In today’s tough economic market, recent college graduates often struggle to find their place in the professional world and figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Life becomes even harder when people have difficulty learning to trust others who are offering genuine friendship and guidance. Sometimes it takes a glimpse into what life could be like for people to finally overcome their psychological struggles and learn to live again. This happens with lead character Jillian in the new comedy-drama Free Samples, as she begins to reevaluate her life when she’s presented with the chance to let her guard down.
Free Samples follows former Standford law student Jillian (Jess Weixler) as she puts her legal career on hold to pursue a career in the arts. After discovering she has no artistic talent, her career quickly stalls. She is also trying to cope with her estrangement from her fiancee, Danny (Keir O’Donnell). Jillian deals with her troubles by drinking with her friends, including Nancy (Halley Feiffer) and Wally (Jason Ritter).
One day when Nancy has to attend an intervention for her older brother Peter (Jordan Davis), she convinces Jillian to run her ice cream truck for the day, and give out free samples of a new product. Still hung-over from the night before, Jillian contends with costumers who bother her with ridiculous questions or bad attitudes. When she is approached by Tex (Jesse Eisenberg), a man she met the night before but has no recollection of, Jillian comes to realize that life doesn’t stop just because you want it to.
Wiexler generously took the time to sit down with us recently at New York City’s Hilton Fashion District Hotel during the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival to discuss what it was like filming Free Samples. She spoke about what convinced her to take on the role of Jillian and how she prepared for it, what it was like working with first-time director Jay Gammill and why it sometimes takes a stranger to help someone overcome their psychological struggles.
Check it out below.
We Got This Covered: You portray Jillian, a law-school dropout who fills in for her friend on an ice cream truck for the day, in Free Samples. What attracted you to the script and the character, and convinced you to take on the role?
Jess Weixler: I thought it would be really fun to play a part like this, someone who’s so sour. She’s got a little wicked side, without being a bad person.
She’s a good person. She tries to be a good friend. She’s going to stay in this ice cream truck all day, because her friend asked her to.
She’s not going to be sweet about it. (laughs) She’s very frank and straight-forward, and doesn’t care what people think of her. That’s kind of refreshing, and a relief to play that.
WGTC: How did you get into Jillian’s mind frame, and prepare for the role?
JW: It wasn’t too difficult. It was a little bit of a stretch, in that my natural tendency is to make the world a brighter place, or see the good in things. I’d just be like, see it for what it is. Hope that it shows up, and if it doesn’t, it’s not my fault. There’s nothing I can do about it, today’s a bad day.
So it brought out this other side of me. Occasionally, I’m sure, it’s the running dialogue in my head, either when I’m hung over or when I’m around people who are annoying. It’s like letting all that running dialogue that you keep to yourself when you’re just not having it free. (laughs)
WGTC: What was your working relationship with Jason Ritter like, since you have previously worked together on several films, including Peter and Vandy?
JW: What was really nice about this one was that it ended up being a trail of friends with the people involved. Jesse Eisenberg was friends with the writer (Jim Beggarly), and then called me, and got me and Halley Feiffer involved. Then I called Jason and Keir O’Donnell, and got them involved.
So I ended up working with a lot of people that we already knew and liked, so there was a real comfort level there. Jason I’ve worked with the most, out of all of them. We end up getting paired up a lot. With this one, I was like, oh yeah, I want to work with this guy.
WGTC: Jay Gammill made his directorial feature film debut with Free Samples. What was it like working with him on this movie?
JW: He was super sweet, and really worked with me to create the tone and the worlds, since I was going to be the one consistent thing throughout the whole movie. So he was very trusting of me in that way. He helped me figure out how to set it up, and make her very specific, so all of these oddball things could come in and out of the story, and bounce off of me.
WGTC: Free Samples was made by production company Film Harvest, which has the goal of producing cost effective films. Did having a limited budget influence, or limit, what you could shoot?
JW: Indies have bonuses and minuses. The minuses are that you’re short on time. I think we shot for 12 days. You’re also short on money. Say you wanted to re-shoot something, if there was a scene where you thought, it would be good if we corrected this, something about it doesn’t match the movie the way it should, you can’t re-shoot it. You don’t have any more money.
But being on that set is very frank, because it’s very collaborate. You work with the cinematographer and the director to find the moments. There’s not one super power hanging over, making all the final decisions. It’s a very collaborate environment, which I like a lot.
WGTC: Throughout the course of the day on the ice cream truck, it takes several strangers to make Jillian realize that if she takes the risk of trusting other people, she will be able to find truths about herself, and help find her way. Why do you think it sometimes takes strangers to make people overcome their psychological struggles?
JW: I think often it takes an event, or a series of events, to hopefully make a person who’s very shut down realize it’s better if they open up. It will be better for them and for everyone else to have a bigger heart about things.
But what I saw , at least a main part of Jillian’s journey, is that she’s always very eye on the prize, driving towards law school and getting married and being engaged. Then suddenly she doesn’t know why she’s doing it, and why she made the decisions that she made.
She needs to hop off the boat, and suddenly finds herself in this murky space. She’s drinking, and doesn’t know what she’s doing with herself.
That’s a very different space from always being a slacker. It’s like sudden inertia, and then it picks pack up again. In this new space, she’s finally slowed down enough to change her ways, change what she might be doing. She shouldn’t be an artist, she’s not very talented. She should find something else.
It’s the right space for being able to change. She can change how she perceives things and interacts with people, which she may need to do in order to be a better person in the long run.
WGTC: Did you create any type of back-story for Jillian, maybe why she dropped out of law school?
JW: Well, I think she might end up going back into some kind of law, like corporate law or something like that. But her back-story is that her father is a lawyer, and that’s in the script.
She probably went into it because her family pushed her into it. She became a lawyer because it was an obligation. That’s not the right reason to go into something, because you felt forced. So that was her back-story, that she had a complicated relationship with her father in that way.
That concludes our interview, but we’d like to thank Jess Weixler for taking the time to speak with us.
Free Samples premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on Friday, April 20 at New York City’s Clearview Cinemas Chelsea.