Jessica McManus’s fast track into film started with a phone call from her grandmother. “She told me that she had read an article in the Star Tribune about the Coen brothers holding an open casting,” recalls the 17-year-old from Rochester, Minnesota. “I didn’t even know who they were.”
After a first-time viewing of Fargo (1996) and a little family encouragement, McManus decided to go to the audition—never mind the fact that she had only done a few school plays. “There were hundreds of people there,” she remembers. “I was out of my league; I wanted to go home.” But McManus stayed and ended up landing a role in the upcoming black comedy A Serious Man. Set in the Coens’ hometown, St. Louis Park, Minnesota, A Serious Man draws upon characters the filmmakers encountered while growing up there in the 1960s. It revolves around a family on the verge of dysfunction: a physics professor in the midstof an existential crisis; his wife who wants to leave him; and his son, who has a penchant for smoking pot. McManus plays the daughter, a loudmouth teen who’s stealing money and squirreling it away for her nose-job fund. “I loved the script!” McManus says. “My character is ballsy and in-your-face.”
In real life, McManus is a quiet, down-to-earth Minnesota teen who recently graduated from high school. She remembers her first days on the set with utter terror. “I was scared of the Coen brothers. I didn’t want to talk because I was afraid I would be a babbling idiot,” she says. “But as you get to know them, you realize that they’re normal people. I don’t think of them now as ‘The Coen Brothers,’ they’re just Joel and Ethan.”
Photo above: Jessica McManus (center) in Rochester, Minnesota, May 2009. Shirt: Sonia by Sonia Rykiel. Pants: Philosophy di Alberta Ferretti. Shoes: Sonia Rykiel. Fragrance: L’eau de Sonia Rykiel by Sonia Rykiel.