Jane Levy regularly proves herself capable of ping-ponging between genres with ease. Horror fans know her best from turns in Hulu’s critically acclaimed Castle Rock, the fan-pleasing 2013 Evil Dead reboot, and one of the best suspense movies of recent years, Don’t Breathe. Levy also starred in three seasons of ABC’s Suburgatory sitcom, and she first cut her acting teeth on Showtime’s Shameless. She now enters a new realm with the upcoming What/If series, which Netflix describes as a neo-noir social thriller.
Renée Zellweger also stars in this show from Revenge creator Mike Kelley. The premise involves Zellweger’s character, Anne Montgomery, making an offer that’s “too extraordinary to refuse” to a financially struggling married couple, Lisa (Levy) and Sean (Blake Jenner). Naturally, this sexy chess game of sorts proves to carry consequences, both of the immediate and lasting variety, in a tension-filled morality tale that plays out with ripple effects that encompass sex, murder, and every sin in between. Levy was gracious enough to speak with us about What/If and other key projects in her career.
Revenge was a guilty pleasure show for me, and What/If adds an Indecent Proposal-style spin to the mix. How much did those projects influence your performance in this series?
I did research where I watched a little bit of Revenge, which I didn’t previously see, but I heard from many the same sentiment that you expressed, not that it was necessarily a guilty pleasure for all, but people loved that show — people that I didn’t even would have know watched that type of show, and I mean like melodrama. I watched it to get the tone of what Mike [Kelley] was writing, and I watched Indecent Proposal as well. Again, mostly for tonal reasons because our show involves extraordinary circumstances. It’s a little, well, “over-the-top” isn’t really the word I’m looking for, so I think “extraordinary” is the right one. That requires a certain style of acting, so that was just basic research. What I took away most from Indecent Proposal, which is something that I think the actors did so brilliantly, is that I really, really believed in and invested in the love between Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore. They’re laughing together, they’re deeply involved in each other’s bodies, they’re both so young and sexy, and everything works, even their financial struggles because they have each other. I was like, “Oh, that is the key to our show.” Because the whole story in What/If is this couple who is being interfered with, or fucked with, by this outside source, which is Anne Montgomery. That bond is being threatened by her, so I decided that we needed to make sure that bond is really there, and that way, the audience will come on this journey with us.
Yes, and What/If feels even more urgent than Indecent Proposal because your character has a noble purpose.
Yes, definitely. When I’ve been talking about this with people, they’ve asked, “Would you do this?” And it’s like, “Yeah, in this specific circumstance, of course I would take the offer.” Lisa is backed up against the wall, she owes the people that she trusts and loves money, including her husband. Her parents might lose their business. And ultimately, she has this noble, altruistic, goal and desire to save children dying of cancer. Yeah, you can sleep with my husband for one night! However, what’s interesting and, I think, clever, and what’s fun about Mike Kelley’s writing is that Anne Montgomery’s saying that even your altruism is self-serving, and you’d better face that. There’s some truth in that, maybe? And I think that’s what our show is about: Anne poking holes in our theories and our principles and in our choices.
Revenge fans will enjoy seeing Gabriel Mann’s role…
Even though he’s pretty scarce until later in the season. What was it like to work with him?
He’s really a lovely person. I actually don’t have that many scenes with him. The majority of his work is with Renée. But I do know that it is a nice homage or wink to Revenge, and he’s a fan favorite.
Lisa is often in a pretty horrible position, at least in the first five episodes that I’ve seen.
Oh, it gets way worse!
Ohhh. No kidding?
Way, way worse. Really, truly.
Well, Renée’s character is pretty merciless and focused on destiny with almost with a nihilistic outlook. Your character pushes back.