Jess Weixler and Director Jay Gammill Talk FREE SAMPLES, Making an Unpleasant Character Likeable, and Changes from the Script
Free Samples is a quirky indie dramedy about Jillian (in a truly terrific performance by Jess Weixler), a law school drop-out who fills in as server at her friend’s ice cream truck. While spending the day giving out free samples to eccentric and oddball locals, she also finds herself re-evaluating what and who she wants in life. The film also stars Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Ritter, Halley Feiffer and Tippi Hedren.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress Jess Weixler and director Jay Gammill talked about what it was about the script that made them want to get involved with the project, how this great cast came together, the challenges in making an often unpleasant character likeable, and how much the final cut of the film changed from the original script. Jay also talked about doing another film with screenwriter Jim Beggarly, while Jess talked about wanting to get one of her own scripts made. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did each of you come to this project, and what was it about this script that made you want to sign on and get involved?
JAY GAMMILL: I met the screenwriter (Jim Beggarly) coming out of film school in 2007, and we wanted to work together. He pitched me on the idea of this movie, and I just loved the concept. He wrote it, and then we started taking it around, trying to get a cast interested. And Jess Weixler and Jesse Eisenberg were both people who we wanted to be in the film.
JESS WEIXLER: Jesse got on this project first ‘cause he knew the writer, and then he passed it over to me. I was like, “How cool to get to play a woman who’s kind of a sourpuss!” I haven’t done that much, as an actress, or read parts like this. I appreciated why she was being such a sourpuss. It’s because she had pressed the stop button on her life. She’d been going on this track that was wrong for her. She didn’t want to be a lawyer. She wasn’t really in love with the guy she was engaged to. She was having an early life crisis. She’d worked really hard toward things that weren’t right for her. So, she’s going through this phase of needing to reject everything before she starts figuring out what she’s going to accept. This day is just a day of pressing the off button on everything and everyone, until she finally opens up at the end and starts to see what she might like and who she might like.
How difficult is it, these days, to get a movie made that’s really just about real life, with no action and no guys running around in superhero costumes?
GAMMILL: It’s a challenge, in that it’s hard to get any movie made. But, what’s fantastic about it, and I think it’s a testament to the script, is that when you have material and you have characters that actors don’t get a chance to play very often, you can get them interested. You can have fun with it, too, when you’re making these kinds of movies. That’s what makes it enjoyable.
Were you always really determined to get such a terrific cast for this film? At any point, did you think, “There’s no way we can get all these great actors,” or did you just have blinders on until you did?
GAMMILL: To be honest, it happened so organically. Jesse came on early in the process, and we wanted Jess for the role, so Jesse told her about it. It was just a natural progression.
WEIXLER: Yeah, people just kept passing it to people who read these parts and were like, “Oh, do you know who would be fun to do this part? Jason Ritter. I also really love working with Keir O’Donnell.” This whole shoot was 13 days, so for the people who came in, it was only one or two days. With indies, it doesn’t require that much to have somebody come in and just play around for a day.
GAMMILL: Every day was like, “Who’s going to be our guest star for the day?” It was really fun!
Jess, what were the biggest challenges in making someone as disdainful and unpleasant as this character can be, at times, still likeable? Was that something that you worried about, at all?
WEIXLER: It’s funny, I did worry about it and I was trying not to. I was consciously trying to be like, “It’s okay, Jess, be brave! It’s okay, if they don’t like you. She’s in a bad mood. You’ve felt like this. You’ve wanted to be an asshole, sometimes. At this point in time, this girl is this way. This is how she feels. Everything is just too much.” So, I was aware of it, and I just kept telling myself to stop judging it and know that this was the way that she felt on this day. Just thinking of myself hung-over helped.
It seems as though, even if you’re the sweetest, most patient person in the world, working in a food truck and serving people and trying to keep them happy all day, seems like the biggest nightmare ever. Did you feel like it would drive any sane person mad?
WEIXLER: I think so. It’s funny, I thought about how often I’ve gone up to people behind a counter, and they’re just in the worst mood. You’re like, “What did I do wrong that asking for more salt is so upsetting to you?!” It makes sense. If you’re having a bad day already and everybody is just asking you petty questions, it drives people to the edge, or something really small will have a really large effect.
GAMMILL: And you have people who are obnoxious. I thought Jillian was completely justified. I thought, “That’s perfect! That’s just what I would want to say!”
WEIXLER: I’d like to think she’s also kind of playing with them. It helps make it more fun for her to mess with people.
From the first script that you read to the final cut, how much did the film evolve, and what would you say the biggest differences are?
GAMMILL: We shot the script as it was, but we ended up shuffling a couple scenes around to get at the why behind Jillian’s temperament sooner. And then, we cut out a few scenes of some customers. There was a lull in the story, and we really wanted to get things moving. If anything, we abbreviated some of those moments. We still let the funny ones play, with those customers, but handing out small doses of Jillian got us to a point where we could really show what was happening with her.
What will you guys each be doing next?
WEIXLER: I have a circling of things that are going on. I have some things that are just finished shooting, that are going to come out later this year. I’m not allowed to say, right now, what’s going on with The Good Wife. But, I’m also writing and I’m looking to make a movie, sometime soon. It’s not super official, as of yet. I’m trying to be on both sides of the camera, right now, just to get really well-rounded storytelling.
GAMMILL: I have two scripts I’m working on right now, attached to direct. One is with the same writer of Free Samples, Jim Beggarly. We’re looking to make that, and then who knows. It’s coming slowly but surely.
Jay, are you looking to continue to do these smaller character pieces, or would you like to try a big movie, at some point?
GAMMILL: I love movies about characters who are at an impasse in their lives and are struggling with something, in those transitional coming-of-age stories. But, it doesn’t have to be youth. It can be anything. And it can be a bigger budget, certainly. I just really like when characters have to make a choice to say yes to their future, or not. That’s what I’m attracted to, and that’s what I like about movies. I feel less alone in the world, when I see myself in characters in films.
Jess, when you work on a project like Free Samples and see it all come together, does it inspire you to want to get behind the camera?
WEIXLER: Totally! It’s through working with a lot of first-time directors that I realized that people learn on their feet. Everybody works on something for a different reason. Everybody has got something new to learn on these sets, and you don’t have to know everything, the second you start. You’re going to figure it out, as you go. I think that’s how people feel about having children, as well. You’re not going to learn how to do it until you do it.
Free Samples is now available on VOD, and is open in theaters on May 31st.