Daily updates from the first annual AFI DALLAS International Film Festival presented by Target, founding sponsor Victory Park, March 22 to April 1, 2007

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Fort Worth Actress Says Her Life Is a Lot Like Her Roles

The AFI DALLAS International Film Festival's Texas Competition proudly features the best films produced and shot in the Lone Star State, and gives Texas filmmakers and talent a chance to be seen on an international stage.

Jessica McClendon, a self-proclaimed "Texas girl" and an actress to watch, stars in two AFI DALLAS films. The Fort Worth native holds her own next to a noteworthy cast in THE NIGHT OF THE WHITE PANTS and brings depth to a small-town girl in the Texas Competition film MIDLOTHIA.

Jessica plays April, an aspiring writer in the fictional small town Midlothia who is afraid to strike out on her own and leave the community where everyone knows each other and the emphasis is on family.

"She doesn't really know herself and having a boyfriend gives her an identity," Jessica says of her character, who is stuck in a dysfunctional relationship with a local boy, Fred, played by Bill
Sebastian. "She was too scared to follow her dream without having a family which is why she latched on to Fred at such an early age."

Like April, fear first kept Jessica from pursuing her own dream. But she also accounts her success to a strong support system.

"I always wanted to act but was too scared to audition in high school," she says. Her turning point was when the high school theater teacher delivered the news that Jessica's mom refused to pick her up until she auditioned for the school musical. She auditioned - in tears - and got the part.

"It was all out of love," she says. "Their encouragement is the reason that I had the courage to be a theatre major.

"I understand [April's] struggle with having the courage to go after her dream, because it's not easy at all."

Despite the encouragement she received from home, she says many of her professors didn't think much of her abilities. But by then it didn't matter. While shooting MIDLOTHIA, she also juggled a full course load at Texas Christian University and 20 hours of rehearsal a week for a theater production. She woke up at 4 in the morning, filmed until late at night - and proved her doubters wrong.

"It’s amazing what your body can do when you have to do it, but it was a blast and I wouldn't have done anything different."

In NIGHT OF THE WHITE PANTS, Jessica shows off her versatility, (getting laughs at FRIDAY NIGHT'S PREMIERE) as the ditzy, pill-popping Naomi. With little dialogue, she gives a poignant performance and turns Naomi into one of the film's most memorable characters. She credits the depth behind Naomi’s humor to Amy Talkington's writing.

She says having a family that talks to her openly and honestly helped her find a way to connect to her characters handle it emotionally.

"It’s funny how everything's connected."

MIDLOTHIA, 5:15 p.m. today (and 9:45 p.m. Friday) @ Magnolia

By Brittan Dunham, Staff Writer