Robin Weigert gives one of the most intimate and brave performances of the year in “Concussion,” a drama about a bored housewife who turns to escorting to spice up her life. But the feature debut by Stacie Passon flips the “Belle de Jour” script, as Weigert’s character Abby is in a same sex marriage with responsible lawyer Kate. The two women live in suburban contentment with their two kids, dream house, and spin classes, until one day Abby gets a “wake up call” in the form of a softball to the head. This injury awakens a long-dormant sexual desire in her, and with the help of her young contractor, begins to see female clients in her New York City loft.
Weigert (who you’ve also seen in “Deadwood” and “Sons of Anarchy”) and her utterly fearless and compelling performance are the center of this film, and it is sexy, yes, but it’s really a fascinating character study of this mysterious woman and her particular experience. We recently had the chance to chat with Weigert about “Concussion” and her performance, how she decided to sign on for the role, and the backstory she gave to Abby.
Weigert was initially drawn to the script, but had to really consider taking on such a role with a filmmaker directing their first feature. “There was no way to do this but through leap of faith...the yes has to come with a lot of uncertainty. And to Stacy’s credit, she didn’t soft pedal that as she was trying to get me to do the role," Weigert said of the decision. "She left it very much up to me to come to my own determination about whether I felt safe enough and I decided to go for it.” And ultimately, Passon’s screenplay is what drew her in. “She had really crafted a very smart script that had humor, and a real story, and I thought it was so interesting... I met with her and she was very bright, she knows what she’s doing, and I kept my fingers crossed that it would come together, and it came together more elegantly, more visually beautifully than I had ever anticipated.”
Passon wasn’t the only newcomer onset, as DP David Kruta was only 24 years old when the film was shot. Weigert had nothing but praise for his “emotional maturity,” especially with some of the sex scenes, saying, “he was in there with us for some obviously very intimate and sensual scenes that a lot of 24 year boys wouldn’t be able to handle. He was very grounded and very centering to be around.”
That kind of presence was necessary on set for the intimate and sensual sex scenes, which are more emotional and vulnerable than they are graphic. Weigert worked to connect with her fellow actors in those scenes, in order to make it easier on both, and to create a real connection on screen. “I know that my only way to get over whatever self-consciousness was to be there and dive into each scene as a scene, which means my energy is totally going towards relating to the other actor. It’s what I would do to get over stage fright or any other kind of thing, would be to dive into those circumstances,” she explained. “I made it one of my goals to make the other person in the scene with me as comfortable as possible in her own skin, and that helped me take the emphasis off of myself. And I know that in each situation I was relating to what it would be for Abby, the character to be in that situation with all of her emotional ingredients, and it does come across as being very private and very intimate.”
Abby is a character that never gives anything away; who always seems to be thinking of some other place or time. She’s mysterious, in many ways even to the audience. We asked Weigert to describe the motivations she created for the character, and the marriage between Abby and Kate, and it's clearly something she though about deeply.
“They hit this point in their marriage and I just think my character’s just significantly more libidinous than her partner. So over time, I think what that does, to live with it, you just try to shut things down in yourself, if you’re with somebody who you know your needs can’t be met and you have children together and you have a life together, you just start slowly turning off the danger. You turn off one after the other all the things that might be a liability, and I think it’s very easy to start walking through your life in a kind of daze," Weigert observed. "Even prior to a head injury, which is literally daze inducing. That head injury serves more as a wake up than anything, even though it temporarily addles her, it’s that moment, like in the Talking Heads song ['Once In A Lifetime'], you look at your world askew, and say this is not my beautiful house, this is not my beautiful wife. Everything is just askew and I think it’s hard for her to suddenly put the pieces together in a way that make any sense. She’s really trying things out, and she really ends up way outside the box by taking one step and then another step and then another step, she doesn’t leap outside the box into aberrant behavior, she just does the next thing, and I think that’s part of what saves the character from being judged by an audience, she’s sort of just trying to figure it out. That’s how I see that journey going. And she has a hunger that’s been pushed down so deep that it insists upon coming up at a certain point. I think the mystery you see is that repression.”
Equally as mysterious is the ambiguous ending of the film, which Weigert hesitates to try to define in any concrete way. Referring to the power of individual interpretations she said, ”I think if they provided an answer for this couple, it would have been providing an answer for everyone else. I kind of like the open ending of it. It’s allowing the future of these characters to be unwritten and sort of be decided upon depending on the viewer. So that’s the virtue to me of that ending. And I know that she had slightly different versions of it for a long time before she settled on this one and I think it was a really smart choice.”
“Concussion” opens in theaters this Friday, October 4th.