IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Robin Weigert Talks 'Concussion,' 'Sons of Anarchy' Season 6, and Looks Back At 'Life'

Sunday, 06 October 2013 23:57 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Robin Weigert Talks 'Concussion,' 'Sons of Anarchy' Season 6, and Looks Back At 'Life'

Robin Weigert is one of the most versatile actresses working in film or on television today!

She first gained notice for appearing in the acclaimed HBO mini-series Angels in America, but it was her role as Calamity Jane on Deadwood that caught Hollywood’s attention. Since then she has appeared in such popular series as Lost, ER, and The Mentalist, as well as acclaimed films like The Good German, Things We Lost in the Fire, and The Sessions. She also currently has a recurring role on the extremely popular FX series Sons of Anarchy as attorney Ally Lowen, and co-starred on the first season of one of my all-time favorite TV series - the incredibly underrated NBC show Life, which starred Homeland’s Damian Lewis. But now she can be seen once again on the big screen in the new drama Concussion, which opens in theaters on October 4th.

The movie, which was directed by first time filmmaker Stacie Passon, stars Weigert as Abby, a lesbian housewife going through a mid-life crisis. After a blow to the head, Abby decides she can no longer be faithful to her wife Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence) and is searching for something else in her life. She creates the alter ego of Eleanor and secretly becomes a lesbian prostitute. But as she gets more involved in her new career, it threatens the stability of her marriage and her relationship with her children. In addition to Weigert and Lawrence, the film also stars Maggie Siff (TV’s Sons of Anarchy), Jonathan Tchaikovsky (Reservation Road), and Janel Moloney (TV’s The West Wing). 

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Robin Weigert about her work on Concussion, as well as what can be expected from her character on Sons of Anarchy this season, and a look back at Life. The accomplished actress discussed her new film, lesbian prostitution, preparing for her role, her character’s choices, what attracted her to the project, working with Sons of Anarchy co-star Maggie Siff, having a role in casting, collaborating with director Stacie Passon, the new season of Sons of Anarchy, what can be expected from her character, my love for the series Life, and why her character was shortchanged during the show’s run. 

Here is what Robin Weigert had to say about Concussion, Sons of Anarchy, and Life:

IAR: To begin with, I was not aware that this world of lesbian prostitution existed until I saw Concussion. Were you aware of it before you began shooting the film?

Robin Weigert: There is probably a fair amount of lesbian prostitution. I have been asked if I had researched it for the role. I actually let this be the character’s journey as opposed to it being a profession. She is in my mind just taking one step and then another. It’s a lot to do with self-exploration and self-discovery. It’s not a commitment to a new line of work so much as it is what happens if your life has become a tomb. She doesn’t understand how to be alive inside of this life anymore and she begins to do one thing and the next. So I let it be unique to her. Not many real life lesbian prostitutes probably go out for tea or coffee first to see if they like the client. Not many of them would take marching orders from a twenty-two year old law student and not many of them would follow the specifics of this story. 

So you allowed yourself to learn about it as the character was learning about it, is that right?

Weigert: Yeah, I let it be the character’s experience as opposed to something I would go and research because I felt fairly certain this would not resemble the real thing! 

What do you feel was driving your character to pursue prostitution when she was in a seemingly happy marriage? What do you think she was looking to gain from it?

Weigert: I think she wakes up and her literal concussion has something to do with this, but isn’t actually the cause of it. She could’ve just been witnessing a car crash or something, anything that would jolt her reality. It’s like the lyric from the Talking Heads song “Once In A Lifetime” – “This Is Not My Beautiful Wife.” Everything is torqued and bizarre to her. All the choices she has made have led her to this place that doesn’t make sense. All this exercise that’s built into this script causes a sense of being a gerbil on a treadmill, which is what people who punish themselves with exercise become over time, is revealed to be the emptiness that it is. She begins a journey just by reaching out for something that can make her feel alive and it takes her where it does. 

But at the same time, do you feel that she still loves her wife Kate and her life, and that she’s just caught between those two things?

Weigert: Absolutely and that makes it relatable across a broad spectrum of experiences. Many people who attempt long, committed relationships find themselves at some impasse at some point along the way where they love deeply but passion has died out of it for them or for one of the two partners and one has a higher libido than the other. It’s almost inevitable that you’ll reach that point at some juncture in a lifelong commitment. Then the question is what do you do? Not everybody does what this character does, but you think of it. A friend of a friend saw the film in a Seattle screening and said, “Every married person does become an afternoon hooker after a while.” I think that’s just in terms of the wandering eye whether you act upon it or not there’s a moment where you’ve left and maybe there’s a moment where you return hopefully. But I think that’s a very common experience.

Playing a character that complex, was that what attracted you to the project, and is that what you’re looking for when you’re choosing roles to play?

Weigert: Yeah. I think any actor would probably say that there’s a tremendous appeal to playing a character that has contradictory aspects, that has such a huge story arch and a place so different from the beginning, yet exactly the same, which is why you begin and end literally with a spin class in the movie. A friend of mine who is a professor said something very smart. “That moving in place is still movement.” She does move a great deal in place, whether she leaves the relationship or not is for the audience to determine. But what’s happened in the course of the film is that the truth has come to light and there’s balance restored between these two partners because the truth is between them and they now both have a decision about what to do about it.  

Can you talk about working with actress Maggie Siff? Obviously, you already knew her from Sons of Anarchy; did that prior relationship help you while you were shooting Concussion?

Weigert: I knew Maggie. Maggie is a friend and I’m actually the one who first made the phone call to her to try to get her on board for this because of our friendship. I definitely hoped to bring her on board partly because I knew it would elevate the level of the film a lot to have an actress of her caliber in such an important role. I did get involved in that. I got involved in the casting of several roles including this tiny role that Ben Shenkman (Blue Valentine) played. He’s a dear friend from childhood. He had sworn off doing roles that were only a scene long but I was like, oh, Ben don’t you think you could do this one? He did it entirely as a personal favor to me. It was so lovely because with one movement of his eyes he created an entire history for this too. It was wonderful what he was able to do with that tiny scene.

Did you like also being involved in the casting of the film?

Weigert: I didn’t know that I could empower myself in that way. So I did learn something in the course of this for being allowed to it and that is to Stacie’s (Passon) credit to allow me to participate and feel that I could actually influence some people to join me on this insane adventure. It was as unknown quantity for them as it was for me. It was very much to my honor that I felt very honored by their participation. Laila Robins (Side Effects) was another example of someone I made some phone calls to. 

Can you talk about working with director Stacie Passon and what it was like to collaborate with her on this project?

Weigert: I don’t think the character would have been the same had we not entirely been exactly where we both were. It was at the point where our different lives met that this character took shape. So she was in a very different place in her life than I was at the time we made the film. We each had a very different kind of hunger going on. Stacie’s came from a very settled life and mine came from a very unsettled life but we learned something from each other’s experience. Part of it is that the grass is always greener. I could look at her life and say, you know you’ve got two beautiful kids, you’ve got a house, you’re affluent and stable, and how lovely. She could look at my life and say, “How artistic, free and wild, and all this.” I think we found each other somewhere in there.   

It seems like you drew from Stacie Passon for your character and perhaps she drew from you as well to make this film, is that safe to say?  

Weigert: Yeah, I mean oddly because you’d think as an actress I would be terrified of the sex scenes. Those were the places I felt least afraid in the shooting of the film. Where I felt the most afraid was where she felt the most confident. She had written a number of them without details because all the sex scenes seemed to terrify her even though she’d invented them all. So oddly I was less afraid of those and more afraid of creating a character that had as much angst boredom and disenchantment as the character begins the story with. I thought how would an audience get on board with this and she worked in a very smart way with me to keep me in that zone for the whole first part of the film. I wonder if I would’ve been trying to bring more at sort of a dynamic life to it or something at some point because I was not trusting that an audience would join me there without her strong encouragement. Then she gave me free reign inside of some of those scenes and all I was really working with is what felt right. I mean some of them were extremely scripted, but some of them were not. In the case of the ones that were not, where it was sort of more free form, the DP had to riff with us and find where we were. I would, for example, learn the actress that day was a performance artist in her real life. I would talk with Stacie in the car and say, maybe this is the one where there’s an element of danger because I imagine this actress will be more free with her body than some of these others. So maybe she’s someone who’s sort of abusive and a little dangerous and maybe I’m at risk of going home with marks to my family and children in this one. Stacie would say, “Oh, let’s try that.” It was working off the idea of what she might be able to bring. Or there would be an example of meeting the actress that day, which happens. It’s very strange to enter into something with a stranger like that. I had the impression that this actress was very shy and the sun was setting very quickly, so I thought, well what I need to do in this context is be very dominating so that something will happen because otherwise nothing will happen. Then once that was going to wake up something sort of fierce in her that became the scene so some of that was very improvisatory.

It sounds like you had a lot of collaborative moments and were very involved creatively on this film, perhaps more so than on other projects you’ve been a part of. Do you feel that was the case?

Weigert: You have a different language with every different director and if you come in very low status into a situation then you are quietly trying to learn what you’re allowed to do and sometimes it’s not always to your advantage. If you come into a situation with more power where somebody’s a first time filmmaker, it’s sort of a given that you might have more of a voice. But then you don’t want to overdo that. It was entirely her film and her vision, but where I could help I did and I didn’t feel sheepish about it. 

What can fans expect from your character on Sons of Anarchy throughout the rest of this season?

Weigert: I’m not totally sure at this point how many more episodes I’ll be on. I’m sort of at a limbo towards the end of the season, but the character definitely has a role to play this season. It’s more essential than some other seasons. My character is the lawyer for Maggie’s character who is in so much trouble. So she has more to do and an attorney. Also being an attorney for a house divided is a more dynamic role than being an attorney for a house united. They become more fractious over the season, which you can tell even from the season six posters that has them all sort of mangling each other.  

Well, the show’s creator Kurt Sutter has always said that William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is the template for the series, so fans of the show could kind of see this coming. 

Weigert: You know it probably won’t end well given what that template is. So there’s that. 

Finally, I have to tell you that you were on one of my all-time favorite TV series and its not the one you think I’m going to say … its Life.

Weigert: Oh, you love Life? Then I bet you’re a Homeland fan as well. 

Well, I do love Homeland, and I think Damian Lewis is great as Nicolas Brody, but he was absolutely amazing as Detective Charlie Crews on Life! In fact, I think Charlie Crews is one of the best TV characters of the last ten years. Actually, I always thought that your character, Lt. Karen Davis, would have had more to do with the conspiracy and mythology of the show than she did. Was there more to your character’s role on the series, that for whatever reason, they decided not to include?

Weigert: I think that my hopes were a little bit foiled there that they would go with the backstory more. I had hoped coming in that they would invest in it more. It seemed that it would have that kind of serialized developmental potential and it became more procedural. It became more of a crime solving show, in which case my character became somewhat less interesting or dynamic because there was not going to be a big unfolding of what the department conspiracy had been. So she just seemed like somebody who was sort of negative towards the very likeable male lead. I always sort of lamented that my character couldn’t be more developed. 

Well, the first season of the series was probably hurt by the writer’s strike, don’t you think?   

Weigert: Yeah, the writer’s strike ended my character’s arc.          

Concussion opens in theaters on October 4th. 

Sons of Anarchy season 6 is currently airing on FX. 

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