Tuesday, February 3, 2009

StrikeTV's Mother-Daughter Duo

Jessy Hodges, Anyone But Me’s Sophie, shares a new connection with her mother, Ellen Sandweiss. Both actresses have bold new shows on StrikeTV. Sandweiss, a horror-film rock star for her role as Cheryl in the cult classic The Evil Dead (1981), is producing and starring in Dangerous Women, a new series that launched in January alongside new episodes of Anyone But Me.

The mother-daughter duo chatted recently about how they both ended up on StrikeTV, their roles in each series, and how they inspire each other.

How did you both end up in StrikeTV Web series?

JESSY HODGES (JH): I was contacted to audition for Anyone But Me while I was finishing my senior year at NYU. I auditioned at a studio in Manhattan for Susan Miller and Tina Cesa Ward. They had me stick around after my first read and read again with a couple of other people (one of whom turned out to be Rachael Hip-Flores). I got a call the next day that I had been cast.

ELLEN SANDWEISS (ES): I knew the writer of Dangerous Women, David O’Malley, and he had always wanted to write a film featuring me and the other two actresses from The Evil Dead, Betsy [Baker] and Theresa [Tilly]. He knew about our whole “Ladies of the Evil Dead” shtick and liked the dynamic between us. So, when the writers were striking and Strike.TV was formed, he decided instead to write it as a Web series. I was so excited when I heard that Jessy’s series was also going to end up on Strike.TV!

You're each playing roles that seem to reflect your generation: In Dangerous Women, Ellen plays a suburban mom while in Anyone But Me Jessy plays a teenager coming of age in the post-9/11 age. To what extent do your roles draw on your own experience, and where do they diverge?

JH: My role on the series is absolutely reflective of my own personal experience. High school, to me, is a very specific time in a person's life where a lot of things are converging and colliding, and you're halfway between childhood and adulthood, and you're trying to maneuver unsteady ground with an approach that you're making up as you go along. I remember being faced with very adult situations as a teenager and feeling at once well-equipped and ill-equipped to handle them. How does a 16-year-old deal with a tragedy like 9/11? How does she deal with love? How does she deal with stereotypes and prejudice? Sophie, like all of the other characters on ABM, is learning how to deal. It sounds melodramatic, but I think being a teenager is melodramatic – I'm melodramatic!

ES: David used a lot from our real lives in creating our Dangerous Women characters. Although in my case, most of it is from past experience. A few years ago, I was a married mother of teenagers living in suburban Detroit, working part-time and always juggling those various roles. I ate lunch with friends who were mostly moms of my kids’ friends, just like in the series. But, cut to a few years later: I’m now divorced, my kids are grown and out of the house, and I live in a tiny guest house in LA while working as an actress. My, how things change!

Jessy, what was it like growing up the daughter of one of the favorite cult film characters ever? And Ellen, what's it like watching Jessy's career take off?

JH: Well, I'll start by saying this: I did not know that I was the daughter of one of the favorite cult film characters of all time until I was in high school!!! So, I didn't quite grow up with it... I think at some point it slipped that my mom was in a movie, and then some of my friends had heard of the movie, and then it was at Blockbuster, and then I Googled it.... And slowly, but surely, I became aware that there was a larger secret being kept from me. Turns out The Evil Dead is a cult horror classic and that one scene in particular, which I dare not name, is like one of the most famous horror scenes of all time. Who knew? She did. And she did not tell me. As to how it pertains to my life... it's a great conversation starter.

ES: Watching Jessy’s career take off is so exciting in so many ways. First of all, I always knew she had that “special something” – whatever that spark is that makes certain people glow from the inside out. So, it’s gratifying now to see that mother’s intuition confirmed by the outside world. Also, since we share this career (even though at her age I basically decided not to pursue acting, at least not on a full-time basis) it’s both painful and exhilarating at times, watching her go through the incredible ups and downs we all experience as actors. But mostly, I’m exceedingly proud – I’ve been watching her perform since she was about five years old, and it’s been quite a journey, watching her turn into the talented actress she is today. Between her and her sister, who’s also a performer, I’ve laughed and cried my way through more plays, dance recitals, talent shows and concerts than I can even remember – and it’s been a blast!

You worked together on Satan's Playground – any memorable anecdotes from being on the set together?

JH: Oh god, only that I was freezing. And that I was filling in for someone much more notable who didn't show up. It was actually really fun. I was in high school in Michigan, and my mom was in New Jersey filming, and I got a call from her saying “Hey, so and so didn't show up. You want to come be in a movie this weekend?”

ES: Basically we were on set, and the woman who was supposed to play the role went AWOL the day before she was supposed to shoot. So I said, “Hey, why don’t we call Jessy?” The director had met Jessy before, and he thought it would work. She was in high school at the time, so she missed a day of school, flew out to New Jersey, did a great job, and flew home the next day. It was fun working with her, especially since her one scene was with me. And she got a real glimpse into my life as a low-budget horror film actress – the scene we were in together was at one of the most intense moments of the film, so she saw me do the whole running/screaming/crying/collapsing-to-the-floor thing we horror actresses do a lot of.

What plans, if any, do you have to work together in the future?

ES: Nothing set in stone yet, but I’ve daydreamed about it a lot. I used to want to do the play The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds with both my daughters but it never happened, and now they’re a little too old for the roles. I’m definitely planning on it though – I’d love to actually play mother and daughter in a film, so if there are any writers out there reading this…

JH: My big plan for the future is to always work with people close to me who I love and respect. Does my mom fit into that category? Absolutely.

In what ways do you inspire each other?

ES: Jessy’s commitment to quality and her integrity inspire me always. Also her conscientious lifestyle, both from a social and environmental point of view. But even more important than inspiration, Jessy gives me lots of invaluable support and advice. We’re very close and share a lot with each other, both personally and professionally, and there’s nothing more gratifying than turning that corner as a parent when you’re able to talk to your adult child as a cherished friend as well as your child. And since we’re both developing acting careers at the same time, we have a lot to talk about!

JH: My mother is an incredibly daring and graceful woman; she has consistently inspired in me a sense of fun and a sense of purpose. I have always, and continue to admire her very much. I mean, come on – you don't see me pursuing a career in accounting, do you?

--Edited by Leslie Jaye Goff

Editor's Note: Anyone But Me is currently in pre-production on new episodes that will premiere on StrikeTV in March. In the meantime, watch the ABM Interludes; Interlude One, Censorship – A Video Essay by Aster Gaston, is airing now, and new Interludes launch on February 10 and February 25. Dangerous Women premiered on StrikeTV in January; a new episode debuts this Friday, February 6.

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