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Gretchen Mol Indulges in “An American Affair”

Gretchen Mol Indulges in “An American Affair” (photo)

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When model-turned-actress Gretchen Mol first arrived on the scene in noteworthy ’90s films like “The Funeral” and “Rounders,” lazy journalists started whistling “It girl,” that hyperbolic phrase given to all ingénues who fulfill three criteria: (1) they’re pretty, (2) they’re charming and (3) they have multiple projects being released around the same time. Some actresses don’t survive the overhype machine and burn out as the next hot thing comes along, but Mol persevered, worked with directors like Woody Allen, Neil LaBute and James Mangold, and found further success with starring roles in “The Notorious Bettie Page” and TV’s new hit “Life on Mars.” Her latest film is director William Sten Olsson’s 1963-set “An American Affair,” an unusual hybridization of the sexual coming-of-age tale (enter “Birth” star Cameron Bright) and the JFK conspiracy thriller, in which Mol stars as a Washington D.C. bombshell, abstract painter and Kennedy paramour who gets in over her head on both the federal and neighborhood fronts. By phone, Mol chatted with me about the film, motherhood, Abel Ferrara and life after being the “It girl.”

You seem to have had a proclivity for period pieces in recent years, if you count the 1970s-set “Life on Mars.” Is this more than just coincidence?

Not on my end. I feel like I’ve actually done it most of my career. One time, I was in the future, and most of the time, I’m in the past. [laughs] It’s certainly not anything that I do consciously. When reading a script, you’re looking for things that you [hook you]. You fall in love with the story, the character, or both, or the director. There has to be some element there. Working in period is fun and exciting because it’s that much more of a departure from me, myself, and I when I’m looking in the mirror in the morning. By the time you go through the wardrobe, hair and makeup, you do your work, you get your history lesson on what was going on at that time, it just removes you that much further from yourself.

So what was the standout element in the “An American Affair” screenplay for you?

It was really the character of Catherine Caswell. There’s something fun for actors to play broken people who are going to be a struggle to sympathize with, and try to find something about them that you can love. You have to overcome judging them, and there’s a lot with this character to judge. [laughs] There’s just a lot to her. She was different from the way I often get cast, which is as the sometimes sweet, sometimes naïve person, like Bettie Page or in the Neil LaBute play [“The Shape of Things”]. This woman who’s often blind to other people’s feelings and going forward in her own way, she was smart and creative, but frustrated and made a lot of bad choices.

02262009_AmericanAffair.jpgEven though you say there’s a certain demeanor to the roles you’re regularly offered, is it at least nice to no longer be the new girl in the room?

Yeah, absolutely. That’s a moment when you can hopefully pass through and survive. The whole idea is to work for a long time, and it’s hard in this business to do that. So I’m happy still finding fun, interesting parts to play at this point, and I think about the future — but of course, who knows? You’re always one role away from feeling like, “Oh, I’m going to work steadily for the rest of my life. I have nothing to worry about,” but I don’t know if you ever really feel like you can sit back and relax.

Are there new paths you’d like to take, maybe a role that subverts the “sweet” characters?

No, I don’t know. I feel like I’ve been able to play a variety of different people so far. I did a musical on Broadway [“Chicago”] for a while. I would like to go back and revisit that in film because I love singing and dancing. Those are things that I studied, so I often feel like it’s a part of myself that I don’t get to tap into that often. As rigorous as the whole Broadway schedule was, it was a challenge and I had such a great time doing that. But as far as kinds of roles, whatever it is that you have to offer different characters and parts, it’s hard to get too far away from “that thing.” I feel like I have to finally admit that. Actors think, “I can do anything!” [laughs]

Besides the singing and dancing, what do you enjoy about theater that film doesn’t offer you?

For me, it’s the start to finish. You’re on your own as an actor there. You get to play out a whole journey in one fell swoop, and you get to feel the energy from the audience in a way that you don’t with film. With film and television, you’re just shooting pieces, often out of order, and so you don’t get that sense of a beginning, middle and end, and the satisfaction that that brings. You have a sense of control, too. No one can edit that performance.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.