Jessica Lowe is an actress about to make a big impression that does some pretty great impressions. Although she’s still a young actress, she’s already a performing veteran who has paid her dues around the world writing and performing stand-up and sketch comedy. She definitely possesses the comic’s ability to charm and give people what she wants, as evidenced by a positively raucous and hilarious sit down with press to talk about her first major role in a studio film as a bubbly and lovingly dimwitted wife to Kevin Nealon in the Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore comedy Blended (in theatres this Friday).
It’s a role that she feels eternally grateful to have, and one she rightfully sees as a stepping stone to the next level of her career. She caught the eye of Sandler through her online presence, and most notably for her a video that she just kind of tossed off and put on the internet (while drunk and despairing that she might not get a part in Blended) that she didn’t think anyone would see. It’s about as unlikely a success story as one could possibly get, but also one that led to a comfortable filming environment.
Working in South Africa, the story concerns Sandler and Barrymore (in their third big screen team up after their success on The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates) as single parents who once went on a disastrous date trying to deal with each other on a trip to Africa for “blended” and non-traditional families. Lowe plays the bubbly Ginger, a somewhat airheaded “trophy wife” who wants desperately to connect to her doubting grandson.
The film gave Lowe the opportunity to work on a big budget film around some of the biggest improvisers in the world, which led to her feeling more at home and within her comfort zone.
The worldly, smart, and very funny Lowe chatted with us about how she landed the part in the film, her early days as a performer on stage (and regrettably as a Red Bull girl), her chemistry with Kevin Nealon, and the more fun aspects of playing her character.
It has to be great to have this be your first major studio production and you get to work with people like Kevin Nealon and people like Adam Sandler who come from the same kind of sketch comedy background that you come from.
Jessica Lowe: Totally, and they made me feel really at ease from the get-go because they knew I had this sketch background.
Before I got the part I had (preliminary) auditions and then I got this frantic call from my agent’s assistant saying, “Hey, are you close to the Sony lot?” And I said, “No, why? I’m going to a non-paid webseries meeting in Burbank on the opposite side of L.A.” (laughs) Then she says, stammering, “Um, well… okay, but… Adam… Adam Sandler wants to meet you in the next two hours and it has to be in the next two hours.” And I had just had like this giant breakfast burrito and I’m truing right around on the highway in terrible traffic and nearly vomiting on myself. I drove myself home, threw some hairspray in my hair and I just booked it over to Sony.
Then Adam was just the nicest person when I met him and you could tell it almost immediately. He was like, “How have I never seen you before!” And I said that I was just going around for about two and a half years doing sketch, and then I was on a cruise ship doing sketch and improv with Second City. Then he said [doing a really decent Sandler impression], “That’s good. I really liked your stand-up, and your “Little Boy Reading Fifty Shades of Gray,” and I really liked your “Drunk Yoga.”
The story behind “Drunk Yoga” was actually tied to this. After my second audition, which was the director’s session, I saw some famous people in the hallway going for the same position, and I called up my mom afterwards and I said “Guess who I just saw in the waiting room?” And my mom said, “Awwww, she’s going to get it because she’s famous.” (laughs) THANKS MOM. Then I went and got a three dollar bottle of wine and I just started drinking it, and I said, “You know what? Yeah, I’m just gonna make a yoga instructional video.” Then I just filmed myself drunk and doing yoga, which I don’t even practice because I’m more of a runner. So I’m trying to do, like, Hawk’s Pose or whatever it is, and then I EDITED it while I was still drunk, so it just looked and sounded all crappy. Then I posted it and just forgot about it. Then five days later Adam Sandler is complementing me on it. So inside I was, like, “AUGH!” But there in the meeting I was like [coolly], “Yeah. I did that. I was proud of that.” (laughs)
This is really something that has opened up a bunch of new doors for me. It feels like I skipped a bunch of steps because they really took a chance on a frickin’ unknown kid.
When you do the jiggling that your character does throughout the film, how long did that take to get down and was that something that you thought up or was that in the script?
JL: Ha! I did that A LOT and that was DEFINITELY scripted. (laughs) It’s just this neat little signature because she just thinks everything is “oh so romantic!”
It seems like a hard thing to keep up all day take after take without dislocating a shoulder or something like that.
JL: (laughs) Yeah! And the contraption on my chest to make them look like that was really heavy, man. The costume designers on this movie were geniuses. The role was actually written for a busty Asian woman, and they just opened it right on up to barrel chested white ladies. (laughs) So they said, “I guess we have to figure out how to fake it if it’s in the script!” So they took what little God gave me and then they made this super extreme push-up bra. It was so specially formed and it had all these extra things in it. It was ridiculous. It was practically a floatation device.
So with gags like that written into the script, did you guys get to improvise a lot?
JL: Yeah, we did. They actually kept a lot of the improve (Kevin and I) did! We actually had this personal game where I would kind of insult him – kind of like “negging,” if you guys have read the pick-up artist book – and I would just say something about how he looked ugly or it smelled like he washed with a salmon or something like that, and I would say [in character’s voice] “I just want to clean your teeth with my tongue.” It was just the most disgusting stuff we could come up with as the worst lovebirds in the world. They kept a few of those things, like the scene where I say “You stink. I love it.” That was improve. The part where he hits me with that mimed arrow is in the script, the part where my stepson falls in love with Bella Thorne’s character, and then on top of that I improvised yanking the arrow out of my boob and stabbing him a bunch of times. Then he vomits from the pain of the stab wound and then I eat it all up. That was all improvised and THEY KEPT IT! (laughs) Frank (Coraci), the director, even came up to me recently and said “I really didn’t think the vomit thing would work, but it’s getting huge laughs, so well done on you.” (laughs)
Kevin is just the best. He’s so sweet, and he’s just a really great family man. He was totally at ease and it wasn’t awkward at all. Well, the first time it was awkward but everything after that was fine. He’s patient and friendly and hilarious, so I couldn’t have asked for someone better to be paired with.
You and Kevin have to work really hard at making the people around them uncomfortable, whether it’s your stepson in the film or Adam and Drew. Did you ever have something where you guys could look around the room and see if what you were doing was working to creep everyone out?
JL: Oh yeah. Whenever I would look at the kids. They are like a perfect Tabular Rasa. They haven’t really been taught just yet how to not show their disgust. (laughs) Often the little girl (Alyvia Alyn Lind) would just look the most shocked. One of the kids, I forget who it was, asked me “How do you have no shame?” (laughs) I just said, “It’s a lot of years and a lot of experience.” Because they are at the point right now where they’re still really conscious of being professional and now I can just go out and say, “Well, I’m going to do what I think is funniest!”
What other comics do you take a lot of inspiration from?
JL: I would say someone like Tina Fey, definitely. Someone who’s smart, sexy, and just generally outstanding. When I was in high school I really loved people like Molly Shannon and Cheri Oteri. They say that you love SNL the most when you are between the ages of 16 and 20, but I have watched every single episode since I was five years old. The first impression I ever did was of Mike Meyer’s “Coffee Talk” lady, and that was when I was five. I made my parents and all their friends watch me during dinner parties and I would say [doing a still spot on Mike Meyers impression] “The Prince of Wales, neither a prince, nor a whale. Discuss.” Then like a five year old, I would just run off right afterwards. (laughs)
I love Christopher Guest. Best in Show is a movie that I could watch over and over again. I love seeing love comedy, and L.A. is a great place for that. But really Second City Chicago was probably where I learned the most about sketch and improv.
I love a lot of TV. I think Comedy Central right now is just killing it when it comes to sketch comedy. Key and Peele just nails it every time. Upright Citizens Brigade teaches this thing called “tightening,” which is where you take this thing and you just make it more and more unusual and heightened, and I think they are experts at that. Also, Kroll Show is just great. “Wheels High Ontario” is so funny, and I don’t even get most of the Canadian references. Amy Schumer is really great, especially her speeches, which can often be really stunning and important to listen to.
I also really love Parks and Recreation and Bob’s Burgers. I want to write something like Bob’s Burgers some day and to do, like, five of the voices. That would be the ultimate dream for me.
It’s your first big film, but it’s also this incredible chance to take a trip to South Africa. How much did you see while you were there, and did you get to go around and explore off camera.
JL: It was really great. In the movie you see this really ridiculously amazing hotel, and that’s where I stayed for six weeks. I was like Eloise in South Africa. (laughs) It was this immaculate, five star hotel, and it was ridiculous. I had it easier than a lot of people, obviously, so I would work about four or five days a week and then have the weekends off. So we went to Johannesburg, which was about an hour away. We went to the Apartheid Museum, and that was fascinating.
It was weird because a lot of the Afrikaans sounded Dutch, so they thought it was HILARIOUS when I was out and I tried speaking Dutch to them when they spoke Afrikaans. They would just laugh at me and they called me “gek,” which means “crazy” in BOTH languages. So that became my nickname.
What were you doing in Amsterdam while you were living there?
JL: It was something called Boom Chicago, which is this comedy theatre that’s 21 years old now. It’s a bunch of American ex-pats who live and work in Holland. I was doing about six shows a week with them. It was like “comedy boot camp.” It would be half improv and half sketch.
I had to recalibrate my comedy mechanism to make it resonate with Dutch people. The Dutch are super honest people. If they don’t like something, they will tell you. [in a fake, male, Dutch accent] “Yeah, we don’t like Americans. They are fat, lazy, they wear tennis sneakers at all times even though they aren’t going to the gym. And they don’t know anything about European History. WHY IS THAT?” (laughs) I was just acting like this mouthpiece for all of America. “Well, our school system isn’t where it should be. We’ve had a lot of tough years under a lot of different presidents. We’re maybe not where we should be, but we’re getting better! We’re REALLY trying.” (laughs)
It seems like it would be gratifying to be able to be a part of a production like this that has a bit of looseness to it and have it act as your first big film. It seems like in an Adam Sandler movie there’s not much that isn’t at the very least worth a try.
JL: Yeah! Totally. It made me so much more comfortable because that kind of improv is my bread and butter. We would do things as scripted three or four times to be sure that we got it, and then we would just be let loose, sort of. And improvising with someone like Kevin Nealon is just a treat. We just ended up being super gross all the time.
There’s one scene that’s in the trailer that’s not in the final film, and I think it’s going to be in the bloopers because I have seen some of those and they are hilarious, where in this massage scene I’m eating grapes and just spitting them into his mouth. There’s a scene in the safari camp where he takes a sip of his cocktail and he just spits it on my clavicle and he just licks it off. There’s a lot of things like that. I did a lot of dancing and I just looked so stupid, but it was so fun. But if there wasn’t a lot of improv, I probably would have been intimidated, but because there was I was a lot more comfortable.
There really is a lot of dancing in the film, and now that you bring that up, I just realized that I am really terrible at trying to purposefully be a bad dancer. Every time I try to act goofy when I’m dancing, it’s never ever funny. Do you have any pointers?
JL: Here’s the thing: One of my improv instructors once said, “No one wants to see Barishnakov dance poorly. But they DO want to see some five year old really try to do some sort of fantastic ballet dance.” That’s what’s funny. So a professional dancer or someone who is that self aware dancing poorly isn’t fun to watch, but if you put your heart and soul into it and really try to GO for it – not trying to be dumb, but the person who is really trying to GET. THINGS. GOING. – that’s what’s funny.
Would you ever consider doing a drama or do you think this is the direction you would like to keep going in?
JL: The last real dramatic role I had was as Emily in Our Town, and that was when I was a senior in high school. (laughs) I’m definitely more comfortable in comedy, I would say. I could do it, especially in maybe a smaller role, but comedy is really my forte.
Throughout the film, you really get the sense that your character has a huge heart buried under this bubbly and jiggly facade that seems fun to play with.
JL: Yeah. I think her heart is always in the right place. She’s just a well meaning dumb-dumb. She doesn’t understand that she dresses inappropriately. I would never dress like that or act like that, and most people wouldn’t, but that’s just who she is and she’s not going to apologize for that. I think her heart never changes. When her (stepson) finally smiles at her, though, I think that’s really encouraging to her that not everyone thinks that she’s the dumbest.
She seems like someone who would be quick to judge based on her appearances. As a woman in comedy, have you encountered something similar?
JL: Yes. Right before Boom, I went through a big transformation. I worked in the UK for a bit, and I showed up VERY tan, and I was holding down numerous jobs, one of which was a Red Bull Girl. [sarcastically] As a COLLEGE GRADUATE from NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY, I was a RED BULL GIRL! I was delivering ice cold Red Bulls to, like, Extreme Motocross events. I didn’t go to school for that. (laughs) I was super tan, and super blonde, and I just fit this stereotype of being an American idiot.
There were a lot of stag and hen parties – bachelor and bachelorette parties – at our theatre. And the Brits are different from us when it comes to improv. Here we would just ask for a suggestion from the audience while you guys shut your face and we do our thing. There, British people aren’t as familiar with that, so they would heckle. Just non-stop heckling. I had to get really good at receiving those heckles and bouncing them right back. It really hurt my feelings when people just say [drunken and boorishly like a bro] “Yeah! Take it off!” and you look down in the front row and there’s some dude dressed as a baby mocking you. I couldn’t deal with it.
So when that started happening, I dyed by hair dark brown and cut it and started dressing a lot more masculine. It got to a point where it was so sad because I kind of had to start hiding the fact that I was a woman, but by the end I was able to own it and just shove it back in their faces. “I am a funny woman. Hear me roar.”
One of the best zings I had was on this one guy who would (whistle) every time I tried to talk. I stopped the scene and said “I think you want my number.” And he’s just going “YEAH!” And I said, it’s 949-FUCK-YOU. Then the whole crowd turned on that guy! It was really, really fast when I said it, but I look back on that now as a crowning achievement in my life when I learned how to deal with a heckler.