Jeremy Allen White: Picking a Project is About the People Involved
Jeremy Allen White has been acting non-stop since he finished high school over a decade ago. At 29, White is a familiar face for fans of the American adaptation of Shameless since it debuted on Showtime in 2011. White has also developed a presence in independent cinema, using the little time he has between seasons to explore other characters. In Dave Franco’s directorial debut, The Rental, which opens this week in theaters and on-demand, he plays Dan Stevens’ younger brother, with whom he embarks on a supposedly fun trip to Oregon with their girlfriends, played by Sheila Vand and Alison Brie. But once they get there, nothing goes to plan.
What do you enjoy most about making independent films?
When I’m deciding to do a project or not, it’s always about are the people involved. I ask myself are they people that I admire and feel like I can learn something from? The size of the movie doesn’t have that much to do with it, it’s always the people involved. In the case of The Rental, I just really admired everybody from the cast to the DP, obviously Dave and Joe Swanberg I was really big fans of. It’s really nice to work on something for a short period of time – you’re only working for six weeks or so on a movie like that. But you get to maybe do a couple of those movies in a year if you are lucky and then you get to work with so many talented folks.
Did doing these projects help keep you sane while you worked for so many years on Shameless?
Yeah, absolutely. I think it works both ways. I think it’s always nice to go to a project during the hiatus because you can have a wonderful time doing a movie on the hiatus or another TV show and you feel really refreshed. But then I am very lucky, I always feel relieved to go back to Shameless as well. I think we’re all lucky to have done that show for so long and to still enjoy it and be grateful for it.
The part that you are playing in The Rental, was originally for Dave. Do you think it was the juiciest role?
(laughs) That’s interesting, I never thought about it that way. Dave wrote it, and I may not be getting the story completely right, but I believe that Dave had written it for him and his brother James to do and they were going to have someone else direct it at some point. Then Dave felt like having written it, he was maybe too close to it, so everything kind of fell apart. Later, he decided that he wanted to direct it himself, so he decided to play the lead as well would be too much, so you could say, I got very lucky that Dave ended up passing on his own movie so that I could step in!
You have a lot of experience playing siblings and here you go again!
On Shameless, that show is all about family really and in The Rental, the relationship between Josh and Charlie is just one of the most interesting to me, I think that the need for a younger sibling to get acceptance from an older sibling, there’s something that is so human about just needing to be accepted by someone that you look up to and love so much. I feel like that was an easy in for me and Josh, as I really felt for him. I got the sense that Charlie would never really give it to him, that he was never really unimpressed by him and I think that is a hard place for somebody to exist, just forever wanting someone’s approval and never really get it.
What are the pluses of working with another actor who is starting his path as a director?
Dave is one of the kindest, brightest most focused people outside of his acting ability, so those are amazing qualities for a director. But the fact that he is such a good actor, I felt that safety net that I was talking about before working with Dan, where I know that Dave has been in my shoes. I felt safe trying things and falling on my face to do things that seem too big or too small because I know at the end of the day, Dave is going to have my back and he’s not going to lead me astray. As a director, his shorthand with actors made itself clear very quickly because he’s gone through it. Acting is what he’s spent the majority of his career doing.
Usually, a movie set becomes like a small family, but when the director is married to one of the stars, is that feeling stronger?
If The Rental were a big family, they were definitely mom and dad. There were some really sweet moments too. Dave wasn’t flustered or overwhelmed or anything like that. He was quite in control throughout all of filming. But I think there were some moments when we were shooting nights where we were all tired and you could see that maybe he just wasn’t sleeping enough, or he was getting anxious about his first shot or the block or whatever it was. And it was really nice to watch the way that Alison would slip in and out from her role as one of the lead actors in Dave’s film and then she would slip into the supportive partner role and just go kind of be with him and build him up. There were some really wonderful moments between the two of them and I think Alison, I don’t want to speak for her, but I would imagine that Dave was so well-liked, by not just the cast, but the crew as well and I have to imagine that must have been nice for Alison to watch as well.
Are you going to be more aware of looking for cameras if you rent an Airbnb?
I hadn’t stayed in many Airbnb’s, but I stayed in an Airbnb during the filming of The Rental. Production put me up in a house in Bandon Oregon and it was like right up on the water, a beautiful beach cottage, very sweet. It was so funny; I was there with my wife and my then six-month-old daughter and we were having such a blast. I would go to set and we would be in this world of mayhem and backstabbing and lies and distrust and masked men and all of these horrible things in an Airbnb. And then I would come home to my Airbnb and it couldn’t have been a more different experience that I personally had. So it was a very funny balancing back and forth between those two extremes of this Airbnb horror movie and then Jeremy’s experience with his family is like it would be in a commercial for Airbnb or something like that.
Season ten of Shameless is kicking off on Netflix. That season marked a big change for your character, Lip Gallagher.
The big change was Emmy Rossum who plays Fiona, left the show after season nine. So I think it was a really interesting season to shoot in that obviously there was something missing for us. I had found such a strong acting partner in Emmy over the years and I loved working with her, so I definitely missed that. But we had done the show for so long, I think we needed something drastic to happen, to stir things up and create some new life into it. And I think in Emmy and Fiona leaving the show, it created this sort of immediate chaos in the Gallagher world, even more, chaotic than their usual chaos. It really shook things up and I think made some really interesting things happen. And it also gave time to focus on some other characters and some other relationships. I was really happy with it and I hope other folks are excited to watch it that haven’t seen it on Showtime. I’m excited to get started on our last one. We were going to begin on March 17 and then obviously we didn’t. We’re still waiting to go back when everybody thinks it will be safe.
How do you feel about the end of Shameless?
I am not looking forward to that day. It’s going to be very difficult. I’ve grown up with the character and he has grown up with me.
I read that your parents moved to New York to be actors? Do you think you had any other choice but to follow in their footsteps?
That wasn’t even something I was aware of until later in life. I studied dance when I was very young, so I like performing and then I found acting on my own. I transferred into a new school and all the girls were in the drama class and I was in 7th grade and I think I just wanted to be in that class. And I got really elated. I felt I was really good at it, it helped me focus. I had a hard time focusing when I was young. And I could focus when I was acting and then my parents found out afterward that I was interested in acting.
In which ways did your first years of dancing help you as an actor?
With dancing, you get a pretty feral understanding of your body in relation to space. I feel that is also true of swimming. You just get a really good sense of your body. I think that’s something that absolutely is helpful and can be translated into acting and different character work. I haven’t danced in a very long time in any classroom setting, but one day I would like to take a role that maybe needs a little bit of dancing.
Do you think you will follow Dave’s path, that one day you will find your role behind the camera?
I don’t know, I don’t have any immediate plans to. I think for right now I am just going to try to continue to work with the folks that I admire and continue to learn. But never say never!