TV actors Elizabeth Moss, Sam Riley take Q&As at IFP Spirit screenings

Actress Elizabeth Moss Attends IFP/Midwest Screening of Virgin

(First posted in 2004)

Hardy souls braved freezing temperatures to attend a series of screenings at Columbia College Chicago sponsored by the Midwest office of the Independent Feature Project (IFP). The list of films included fifteen candidates for this year’s Independent Spirit Awards in three categories: Best Documentary, Best First Feature, and Best Film made for under $500,000 (the award named in honor of independent film pioneer John Cassavetes).

One highlight of the series was the appearance of actors Elizabeth Moss and Sam Riley who conducted a Q&A session after the February 5th screening of Virgin. Written and directed by Deborah Kampmeier, Virgin is one of the five candidates for this year’s John Cassavetes Award.

Like the American classic The Scarlet Letter, Virgin depicts an ostensibly conservative community dealing with the illegitimate pregnancy of one of its members. In Virgin, however, the young woman is a victim of drug-induced date rape. Because she has absolutely no memory of her assault, her religious upbringing leads her to believe that she has been impregnated by God. Her parents, played by Robin Wright Penn (who is also one of the film’s Executive Producers) and Peter Gerety (best known as Detective Stuart Gharty on the Baltimore-based television show Homicide: Life on the Streets), urge her to confess her sins from the pulpit, but Jessie refuses. She has no sins to confess, and so, like Hester Prynne, she quietly goes about her daily business while the rage of her neighbors grows.

After the lights came back up in the screening room, Ms. Moss discussed the arduous audition process. She said that she was immediately drawn to the character of Jessie when her agent sent her the script. However, when she auditioned, she had to convince herself that she could carry such a demanding lead role. Since there was only one week of rehearsal before the twenty-one day shoot began, the casting had to be perfect.

Mr. Riley plays Sam, the perpetrator’s buddy. When he can no longer bear his guilt alone, Shane (played by Charles Socarides) tells Sam that he is responsible for Jessie’s pregnancy. But Sam has hidden feelings of his own for Jessie, and so, like Roger Chillingworth counseling Arthur Dimmesdale, Sam urges Shane not to make a public confession. Riley, who studied acting with Deborah Kampmeier for four years prior to filming, talked about the degree of trust required to play his intensely emotional scenes, one of which is particularly violent and disturbing.

Moss also discussed her relationship with Stephanie Gatchet the young actress who plays Jessie’s sister Katie. The relationship between the two sisters is at the center of the drama. Katie starts out skeptical, but comes to believe in and protect Jessie by the end, and yet the two actresses, who establish such powerful on screen chemistry, met for the first time at the first rehearsal. The credits carry the dedication “for Jennifer.” When asked who Jennifer is, Moss responded, “Deborah’s [younger] sister.”

Moss, best known as Zoe Barlett, President Barlett’s kidnapped daughter on NBC’s The West Wing, now finds her name placed alphabetically between Samantha Morton (for In America) and Charlize Theron (for Monster) on this year’s list of Spirit Award candidates for Best Female Lead.

IFP/Midwest members should make sure to complete their ballots and have them postmarked no later than Tuesday February 17th.

The Independent Spirit Awards will be broadcast live from Santa Monica, California on Saturday afternoon February 28th on the Independent Film Channel (IFC), and rebroadcast later in that weekend by IFC’s sister station BRAVO.

© Jan Lisa Huttner (2/11/04)—Special for Reel Chicago. Reposted with permission.

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Julia Lasker
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As an associate for FF2 Media, Julia writes reviews and features for films made by women. She is currently a senior at Barnard College studying Psychology. Outside of FF2, her interests include acting, creative writing, thrift shopping, crafting, and making and eating baked goods. Julia has been at FF2 for almost 4 years, and loves the company and its mission dearly.
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