Jessica Rothe on the Tragic Romance of ‘All My Life’ and ‘Happy Death Day 3’
Jessica Rothe is used to big productions. She has danced the night away in “La La Land” and chased killers across time loops in the supremely enjoyable “Happy Death Day” films. For “All My Life,” the rising actor changes pace. This movie is based on the endearing and tragic romance of Jennifer Carter (played by Rothe) and Solomon Chau (Harry Shum Jr. of “Crazy Rich Asians”), who fell deliriously in love with each other in 2015. It was a picture-perfect relationship that inevitably led to Jenn and Sol planning to get married. Then, Sol was diagnosed with cancer and the fairy tale became a journey to enjoy their last days together and endure the challenges of chemotherapy and other treatments.
Directed by Marc Meyers, “All My Life” has the look and liveliness of a standard date night movie, but has a deeper meaning. Most romances begin at least with the tone of boundless possibility. Yet real life has a way of reminding us we are still fragile and that not every great love story has a Hollywood ending. Rothe spoke with Entertainment Voice about the journey of making “All My Life.”
“All My Life” is different from what we usually get from “date night” movies, if you want to call them that. It’s more than that. What were your first impressions when you read the script?
I love everything you said about it. It is a very different take from that kind of rom-com, date movie. From the moment I read the script I fell in love with the amazingly heartbreaking love story Marc Meyer and writer Todd Rosenberg crafted, inspired by this real life story. I fell in love with Jenn and Sol’s relationship and what incredible partners they were for each other, even in the face of such adversity. I also really loved the friendship story that was interwoven, not just between Jenn and Sol, but how their friends and community came together to help celebrate their relationship and Sol’s life. But above all that, I really fell in love with Jenn’s bravery and strength and her unwillingness to stop fighting and how protective she is over this man she loves more than life itself. She’s willing to go to the ends of the earth to make him happy.
These were real people, actual lives that were lived. How was it meeting the real Jenn and what kind of relationship did that evolve into as you prepared the role?
I was so fortunate that as soon I was cast, I was put in contact with Jenn Carter. The first time we talked we talked for over three hours on FaceTime. We talked about everything from the script to her relationship with Sol. She shared some incredible and very personal stories with me. Then we would talk about our dogs and favorite TV shows. We just had this delightful sort of girl hang. But the best gift she gave me aside from those stories was that she gave me permission to create my own interpretation of the character. She said, “please don’t feel beholden to imitate me or to try and replicate something.” Because she gave me that freedom I was about to show up on set with Harry and Marc and be present, just looking for those beautifully authentic moments I could create with Harry. It’s different from trying to imitate and re-create something, which can be a death knell for an actor.
Has Jenn seen the movie?
She has seen it! I was actually texting with her the other day, hoping we could catch up this week. I can’t imagine having a movie made about your life. I can only speak from working on a project so hard and knowing every tiny little detail that exists in every scene. When you see a final cut you’ll still notice the things that are missing because you lived it, you experienced it. When Jenn saw it we talked a lot about how we shot so much beautiful stuff there just wasn’t enough room for all of it. But she felt we captured the essence of her and Sol’s relationship. She was so happy and felt he would have been so happy. When she saw it with her mom, her mom had moments where she would say, “oh my god, that’s so you” or “Harry nailed Sol” or “Jessica is doing such a Jenn thing.” At the end of the day that’s the highest compliment I can get, that we captured even a fraction of what their experience was. I feel so grateful that she loved it.
You and Harry do have this wonderful dynamic in the film. It feels like a relationship that grows out of true friendship. Both of you are doing this movie after appearing in hits like “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Happy Death Day.” What was the dynamic on set like between you two?
Harry is an absolute dream. He’s so incredibly talented and is as much of a workaholic as I am. I love to do my homework to a fault. I want to be prepared and come in with ideas. Harry and I would still spend hours after being on set in his hotel room pouring over the script, trying to make sure that we understood the emotional cadences of every scene, trying to infuse jokes and little bits that we could throw in to demonstrate their intimacy. And he’s also a genuinely good human being in addition to being so talented. He always has a smile and a kind word for everyone. He can be a soothing presence on set whereas I can sometimes be too fired up (laughs). I’m the one worried about not having enough time or that the scene isn’t going right. Harry is the one telling me to take a breath. I hope we created something intimate where you sense that balance of chemistry between two people. He made me feel so safe and when you make a film that goes into such dark, emotional depths you need to feel supported by your cast and director.
You’ve been in movies that have particular angles towards romance, whether it’s “La La Land” or “Valley Girl,” even “Happy Death Day” has a love story at its core. But here the movie romance clashes with a startling, realistic situation. How much of your personal experiences or self goes into a character like this?
I think quite a lot. I love my job because I get to explore the human condition and truth. That’s what I’m always looking for. For some projects, exploring that truth in a more heightened way is the best way to depict it. But here it’s such an intimate, quiet depiction of love and companionship and what it means to love your best friend. A difference between this and other films is that I had to breathe a lot. I had to breathe and be present and listen very, very carefully to my scene partners and the emotions I was having. It’s such a movie about being present.
You have a few films coming up and this year you had a series premiere on Amazon, “Utopia.” But fans are wondering if we will get a “Happy Death Day 3.” Is that in the works and what else do you have coming up?
I wish I had big, fun exciting news about “Happy Death Day 3.” All I can say is I’ve heard director Chris Landon’s pitch for it and it is brilliant. If we are able to make the movie in the way the trilogy deserves and the way my character, Tree, deserves for her final, final girl moment then I can’t wait. But aside from that I’m actually writing something. It’s a project I started before quarantine but quarantine has provided ample time to sit down in front of the computer and hate myself, which I hear is 90% of being a writer.
Yeah, that’s right.
(Laughs) I’ve written a screenplay with my amazing writing partner. We’re on our second draft and we’re hoping to take it out at the beginning of the new year and get it greenlit and shoot it. I would star in it. So I’m very excited about the potential for it.
Any hints on what it’s about now that you’re a thespian and wordsmith?
(Laughs) I’m not a wordsmith yet! More like a word apprentice. But the one thing I can say it’s that it’s about female friendship. It explores it in a way you don’t usually see in any genre. I am just so excited. It’s a project I’ve been passionate about for a long time. I hope I can share it with the world soon.
“All My Life” releases Dec. 4 in select cities.