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Robin Weigert on 'Concussion' role and Catherine Deneuve
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times

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Before Concussion, the lesbian-themed movie from out writer-director Stacie Passon and producer Rose Troche, audiences have been most familiar with actor Robin Weigert through her role as the hard-living, cursing Calamity Jane in HBO's Deadwood.

But Weigert's starring role in Concussion is about to change all that. As Abby, the middle-aged, upper-middle-class New Jersey lesbian housewife whose way of dealing with a midlife crisis is to become a high-priced escort for women during her free afternoons, Weigert turns in a nuanced performance of a really complicated character.

Abby—smart, sophisticated and cynical—isn't easy to love and neither is the uber-sexy Eleanor. But both sides of this multifaceted woman are also vulnerable and recognizably human. Concussion, which debuted last January at Sundance and has had a critically lauded run on the LGBT film fest circuit, opens this week in New York and LA. Chicago audiences will be able to see it via iTunes and VOD. Windy City Times sat down to discuss the film with Weigert.

Note: The following conversation contains spoilers.

Windy City Times: You're probably sick of hearing how many times Concussion is like a lesbian variation on the Bunuel classic Belle de Jour.

Robin Weigert: I have definitely heard that before but it's funny because it's such a different movie than that. Even her way of being a prostitute is entirely different. She's so much more of a subject than Catherine Deneuve's character was—who made herself very much of an object. But I completely get the comparison—the housewife-turned-prostitute. It was so funny because when we took the film to Frameline—which was such a great experience—there was a young woman who came to me ( laughs ) and she said, "You know you could do this; people would pay," which I found hilarious. But then I did have the thought, "I wonder if anyone ever said that to Catherine Deneuve?! I don't think so." [Laughs]

WCT: That's like the ultimate compliment.

RW: It was a huge compliment but how do you respond to that ( laughs )? Do you just say "Thank you?" I guess if the acting gig doesn't work out I always have something to fall back on.

WCT: And yet, Abby and Deneuve's character do share that same impenetrable aspect—you know—what's going on behind those eyes.

RW: Yeah, yeah.

WCT: Which you see early on during that party scene in the suburbs. It must have seemed like such a gift to be handed such an interesting role. But I think you brought such complexity to a character we've seen many, many times in the movies. I'm very much in awe of your work.

RW: Thank you, thank you so much.

WCT: I've read that, ironically, you had never done a sex scene before this?

RW: It really was like going into the deep end of the pool. I had never done a sex scene but I had played a couple of strippers but it is rather different. I wasn't a complete virgin to the experience of having my clothes off I guess and then there were, of course, a couple of rather unflattering bathing scenes in Deadwood—one of those things where you're just horrified at the end of the day. But no, I'd never been between the sheets before which was strange when you think about it and there's quite a lot about it in this movie.

But strangely, those scenes were very much like any other acting scene which is to say that you're working with what's going on between the two people and its energies and all of that. It's really not that dissimilar. I know I'm supposed to say that it was all terrifying and stuff but it wasn't really. It was sort of nice to be able to enter in to what the purest form of relating would be which is physical and non-verbal. I didn't have any huge obstacles in those scenes.

WCT: I'm going to guess that beforehand the director must have created a safe place on the set—an environment that felt really protected, right?

RW: There definitely was a safe space and one of the surprising sources of safety was this 25-year-old DP [David Kruta] who was absolutely the Rock of Gibraltar. He was so steady and so mature and I trusted his eye completely and he was so young.

WCT: One thing that is a bit problematic is the idea that Abby's getting hit on the head is what leads her directly down this path—she literally gets the sense knocked out of her. [Laughs]

RW: That is a bit of a misread. It's understandable. I mean some of the taglines that have been attached to the movie have made it absolutely sound cause and effect like that which is unfortunate. It's sort of any unjarring incident might have thrown her off balance enough to go in that direction. It just happens to be a head injury. It's certainly not that the circuitry in her brain is rewired toward sex because she gets hit by a baseball!

WCT: I'm curious—once Kate, her wife, catches on to what's going on, Abby retreats. If that hadn't happened, do you think Abby would have kept going, acting on her sexual fantasies?

RW: I think it's an open-ended question whether she would or would not even after that event. The ending of the film doesn't dictate the future of what will go on for these two women and it's not at all clear to me as a viewer what they'll be like in five years—if they'll be together, whether Abby will have found more avenues to continue to do this or not. I think it's deliberately open-ended.

What is attained at the end of the film that wasn't there at the beginning is that these two women know each other much, much better. The truth of their natures is on the table between them and they understand each other more deeply. The question is: what do they do with their new knowledge of each other. Unlike so many other films that deal with this subject, there's no judgment.

WCT: I'm going to ask you to theorize for a moment. There's been a lot of talk about Blue Is the Warmest Color with a man directing two women in these intimate scenes. Here, you have a woman directing women. Would you suspect that because there was a woman on set with you that maybe there was a difference in the way this is going to be received perhaps by the lesbian community or women in general?

RW: I wish I had seen Blue Is the Warmest Color so I could speak to that.

WCT: I haven't either, yet! I'm asking you to speculate, which is terribly unfair … but can you guess?

RW: I wonder? I feel like people tend to be more responsive to what is in front of the camera than what they imagine to be behind it. I think they will be responding to what they see and if that story feels relatable and human to them, I don't know that they would judge it any differently than this one because its director was male. But I don't know—I can't speak for an entire segment of the population. [Laughs]

WCT: Has this changed your perspective on relationship boundary lines?

RW: I think it puts a bright mark on the fact that this is a negotiation between any two people who are in a committed relationship with each other and that there's probably a lot of variety out there [laughs] in terms of how the issue gets resolved. I don't know that there's anybody who's undertaken a long, monogamous relationship who hasn't grappled with some of the issues that are in the film. They probably haven't gone in the direction the character has necessarily but monogamy for many people is a struggle. I think at the very least it will bring up questions for people about their own choices and other people's choices.

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