If you grow up in Marin, it isn’t too much of a stretch to play a suburban teenager on a TV sitcom. But a psychopath?
“For a while, whenever I was asked what my dream role would be, my answer was always to play a killer or a psychopath,” says Jane Levy, who grew up in San Anselmo and stars in ABC’s new comedy series “Suburgatory.”
Lucky for her, the 22-year-old is now in New Zealand filming a remake of Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead.” Her dream has, apparently, come true.
“I get to do that in this movie, although I’ll be possessed while I destroy my victims. So basically, it’s a perfect job,” she says with a laugh.
Not that her regular job is all that bad. Levy has been earning kudos for her role as Tessa, a sassy New York City teen who gets shuttled off to the suburbs by her single dad (Jeremy Sisto) and, as horrifying as that may be at first, actually finds herself starting to fit in.
“Levy is one to watch,” notes Forbes, naming her on its list of 30 under 30 who are “making a difference.” What works in ‘Suburgatory’ is that Levy is pitch-perfect,” says the Hollywood Reporter. Delightfully dry-witted,” says the Chicago Sun-Times. Tart and sympathetic,” notes the Boston Globe.
Levy got the acting bug as a little girl and performed in plays as a student at Brookside School and Drake High School, where she was a soccer star and team captain in her senior year. She made varsity at Goucher College in Baltimore, but she dropped out before her sophomore year to see if she could make it in acting.
Pretty much everyone would agree she did. Within a year of moving to Los Angeles — after studying at New York’s Stella Adler Conservatory — Levy nabbed a role in Showtime’s “Shameless,” starring William H. Macy, and in two movies, “Fun Size,” a teen comedy with Chelsea Handler coming out this Halloween, and a small role in “Nobody Walks,” an indie film with Dylan McDermott.
As much as it’s easy to see similarities between San Anselmo and Chatswin, Tessa’s despised fictional suburb — “It’s like the Million Mom March. They’re shuffling out of the tanning salons in their mani-pedi flip-flops, with their ever-present daughters and enormous frozen coffee drinks,” Tessa observes — Levy says she loves Marin.
“I consider myself a very lucky girl that I grew up there. I think it’s the most beautiful place in the world,” she says. “Also I’ve never had better food anywhere else in the world.”
Levy’s parents — Lester, a co-founder of Judicial Arbitration Mediation Services and a musician, and Mary, an artist — moved to San Francisco last summer. Brother Simon lives there, too.
“It’s really lovely to come home to the city. I miss my old house only a little bit,” she says.
The IJ caught up with Levy while she was still filming in New Zealand.
Q: It’s pretty amazing to go from a small role on a TV series to co-starring in your own series. Are you still pinching yourself or do you think, hey, I’m good so I deserve this?
A: There is a lot of pinching myself. And slapping myself.
Q: Are you like Tessa or any of the other roles you’ve had so far?
A: I am like all of the characters I play. I believe it’s impossible not to be. I am who I am, and no matter how hard I try I can’t change that. Each character I create is just highlighted parts of my personality. With Tessa, I think a lot about her thoughtfulness and her intelligence. Also her goofiness; I’m pretty goofy.
Q: In what way is Chatswin like Marin and in what way does it differ?
A: Chatswin is made of plastic and Marin is made of beautiful nature and organic food. But they do have similarities. Both are luxurious; people spend way to much time obsessing over their children. Everyone spends heaps of money to look younger.
Q: You told ESPN that you developed a sense of self before moving to Hollywood; where did that come from?
A: Probably a lot of places. For one, my parents gave me the space to discover things ever since I was really young. They gave me a lot of love, but they didn’t hover. I’ve always been a pretty independent, curious person. That led me to taking lots of risks, such as living on my own in England at 15 for four months or moving across the country for school at 17. I didn’t move to Hollywood until I was 20. I had already lived a lot of life by then.
Q: Were your parents horrified that you dropped out of college, were they supportive or did they give you a time frame to get famous or else?
A: I came home from a summer backpacking trip in Europe with two weeks before I was supposed to start my sophomore year of college. I sat them down at the kitchen table and told them I wasn’t going back. Of course, they were horrified! But they swallowed their fears and listened to me. I told them acting was what made me happy and I wanted to go to theater school instead of undergrad. They said OK. They’ve always trusted me, and I think that’s what has given me the confidence to always go after what I want.
Q: So you’re going from comedy and the “hell” known as suburbia to something much more sinister in “Evil Dead.” What about the role intrigues you?
A: I really wanted to work on “Evil Dead” because of how different it is from “Suburgatory.” I guess that’s my main goal in this industry, to work on different stuff and to play a wide range of characters. That process of creating a new person is so fun for me. I love the initial makeup/hair tests before the start of a new job; I’m always campaigning for a new hair color or length, anything to look as different as possible.
This role also intrigued me because of how much I will learn, mostly technical stuff like special effects. That’s fascinating to me. I had to get my body “casted” for this role so they can make me prosthetics. That process entailed getting your whole body covered in green goo, like the stuff they put in your mouth for a tooth casting, and then being papier-mâchéd. It was the coolest thing ever.
Q: Now that you’re in Hollywood, is it better, worse or the same as your expectations?
A: I honestly didn’t have that many expectations. The city itself I didn’t love when I first arrived. But recently I’ve come to really enjoy Los Angeles and I miss it a lot while filming on the other side of the world.