IN CONVERSATION WITH ALYSSA JIRRELS
Interview by Jana Letonja
Alyssa Jirrels is starring in Paramount+’s highly anticipated series ‘Fatal Attraction’, based on the 1987 film, which premiered on 30th April. The series will air its finale on 28th May. She has previously starred in Netflix’s ‘Boo, Bitch’ and Amazon Prime’s ‘As We See it’.
Alyssa, you’re starring in Paramount+’S ‘Fatal Attraction’, a deep-dive reimagining of the classic 80s thriller, which is exploring timeless themes of marriage and infidelity through the lens of modern attitudes toward strong women, personality disorders and coercive control. Have you watched the 1987 film before you started filming the series?
No, I didn’t watch the original. At least before we started filming. I knew that a huge part of Ellen’s character was going to be her childhood and what happened to her during the affair and I didn’t want to go in with a picture of something that might be changed in our version. I have watched it since though. And it’s excellent.
In the series, you play Ellen, Dan and Beth’s daughter. Your character embarks on a complex relationship with her father, who has been in prison for the murder. Tell us more about Ellen, her story and the complexity of her relationship with her dad.
Ellen is a very intelligent, very perceptive, albeit very damaged and fairly closed off person, who at the beginning of the show is having to grapple with the recent release of her father from prison and all of the confusion and fear and retraumatization that that brings up. And the relationship with her father is extremely complex. I think on one hand she has deep loyalty and almost a childlike adoration of him that was locked away when he abandoned her, and on the other hand this total mistrust and fear and dissociation around his entire existence that causes massive conflict within her. She wants him in her life and deeply loves and values him despite his flaws, but also I think sees through him in a way other people don’t and has absolutely zero trust in his character. That is, until she sees he’s having to reckon with his own ego. Then there’s an opening for a real connection.
There are also hidden connections between Ellen and Alex, who her dad has been in prison for murdering,that are not revealed until the final episode. What can you tease about this revelation that we’ll get to see in the final episode?
Well, I think whether it was conscious or unconscious, Ellen absorbed a huge amount of what she experienced as a child and Alex was certainly rotating in that sphere. I think the two of them are very different in their diagnoses, but I’m sure Alex’s presence very much affected how Ellen’s trauma manifested itself. We all repeat our childhoods in some way or another as we get older. That’s all I can say.
As a young woman, what are your views on marriage and infidelity?
I don’t even know what my views on relationships are at this point. I think marriage is a massively complex thing that is impossible to wrap your head around until you truly experience it. My dad always said relationship is the final frontier. It’s where all of our deepest and most personal stuff gets tested. It’s certainly endlessly interesting to explore from a storytelling perspective though.
How was it working with Joshua Jackson, Lizzy Caplan and Amanda Peet?
I love them all, truly. I didn’t get a chance to work with Lizzy at all, but she would always check in on me. We had a lot of “You doing okay? Yeah, are you doing okay? ” little moments when we would run into each other on the lot. She’s got a big job to do even though she’s a veteran and I knew that, and I’m 21 and terrified and I think she knew that too. She’s just so talented and the coolest person. I really look up to her.
Amanda is just my mother. And I loved watching her act, specifically because there are things that she does so inherently that I am trying to learn how to do. She’s the best listener ever. And then Josh was the person I worked with the closest and man, we really went on a journey together that almost mirrored our characters’ journeys. I think we both knew we were going to go through a lot as these people and there was a lot tied up in the father/daughter relationship for both of us. I really learned from his process and he really honored and was so present with me in mine. I’m always going to treasure it.
Prior to being cast on ‘Fatal Attraction’, you starred in Netflix’s ‘Boo, Bitch’ and Amazon Prime’s ‘As We See It’. What were your favorite parts about these two shows?
I count ‘Boo, Bitch’ as my college experience. That was just a party. It was so fun. And ‘As We See It’ was such an honor to be a part of. I have loved Jason Katims for years and that show specifically was just the kindest, most egoless set I have worked on. You could just feel the care and love from everyone. It had a really different energy than most sets.
How did you develop your passion for acting?
I don’t even remember, it was just always my thing. There was nothing else. I did a lot of theatre as a kid and it was the only place I wanted to be. It’s so amazing how your understanding of a craft can shift and change as you get older.It used to be this fun thing I unexplainably loved doing and now it’s become so complex and purposeful and it’s almost a lens through which I view my life. That sounds so pretentious, but it’s true. I just want to keep evolving as I get older.That’s all I can hope for.
When you are not filming, what are some of your favorite activities to do in your spare time?
Yoga, hikes, cooking, hanging out with my friends. Writing when I can or remember to. And shopping, unfortunately.
Looking forward in your career, what are your biggest career goals? Are there any specific kind of projects or roles that you would really love to work on?
I get asked this question a lot and it’s so interesting, I don’t know if I know the answer. I think you get led towards the projects that are right for you. I know intuitively what I gravitate towards and where I can best fit, but that can be in any genre, in any medium really. I would love to do theatre. Like a really excellent, dialogue heavy play. I’d love to work with a director like Derek Cianfrance, who has his actors live in a house together before shooting. I’d love to write more. I’d love to direct a music video. I just want to do all the things and hopefully get better while doing them.
What can you share with us about your upcoming projects?
We shall see. That’s all I can say.
photographer JONNY MARLOW
stylist JACQUELINE ZENERE
hair & make-up AARON BARRY