Unless you’ve been watching AMC’s web series The Trivial Pursuits of Arthur Banks (and if you’re not, you should be), Fabianne Therese’s name and face might not be familiar to you. But 2012 has been a big year for her so far, with roles in two festival favorites—a smaller part in Don Coscarelli’s John Dies at the End with Paul Giamatti, and then a co-lead in Steven Miller’s suspense thriller The Aggression Scale. By the end of the year, you’ll be seeing a lot more of her, including in Roman Coppola’s highly anticipated A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III.
She’s an actress that goes to great lengths to deliver a great performance. Sometimes life- and limb -threatening lengths.
“It was the second day of shooting The Aggression Scale,” she remembers, “and there was a scene where I had to open a window. It’s six o’clock in the morning when we start shooting. All I have to do is open it because I’m afraid and the bad guys are coming up the stairs. And I drink four Red Bulls, and do some jumping jacks to get my heart racing. And I run screaming to the window and smash my hand straight through it. And then I pull it out. The cinematographer is covered in blood, and my hand is covered in blood, and I’m like, ‘What just happened?’ And they keep rolling because they don’t know what’s going on. Finally, they stop, and Steven says, ‘Can you cry a little less?’”
Once the director and crew realized what had happened of course, they rushed her straight to the hospital. Therese had cut an artery, and sustained nerve damage in the hand. She still bears a scar from the experience—physically, at least. Mentally, it doesn’t seem to have fazed her at all. She even used the huge bandage she had to wear for the rest of shooting as a tool for character development. “I didn’t have any time to sit with it or to complain. I just went back to set the next day and continued shooting, and we wrote it in because it was at a transitional moment. And it actually really, really helped my character and the dynamic between me and the brother. Because then there was a real reason I could not just run away myself, and I was dependent on him.”
That dynamic of dependency was especially challenging to create in this film because not only is her brother (portrayed by Ryan Hartwig) substantially younger, he also does not speak. At all. He made up for it every time Miller yelled “Cut,” however. “We’d end the scene and the fart jokes would start,” laughs Therese. “I have a younger brother that’s the same age. I never really fully realized until watching it that, ‘Oh, he really doesn’t say anything.’”
Therese had another thrill awaiting her when she arrived on the set of The Aggression Scale. Two of her co-stars, Ray Wise and Dana Ashbrook, had played Leland Palmer and Bobby Briggs, respectively, in her favorite childhood TV show, Twin Peaks. “Bobby was the coolest dude ever,” she says, “but I continually called him Bobby, and he was like, ‘Fabi, my name is Dana.’ So in his card at the end of shooting I wrote, “I will always love you, Bobby.” And it was such a thrill to have Ray Wise there too. That was really one of the coolest parts about the whole shooting. Everyone else was really cool too, but they were my teenage dreams. How would I have ever known that I was gonna meet Bobby from Twin Peaks?”
It must have seemed especially unlikely growing up, since Therese wasn’t even raised in the U.S. “I grew up for the most part in Austria, actually,” she says. “We moved a lot though. My mom is from Sri Lanka, and my dad’s from Austria, and we would just visit family and bounce around. Then we moved to the States because I wanted to continue acting.”
That jet-setting childhood—from Abu Dhabi to Sri Lanka to California to Florida to Austria and back to the U.S.—actually gave her a fresh perspective on the business, although it was sometimes difficult for her to appreciate. “Most of what I love is self-taught and self-discovered, as opposed to growing up in L.A. and knowing it’s cool to like Truffaut films. I just discovered everything on my own being in these different places, and it makes me have more of an appreciation for everything, I think. The things I have collected are like my babies, more than if I had been privileged. But all my friends in L.A. are so cool, and I’m always so impressed by them. I feel like such a loser talking about things with them.”
She’s certainly appreciative of the opportunities that have come her way, even if she doesn’t always recognize them at first—like when her friend Roman Coppola approached her for his film. “I’m playing Jason Schwartzman’s girlfriend, which is pretty cool,” she deadpans. “I kinda thought I was doing Roman a favor, which is so stupid of me. We had worked together on something else, and he asked me to do this part. It wasn’t even scripted, and I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ And then he called me and said, ‘Please do this, you guys are going to be improv-ing in this scene.’ I get there, and it’s Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette, Jason Schwartzman, Charlie Sheen and me in a room. And we’re improv-ing cute little nothings, and I was like, ‘This is the craziest moment of my entire life.’”
She had a great experience shooting with Coppola, but even the care she got with him couldn’t compare to the deference the crew of The Aggression Scale gave her after her Day Two accident. “They’d be like, ‘Ok Fabi, start crying,’” she laughs, “and I’d bawl my eyes out. And Jeff, the first AD, kept coming up to me and saying, ‘Are you sure you’re okay?’ when we were done shooting. He said, ‘My heart races every single time you start crying because I think you’ve hurt yourself again.’ They were all like Papa Bears really worried about me from then on. ‘Fabi, don’t go up those stairs too fast. Don’t run.’ At least it’s a battle scar instead of like, ‘Oh I fell walking outside my house’ or something. Which could totally happen.”
And for the rest of her career, no director will ever need wonder how much Fabianne Therese will commit to a part.