Jessica Rothe’s star power is on the rise. The Happy Death Day and Valley Girl actor is set to star in the new film, All My Life, opposite former Glee star Harry Shum Jr.
Based on a powerful true love story that inspired an entire nation, Rothe plays Jennifer Carter, whose husband, Solomon Chau, is diagnosed with liver cancer. When Jenn and Sol (Shum) meet, sparks instantly fly. They fall in love and get engaged, seemingly having their whole lives in front of them. That is until Sol is diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and their plans for a wedding the following summer become impossible.
In a race against time, their friends and family launch an online fundraiser to help the couple create their dream wedding in just two weeks. In the process, they unleash an outpouring of generosity and attention from people around the world who want to celebrate the power of love with them.
For Rothe, playing Carter was incredibly poignant and fulfilling.
“She is just so filled with love and life, and she is spontaneous and funny, but incredibly protective of this man that she loves,” Rothe said in an interview with The Latch.
“I was so excited with the challenge and the opportunity to really play someone who loves, and is actually so in love so fearlessly and experiences great loss.”
In order to play the role, Rothe spent hours talking to Carter about her life and love story.
“She said to me, ‘I want you to feel complete freedom in how you play the character. You don’t have to worry that I’m going to judge you or that you need to make her sound like me, or move like me, or walk like me. I understand that this is inspired by my love story, that it isn’t the actual thing. So, have at it.’”
She continued: “That permission was such an incredible gift for me because, in some ways, I think it actually allows me to be even more open, and more vulnerable, and take more chances so I feel incredibly honoured and humbled to have been able to meet her and to play her.”
Being vulnerable is something that the 33-year-old knows all too well, and even gave herself a stage name (from Jessica Rothenberg to Jessica Rothe) because of it.
“When I first started at acting, I was in school in Boston, and then I moved to New York, and I pounded pavements and did the hustle,” she said during the interview.
“I had a really hard time emotionally because I would leave auditions and feel just completely gutted. It was emotionally draining for me if I did not get the role, I felt like there was something wrong with me.
“I was talking to my manager at the time about this, and he brought up the idea of a stage name, and I felt a little weird about creating a whole new name. I was like, “What if I just shorten it?” Then, when I go into audition rooms, it is like I’m someone else. It is kind of like putting on a suit of armour.”
Here, Rothe talks to The Latch about what All My Life taught her, her career thus far and what advice she has for her younger self.
Anita Anabel: I am so thrilled to be talking to you today.
Jessica Rothe: I am so happy to be talking to you. I love this movie so much and I’m just so excited that it’s going to be out in the world, and that I get to talk to people about it.
AA: This movie was so special and you and Harry [Shum Jr] both did such a beautiful job. What personally drew you to the project?
JR: Thank you so much for saying that. I read the script probably about a year before I was even cast in it, and I was just instantly taken in with the incredible amount of heart, and love, and intimacy, and passion.
Todd Rosenberg, our incredible writer, wrote a story that’s so filled with joy and it’s so fun, even though it delves into more serious, heartbreaking territory as it explores what it’s like to go through a disease like this, and I just knew I had to be a part of telling the story.
And Jenn, as a character, she is just so filled with love and life, and she is spontaneous and funny, but incredibly protective of this man that she loves. I was so excited with the challenge and the opportunity to really play someone who loves and is actually so in love so fearlessly and experiences great loss.
AA: When you met Jenn and you heard her story, what was that like?
JR: It was incredible. Jenn, as a person in real life, is just as vibrant and beautiful and as wonderful as she is depicted in Todd’s screenplay. She’s just such a beautiful soul and a beacon of light, and she was incredibly generous with me. We talked on the phone for over three hours and laughed, and cried, and talked a lot about her dogs, about falling in love, and what that was like.
At the time when I shot this movie, I was engaged to be married as well, so we had a lot in common and a lot to talk about, and Jenn was not only incredibly generous in sharing intimate, personal stories about her experiences about Sol but also shared videos with Harry and me so that we could really understand the very personal side of their relationship.
She said to me, “I want you to feel complete freedom in how you play the character. You don’t have to worry that I’m going to judge you or that you need to make her sound like me, or move like me, or walk like me. I understand that this is inspired by my love story, that it isn’t the actual thing. So, have at it.”
That permission was such an incredible gift for me, because, in some ways, I think it actually allows me to be even more open, and more vulnerable, and take more chances so I feel incredibly honoured and humbled to have been able to meet her and to play her.
AA: The story really is about living life to the fullest and you both portray that so beautifully in the film. How did this idea change your life personally?
JR: I just completely love the message of this film. As you said, it is not only ‘live life to its fullest and take advantage of every moment’ but also, to remember that these tiny little moments, while they may seem insignificant, sometimes are the most important moments that you’ll ever have. Going for a walk with a loved one, or snuggling on the couch with your dog, or having them come to wine night with friends, or talking to your mum on the phone. They all have these tiny moments that are what make up the incredible tapestries of our life.
AA: I completely agree.
JR: During this very strange time of COVID, I think that because I have had the opportunity to film this movie before we went into lockdown and this quarantine, I was hyper-aware of all of the ways in which I was actually being given a gift in the circumstances, in the sense that I’m getting a lot of amazing personal time with my husband and my dog, and we are spending time together in a way that maybe we wouldn’t be if the world was moving very quickly.
AA: It’s such an incredibly emotive film in that sense.
The cast and the crew were so incredibly supportive and protective of Harry and me when we had to go to those really emotional places, and I’m so grateful for that because I think that’s the reason we were able to peel back and explore the truth of these experiences for a lot of people.
And I’m so incredibly grateful to have had Harry as my partner in crime; he is so talented and kind, and lovely, and incredibly funny, and such an amazing dancer that it blows your mind. Between tapes, he would just bust a move and I was like, “I can’t even move like that if I tried, it’s not fair.”
He was the perfect person to play Sol because I think that Sol really was just such a generous soul. Just like Harry. And I think that’s one of the things that Jenn loved about him so much, and that’s one of the things that I grew to love so much about Harry and feel so grateful to have on set every day.
AA: That is so lovely that you got to experience that. Now, you are also super talented. You can do everything! You can dance, you can sing, you can act. Have you looked at your career thus far and just gone, “How has this happened?” Because it’s literally skyrocketed in the last couple of years, hasn’t it?
JR: It was hard. I mean, I pinch myself every single day that I get paid to do this, because when I was a kid, I was like, “I’m going to play pretend, and if I do my homework, maybe I’ll get to keep on doing it”. Now it’s my job and I feel so incredibly lucky. I have an incredible team that supports me throughout this; I have to give them a shout out because I would not be where I am without them.
I’ve also been really incredibly lucky to encounter filmmakers and studios, and producers who have been willing to give me chances and let me do everything from a crazy horror groundhog day thing, to a musical, to the heart-wrenching love story. That’s what I aspire for my career to be, I always want to be trying different things, and pushing boundaries, and going to places that make me uncomfortable, because I want to continue to learn and grow, and if I always do the same thing, I don’t think that will happen.
AA: When I was doing research for this interview, I noticed that in your earlier work, your name was credited as ‘Jessica Rothenberg’ but now it is ‘Jessica Rothe’. I wondered if there was a reason for that.
JR: Yes! I did change it for a reason. When I first started at acting, I was in school in Boston, and then I moved to New York, and I pounded the pavements and did the hustle.
I had a really hard time emotionally because I would leave auditions and feel just completely gutted. It was really emotionally draining for me if I didn’t get the role, I felt like there was something wrong with me. I was talking to my manager at the time about this, and he brought up the idea of a stage name, and I felt a little weird about creating a whole new name. I was like, “What if I just shorten it?” Then, when I go into audition rooms, it is like I am someone else. It is kind of like putting on a suit of armour.
It worked in some ways because I am slightly a different me, I am “acting Jessica”, as opposed to very “vulnerable Jessica”.
AA: That is such a great way to look at it! Since you have come so far if you had any advice to give to your younger self, what would you say to her?
JR: That’s such a great question. In the theme of the movie, I think it really would be don’t sweat the small stuff… as long as you show up every day with an open heart and an open mind, and you’re kind to those around you, and you give off good energy, good things will come to you.
Whether it’s you don’t get the parts that you want, or the person you love doesn’t love you, or you’re in a fight with your friend or your parents, it will resolve, and the things that are meant to come your way, will come your way. I think that that’s part of this movie, is just breathing and taking in the things that are happening around you, and being grateful for them, as opposed to living in the what-if of the world.