Lisa Chess on Frankie and Johnny are Married

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Frankie and Johnny are Married opens the doors to a Hollywood marriage. Actress Lisa Chess and her producer husband Michael Pressman play themselves in the story of their attempts to mount a theater production. Events are dramatized, but the conflicts were real, and Chess was willing to be vulnerable for the sake of art.

“I always feel like it’s an aspect of our lives and our personalities which certainly is true, and I feel like I do reveal a big part of myself,” Chess said. “But then there are certainly a lot of other things that I don’t reveal. So it’s funny, because I showed the script to a friend of mine early on and she said, ‘Aren’t you a little reticent to reveal all this about yourself?’ And it actually hadn’t occurred to me because I felt like the people who know me already know this about me. There’s nothing terribly shocking to them. And people that don’t know me, truth be told, a lot of people in professional situations have struggled, so probably it may be a bit universal in that sense. The aspect of any kind of struggle in relationships, having to deal with both of your professions and personal things and the overlap, it’s revealing but I suppose I believe that if people told the truth, that everybody has obviously in a marriage some strife, some things that they’re working out. The idea is to work it out.”

Ultimately, the experience has made their relationship stronger. “I think it’s definitely better and it’s certainly better in the aspect that concerns the working together, which is something that I always wanted to do. And I think Michael wanted to do but I think he was a little more trepidatious about it than I was. I wasn’t at all. I always thought it would be a good idea. And I think the conventional wisdom, as he says in the movie, if you don’t work together, it’s just better. But I don’t know, in our case I think it turned out better to work together.”

Working with their son was another story. “He rehearsed lines and he was so excited to say the couple of lines that Michael had written for him in the scene in the bedroom when he was supposed to not be feeling well. Then when he arrived on the set to do his scene, the art department had moved his bed and his pillows around, and his animals. He was very upset so he refused to say the lines as written. He was temperamental.”

Chess’s acting career was full of struggle, as portrayed in the film. She often lost roles on TV shows that Pressman produced, as happens in the beginning of the film. However, Chess would rather not win a part just because she knows the right person, and lives with him.

“[You never want to be] the director or producer’s girlfriend or wife that was foisted upon people. It’s never a good thing to arrive on a set where you feel like you’ve been forced on somebody, and I never wanted that. And because I feel that I am talented in my own right, I always wanted to be hired because they really wanted to hire me. So throughout our lives together, we sort of backed off that position a lot. When I did work on, for instance, ‘Picket Fences’, I had auditioned and gotten a part the second season and Michael actually absented himself from the room and said, ‘I think she’d be right for this part but I’m going to take myself out of the mix. If you think it’s a good idea, then you hire her and if not, it’ll be understood and that’s okay.’ And it worked out, but it’s always been the best way to do it. As a matter of fact, sometimes it’s the hardest situation to go in with a room full of producers that you know and have socialized with because your husband works with them. You feel like you have to prove yourself even more. You have to be better than you normally would have to be to get a job, so it’s a real double-edged sword. But we never worked in such a way that either one of us has wanted to have him push it over and be the deciding factor, make sure he can get me the job. It just doesn’t work that way. Even if it did, it would not be a good idea.”

Now Chess has an agent, but not because of the movie. “Just before we started shooting, I had left an agency and then I had not had an agent for a while and I had been looking. I had actually at that point done a couple of episodes of some good shows, so I had some good things to add to my reel. I started looking around and I think I signed with somebody maybe a month or so before we began shooting. So it was not from the film.”

Chess hopes to continue working as an actor, but is unsure where her path will lead after “Frankie and Johnny” opens. “I do not know exactly of the future of it is. I love working. I want to continue to work. I would love to do more work in some of the really wonderful independent films that are getting made. That’s what I’d like to happen. I would like to continue to work in television certainly.”

Frankie and Johnny are Married begins rolling out in select cities on May 26. For more information, visit FrankieJohnny.com.

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