Filmmaker's psych degree comes in handy for 'Hysteria'
For Tanya Wexler, being a filmmaker requires the dual qualities of arrogance and naiveté.
"Arrogance in that you're the person who's supposed to be running and directing this big endeavor," said Wexler, who remembers spending summers in Long Grove, "and the naiveté to think you can get it done. It's kind of like having a baby. If you remembered the pain, you probably wouldn't do it again."
Wexler, however, has done it again. The filmmaker behind 1998's road to discovery drama "Finding North" and a 2001 thriller called "Ball in the House" (later changed to "Relative Evil") has made a new movie sure to generate a bit more buzz.Her fact-based comedy "Hysteria" opens May 25 starring Jonathan Pryce and Hugh Dancy as early 20th century doctors who invent an electrical "cure" for women suffering from presumed hysteria. "If Merchant Ivory, Jane Austen and Richard Curtis all had a movie baby," Wexler said, "this would be it."
Wexler is a bit of a movie baby herself. She is the niece of Oscar-winning filmmaker and Chicago icon Haskell Wexler, plus the half-sister of actresses Daryl Hannah and Page Hannah. No pressure there, eh?
"Not really," Wexler said. "The fact that Haskell is such a success as a photographer and Daryl is very successful as an actress, well, it mostly just made films seem like a realistic, viable career path. Much more so than for most people."
Still, Wexler -- who graduated from Yale with a psychology degree, then went to Columbia University to learn to be a filmmaker -- never imagined some day she'd be directing a movie about the invention of the electric vibrator.
Her psych degree came in handy when Wexler was directing "Hysteria."
"I could understand the history of the story, the Freudian side of it," she said. "So the psych helped. But my classes at Second City in Chicago also really helped in the comedy parts. And being a lover of British films, and an ardent fan of Monty Python helped. It all helped."
Wexler said when she first read the script for "Hysteria," she laughed her butt off.
"The key for me was to realize that the vibrator wasn't the joke," she said. "The real joke was actually that this really happened."
Another battle-of-the-sexes movie? Nope. Wexler said she wasn't interested in that.
"I didn't see guys as the enemy here," she said. " ... This is a movie about how we all come together as a group. With the actors, we told them just to play it straight. Don't go for the jokes."
Wexler, 41, learned about success not from movies, but from her father, a highly successful Chicago real estate salesman.
"When you have a really successful parent in a field, the idea of doing your best gets reframed," she said. "I definitely felt a lot of pressure, probably internally sourced, to really knock it out of the park. I think that's because I'd seen what one's best had looked like, whether it's Haskell with photography or my dad with real estate. That's pretty intense stuff when you're 18."
Wexler, by all accounts, was precocious.
"She was always a precocious child, but very creative all the time," said her mother Susan Mazzoni, who still lives in Chicago. "Her interests tended to be toward math and business. But she was exposed to a lot of theater, a lot of the creative world, so it soaked in. Her dad always thought she would go into the business world. She is a gifted in math and business. But she's also outside-of-the-box creative. Funny. A good actress. She's merging all those skills."
Wexler did take off a few years with her partner, an actress she met in college, to concentrate on parenting their four children, ages 12, 11, 8, and 6. They were married in Massachusetts and have been together for 21 years.
-- Dann Gire
• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for suburban people in showbiz. If you know of someone we should profile, send a note to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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