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Interview: Valley Girl’s Jessica Rothe

by Leora Heilbronn

The world needs more Jessica Rothe right now. The gifted actress is a ray of sunshine on screen and has the unique ability to energize anyone’s day (or anyone’s project). She effortlessly balances genres and tones, as seen in the Happy Death Day films, La La Land, the underrated country music romance Forever My Girl, and now in Valley Girl, the uplifting female-led reimagining of the 80’s classic.

We recently spoke by phone with the bubbly performer from her place in L.A. and the following is an edited and condensed version of our lovely chat with Jessica Rothe of Valley Girl.

Brief Take: Hi, Jessica! How are you holding up in all of this?

Jessica Rothe: I’m good! It’s a weird, weird time. I’ve been playing Overcooked, which is delightful. [giggles] I actually haven’t poured too much time into that. I’ve been doing some writing, I have a sourdough starter like every other hipster in Los Angeles, and I have a Paint by Numbers that just arrived of my dog’s face that I am really excited to jump into.

BT: I have a gorgeous cat named Heidi, so now you’re giving me ideas.

JR: Oooh, go on Etsy and find this woman! She will make you a paint by numbers of your cat’s face. It’s the best.

BT: So let’s talk Valley Girl. I think people are really going to love this movie and they’re going to love your portrayal of Julie. Tell me about crafting the character.

JR: I mean Julie is just a delight, you know? I feel so lucky that I got to dive in and run around in her shoes. It was such an incredible experience creating this character because we had the original film, in which Deborah Foreman is brilliant and impeccable, so I felt really clear that I wanted to pay homage to that story and be inspired by it, but in no way copy it at all. Our incredible writer, Amy Talkington, gave Julie a lot more agency in this version of the movie. She is this bright, creative, inquisitive young woman who has these friends and traditions that she loves but she has a sense that there’s something more. So then when she meets Randy, she is ahead of her time enough to think: “Oh, there’s something interesting about this person.” But then when they fall in love, the experience of being with him opens her up to even more possibilities, but at the same time it’s not a story about her changing for him. It’s a story about her coming into her own and her relationship with him is part of that experience.

BT: I love that about this film. It was about her journey and not about her changing for him.

JR: Yeah! And Rachel (Lee Goldenberg) was really protective of that part of Julie, and it was amazing to have a collaborator who was also looking out for that, so we were sure we weren’t falling into the traps into which these kinds of movies can easily fall, through no fault of their own.

BT: And you mentioned Deborah Foreman. Was it surreal having her on set for her cameo scene with you? Did she share stories with you of filming the original?

JR: Oh my God, it was amazing! She did share stories! She was just a delight. She’s such a Julie in real life – she’s so bubbly and sweet and wonderful, and I can only imagine what a bizarre experience coming onto our set must have been for her. But she is incredibly generous and kind about all of it. At one point she said to me: “It’s your turn. I got to do this and now this is your turn.” It takes class to do something like that, I think. It was a really amazing experience. We even got to have Elizabeth Daily, a bunch of the Valley Girls make cameos – there’s a lot of fun Easter eggs and references in the movie. But it felt really important, I think, to everybody who was involved to respectfully honour the previous movie, because we know how much of a cult classic it is and how it is beloved by everyone and how much we love it. We wanted to make sure that we were creating something new.

BT: You got to reunite with choreographer extraordinaire Mandy Moore on this film, with whom you had worked previously in La La Land. You went from ‘Someone in the Crowd’ to an aerobics dance number to doing lifts on roller skates. You made it look so effortless, but it must have been tough to do!

JR: Aww, thank you so much! [giggles] It was really hard! Mandy is the best. The thing that I love about her as a choreographer is that she will give you choreography but is interested not in you nailing every move exactly how it should be done, but finding the way that it works best in your body. And so if there were moves that we were doing that just did not look good, instead of her forcing us to figure out how to conform to it, she would say:”Let’s find something that works better for you, for Julie, for this energy.” And so she’s incredibly collaborative and so much fun to work with. The roller skating was amazing and so terrifying. I cried after my first roller skating lesson! But I had an incredible coach. His name is Fred, and he actually taught Madonna how to skate for her movie so I was in very good hands. It was so much fun. I have to say that this is one of my favourite parts of this job – the opportunity to learn a completely bizarre, but completely necessary new skill. Like I never would have learned how to roller skate and do a lift and all of those crazy things because I was like: “Jessica, you’re going to break your face”. But because I had the opportunity to be in this movie, I now know how to roller skate, which is super cool.

BT: Did you have a favourite scene to shoot?

JR: I loved shooting the stuff in the club where Julie is going to see Randy, just because there was something so intoxicating, even though we’re doing scenes about being in his space and being the girl he’s chosen to bring to this place, I loved how even aesthetically I was bright neon in this sea of grunge and black, and we had a lot of fun filming that. I think my favourite stuff to film was my more intimate stuff with Josh. He’s such a wonderful scene partner.

BT: We interviewed him a little while ago. In the press notes for this movie, Mae Whitman describes him as a goof and that’s such a perfect description of him.

JR: Yeah, he’s a total goof! [giggles]

BT: Tell me about crafting the changing dynamic between Julie and Randy with Josh Whitehouse.

JR: Yeah, it starts off in this bubbly uncertain kind of cat and mouse, you chase me, then I’ll chase you kind of place and then it evolves into something much deeper and much more serious, and they challenge each other. I think that’s a really beautiful thing—in any new relationship—when you get to the point where you care enough that you’re going to challenge the other person because you have to, it would be too hard to walk away. So you have to stand up for yourself but also admit when you’re wrong. I think it’s the first time that Julie has ever experienced that.

BT: Speaking of phenomenal scene partners, I adored the Richman family scenes with you, Judy Greer and Rob Huebel. What was it like working with them as scene partners?

JR: Oh my God, it was hard because they made me laugh all the time! [giggles] It was so much fun but the two of them are just such a riot and they’re so funny. Rob, with that moustache? That moustache killed me! Every time I said, “I can’t even look at you right now because that moustache is its own comedic beat.” Like “the moustache is doing half of the work for you”. It really wasn’t, he’s a genius. But I just felt so lucky to get to share scenes with them. They’re very talented.

BT: Who has been a really giving scene partner to you with whom you’d like to work again?

JR: I mean I would love to work with Josh again. I think he’s really fantastic and amazing. It would be a dream to work again with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. [laughs] I didn’t get to work with them that extensively, but Emma is just a class act and so incredibly talented and beautiful but also open and giving. I think she made all of us feel just as important as anyone else on that movie set and I will forever be grateful to her for that. I would love the chance to work with her again.

BT: Maybe another musical!

JR: Yeah, maybe! I would definitely do another musical. [laughs] You know, for me, of course I want to do other genres. I would love to do a crazy action movie, I would love to do a dark comedy like The Favourite. There are so many amazing different types of stories to tell, but I think that also when it’s the right character and the right director and the right message, it can be in any format. So I don’t think that it’s my place to say which genre is next, but more of what story is the next story that I need to tell.

BT: Speaking of the next stories that you’d like to tell, what can you preview for me about your next projects: Utopia and All My Life?

JR: Yes! Utopia is just a frickin’ wild ride, I think people are going to love it. I think the cast is incredible. I get to play a really different part, which is really fun. She’s kind of bossy, but I kind of love it. I think there’s a lot of unexpected twists and turns, and the world is just amazing. Gillian Flynn is a genius and I would love to collaborate with her again and again and again! And then All My Life, that movie is so near and dear to my heart. We just finished filming the very last bit of it in January. Harry Shum Jr. gives an incredible performance in that film! It’s based on a true story and it felt really important to all of us to honour that story, and so as a result I think a lot of care and heart and tenderness was poured into the making of that movie. I mean I haven’t seen it yet, but I have a feeling that it’s going to be really special and I can’t wait to share it with other people.

BT: What have you seen lately that you’ve really liked?

JR: Oh, I finally saw Knives Out, which I loved! I’m also a huge Agatha Christie fan, like I love murder mysteries, so this probably played into that. Oh and I also watched Watchmen, which I am obsessed with. I’m so obsessed with it, it’s so good. #Quarantine, #NoExcuses. You gotta watch it.

BT: Have you seen Valley Girl? If so, what did you think of it? 

JR: I have seen Valley Girl and it’s so fun! And you know that’s the thing about everything that’s happening now, I think in some ways this was the right time for this movie to come out. We all need a dose of ’80s neon and sunshine, we all need someone to tell us that there’s hope and that the world is going to be OK, and I think this movie really does that. So I hope that if people tune in and they watch it from their couches, that it brings a smile to their day, because I know that’s what I need right now.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLhYFWwACo4]

Valley Girl is now available on Digital

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Brief Take