The following is part one of our four-part Sundance Film Festival interview series: The Breakout Star (you are here), The Debut, The Returning Champion and The Comeback.
The Breakout Star
The name Robin Weigert may not ring a bell but by the time this year’s Sundance Film Festival comes to a close it’s likely you’ll hear it more than a few times.
The 43-year-old character actress has been working steady in film, TV and the stage for years—you may recall her 2004 Emmy nomination for her role as Calamity Jane in Deadwood. But by playing sexually frustrated New Jersey housewife Abby in Concussion, Weigert shows her talent at full throttle as she’s practically in every scene—many that include steamy lesbian sexual encounters.
Fed up with her life—screaming kids and a disinterested wife—Abby begins to venture into the city and with the help of a friend meets up with prostitutes. Soon that friend asks her if she wants to do a few jobs. Motivated more by the sexual act than the money, Weigert evolves Abby into a ferocious lover filled with vulnerability, satisfaction and uncertainty of her real life back in the burbs.
Here Weigert sits with Movies.com and explains what led her to this much talked about unconventional role and why the comparisons to Steve McQueen’s Shame are not accurate.
Movies.com: Was there a point when reading the script or making the movie that you realize this role isn't like the others you've had?
Robin Weigert: Just seeing the volume of scenes [I'd be in], I don't think I've ever been offered something like this before so I knew it would be extremely demanding. And I've always played supporting roles before this one—certainly in film, and though Calamity Jane was a very dynamic character it was certainly part of an ensemble. So I have never had this kind of opportunity before and I'm very grateful. I don't know where it came from exactly. The director, Stacie Passon, and I had never met before and the offer was lobbed to me in L.A. from her in Montclair, New Jersey. I got to know her a little bit and loved the script. There were a lot of things that spoke to me and scared me to death and I think my initial reaction was fear and then I couldn't stop thinking about it. I thought it this isn't done at a high level it could really go south. But her tremendous intelligence in the script and as a human being I felt the right ingredients where there.
Movies.com: You're literally on-screen the whole time. As an actor, is there a different way you have to go about the part because you are carrying it?
Weigert: It's funny because when I did Deadwood I would prepare myself as if it was going to be a marathon day, so I would give everything I had to that one or two scenes I was in. [Laughs] I've learned to now take it as it comes. There were definitely choices I made in the evolution of the character. There were deliberate choices in when I would show her spirit waking up in a scene or a little dead in the water.
Movies.com: Was it difficult to watch the film?
Weigert: I felt intensely vulnerable because I had offered so much to the movie. But I'm really proud of Stacie. I felt proud of it too. It's a lot to take yourself into that degree. And to see it amongst people and they all have their badges on and it's like, this is really happening. But to hear laughter and that sense of participation was great. The fact that there's laughter tells me that the audience is with it.
Movies.com: It is surprising how much comedy is in the film. Was that how it was on the page?
Weigert: Yeah. Stacy has a great sense of humor. I love that. It's not an earnest movie—it explores deep themes and things that we all can identify with. For example, when the teacher is being politically correct about Halloween, and it's like what are we even talking about?
Movies.com: So you've been heralded as one of the breakout stars at this year's festival. Do you pay attention to that?
Weigert: Are you kidding me?! I think what happens when your first breakthrough role is such a character role, as Calamity Jane was, it miscategorizes you and puts you way out there somewhere. The human dimension gets submerged somewhat under the impression of the character. So something like this it feels like it's been a long time coming.
Movies.com: How did you research the role?
Weigert: What I did was I put myself in a different physical state. I went far into the idea of what it would be to punish yourself with exercise and deprive yourself in a certain way when people are trying to make themselves to hold onto something that time may be inevitably taking away from them. It happens in your 40s for women and men. How do I get that youth? So I kind of went after that as a physiological experience rather than doing interviews like "What is it to be a sex worker?" Because she didn't research sex work she just started to do things.
Movies.com: Do you think Abby is in a better place by the end of the film?
Weigert: That's the interesting thing and I think the movie deliberately doesn't answer that, but answering as a viewer, I think that in finding a form of, for lack of a better word, health for herself she's able to feed her animal nature. She has more of an ability to feed her life and ironically try to work it out with her wife. The truth is out. I think she's a healthier animal by the end.
I read somewhere someone comparing the movie to Shame. And I can understand that but this is not about a sex addict, this is something different. So we're not looking at a disease under a microscope and that movie did an amazing job of depicting that. This is not that movie. This is about a very recognizable human appetite that people walk around with.
Note: According to Deadline, The Weinstein Company's VOD arm Radius has acquired all North American rights for Concussion, which is now scheduled for a Fall 2013 release.
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