Amanda Peet’s star has been rising swiftly in the last year with the critical praise she garnered for her performance in The Whole Nine Yards and on television’s Jack and Jill. Since 1995, Pete has appeared in dozens of feature films, including small parts in studio releases like One Fine Day, but mostly leading or ensemble roles in independent projects. Until her starring role opposite Bruce Willis in …Nine Yards, the pretty, animated actress was best known as Linette in the “Summer of George” episode of Seinfeld. However, in a few short years of nonstop working, Peet has become a household name who can open a film. In fact, Destination Films is releasing Whipped, a small independent film she shot a few years ago, with a concentrated theatrical push based on Peet’s emerging star power.
Peet and I met to chat about Whipped, her newfound fame and why LA sucks.
Whipped is primarily a movie about “scamming”-- employing whatever techniques necessary to bed down with a potential partner. Have you ever scammed?
No, I’m not a scammer by nature, I don’t think.
Your character Mia scams all four men in the film and is almost righteously indignant about it in the end. Do you think women will respond to this like “well, what’s good for the gander is just as cool for the goose?”
I’m sure some women will say, incorrectly, “right on!” But women shouldn’t resort to the ways of male scammers. But I think it’s kind of fun for us to have our hurrah. Not to give away the end of the movie or anything.
In the film, the characters talk about “jumping on a grenade”-- a guy or girl hooks up with the not-so-attractive person so that his or her buddy can score with the not-so-attractive person’s hotter friend. Have you ever jumped on a grenade?
Nah, that’s just horrifying, isn’t it? It’s f*cking disgusting. Sorry.
Well, we always say we’re “taking a bullet for the platoon.” Is it a weird serendipity that you met your current beau, Brian Van Holt, on the set of a film about scamming?
It’s so ironic and also, look at his character, he’s like the worst pig of all of them.
In your next film, Saving Silverman, your character is the girlfriend from Hell, which seems to be in keeping with the types of roles you choose. Do you consciously attempt to avoid the sweet girlfriend/obligatory love interest role?
I don’t try; I just sort of take the roles that I’m offered. I know that sounds so dumb, and it’s not exactly true. It’s not like I go looking to play roles like that. I guess maybe I’m not as good at being meek and soft.
But when I read The Whole Nine Yards, I was like this is a G-spot role. You know what I mean? Like I was like, “This is not the girlfriend. This is not the reactive role. This is a role that has relevance to the plot, and it’s not just the love interest of the protagonist.” I thought it was like dynamic and there are so rarely roles for women that are dynamic and not just kind of whiny-moral compass-love scene-crying-screaming, you know what I mean?
Did the critical response to The Whole Nine Yards, in particular your performance, dramatically shift the kinds of projects that were being offered to you?
A little bit. Not a lot. It’s not like people are banging down my doors with Elizabeth and The Talented Mr. Ripley. I’m still like, (singing) “Use me, choose me.”
That’s the direction you’d like to head in with your career? Merchant-Ivory type films?
I have like two yens. One is to do like a crusader movie, like Norma Rae or Karen Silkwood, like where I wear big glasses, smoke and have a baby. And like there’s a screen door and a Bruce Springsteen song and maybe a bumper car station where I work and I have like dice on my Camaro. And then I want to do, I don’t know, like I want to do a Married to the Mob, too.
You worked with Jack Black and Steve Zahn, two of the funniest people on the planet, in Saving Silverman. How do you keep from pulling a Harvey Korman when you’re in a scene with them?
It’s impossible. I lost my shit so many times. I was so unprofessional. They’re impossible. Jack Black is impossible to work with. He’s too funny. Oftentimes, he would screw with me off-camera. He would be standing there, just off-camera, and the camera would be there for my close-up and he would just go off on some tangential diarrhea-of-the-mouth. He’s great though. That’s when it’s really fun.
Since you made Whipped, how has your life changed?
Oh, I made this film 2 ½ years ago. It has changed quite a bit. I moved to LA and became an LA person. I drive. I didn’t know how to drive when I did Whipped. And I have a lot more movies that I did. Hopefully, I’m like a better actress, a little bit.
Well, you became AMANDA PEET. Did you feel like you were soon going to be going wide, breaking big when you shot Whipped?
Whatever “breaking big” means. No, this was like my fourteenth independent movie that I did for $75 a day and much to the chagrin of my agent, who was getting poorer by the movie. He was like, “Okay, your deal is done, after 5 minutes.” I think we were both kind of tired of it, but I read the script and I was like, “I just feel like this script has an edge and a little bit of a vision that maybe some of the other indie movies that I had done didn’t have.” I thought it was more impactful. And there were movies that were sort of kind of Whit Stillman attempts at kind of prosaic, talky, sitting-around movies with like acoustic guitar music, and I was really sick of it.
Is there a psychological difference in terms of how you approach playing a character in one of the fourteen independent films where you make like $75-a-day and in a big movie like The Whole Nine Yards?
I was definitely more scared doing The Whole Nine Yards. I was more scared that I was gonna suck. I felt like I was under a lot more pressure. So there is a difference. I’m not going to lie to you and say it’s not different doing a scene with Bruce Willis, because he’s just an actor and its just the same thing, because it’s f*cking not. He’s Bruce Willis, for Christsake. I was so scared of him. So it is different.
I think there is something very special about independent films. Not to be corny, but everyone’s working for no money, everyone’s hoping that it’s going to go somewhere, everyone knows that somebody’s putting money that they can’t afford into it and that we can’t do as many takes because we don’t have enough film and we work heinous hours and there’s nowhere to sit and there’s nowhere to pee.
Did you have any idea that it would be like that when you decided to become an actress?
I had really horrible stage fright in the beginning. So it’s been like a long process for me to recover from that. I still haven’t fully recovered , but I think a lot of people are like, “Being nervous is good, isn’t it?” And it’s not when it’s totally debilitating.
Doesn’t it seem peculiar to you that someone with debilitating stage fright would want to become a performer?
I know, it’s like really weird. I look at Kim Basinger -- did you catch her on Letterman a few weeks ago? It was a rerun I think of the I Dreamed of Africa one. She was literally trembling and I was like, “I love you. I love you so much.” I really have such love for her. Because I get it. I get it that she’s that scared, but she has to do it. And it’s almost for that very reason. It’s the thing that’s the most fascinating to me.
When you’re not working and you’re in (acting) class, it’s so easy to look at Winona Ryder or look at someone and be like, “I could’ve done that.” But when you get there and you have to do your twentieth take and you have to turn the bottle this way so the product placement is right and you have to put your hair behind your ear right on the line before that and then say line blah blah blah, it’s hard to be good sometimes. It’s hard not to be just terrible and fake. Not being transported at all. Not believing anything that you’re saying. Being just totally like, “Oh look at the mic and look at the f*cking boom operator. This is not real at all.” I find that challenge to submerge myself just exhilarating.
With Jack and Jill you have to be bicoastal now, right?
New York is better.
Because it just is. LA is too sunny. It’s ridiculous. Like I can’t even believe it sometimes. It’s like that McInerny thing, like how the sun stupidly shines so dumbly every day. It’s like a dumb sun. Every morning, I open the blinds, I open the curtains, and I can’t believe it. There’s nowhere to run. It’s so weird to me. Look at it.
Is it because you have a darker perspective on life?
No, just some variation would be nice. I need my depressing melancholy movie days where I can go to the Angelica and be cozy inside while the rain pitter-patters. This is just ridiculous. It’s got a whole feel. It’s like tofu and tan, sun, crazy blue with white. It’s like crazy. Drives me nuts.