Clear The Air
Actress Jessica Andres prepares for some physically demanding roles
Story by Tiffany Yannetta / Photography by Ye Rin Mok
When you speak to Jessica Andres, you notice quickly that the Minnesota native has an endearing habit of using the phrase “you know?” as punctuation. However, the things that she’s talking about involve training for an M. Night Shyamalan trilogy, watching Adam Sandler improvise his lines on set, learning Tessenjutsu and (she hopes, in the future) going spelunking. So the answer is no: we have no idea what she means, and at only 24 years old, it’s quite the accomplishment that even she does.
While she’s pulled her weight in small parts — with appearances in guilty pleasures like The Women, as well as an episode or two of Gossip Girl — it’s her role in the upcoming trilogy The Last Airbender that really put her to the test. It’s one thing to brunch at the Plaza and pretend to be 17, but it’s quite another to prepare for the role of a Kyoshi Warrior. Luckily for Andres, though, she had a modest background in martial arts. “I’m half Asian, and I feel like if you’re Asian you have to take martial arts at some point. My parents enrolled my brother and I both in ballet and karate, so my brother had to take ballet with me and I took karate with him. He was out of ballet after a year.”
Born in a small town outside of Minneapolis, Minn., (which she refers to as having “only one real highway”) Andres realized that it had to be either New York or Los Angeles, and decided to enroll at NYU, transferring to the drama program after a year. And of course, she held down “all the actor jobs:” bartending everywhere from the Soho Grand to Buddakan. “I would get bored after three months, and need a change of scene,” she laughs.
A year after college, that change of scene meant a cross-country move to Los Angeles. Even though she was on the West Coast, everything was still changing at the rate of a New York minute. Shyamalan was also an NYU grad, and sharing the same alma mater gave them something to talk about when she auditioned for The Last Airbender.
Andres ended up snagging the role of Suki, who makes her appearance in the second installment of the trilogy as the oldest female of the Kyoshi Warriors. In preparation for the movie, she trained in Shyamalan’s favorite stomping ground, Philadelphia, and had some unlikely training. “The stunt team was awesome. They were from Bourne Ultimatum and the last Bond movie, Casino Royale, and they were incredible. I trained in Tessenjutsu, which is like martial arts with a fan. That’s my weapon, which is so girly and amazing.”
For Andres, the training expectations for The Last Airbender were just as strenuous as another upcoming role she recently prepared for: a comedic performance alongside Adam Sandler in Just Go With It. Sandler’s group, she remembers, “are all so improv, and it’s all guy humor, which I don’t really get. I’m one of those people that first watched Zoolander, and I was like: ‘huh?’ So I mean, it was more about them being funny and me just doing my character and having the stuff be real for me.”
Though still a young actress, Andres is beginning to find that delicate balance between the center and the sidelines, taking cues from Sandler and Shyamalan along the way. “I think for an actor, obviously we tend to be a bit self-involved. We think it’s about us, and one of those things that Night said to me when we were doing the movie was, ‘Jessica, it’s not about you. It’s about the movie.’” This advice might have come along with the decision to keep the Earth Kingdom scenes, where Andres’ character resides, out of the first film. “I think [Shyamalan] does a really good job of seeing the whole vision and honestly, to relay this story, I think there needs to be a focus on different areas for the first part, and in the second and third parts they can focus on the Earth Kingdom.”
Now that she can cross off working with one legendary director and one legendary actor, the next thing on Andres’ agenda is spelunking. She begins filming Into the Darkness in May, a horror film about a group of friends whose decision to explore caves (surprise) doesn’t go quite as planned. “We were talking about whether the spelunking was going to be done in a studio or in an actual cave, and there are people who want to do it inside actual caves. At first I thought it was amazing, and then I was reading about it and watching other films, and I now I think it’s kind of scary. I was thinking about getting my body through a two-by-two foot space, when you know that there’s hundreds and hundreds of rocks basically on top of you.”
In just a few years, Andres seems to have been around the world and back, starting in Minnesota, shuffling to New York and LA, and even to man-made Earth Kingdoms in Philadelphia, but she quickly fesses up to feeling a little bit homesick for the city where she spent her college years. “The thing that I miss the most about New York is the delis. I miss being able to walk into a place at two a.m. and have everything that you kind of need immediately. You know what I mean?” Yes, we do.