(Note: The following interview was conducted last year when Teeth premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival. We are publishing it now to coincide with Teeth's theatrical release this week.)
One of my favorite little gems from last year, Teeth tells the story of Dawn (Jess Weixler); a teen abstinence preacher and all-around lovely girl who, at a very young age, discovers something wrong with her parts down there. It's called vagina dentata, which is Latin for "toothed vagina." Oh yes, it bites ... and it bites hard. Playing Dawn is fresh up-and-comer Jess Weixler, who arrived in this role without much of a big-screen resume. Yet, here, the gal clearly proves she has what it takes to rise up the familiar leading lady ladder, and it won't be long until Jess Weixler is a household name. Following a screening of the film, Cinematical sat down with Jess to talk about Teeth, vagina dentata and how it was playing the woman behind every man's worst nightmare.
Cinematical: You can't exactly go out and meet other women who suffer from vagina dentata. So you read the script, accept the part -- how the hell do you go about researching this kind of role?
Jess Weixler: (laughs) That's why I liked the part. Because there were no rules for how to play the game. Look at this girl Dawn, realize she came from this place of total innocence -- she's very human, someone who doesn't know their body and hasn't opened up yet. And then she gets to learn about life as it sort of attacks her. So she has a very dangerous sexual experience, then instinct kicks in and her body essentially protects her until she learns how to use the teeth. And that's something I had to come to.
Cinematical: Now I've actually watched The Big Bad Swim (another film Jess co-starred in) and loved it.
JW: Did you! How did you get a hold of it?!
Cinematical: I did, I got my hands on a copy of it. I know people. What can I say? So now in that film you play a stripper/black jack dealer who has problems communicating with men. In Teeth, you play the extreme opposite, but you also have problems communicating with men. So ... do you have problems communicating with men? (laughs) Is this something you're attracted to?
JW: I'm interested in the study of how you would communicate with the opposite sex. I wouldn't say personally that I have problems communicating with men -- though I'm not sure what the men would say. (laughs) I haven't actually thought about how they're similar. To me, Dawn comes from such a pure place and is so shocked to find this stuff inside of her -- figuratively and literally -- and then sort of grows into a woman who really owns it. And Jordan, the character in The Big Bad Swim, is totally jaded. She's not innocent. And she hasn't been for a very long time. She doesn't find her body precious and Dawn does. Dawn values her sex very much. And Jordan was kind of giving it away.
Cinematical: What's so great about Teeth is that it's a different kind of horror. It's not gratuitous, like Saw or Hostel, it's a more personal horror film.
JW: Yeah, I think it has humor because it has heart. She's not a monster, she's not malicious -- she's not seeking anyone out to try to hurt them. She's only protecting herself. It's just not like revenge or slasher or anything. It's somebody trying to live life to the best of their ability, and they come up against strange situations.
Cinematical: How was it working with Mitchell Lichtenstein, the writer-director?
JW: It's funny -- when I first read the script, I was like I gotta go meet this guy because he could just be a freak. And I don't know if I want to work with him. But Mitchell's the sweetest, most shy, genuine person that I knew there was something to it. It was coming from a place of humor and it does have something to say.
Cinematical: Is there a message that this film is sending to today's youth, to today's females and males?
JW: I don't think there's an intentional message with this movie. I think it's more of a "What if" this were to happen to a woman. To balance out the physical forces. Because, generally, men are stronger than woman physically. As far as a message goes, if you had to say something it might be that if people keep repressing their sexual feelings, it could result in them getting overwhelmed by them at some point ... and maybe acting out on them. But statistically, those kids involved in abstinence groups only wind up having sex a few months after kids not in abstinence groups. And it's not meant to be a film on whether that is right or wrong.
Cinematical: Seeing as this is really your first lead role in a feature, there's a lot of sex and nudity in it. Were you comfortable with that -- how did you handle it all?
JW: I was weary of it because I hadn't done sex scenes before. But when I got on the set, and as the process went on, I met all the guys, I was extremely comfortable about it. They were all extremely respectful about it and really funny about it. I mean, you can't be on a set like this and not spend half the time joking around. A large portion of those scenes were spent trying not to laugh. I mean, the intensity in our faces is partially coming from us trying not to laugh.
Cinematical: How do you think this is going to play to audiences in the states?
JW: Conceptually, I think it's going to turn a lot of people off. But, in the same way, conceptually it's going to turn a lot of people on. I think people are going to see it because they're curious. From what I've seen from the screenings, people kind of get it. There may be a smaller audience that starts to see it, and then hopefully the audience will grow. I had people all over the map come up to me after seeing this and go 'rock on!', so it doesn't just appeal to college kids. Although that could be the largest market because it definitely has a cult-ish feel.
Cinematical: Where are you going from here with your career? Are you interested in big Hollywood stuff? More horror? Smaller pieces?
JW: Eventually, I'd love to be known as a character actor. I don't think I'd like to do another horror film right now because I don't want to be that girl. I would do just about anything that really catches my eye. Whether it be a Hollywood movie or an independent movie that just connects to me on the basis of the script, and who the director is, and whether I can see eye to eye with the director. But I really feel good about making choices kind of slowly right now.
For more on Teeth, check out an additional video interview with Jess Weixler from Berlin, and stay tuned for our review later this week.