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PHOTOS / Tyler Rowell
STYLING / Alvin Stillwell
HAIR / Cervando Maldonado
MAKEUP / Toby Fleishman
STORY/ Bryanna Doe
Throughout her career, Jane Levy has played a wide variety of different roles: an idealistic scientist willing to do almost anything for the greater good in Netflix series What/If, an aspiring writer that cannot seem to escape a dark destiny in Hulu’s Castle Rock, a snarky teenager longing to escape to the big city in ABC’s hit show Suburgatory, and a modern scream queen in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead remake. Despite the vast differences in each of their personalities and portrayals, Jane says that all of the characters she’s played are like her in some way. “I guess the least like me is my character in Evil Dead,” Jane muses, “because in Evil Dead I played the Devil.”
Jane’s diverse filmography only makes sense considering the way the actress chooses her roles. “I am more drawn to good writing than particular kinds of roles,” says Jane. “I guess I try to avoid cliches. I am definitely drawn to humor. I like peculiar stories and characters.” Jane finds inspiration in a variety of sources as well, citing a long list of influences: friends Jenny Slate and Mae Whitman, Holly Hunter, Viola Davis, Lucille Ball, the films of Jonathan Demme, drag queens, and her acting coach as well. “The list of people I’d like to work with is also very long,” Jane says. “But to name one, Paul Thomas Anderson!”
“I dropped out of college in 2008 to pursue acting,” Jane explains, reflecting on getting her start as an actress. “I had no idea what I was doing and no reason to think it could work. My parents were skeptical but supportive, and I enrolled at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting less than a year later. When we were about to graduate we sent our headshots and resumes to various managers and agents. I had a really great headshot, apparently, and I got a meeting with a manager. He started sending me on auditions and I booked the leading role in an independent movie. The casting director Deanna Brigidi championed me and sent my audition to agents in Los Angeles, convincing them to sign me.” Thinking back to what she would call her “big break”, Jane has trouble deciding. “I played Mandy in the first season of Shameless before leaving the show to work on Suburgatory on ABC,” she says. “I guess those both in conjunction?”
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Jane notes that while she did not always want to be an actress, her favorite thing about the industry is reminiscent of her first pursuit, as an athlete. “My favorite thing about making movies and television is the teamwork and camaraderie,” Jane says. “I played soccer seriously as a teenager and the idea of reaching a goal with a group gets me high. Every so often, everything aligns and everyone on set works in unison and beautiful collaborative art is made and it feels like magic.” Jane goes on to share her favorite past projects, though she again finds it difficult to pick just one. “There have been a couple defining projects for me, all for different reasons. As I answer this question I begin to feel very nostalgic. I loved working on Fun Size (the 2012 teen comedy in which Jane starred alongside Victoria Justice). It was my first movie and it was like summer camp but better times a lot. I made lifelong friends on the film I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (a favorite at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival). Zoey’s is high up on my favorite list.”
This upcoming project, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, is one that Jane states she is very proud of. “There’s an earnestness and joy about it that I think is not common at the moment. It’s about empathy and love and loss, and at its core it’s about this dorkus coder named Zoey who is forced to finally ”hear the music.” In the NBC musical series, slotted to premiere in early 2020, Jane plays San Francisco computer coder Zoey, who develops the ability to “hear the innermost wants and desires of the people around her through songs.” This series will mark Jane’s return to network television after a couple years’ absence. On the difference between working on smaller independent projects versus the big name studios, Jane says, “On smaller productions it’s clear that people are there for the story and the art, and sometimes on bigger projects it’s glaringly obvious people are only working for the cash.”
Regardless of whether it’s a blockbuster or an independent project, we’re likely to see a lot of Jane Levy in the future. And just as it’s nearly impossible to know which type of role Jane will take on next, it’s also difficult to pin her down to a simple soundbite. When asked for the most important thing she wants people to know about her, the actress said simply, “That this question is giving me a disproportionate amount of anxiety.”