Actress Rae Dawn Chong recently stepped into the role of office worker confidant to Susan Sarandon in Jeff, Who Lives at Home, which debuts on Blu-ray and DVD on June 19.
Written and directed by the Duplass brothers, Jeff, Who Lives at Home tells the comedic but uplifting story of two brothers, slacker Jeff (Jason Segel) and conventional Pat (Ed Helms), who have drastically different ways of looking at the world. As life unfolds, Jeff and Pat come together to help each other find their way and connect with their long-suffering mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), who discovers she has a secret admirer at work. As Jeff looks for his destiny in the movie Signs, Pat suspects his wife (Judy Greer) is cheating on him.
When Jeff stumbles towards enlightenment, he uncovers answers to his nagging family’s problems. When the story begins, Jeff has no idea where he’s going but when he finally gets there, he learns what it’s all about as his family comes together in ways they never thought possible.
In Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Rae Dawn Chong plays office worker Carol who shares in Sharon’s disorientation about life and family. It’s Rae Dawn Chong’s character who plays a vital role in being a not only a co-worker but also a friend to a woman in transition.
Ahead of the June 19 Blu-ray release of Jeff, Who Lives at Home, The Deadbolt caught up with Rae Dawn Chong to learn more about her reaction to the script, working with the Duplass brothers and Susan Sarandon, her belief in destiny, and what she loved about the story.
THE DEADBOLT: When you first read the script, how did you feel about where the story went beyond the slacker element to something so much more rewarding?
RAE DAWN CHONG: I thought it was magical. But the whole experience of working with the Duplass brothers, without sounding completely corny, is slightly magical. Even the way you audition in the room. There was no one in the room except me, a casting person, and the camera.
There was something that I did organically, spontaneously. It wasn’t so much the words that I read but it was that one moment when they decided that I should come and be in the movie. So, in the way that they are, they know what they’re looking for.
Reading their script, I was delighted because it was absolutely different from anything I’d seen before and yet very comforting to me, very familiar, almost like a French movie. But I don’t want to say anything pompous or pretentious because they’re such real, good guys. At this moment they’ve got me convinced that they’re unaffected and I think they’re wonderful to work for. It was refreshing material to read.
THE DEADBOLT: How rewarding was it to share in the uncomfortable moments of the story with Susan [Sarandon] as much the lighter moments?
CHONG: Well, it’s really interesting to work with her. She’s a pro. It was really interesting to work with someone who’s so formidable. And I have to tell you, it was exactly like I thought it would be. She’s a thoroughbred. She gets out there and does her stuff. You’ve got to stand up next to her and hold your own. I think I did okay. But she’s absolutely a pro and I was honored to work with her.
THE DEADBOLT: What did you like most about the relationship between Carol and Sharon?
CHONG: I like that they were both beginners, that one wasn’t more superior to the other. I like the May-December age thing and the fact that my character was just on a mission to get her. And I like that Sharon wasn’t saying 100 percent “no,” she was like 75 percent “no.” I like how that 25% was vital. That’s always sexy, right? Kind of like, “treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen.”
THE DEADBOLT: How did the Duplass brothers get the best out of you as an actress?
CHONG: You know what? They’re really easy to work with. They have a very specific thing in mind and you just show up and try to be as open as you can and hope that your craft is sharp enough, because they hire who you are. I think that’s how they did it. You’re so confident in that. There wasn’t a moment that wasn’t delightful.
THE DEADBOLT: Since you started out in the business at a young age, how did you relate to characters who are feeling so lost?
CHONG: Because I always feel lost. I mean, everyday it’s like I’m a beginner, and I’m 51. Starting out on my first film, I was 15. It’s always been the same, you’re always terrified. And there’s also this great sense of wonderment. If you think about it, being an actor is like a gift from heaven. It’s super delicious. It’s called “play,” and you can just play. I’ve had an incredibly gifted, wonderful, blessed life.
THE DEADBOLT: What motivates you as an actress today, as compared to all of the success of the 80s?
CHONG: Well, now I sort of feel like everything I get to do – I’m pickier for sure. But then it works out because a lot of auditions don’t come my way. I’m watching the whole business morph and change, so it’s a fascinating question.
You know, I have days when I feel really depressed about the business and then I have days when I feel really liberated and free. Everything I do from this point forward is just lucky and it’s a gift. And the fact that I’ve manifested a gig as cool as Jeff is just a cherry on top.
Jeff sets the bar pretty high. So anything that comes my way has to be as delightful and magical as Jeff. And you never know. I write and I develop and I take it day by day. I’m an artist. It’s a rough road, it’s a hard path, but I think it’s worthy. I mean, I don’t know how to do anything else really.
THE DEADBOLT: Like the movie, do you believe that everything happens for a reason?
THE DEADBOLT: So, you believe in destiny?
CHONG: I do. I do think there’s some sort of over-intelligence that’s bigger than mine that pops things in front of me because of something that I need to know for a broader perspective.
THE DEADBOLT: Did you connect to the movie on that level at all?
CHONG: Yeah, I liked the idea of the film. I liked the sweetness of his character, the Jeff character. I actually know people like that, so it was familiar to me. I like that he was so willing to be soft. I like how he could look at a lot of things and judge them. I think in our times right now, there’s so much that we have to revert back to and I think that type of simplification is so important.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home is available on Blu-ray and DVD as of June 19.