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THE PERFORMANCE

Jess Weixler puts the pieces together in 'Peter and Vandy'

The romantic comedy drops viewers into random points in a relationship, leaving them to figure out the puzzle.

October 08, 2009|Michael Ordona

Fittingly for an actress who has already shown remarkable range, the petite, blond Jess Weixler's face can change radically. Depending on the angle, the moment or the character, she can go from pretty to harsh, innocent to murderous. In the chaotically sequenced romantic drama "Peter and Vandy," she puts on display the many facets of what she calls "a whole person."

"It feels so much better to act when you're not just part of a person; you're not just trying to be charming or lovable," she says, warming her hands on a double shot of green tea. "Stuff is going to fly out of you."

And it does fly out of her character Vandy, often hitting Peter (Jason Ritter), who can also give as good as he gets. The film drops us onto apparently random dots in their connection, leaving the viewer to fit the puzzle together. No, Weixler has not seen the similarly constructed (or deconstructed) "(500) Days of Summer," although the two features were at Sundance at the same time.

Her Vandy can be high maintenance and cold, or warm and supportive. These seeming inconsistencies are hardly the boffo-box-office elements of most screen romances. As Weixler puts it, the film isn't about getting to the first kiss, but "How do you live with somebody after you've fallen in love with them?"

"Falling in love is usually the cinematic part. Can you go through with the daily ins and outs? How do you not start neglecting each other?" she asks. "Should they break up if they're not the perfect fit? Or should they stick it out because they're so in love with each other?"

Weixler, 28, grew up around Louisville ("Llllville," she pronounces with a grin), of which she declares she is "super proud." Raised by her father, an art retoucher, she was an only child with plenty of attention and freedom to foster a wild imagination. She went from there to the Juilliard School in New York, then piled up theater and indie film credits, including her acclaimed turn as an innocent with unusual physical attributes, pushed to extraordinary vengeance in "Teeth." She moved to Los Angeles about a month ago, the biggest adjustment perhaps being driving her first car. But before then, she had added "Peter and Vandy" to the half-dozen or so other projects she's worked on this year.

"With this one in particular, I felt like it was a no-brainer because the script felt so real and right to me," she says of first-time screenwriter-director Jay DiPietro's adaptation of his play. "It felt like we could really grow with it and go really deep with it."

Even more than in most projects, the leads' chemistry was the make-or-break element in this chronologically fractured love-and-living-with-it story, a hodgepodge of snapshots of different stages of a relationship.

"You don't really know until you're in it if you're going to be able to 'get it on' psychologically or whatever with the other actor, and that's what makes something really beautiful. I have to give Jay the credit for pairing me and Jason. I could draw from my own knowledge, but yes, if you've been with somebody for a long time, it's an epic situation when you break up. I could understand it from that level but then it just came down to me and Jason trying to make each other laugh or to care about each other or tell the other person to . . . themselves," she says with a laugh.

Weixler delighted in putting the warm, ugly, fun, controlling and sexy clues together.

"Vandy's fighting for the relationship. Despite all her neuroses, she's madly in love with him. She warmed up to him super-fast. Like when they're watching TV and he's playing the pouting game; she can't stand when he's gone off into the corner -- she has to get him back. She likes playing the tug of war; she likes it when the guy turns off to her," says the actress with a wicked chuckle. "She wants to be able to beg a little bit."

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Where you've seen her

Jess Weixler made her mark with "Teeth" (2007), a black comedy about a girl with vagina dentata, which is exactly what it sounds like it might be. She won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance for her performance. The 28-year-old has appeared on TV's "Everwood," "Guiding Light" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." Films include Joe Swanberg's "Alexander the Last," which she helped write; the upcoming "As Good as Dead" with Cary Elwes, Andie MacDowell and Brian Cox; and the noirish "A Woman" with Willem Dafoe ("He plays the woman," she says, then laughs and admits, "No, he doesn't."). She's about to begin shooting a project she helped adapt from T. Coraghessan Boyle's short story, "The Lie."

-- Michael Ordona

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