Join­ing the TV crowd

Los Angeles Times - - SUNDAY CALENDAR - By Yvonne Vil­lar­real We’d shoot in the mid­dle of the night, in the mid­dle of nowhere. And David’s in­cred­i­bly lovely and God, how is that even pos­si­ble?! I didn’t know that! Wow, that would have def­i­nitely been a very dif­fer­ent movie.

Jen­nifer Ja­son Leigh, as she tells it, isn’t much of a plan­ner when it comes to her ca­reer — ad­her­ing to the prac­tice of tak­ing each role as it comes. But she had been look­ing for a project with some sense of light­ness to it.

Since her 1982 break­through in “Fast Times at Ridge­mont High,” Leigh has mostly grav­i­tated to­ward dark, tor­tured char­ac­ters (e.g. the stalker in “Sin­gle White Fe­male” or the racist mur­derer in “The Hate­ful Eight”). Even now, view­ers have been catch­ing her per­for­mance as a mys­te­ri­ous ac­com­plice to Evil Cooper (Kyle MacLach­lan) in Show­time’s “Twin Peaks” re­vival.

“Atyp­i­cal” is a bit of an an­ti­dote to it all. At least on pa­per.

The Net­flix fam­ily com­edy se­ries, avail­able to stream, is a com­ing-of-age story about a teenager (played by Keir Gilchrist) on the autism spec­trum. Leigh plays Elsa, a mother try­ing to cope with step­ping back as her son seeks in­de­pen­dence and ro­mance.

It joins a grow­ing list of projects oc­cu­py­ing her time. Her film “Good Time,” in which she plays Robert Pat­tin­son’s char­ac­ter’s flaky girl­friend, just opened in lim­ited re­lease. And she’ll soon start pro­duc­tion on Show­time’s Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch-led lim­ited se­ries, “Mel­rose,” based on the “Pa­trick Mel­rose” se­ries of semi-au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal nov­els writ­ten by Ed­ward St. Aubyn. Had you been look­ing to do a TV se­ries?

Yeah. TV has got­ten so, so in­ter­est­ing and it just kind of fas­ci­nated me, the idea of tak­ing a char­ac­ter and re­ally go­ing for a long pe­riod of time .... I’ve done a lit­tle bit here and there, but noth­ing to this ex­tent. I wanted to ex­pe­ri­ence that and also, [“Ayt­pi­cal”] is light. It’s touch­ing, but it’s also funny and sweet. So there was some­thing very ap­peal­ing about that and also re­ally ex­am­in­ing the fam­ily and all those dy­nam­ics. Your char­ac­ter, Elsa, is con­fronted with this jour­ney of self-dis­cov­ery — and self-de­struc­tion, as her son is seek­ing some in­de­pen­dence.

That’s what I loved. It seemed like a re­ally in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter to play — some­one that’s been hold­ing on so tight, then finds her­self kind of un­rav­el­ing as her son starts to come into his own in­de­pen­dence and the ter­ror of that, for her.

Also, re­al­iz­ing that a lot of her life she hasn’t re­ally ex­pe­ri­enced, be­cause she’s re­ally given her­self over to tak­ing care of him. All moth­ers have that in­stinct to pro­tect and nur­ture — with Sam there’s all th­ese other is­sues that come into play as well. He can get over­loaded sen­so­ri­ally, very eas­ily. He can hurt him­self. He can hurt some­one else. He can walk across the street with his eyes closed. Things like that, which are just ... It’s a lot. So she’s felt very, very needed, as all moth­ers do. So as Sam comes more into his own in­de­pen­dence, she starts to re­al­ize that loss, which is a scary feel­ing, right? Is that some­thing you worry about in your own life — the let­ting go as your child grows into an adult?

Luck­ily, my son is still re­ally ex­cited to hang out with me and play and do things to­gether. He’s 7. So I think I’ve got at least a few more years. So I haven’t thought about that much yet. What was it like hav­ing Michael Ra­pa­port play your hus­band? How of­ten did he talk about his ob­ses­sion: the “Real House­wives” fran­chise?

He’s hi­lar­i­ous. He’s re­ally bright and re­ally funny and out­spo­ken. And he re­ally, re­ally loves those shows! I have not watched them yet. He talks about “Real House­wives” a lot. He says it’s some of the most in­spir­ing act­ing you’ll see. I think it’s safe to say work­ing on “Atyp­i­cal” was a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence than work­ing on “Twin Peaks.” How would you de­scribe what it’s like play­ing in the David Lynch world? kind and sweet, and his imag­i­na­tion is just sur­real but very spe­cific. I can’t gen­er­al­ize be­cause I only worked with him this lit­tle bit, but he’s spe­cific and there’s free­dom within the speci­ficity, and he doesn’t do a lot of takes. I think my first scene we did like one or two takes, and that was it. He’s David Lynch, so, when David Lynch calls and asks you to do some­thing, you just say yes. You don’t need to read it, you just want to be there. And he’s re­ally open to your ideas as an ac­tor. Like I wanted to change my eye color, and he was like: “Oh, that’s in­ter­est­ing, let’s see that!” How is the Hol­ly­wood of to­day dif­fer­ent than the one you knew grow­ing up?

Oh, it’s com­pletely dif­fer­ent. I don’t feel like the way I ap­proach it is dif­fer­ent, but I’m not in a bub­ble so I know it’s dif­fer­ent, and I know so­cial me­dia plat­forms ex­ist. And I know that ac­tu­ally has an im­pact. It’s bizarre to me be­cause I don’t re­late to it at all. It doesn’t re­ally worry me. I mean, I worry about peo­ple’s pos­ture and spines chang­ing, be­ing hunched over on their bums look­ing at their iPads all day.… I didn’t know what a hash­tag was. I didn’t un­der­stand, what is that word “hash­tag” and why is there a num­ber sym­bol and why do I need to be con­cerned about it?

Grow­ing up you went to dailies. Ev­ery day, af­ter work, you’d go to see the rushes of the prior day’s work, and it was re­ally nice be­cause all the crew would be there and all the ac­tors and it was a sort of a fa­mil­ial thing, and you’d have this ex­pe­ri­ence to­gether of see­ing what you had just shot. And Quentin [Tarantino] does that, so when we were in “Hate­ful Eight” he turned this build­ing into a screen­ing room, and it was amaz­ing to have that ex­pe­ri­ence again. I haven’t had it prob­a­bly since [work­ing with di­rec­tor David] Cro­nen­berg.

Now peo­ple are watch­ing dailies on their phones. So it’s re­ally dif­fer­ent, and it’s not the same thing as hav­ing that shared ex­pe­ri­ence in a dark room. Speak­ing of yes­ter­year — “Fast Times at Ridge­mont High” is cel­e­brat­ing its 35th an­niver­sary this year — When was the last time you watched it?

I haven’t watched it in a re­ally long time, and I re­ally like the movie; it’s not be­cause I don’t like it. It’s crazy, be­cause I feel like we just did a re­union shoot for Van­ity Fair. I don’t know how it could be 35 years al­ready.

We all loved the movie, and we all re­ally cared about it. I ac­tu­ally got a job at, not at Perry’s Pizza, but what­ever the name of the joint was where we ac­tu­ally shot it. For years and years I had my first pay­check from that place, and I kept it. Now I’ve lost it. Had you heard that David Lynch was orig­i­nally of­fered the chance to di­rect it? Is that true? yvonne.vil­lar­real@la­times.com

Allen J. Sch­aben Los An­ge­les Times

JEN­NIFER JA­SON LEIGH is star­ring in the new se­ries “Atyp­i­cal” on Netf lix, one of sev­eral projects the ac­tress has in play.

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