By the time you’re halfway through the first episode of What/If, Netflix’s soapy thriller, you’ll realize that this show is a whole lot more than meets the eye.
Starring Renée Zellweger (Bridget Jones’s Diary, Jerry Maguire) as a ruthless venture capitalist out to meddle in others’ lives (for a reason that is not immediately disclosed) and Jane Levy (Evil Dead, Suburgatory) as one of her desperate victims, What/If is dramatic, white-knuckle soapiness from the beginning.
The anthology TV miniseries follows the story of idealistic scientist Lisa (Levy) and her husband Sean (Blake Jenner), who strike a deal with wealthy investor Anne Montgomery (Zellweger). Things spiral out of control very quickly.
Created by Mike Kelley, who brought us the likes of Revenge, the neo-noir is reminiscent of all the great high-energy TV dramas in the last decade. Think How to Get Away With Murder, except with Zellweger at the helm.
Global News spoke with Levy to talk about the series, its twists and turns and why she thinks you should give the show a chance.
Global News: How would you describe this show?
Jane Levy: Well, it is soapy… it’s a melodrama in that it’s extraordinary, over-the-top circumstances. In a way, you could describe it as a soap opera, but I think it does have more of a thriller aspect. It’s really interesting talking to press since nobody has seen the entire show, and this is an anthology so it is a 10-hour story. If you’ve only watched five episodes, you’ve watched half of the movie, and there is so much more.
This story has a full arc with a closure that I don’t think anyone’s going to be expecting. There’s a reason why Anne has come into Sean and Lisa’s lives, and you will find that out towards the end of the season. It’s not serialized television where the episodes stand alone. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end in a very structured way.
Right from the beginning, you’re dying to know what’s happening, mainly because you know something very disturbing has happened that we’re not aware of.
[Long pause] Yes. [Laughs]
Would you say this show’s unpredictability is what’ll hook the audience?
I can’t say for certain what hooks people, but as we shot the show, we’d get scripts as we went along. As an employee of this production, a script would come out or wouldn’t come out, and I’d be so anxious for it to find out what happens next. Mike Kelley has a knack for leaving you wanting more.
Was his involvement something that made you want to sign on?
Yeah, absolutely. I read the first episode and I was very eager to find out what happened next in that story and then I sat down with him, and he’s such an interesting person… that he was definitely a big attraction for me.
How did you want to approach playing Lisa? Obviously, she’s multidimensional; obviously, there are things we’re not going to find out till the very end.
I think the biggest thing in Lisa’s life is her relationship. She lost her parents when she was really young and she also lost her sister from her adoptive family. I think familial bonds are Lisa’s life, in a way. She meets Sean, and he becomes her family. Then Anne Montgomery comes and threatens the most important thing in Lisa’s life, which is her family.
That, to me, was the most important aspect of Lisa: this woman who comes from broken bonds and is searching for love and committed to love in her life, so much so that she’s devoted her career to avenging her sister’s death. That, to me, was the entry point for Lisa. As you’ll see throughout the series, you’ll see why Anne is interested in testing this bond between her and Sean.
And working with Renée Zellweger in this very uncharacteristic role must be cool.
Yeah, it was incredible to work with her. It was so much fun. It was very scary. I think she’s magnificent as Anne Montgomery, and it’s such a departure from who she actually is as a person. She’s so kind and warm, and Anne Montgomery is a diabolical witch! She embodied that character with so much dynamism and ease. I’m not quite sure how she did it but I feel very lucky to have her as our villain.
Did you ever break out into giggles or break the intensity in some way? This is heavy stuff.
Yeah, of course, definitely. She has a very amazing laugh, and we’d goof around in between shooting.
What would you say to a somewhat-interested viewer to get them to watch the show? How would you sell it?
I would say you get to see Renée Zellweger like you’ve never seen her before. There is a surprise in every episode. I think that this show is delicious like candy, and to have a glass of rosé, sit down with your girlfriends or your husband and watch two [episodes], at least, to start. Then you’ll be hooked.
[This interview has been edited and condensed.]Follow @CJancelewicz
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