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Jesse Plemons on Playing Gay, Working With Molly Shannon, & Being the Ultimate Actor-Chameleon


"I’ve never played a gay character before, but really I was just terrified of the possibility of being at all clichéd or stereotypical."

Texas-born actor Jesse Plemonsreceived an Emmy nom for his turn as Ed Blomquist on Fargo this fall, and is now starring in the debut film from Chris Kelly, Other People.

Plemons plays David, a gay comedy writer in New York who returns home to Sacramento to be with his mother who's dying of cancer (Molly Shannon). We sat down with Plemons to talk about playing gay, working with an incredible cast, and his chameleon-like adaptaions from project to project. (Warning: Minor spoilers ahead!)

Out: You're so fantastic in Other People. How did you find the role? And did you know Chris?

Jesse Plemons: I knew about the movie two years before we filmed. I read the script and I gave very little thought as to whether or not to do it, because it immediately got me, and I had to play this part. It's one of the more honest scripts--funny, heartbreaking--that I've read in a really long time. And that's Chris. I'm just blown away by his story. We became best friends. And then I think I did Black Mass between meeting him and the actual filming. Which was a funny jump. But it was just something that I really felt like I had to do. And we shot it all in 21 days.

You also played a very salt-of-the-earth character in Fargo. How was going from roles like that to this one, your first time playing a gay character. What was the prep like?

It was sort of terrifying as it drew closer and closer. Because obviously I've never played a gay character before, but really I was just terrified of the possibility of being at all cliched or stereotypical. It was a huge help to have Chris there, because if I ever erred he could reel me back in. What attracted me to the part wasn't that it was a gay character. There was so much in the script besides that. It's sort of a weird coming of age, and him coming out to himself and accepting himself throughout the course of the movie, and looking for acceptance from his father and everyone else. That was what I really connected to, and wanted to convey.

Did you draw from your own life at all? Were there any parallels?

That struggle for self-acceptance is something that everyone can relate to on some level. I also have a friend who's been one of my pals for a very long time, and I've seen his struggles. He's a gay man and isn't at all stereotypical. It's kind of a combination of him, and Chris, and my own experiences.

David has an intense sex scene with his ex (Zach Woods). How'd that go?

The hardest part is the buildup. The anticipation. Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. Down to a robe, then to slippers, then to nothing. And I was still a little overweight at the time. But once we actually got down to it, I don't know--it was almost easier in some ways as opposed to a sex scene with a woman. You're always in the same position, it's awkward and uncomfortable. But I met Zach and hit it off.

Let's talk Molly Shannon. How did you guys meet for the first time and how was it working together?

The whole thing was kind of a whirlwind. It almost seems amazing that we pulled it off in such a short period of time. I was extremely excited to work with Molly because her era of Saturday Night Live was my first introduction to the show, when my parents allowed me to stay up and watch. I felt like in a weird way I'd known her for a long time. And then meeting her, she's just the nicest human being I have ever met. And she's a great scene partner.

Other People (2016)

Do you feel like you learned a lot from working with her?

She definitely taught me that I don't always have to torture myself to get the result. I told this story at Sundance, but we finally got around to shooting the closing scene of the movie, on the deathbed. Chris was giving us a talk, and said, "OK, this is probably going to be a four-minute take. We're just going to shoot the whole thing through. Just one angle." And we started, and everyone was just a puddle of tears on the bed. And Molly, out of nowhere, burst out laughing. As we're all sobbing over her. It's supposed to be a dead body. And we all just started cracking up, because she said, "It's just so weird to play dead when you're not actually dead!" It was a hard moment, but I think it was one that everyone kind of needed, and she definitely brought some levity to this story that's just really, really sad.

It's such a tragic role, yet she's so funny. A lot of people in this movie are in UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade). Have you done a lot of improv, comedic or dramatic, in your training?

I've always toyed with the idea of going to UCB and taking some classes. The majority of my improv training has come from the first show that I did, Friday Night Lights. We were really allowed and encouraged to bring as much to the parts as we wanted. We could change it or rewrite it or whatever based on what we felt. It's definitely a great way to work, especially when you're working with such great improvisors. But then at the same time, the script for Other People was so beautiful already, so there wasn't a ton of improv in the movie. But there were definitely moments.

Can you speak to any upcoming projects?

I just finished this movie with Scott Cooper, who I worked with on Black Mass. This Western called Hostiles. It was a lot of fun. I grew up in Texas riding horses and all of that, so it was a bit of a dream come true to get to ride around in the desert and play cowboy.

Other People is in select theaters now. Check out the trailer below.

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