SXSW 2015: Constance Zimmer on her roles in Results, House of Cards & More
You know Constance Zimmer. If her name doesn't ring a bell, her face will. You've seen her before, typically as the no-nonsense, hard working, truth-telling badass who is this close to losing her cool on some less than forthright character. Perhaps you remember her as Dana Gordon from Entourage, the young, tough studio head who could ink multimillion dollar deals and go potshot for potshot with Jeremy Piven's logorrhific Ari Gold. (Fans of Zimmer as Gordon will be pleased to know she's reprising the role in the upcoming Entourage movie, out this June.) Or perhaps you know Zimmer as Taylor Warren from The Newsroom, who had the Sisyphean task of being Mitt Romney's spokeswoman (spoiler alert, she's smart and tough), until a spasm of truth telling got her fired. For House of Cards fans, Zimmer is Janine Skorsky, the, wait for it, tough and pitifully honest journalist who clashes immediately with Zoe Barnes (Kata Mara), the young blogger who will stop at nothing, including eschewing journalistic ethics, to get a scoop.
Zimmer is often cast by brainy, brilliant directors and show runners like Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher to play the heavy, which seems to fit her like a glove on screen but doesn't jibe with the person you meet in real life. Speaking to Zimmer at SXSW, who was there to promote both Andrew Bujalski's film Results, where she plays against type (her fictional type, that is) as the sunny, positive real estate agent Mandy, as well as her upcoming television series UnReal, where she's once again been cast as powerful women, which we'll get into more of below.
So let’s start with Results…how’d you get involved?
Well, to start with I was super flattered when I got the call that they wanted me in the movie, because I don’t get those calls very often, and I’m just breaking into the indie film world so I thought, 'Who better to break in with but Andrew, with his incredible credits?' And the cast he had assembled was incredible [including Guy Pearce, Kevin Corrigan, Cobie Smulders], and I’m not the go-to for that particular part. Mandy is everything that I am not, so I know Andrew was kind of excited to let me be that in his movie, and be able to not always be what everyone expects me to be. Playing Mandy was awesome, it's fascinating how a bunch of long hair extensions and a super tight dress changes everything about how you feel.
It's a small but crucial role in the film.
I had such a short time to get a point across with this character, because I’m the part of the movie that shifts Guy Pearce’s character’s perspective on his life and what he’s searching for, and he clearly hasn’t been searching for the right thing…until I dump him. And I thought, wait, sex scenes with Guy Pearce and I dump him? Okay done.
And that dumping scene was great, too. When you dump him, I thought, that’s often actually the way people do get dumped in real life, with a smile and a handshake.
What the funny thing is was that was our first scene, so I had just met him, and our first scene was our breakup scene, and our next scene was our sex scene. And I was like, 'Welcome to the world of being an actress.' It’s so ridiculous, we met, then we broke up. But I just liked that also about the character, you don’t get to do that very often. That’s the way Andrew shoots, though, I came to realize. It’s on the page, but it becomes very organic. He'll say, ‘Now kind of add to it what you think you would do,’ and I love having that, and I think that’s what makes indie films great, you have the power to collaborate with everybody.
When you say you don’t asked to play those types of roles, what kind of role o you feel you’re constantly being asked to play?
It’s seems very obvious [laughs], but I’m always asked to play the very strong, very…I don’t like using the b-word, because I just feel like that’s not what she is. I play very un-filtered, honest women that are very confident in their power in what they do. Those are the women I get, whether they’re journalists [House of Cards] or run studios [Entourage] or, in this new TV show that I’m on, I play a producer of a reality show…some of them are not nice people, or they are nice, they’re just living in a world where they have no time to bullshit. And everybody always says they want honesty, but the truth is they don’t, and that’s why people turn it into calling them a ‘bitch.’ My characters are not bitches, if they were vindictive, that would make them that, but they’re not…
If they were men…
They wouldn’t be assholes if they were men, they’d be strong.
What do you think it is that compels directors to say, ‘Oh we need to get Constance for this role because we need a tough, direct, strong woman’?
It’s funny because when I started working, I was doing like goth girl parts. My first role, when Ellen had a sitcom, I played a riot grrrrrrl, and I was, like, hitting on Ellen, and I’ve always been cast in these kind of strong parts. Even in the sitcom world I was playing strong characters. I think in life I have a very dark, sarcastic sense of humor that maybe comes off as being strong? But I’m so insecure as Constance, I find it comical that all the women I play are the most confident women ever.I don’t mean to drop a name…but…I asked David Fincher about it when I got House of Cards and we were sitting on the set. I felt like at the beginning of the show Janine was truly a mean bitch, and that was really hard for me to understand, she was just so mean to Zoe’s character, and so I said to Fincher, 'Why do I always get cast as these characters? I would love to understand it.' And he said, 'Because you’re not one in real life. If you were one in real life, you could not play those characters, and because you’re the opposite, that comes through, so then your characters are not bitches, they’re just girls that are strong and have an opinion.'
With Janine on House of Cards, I think you get the sense that she’s not mean, she’s just being squeezed by the rigors of a new media landscape that has suddenly made her and her print journalism instincts antiquated.
In the beginning, definitely, she was just scared. It was a fun, amazing thing to play, to see how that character had to evolve, and understand, and compromise with the conflict of that changing media world. It’s funny because I really felt like I had such an allegiance to journalists, because it’s a true struggle. I mean we were in the Baltimore Sun, we were working in half of their offices that had been shut down, so we rented that side of their building, and every time we walked off our set, we’d open a door and the rest of the Baltimore Sun was right there, but they had all been shoved into a much tinier space because they weren’t producing as much. It was in our face every day, so I was feeling like I really had to make sure that that voice was heard in a way that wasn’t off-putting.
You also seem to be the go-to actress that super brainy people like to hire.
That’s good, I will take that. The most brainy person I think being Aaron Sorkin.
He’s basically just a brain.
He’s incredible. What I find I’m the most grateful for about these types of characters and the shows that I’ve done them on is, like take Janine in House of Cards, she was only supposed to be in three episodes, and I think that we all kind of saw that relationship between Janine and Zoe as being something that could be greater than just that. So the fact that I got to extend my role into the rest of the first season and into the second season, it was like, 'Wow, we’re doing this, and the character is evolving right before our eyes.' And the same thing happened on The Newsroom. That character was also only supposed to be there for three episodes, and Aaron as well was like, 'This is so fascinating that we can take a character that, off the bat, you don’t really know if you like because she is so Republican and so set in her ways, but what if we get her to question her party?' All of a sudden she’s a character we all want to know because we all questions things that we do in our lives and our jobs, and here she was questioning it, and speaking honestly, and speaking honestly got her fired.
Tell me about the new show.
It’s called UnReal, and it premieres here, and it's a behind-the-scenes of making a reality TV dating show. It’s on A&E for Lifetime, it’s their first scripted series, and it’s under the Lifetime brand. It’s very dark…
Well of course, you’re in it. Is your character tough, honest and no-nonsense?
Yup. Once again, it was one of those characters that I always say I’m done with them, I’m tired of them, but then somebody always writes one that hasn’t been explored, so I’m like, Okay, I’ll do another one. They are really fun I have to say.
Featured Image: Guy Pearce is Trevor and Constance Zimmer is Mandy in Results. Courtesy Results.