‘Glee’ Actress Jessalyn Gilsig Makes History With ‘Vikings’ & ‘Somewhere Slow’

“If I was a Viking, I would never survive. I’d be dead by nine years old,” says Jessalyn Gilsig, the actress who plays the quietly powerful Siggy in the History Channel’s first-ever scripted series, Vikings, opposite Gabriel Byrne. So perhaps it’s best that the viciously primitive, seafaring lifestyle of the Viking world is confined to the TV screen – a place Gilsig has found herself consistently, in roles on hit shows like Glee, Boston Public, and Nip/Tuck.

While her characters have ranged from unpredictable and fiery, to still and insightful, the Montreal native has discovered one common thread that unites them all: love. "They’re women who are really driven – for better or worse – by love and the difficulty of making the best decisions.” Siggy, who’s the Earl’s (Byrne’s) insightful and observant wife, acts as moral compass and motivator to her reigning husband.

But this year, with the debut of Somewhere Slow – an indie film hitting festivals nationwide this spring – Gilsig leaps into unprecedented roles in front of and behind the camera, with her premiere as both the star and a producer. The film follows Anna Thompson, an unhappy skin care sales rep who gets mixed up in a convenience store robbery and makes the split-second decision to walk out of her life and start anew. The film, written and directed by Jeremy O’Keefe, also stars Robert Forster (The Descendants) and David Costabile (Breaking Bad).  

“I never thought I’d get to play Anna,” she says. “I thought she should be played by a bigger star. But when they cast me, I said, ‘If I’m going to do this, then I need to take the risk with you and come on as a producer.’ And it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”

And the hardest too. Gilsig quickly learned the tremendous work behind not just screenplay development, but also film production – finding a composer, casting, mixing – which actors on set and in a trailer are rarely exposed to.

“I never knew how the room got dressed before with chairs and tables, how actors were scheduled to get there,” she says. “I learned never to ask for a bottle of water again.”

Gilsig’s newfound love of production has trickled into her writing as well. During her breaks on set, she works on several different scripts at a time, and also makes time for one of her greatest passions: painting. On her personal tumblr, you can find artwork inspired by Vikings, her daily musings, and various female body types. In fact, though she wasn’t in the film, Gilsig created all of the paintings by Patricia Clarkson’s artistic character in the 2003 movie The Station Agent.

“Conventionally, it’s considered a joke to want to be an actor,” she says. “So I’ve always been a little bit embarrassed about painting. But I’m realizing you can be creative in whatever material of the moment.”

With such temporal thinking, perhaps Gilsig relates a bit more to her Somewhere Slow character – who lives the fantasy of stepping out of her life and reinventing herself – than first perceived…

“Sometimes I imagine myself pouring coffee at truck stops across the country, living another life,” she says. “And I still like that idea.”

Check out Somewhere Slow and Jessalyn’s sketches. Follow Bonnie on Twitter here.

Photo: Udo Spreitzenbarth.

Robert Forster on ‘The Descendants,’ George Clooney, & His Savior Quentin Tarantino

Most of the chatter surrounding The Descendants has been about George Clooney’s committed performance as Matt King, a middle-aged man caught deep in the throes of crisis. But it’s Robert Forster, as his hard-nosed, sad-eyed, father-in-law who steals the show. Forster, who’s been acting since the late ‘60s, found his lagging career resurrected in 1998 when Quentin Tarantino gave him the role of a lifetime in Jackie Brown. Forster’s performance earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination, and introduced to him a new generation of filmmakers. We recently spoke to Forster about The Descendants, George Clooney, and his fateful encounter with Quentin Tarantino.   

Your character is a serious, no-nonsense guy. What is his back-story?
Scott is a military guy who is used to calling the shots. Life is becoming less and less predictable and manageable for him. His daughter and wife are leaving him. His grandchildren and son-in-law have disappointed him. Everybody is part of his own crash. 

We’re used to seeing Clooney play strong, confident characters on-screen. It’s a nice surprise to see him play such a vulnerable character. What do you think about this departure?
Look at Dustin Hoffman. He’s an unlikely leading man. But the fact that he was so good and hit a homerun in his first movie gave him the opportunity to play any type of character. Clooney paid a lot of dues in his early career, and then he graduated into a real fine movie star. Clooney will continue to have great opportunities to play whatever role comes along that a moviemaker throws at him and that he wants to do. There’s no departure, there is just a continuum of interesting things for him to do.

While your character wants the best for his daughter, do you think you’re a little hard on her husband, Matt?
My daughter could have done better. Matt’s no exciting guy. He spends all his time in an office. She’s a dynamic, exciting, daring woman. 

When the film ended, I wondered what Matt and Scott’s relationship would go on to be like in the future?
We’ll see each other on holidays I suppose. Eventually, I would find out that my daughter was cheating on him. Matt had the opportunity of telling me and he didn’t, which shows he is a good guy. Why tell the old man something he doesn’t need to know? Why hurt his feelings?  He’s already hurt. Matt’s a great character.

Do you think that underneath it all Scott actually likes Matt?
I would have had a great deal of respect for him after I found out that he didn’t tell me that my daughter was cheating on him. I’d re-think some of my behavior and probably have come to a better conclusion.   

You have three daughters and a son in real-life. Like your character in the movie, are you ever hard on your daughters’ husbands?
Not me! I let my daughters worry about being hard on their husbands. I have great warmth with my son-in-laws.

At this stage of your career what type of parts do you want to play?
You never know what’s coming next. If I were to guess and put myself in some direction, I would never be right. I had to take on a bad guy role in 1985 with Delta Force. Up until then, I had only played good guys. I was indebted to my agent and he said it was the only job he had for me and I had to go do it. I wound up playing bad guys for 13 years until Quentin Tarantino gave me a good guy role again.

Speaking of Tarantino, Jackie Brown was just released on Blu-ray. What did that role do for you at that stage of your career?
My career was dead at that time. Tarantino gave me a gift the size of which can’t be exaggerated. He gave me my career back.      

How were you originally cast in Jackie Brown?
I was at the point in my career when I was hoping that some guy who liked me growing up would turn into a moviemaker and give me a good part. I ran into Tarantino in a coffee shop. Six months later, I walked into that same coffee shop that I went to every day and he was there, and offered me the script.           

When you look back on the film now, what do you think of it?
It’s a fabulous movie. If it was made in a different era, it is the kind of part Humphrey Bogart or Robert Mitchum would have played. You have to be lucky in this business. In 1966, I got lucky with John Huston putting me in Reflections in a Golden Eye.  Eventually, Tarantino gave me a new lease on life. Alexander Payne has just added some time on my clock.

What would you say to a young actor starting out?
If you happen to be looking for the good life, self-respect and satisfaction are huge components. If you want to know what to do from now on, keep doing that till the last day.

What do you hope people will take away from The Descendants?
Understanding themselves, their families and neighbors better. Movies that are this good generally achieve a little bit of understanding in an audience.