The new movie Teeth, which opens this Friday, Jan. 18, couldn’t have been an easy sell. In fact, it’s fun just to imagine the pitch meeting: pretty, young, exceedingly chaste girl discovers she has, in actuality, the mythological condition vagina dentata (that’s toothed vagina, for all you non-Latin-takers). Girl is horrified, not to mention the men who, shall we say, also discover her condition (chomp, chomp, chomp). Chaos ensues, along with some cringe-inducing visuals (think Rottweiler and strewn man bits) that will surely have audiences laughing and shrieking.
“I got the script and I didn’t even need to finish reading it before I was just like, I’m not prepared to do this,” said Jess Weixler, Teeth’s toothy heroine. “I thought, it’s funny, but I’m not sure if I’m supposed to think it’s funny. And I didn’t know if I was laughing with it or at it.” It was meeting the writer-director, Mitchell Lichtenstein (trivia: son of Roy) that helped change her mind. “I met with Mitchell, who is so very sweet, and realized he had made a dark comedy, not a B horror movie,” the 26-year-old said. “He convinced me that I was in good hands. He didn’t seem like some S&M freak in polka dots, which he very well could have been from reading the script. He’s a compassionate man. He’s the kind of guy who gets the giggles about stuff. He has a very funny sense of humor. … He’s just a giggler.”
Teeth debuted at last year’s Sundance festival, and quickly became a critical darling. “It was wild out there,” Ms. Weixler said of her Sundance experience. “I actually thought I was going to be able to ski when I was there. It was so nice to be around so many talented people, but it’s kind of hard to know what’s going on. You get obsessed with the swag houses, though. Like, I have free time, is there free stuff I might have missed?” she laughed. The actress had the chance to watch the audience react to the film at its first Park City screening. “People just let themselves go with it. I think it’s a good theater movie. It’s something that people should share with each other. I can see how by watching it by yourself you could feel a little … uncomfortable.” Ms. Weixler had already left town and was on a New York flight bound for San Diego when she was told she had won the Special Jury Prize for dramatic performance. “They came on the plane and were like, we have to get you another plane to Utah. You’ve won an award! And I had to freak out in public around a bunch of strangers,” she said.
MS. WEXLER, WHO is a sort of pretty blend of Sarah Polley and Heather Graham—with Alice in Wonderland blond hair and blue eyes, but with enough quirk to make her face exceedingly interesting to look at—was speaking via phone from her hometown of Louisville, Ky., where she was visiting her family. The 26-year-old currently lives in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, her home for the past three years, and she can enthusiastically debate the merits of various neighborhood coffee shops (she’s a Fall Café devotee) with the best of the locals. She started acting in a local youth troop, and on a teacher’s suggestion, she auditioned for colleges with an emphasis on theater. After being accepted at Juilliard, she said it was decided. “I was like, I’m going to do this. I love it, and they’re letting me do it!”
Ms. Weixler moved to the city and became an instant New York convert. “I felt like I was in a movie all the time,” she said. “Because you see New York in the movies and I had never seen it in real life. I couldn’t believe how bright it was at night versus Kentucky. Just to have buildings with tiny little lights on … to see the skyline really blew my mind.” After school, she decided to stay put, and scored guest spots on shows like Hack, Everwood and, of course, Law & Order. (“Like every other single actor in the world,” Ms. Weixler said. “Thank God for Law & Order. It’s so brilliant, they have this machine in New York where they need three New York actors every week. And there are several of them! It couldn’t be better for our industry.”)
As for the lure of shiny Los Angeles, she’s sticking to New York and has no plans to leave. “There’s probably more work in L.A., and I’ve had a ton of people tell me the smart thing for me to do is to move there, but I figure I’m in it for the long haul, and if my career takes a little more time to get rolling, then I’d like to do it from a place that feels like home to me,” she said. Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s Patricia Clarkson, Johnny Depp and Cate Blanchett—actors known by their talent first, in addition to their somewhat daring choices and indie-at-heart sensibilities—who she named as those she’d like to emulate (“That’s some high hopes!” she laughed), as well as Charlie Kaufman and the Coen brothers, in terms of people she’d wish to work with one day.
Ms. Weixler recently completed work on Peter and Vandy, one of a few projects she worked on last year, a romantic movie she calls the opposite of Teeth, co-starring Jason (son of John) Ritter. She’s at a stage in her career where (in spite of a few angry right-wing bloggers, up in arms over that whole vagina dentata thing) she can move freely about the city, spend time with her boyfriend Isaac, a not-in-the-industry fellow Brooklyn resident (who thinks Teeth was hilarious).
“I’m so new that I pretty much cruise through,” she said. “Once I was sitting on the subway and the girl right next to me was like, ‘Oh, my God!’ I was sure she just knew me.” The woman had seen Ms. Weixler and Teeth at Sundance and went on to tell her how it was her favorite thing that year. “For me it was just nice. I’m not at all in a place where I would ever think it was annoying for someone to tell me they liked it. Because this movie is so wild, you never know how people were going react.”
And with the arrival of Teeth in theaters, finally, two years after completion, react they will. “It’s so bizarre,” Ms. Weixler said of the reality of a film in theaters. “It was so great to see it at Sundance, and now it’s a year later and it’s like, it’s coming out? Does anybody know?” She laughed. “I hope so.”