Creator Jessie Kahnweiler and EP Illeana Douglas Preview The Skinny [Exclusive]
Here at TV Goodness, we probably don’t watch enough web content. There’s so much great stuff on TV that I know I’m usually a little late to the game when it comes to great online series. The good news with Refinery29’s The Skinny, is that I heard about it early. I was already familiar withÂ Jessie Kahnweiler and Illeana Douglas. And if you don’t know whoÂ Transparent‘s Jill SolowayÂ is, we can’t be friends.Â Putting all that aside, though, the fact thatÂ The SkinnyÂ is a dark comedy about an imperfect woman justÂ made me want to know more about the series and the creative team behind the scenes.
The SkinnyÂ follows feminist wannabe YouTube comedy star Jessie as she struggles to live, love, and…get over her bulimia. On a mission to save the world and get rid of her love handles, Jessie demands honesty from everyone but herself. The Skinny is a new kind of dark comedy for those who know that the most beautiful moments in life ainâ€™t always so pretty.
I had the chance to talk to Jessie and Illeana a few days ago just before they premiered The Skinny at Sundance. IÂ talked to them about feminism,Â women’s struggles with self hate, their great mother/daughter dynamic in the series and more.
TV GOODNESS: Feminism seems to be an F word people are pretty scared of these days. Plenty of both men and women donâ€™t seem to understand the definition of the word or the intent behind it. What does it mean to both of you and how important is it to tackle feminist issues in your work?
Illeana Douglas: “For me, I think itâ€™s always been a part of my life and my work just because when I grew up the late â€˜70s my mom was a feminist, a single mom, a working mom. My grandmother was a politician, so for me it was always just a part of my life. And so much of the movies of the late â€˜70s were images of powerful women, so Iâ€™ve never shied away from that word. Iâ€™ve always sought out working relationships with women, like Allison Anders, so Iâ€™m always trying to focus and showcase women in strong leadership positions.”
Jessie Kahnweiler:Â “To piggyback off that, for me it feels like innate — I mean the political talk about feminism — but for me especially with my work, it feels very personal. To me itâ€™s just about the female perception of the world and what does it mean to experience the world as a woman. Those are the stories that need to be told as much as any other story needs to be told. It just feels like my own. Itâ€™s a part of who I am. I donâ€™t really think about telling a feminist story. I am a feminist story.”
TV GOODNESS: Jessie, after you made Meet My Rapist you said that your next project would be about your struggle with bulimia. Why was it so important for that to be the next topic you tackled?
Jessie: “My work stems from a really personal place and at that point in my life I was getting into recovery from my bulimia and felt like I really wasnâ€™t seeing enough of those stories about my experience. I was inspired because Iâ€™m a TV addict and I wasnâ€™t seeing that story. When youâ€™re a broke filmmaker, the projects Iâ€™m gonna doÂ [is] gonnaÂ become my life for 3 years. So, I wanna pick stuff that Iâ€™m obsessed with and also stuff that kinda scares me. Meet My Rapist was really scary to make and The Skinny was really scary to make in its own way. But for me, it was a challenge that I really wanted to take on, involving people like Illeana and Jill [Soloway] to really help me tell the truest version of this story.”
TV GOODNESS:Â Youâ€™ve said that so many women struggle with self hate, which can manifest itself in many ways. But you said the struggle was â€œbeautiful and real,â€ which I completely agree with. Can you talk about that?
Jessie: “In my life, I feel like the most moments of beauty and growth and honesty have all come from painful experiences, not just from my childhood when something bad would happen. Thatâ€™s where you really grow. All of my closest, most intimate relationships are based on going through shit together or being there for one another. I really feel like thatâ€™s what humanityâ€™s really all about. To me, thatâ€™s what the whole experience of the show has been like.
I remember meeting Illeana the first time. We got a cup of coffee and just talked about bodies and what it meant to be a woman and heartbreak. Leaving that meeting, Iâ€™m like, â€˜Oh my God. I know this person. We share these experiences,â€™ and I think filmmaking is all about trying to make meaning out of your life, at least thatâ€™s what I feel like. I think itâ€™s a really fun adventure thatâ€™s also really hard.”
TV GOODNESS: I love that weâ€™re getting more stories, including this one, about women who are less than perfect. Can you both talk about your characters and what weâ€™re going to see this season on The Skinny?
Illeana: “I play Jessieâ€™s mom. Itâ€™s interesting. When Jessie and I first sat down to talk, thatâ€™s one of the things we were talking about, is that in my day people didnâ€™t typically say, â€˜Oh, you have an eating disorder. You have bulimia.â€™ It was just called growing up and being a girl, being a teenager. So, I thought it was very interesting to bring that perspective into the mother of not understanding or knowing how to deal with the subject because thereâ€™s a generational distance. Itâ€™s not something you would accept after of believe if somebody comes from a good family and is loved. Why would you have an eating disorder? So, I think that my character as Jessieâ€™s mom is gonna have to break down these walls and navigate through some difficult territory.
And the whole mother/daughter dynamic is always so rich. In Jacquelineâ€™s case, itâ€™s just trying to navigate, trying to be her friend, sometimes trying to be her mom and that complex relationship that mothers and daughters have. And hopefully, too, as the series goes on what I would love to see is where do these seeds come from in Jessie? Are we gonna see things from the mom that say â€˜Oh. Well maybe this is how, maybe hereâ€™s this pattern,â€™ which I think as a daughter, you never want to accept but eventually start to see. â€˜Oh, these are patterns that I saw in my mom and now Iâ€™m replicating them.'”
Jessie: “Yeah, they just morph into one person. [Laughs.] [In] this first season, weâ€™re just trying to set up these relationships and these complex dynamics. I really didnâ€™t want the show to be about just bulimia, the bulimia show. This is really a coming of age story and how somebody reconciles self hate and how growing up affects your relationship. I know with my own mom, our relationship is constantly changing and ebbing and flowing and thereâ€™s roles being reversed and the parent becomes the child. I really just want to keep exploring those dynamics in an authentic way.”
TV GOODNESS: I really love your mother/daughter dynamic and I thought your on-screen chemistry was great. Jessie, why was it important for you to have Illeana in your project? Illeana, what was it about this project that made you want to do it?
Illeana: “Iâ€™m pretty much the life of the party. [Laughs] No, you go first.”
Jessie: “So, I was dreaming, and Iâ€™m not just saying that because sheâ€™s sitting right next to me. If I could have anyone play my mom, I want Illeana Douglas. I had just re-watched Ghost World for the 500th time and Iâ€™m like, â€˜I would have Illeana Douglas.â€™ And everyoneâ€™s like, â€˜Youâ€™re not gonna get Illeana Douglas.â€™ I didnâ€™t have any money. This was pre-Refinery, pre-Soloway. I was like, â€˜Well. Iâ€™m really good at stalking my ex-boyfriends, so I might as well try to email her.â€™
What was really amazing about it and such a gift is that she came on as a producer. She really helped me in shaping this character and setting up the story. She has so much experience in the business and sheâ€™s a filmmaker in her own right. So, it was such a meaningful experience to me because I had never taken on a project of this scope. But I feel like Illeana has this balance. I didnâ€™t want mom to be this evil witch. Itâ€™s not about, â€˜Oh, look at this crazy mom.â€™ I really wanted the mom to have her own inner life and I really feel like Illeana brings that humanity to it. Also, we laugh. We have a lot of fun on screen. Weâ€™re dealing with some heavy subject matter so I really feel like that comedy is a really helpful tool.”
TV GOODNESS: Illeana, what made you want to do this project and how did you hear about it?
Illeana: “Jessie contacted me about coming on board and I read the material. I get sent a lot of material, but I thought there was something in it. I really do believe in mentorship of other women if I feel like I can help and so something. I felt like that there was something within the story that was different and I thought I could really help as a producer.
My whole approach is: I really want to try to make this as good as I can, get other actors of quality in it, make the script truthful and just have more female-based product that I believe is truthful be shown. I feel that the whole idea with mentorship is, yes itâ€™s to help the mentee, but itâ€™s also to help me because we want to have more womenâ€™s stories. You take a subject like this, bulimia, an eating disorder, and I thought that would be a fascinating challenge. Like, how do you present something thatâ€™s a very difficult topic, but that every woman can relate to, but doesnâ€™t talk about?
In my opinion 90% of the actresses in Hollywood have an eating disorder. You canâ€™t be an actress without having an eating disorder. Iâ€™m sitting here doing an interview and Iâ€™m looking at snacks. Iâ€™m not gonna eat them because Iâ€™m gonna get my picture taken. You could say that thatâ€™s an eating disorder. This permeates our being from the minute we get up in the morning to the minute we go to bed at night and we just donâ€™t talk about it. We say, â€˜Oh. thatâ€™s just part of being a woman.â€™ You want to look slim and healthy and beautiful and all of our self-esteem comes from that one thing. Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™ve been so proud to be associated with this show, the growth of it, the idea that youâ€™re at Sundance and weâ€™re gonna actually get to talk about these ideas, presenting it in a very entertaining way, [and] that it also has a message. For me as a filmmaker, as an actress and as a producer, I love being involved in a project that has a message.”
TV GOODNESS:Â The original title of this series was Skinny Bitch. Why did you decide to change the name?
Jessie: “I donâ€™t know. I felt like Skinny Bitch was lacking an emotional resonance. This is whatâ€™s up. Look at this world. This is whatâ€™s going on, so I love the double meaning of [The Skinny]. As somebody who really, truly in my heart, spent so much of my life, and still do sometimes, really believing that skinny is gonna give me the perfect life, I just wanted to take that word and shine light on that. Thereâ€™s a lot of shame associated with that. I want to be a feminist, but I want to be a size 2 feminist. What does that mean? Thatâ€™s embarrassing for me, so it just felt like a good way to hit the themes of the show.”
TV GOODNESS: Iâ€™m wondering about some of the other characters and the actors you got for the show. Iâ€™ve seen the first 3 episodes and it seems like it was well cast and that everyone has great chemistry.
Jessie: “Yeah. We got extremely lucky on this project, like I said. It was such a labor of love getting Ryan Pinkston and Spencer Hill. We really sought out people, kind of like the Illeana thing, that really personally connected to the material and were excited to really go there. So, Sadie Calvano is another one, just people that we felt like really wanted to take some chances. It really does feel like an ensemble to me.”
TV GOODNESS: I like that youâ€™ve partnered with Refinery29 and WifeyTV and Jill Soloway. How did they all come to the table?
Jessie: “We shot a spec pilot. Iâ€™ve known Jill for a few years and I sent her the pilot. She sent it to Refinery29 and it all happened really quickly. I feel really lucky. Working with Refinery, they basically just gave us the money. It was total creative freedom. They were like, â€˜You can do whatever you want,â€™ and I was like, â€˜Ok. Iâ€™m gonna fucking go for it,â€™ and we really just made the show that we wanted to make.
That being said, for me as a filmmaker, itâ€™s great to have creative freedom, but thatâ€™s why it was also essential for me to have Jill and Illeana because they really gave me structure and they really helped me hone it in and not feel like I was all over the place. They both have such experience with story structure, especially the tone, and I really wanted it to be extremely specific, so it was really helpful. I felt like I was in this incubation and I really felt protected and free at the same time.”
Edited for space and content.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.
Catching Up with Ted Lasso and Previewing Season 2
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.] The not so dirty little secret about how I approach a new series is that I sometimes make a call based on the headspace I’m in at the time. It’s been a minute since I’ve picked up a show after the first season and then binge…
Interview: Henri Esteve on Grown-ish Season 3
An interview with Henri Esteve, who plays Javi on Freeform’s Grown-ish. He talks about his season three experience.
For All Mankind Season 2: Talking with Wrenn Schmidt, Krys Marshall, Jodi Balfour, and Sonya Walger [Exclusive]
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.] One of the hooks of For All Mankind is that it’s very much a story about the women of NASA. In Season 2, we explore the journeys of the women in the program, either through their own service or through their family affiliations. Four of those…
Rosy McEwen Talks The Alienist: Angel of Darkness Season Finale [Exclusive]
[Warning: Spoilers for the season finale episodes.] How’s everyone after that finale? I will freely admit I got a little misty in episode eight as John told Sara why he loved her, and later that he wanted her despite what he might forfeit, and then at the end when he…
Rosy McEwen Talks The Alienist: Angel of Darkness [Exclusive]
Hands down, one of the best surprises of The Alienist: Angel of Darkness is that the serial killer this season has been front and center alongside the cast as a fully-formed character. We’ve watched Libby Hatch devolve from a prim, mild-mannered nurse to a woman in a rage hell-bent on…
The Alienist: Angel of Darkness Relationship Recap: John and Sara
[Warning: Spoilers for “Belly of the Beast” and “Memento Mori”] If you’ve read me for a while (thank you!), you know two things — I lean way, way in on the characters I adore and I loathe love geometry arcs. So, I’m torn about where we are and where we…
Louriza Tronco Talks The Order Season 2 [Exclusive]
[Warning: Spoilers ahead for Season 2.] The Order’s second season is dark yet delightful entertainment on many levels, and one of its biggest sources of joy and snark is the sassy Gabrielle Dupres. Last season, she was assertive and deadly and fairly annoyed with the world. This season, she’s been…
Previewing Netflix’s Virgin River
[Warning: General spoilers ahead.] Full disclosure: I have a Netflix account for my Mom, but I’m not a regular viewer. If I get a heads up on something, I’ll go look for it, but I don’t have a wander across its offerings, which, as I understand it, is how most…
Final Thoughts From the Killjoys Team [Exclusive]
This is the day of the week I’d normally hit you up with a Killjoys preview, but now that we’ve put the series to bed and released Team Awesome Force into the wild, I have one more treat for you–some final thoughts excerpted from my conversations with the Killjoys folks….
Michelle Lovretta Talks Wrapping Up Killjoys [Exclusive]
[Warning: Spoilers for the series finale.] To quote Miss Jackson, “That’s the end?” Yes, friends, it is. And like I promised you, everything would be, was, and is alright. I went to the Killjoys source, series creator Michelle Lovretta, who wrote the last episode, to break down that delicious finale….
What They Said: Three Revealing Conversations from Survivor’s Remorse “Closure”
WARNING: Spoilers for Survivor’s Remorse “Closure” The latest episode of Starz’s Survivor’s Remorse featured conversations that showed characters really digging deep into their thoughts, emotions and motivations.
Two Takes: The Catch “The Knock-Off”
Who can you trust? If this episode of The Catch was any indication, the answer is just about nobody. Betrayal was running rampant as Felicity (Shivani Ghai) arose from the dead to seduce-con Margot, Gretchen (Maria Thayer, Gotham, The Mindy Project) played gold-hearted Alice 2.0 before swindling Ethan, Tessa jumped…
What They Said: Top 3 Quotable Moments from Preacher “El Valero”
Both Quincannon and Jesse refuse to give up on what they each think is rightfully theirs. While Jesse is struggling to face the consequences of his actions, Quincannon has laid his past demons to rest and is hellbent on moving forward and putting Annville on the map again. Despite a…
What They Said: Favorite Quotes from Supergirl “Worlds Finest”
Oh, Supergirl. That ending was cold. But I can’t hate on you because the latest episode has quickly become one of my favorites.
What They Said: Top 4 Quotable Moments from Black Sails “XXIII”
The dialogue in “XXIII” is phenomenal. It’s always a fun ride when Black Sails carries its viewers along without giving them the chance to catch their breath. When an episode moves at this unforgiving pace, there is no chance for a breather nor is there a respite from the information…
What Lucifer Said: Favorite quotes from Supernatural “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
Supernatural episodes are almost always funny but thanks to the dialogue and a certain man speaking said dialogue, I laughed a lot during “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” You know, when I wasn’t busy fearing for Sam’s life or wondering what in the world was going on with Dean and…
What They Said: The Flash, “Legends Of Today” and Arrow, “Legends Of Yesterday”
Two nights of Arrow +Â The Flash = what more could we ask for?! I don’t know what it is about blending these shows, but I canâ€™t help but feel that every time they come together, they somehow become greater than the sum of their parts. And thatâ€™s saying a lot…
What they Said: Top 4 Quotable Moments from Graceland “Little Bo Bleep”
Shoot outs. Fake outs. And long-awaited revelations. “Little Bo Bleep” was a jam-packed episode that wrapped up some loose ends and totally frayed others. Â It finally gave us one Sarkissian in jail and pulled back the curtain on Briggs’ master plan, but it also set up Jakes for a world…
What They Said: Favorite Quotes from Poldark “Part 4”
â€œWhat have I told you, I don’t require my wife to crochet and sip tea, but I do require her to remember she’s not a beast of burden.â€ No, Iâ€™m not talking about The Rolling Stones! I have to admit though, just for a second, the lyrics popped into my…
3 Moments of Goodness from Brooklyn Nine-Nine “Johnny and Dora”
The most satisfying part of this season’s finale has to the Jake and Amy kiss. Well, they kiss three times but the last one is the best one — and it means something. The Charles and Rosa dynamic was also great. I love how she’s convinced he doesn’t know anything…