying to figure out what my character’s motivations are, where she’s coming from, what she wants, but then also how she goes about it and how that tells us who she is. Sometimes I’m given characters that maybe are being conceived a little bit more as a device, and I always think I have a responsibility to try to make them relatable and find something in them that speaks to what makes us human.
Q: In “Somewhere Slow,” Anna is almost pathologically nice to people. She’s always handing out compliments to people at the most unexpected times.
Gilsig: Yeah, she gives them in inappropriate moments even over things that are not remarkable. At one point, she compliments a girl on a scrunchy in her hair. It’s not a nice one! I love the way the actress responds to that: she does this thing like, “Oh, thank you!” Anna is a good example of what I was saying. I don’t know if I want to be friends with her but I feel like I care about her. When we first meet her, she would be hard to be friends with because she cannot allow the moment to sit. It’s too hard for her and she feels this compulsion to fill it with these niceties that aren’t grounded in what’s happening in that moment. I thought that was such a great detail of her. So much of the story is about her learning how let things be uncomfortable and let the quiet moments be, and to actually allow a moment to reveal itself, instead of feeling like she has to generate it all the time.
Q: This is pretty much a two-character piece—it’s you and Graham for most of the film. How was that for you? Did you have a lot of rehearsal?
Gilsig: We did rehearse a little bit before we started filming. Because I produced the film, I also was involved in the casting as well. We talked at length about the Travis character and what we were picturing was a boy/man. That moment when an adolescent is transitioning into manhood, and there’s a moment in a male’s life, where those two things are existing at the same time. It’s very fleeting. It can be a six-month period. But it’s a very significant time for them. It felt like that’s what that character was about. You didn’t want a guy who was going to come in and James Dean it up. You wanted someone who was comfortable still being a kid but you had to believe they had a connection despite their age difference. Graham had actually read the breakdown and on his own worked very hard to get his hands on the script. He actually found a way to submit himself three or four times. So he kept popping up in our submissions and we would joke about it, “We gotta see this GPM kid!” He came in and he just got it. He wasn’t uncomfortable showing the boy. He wasn’t trying to be a cool guy. He’s so honest and open and yet comfortable enough playing opposite an older woman and filling his own space. We just got lucky finding him and he told us, “I knew I had to play this part. I had to make sure I did everything to make my case.” And he really did.
Q: It’s ironic that Anna is a beauty product salesperson with bad skin. Was it tough going through the make up process every day and having the acne applied? Do you think Anna’s acne caused by stress?
Gilsig: I do. She has so much tension within her. I know that I’m constantly battling skin issues and it’s always related to stress and hormonal things. Michele Sweeney, the makeup artist, worked with me a long time to find what we hoped was the right amount. She spent the entire shoot nursing those pimples. She’d take them off my face at the end of the day and keep them in a binder. It was unbelievable. To me, it was something personal. I’ve always had skin that flares up and I still do at my age. It’s infuriating! If you’re going to get wrinkles, it seems to me that you should be allowed to give the pimples back. I know where all my pimples are at all times. I know where they are in their journey. I can say, “In three days, this one’s going to be history” or “Oh gosh, it’s going to be a week, I’m going to have to live with this one.” So, I think when I read that in the script, I knew that I wanted Anna to touch her face, absentmindedly. She’s always checking in with them, which I’m familiar with. She has this idea that if she lingers her hand over her face, nobody will notice. To me, that was a little bit personal and I was kind of glad to acknowledge it. Typically, Hollywood movies set an impossible standard of beauty, so it’s nice to be able to say, “Yeah, we’ve got pores and pimples and all of it. That’s what makes us human.”
Q: Your character opens a time capsule she buried at the cottage years earlier. Have you ever buried a time capsule?
Gilsig: Yeah. My sister and I buried one in our yard in a house my parents don’t own anymore. I remember the tin. It was a little metal money box with red and gold detail, but I don’t remember what we put in it. They were probably shallow, silly things. I’d love to go back there and find it but I’d have to dig up their whole backyard.
Q: Where is your somewhere slow?
Gilsig: I guess the first thing that comes to mind, and I suppose sometimes when I can’t sleep, and I’m trying to calm my mind, I think about sitting by the ocean. I’m sure that’s common for a lot of people. But just the idea of looking out over the waves and feeling how small and insignificant you are can be soothing in a funny way.
Q: Any memorable road trips you want to talk about?
Gilsig: The thing that comes to mind is that I was just in Ireland filming “Vikings,” and once I got used to driving on the left hand side, I got in the habit of driving myself to work in the morning. It was about 40 minutes of highway driving from my house, but it was just as you would picture the Irish countryside. The view impressed me every single morning. I came to look forward to that commute—driving around all those emerald green hills and the light in Ireland is never the same from one moment to the next.
Q: What can we expect in the second season?
Gilsig: The second season has more character development. It gets deeper, character-wise. And the show gets a lot bigger. It ventures further out. The Saxon-Viking conflict is a lot more and there are more battles and bigger ships and those kinds of things but he has done such a nice job of balancing that with home life and everything that drives us, like affairs of the heart and revenge and all those major themes. I’m hopeful the audience will feel like their investment from the first season, that we’re building on that in the second season.
Q: Are you returning as Terri on “Glee?”
Gilsig: I just got onto Twitter, and I was trying to encourage people to come see “Somewhere Slow.” I was trying to figure out this hashtag thing so I put, #TeamTerri, and I got a flood of responses like “Yes, all the way!” and “TeamTerri forever!” It was so amazing. I couldn’t believe there was so much passion out there for that storyline. I think TeamTerri (Glee club teacher Will Schuester’s ex-wife) needs to make a comeback, but these aren’t my decisions, so we’ll see what happens.
Q: If they called you, you’d come, right?
Gilsig: Of course! Absolutely! Happily!