Jessica Rothe Had a Breakthrough Year -- Even With That Whole Oscars Mix-Up (Exclusive)

Jessica Rothe, Forever My Girl Premiere
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

After a stellar year that included 'La La Land' and 'Happy Death Day,' the actress is starring in 'Forever My Girl' and sat down with ET to discuss her come up and that Oscars mix-up.

Last year was a breakthrough year for the actress Jessica Rothe, having starred in the almost-Best Picture-winning La La Land and nabbing an unexpected hit with the slasher, Happy Death Day. This year is shaping up to be just as big for her, as we're not even a month into 2018 and I have already seen her in two movies. "Really?" Rothe asks, confused. It's true: Forever My Girl and a small part opposite Dakota Fanning in Please Stand By. "Oh, yeah! I always forget about Please Stand By, only because we shot it so long ago…But that's one of the things I love about films is you make them, you pour your heart and soul into them and you step away and you're like, 'Well! We'll see when it comes out!'"

Forever My Girl, out Jan. 19, is like the sun-soaked romantic drama of a Nicholas Sparks movie merged with the musical stylings (and, well, romantic drama) of an episode of Nashville. Rothe plays Josie, a small town bride who's left at the altar by her fiancé, Liam Page (Alex Roe). While Liam goes on to become a world famous country music star, Josie raises a daughter that Liam never knew they had, until a hometown trip reveals their secrets -- and rekindles old feelings. (ET has an exclusive clip from the film below.)

"This business can be so fickle and a lot of times hard work isn't enough," Rothe tells me of her come up. "And I know I put the hard work in, but it also takes patience and endurance and a lot of luck and being in the right place at the right time." ET sat down with the actress, 30, in West Hollywood to discuss her teenage dream of starring in a rom-com and the one-year anniversary of the infamous La La Land-Moonlight kerfuffle.

ET: Especially considering you shot Please Stand By a while ago, I like that in both movies you're in this month, you have a Southern accent.

Jessica Rothe: Oh, I did! I love doing Southern accents, so even if it doesn't need it, I'm like, Maybe I should try doing an accent...

"I think this character might be from the South..."

It makes me seem super mysterious. [Laughs] No, but accents sometimes are a really fun way to instantly be someone else. Like, Alex and I talked about that a lot, that British actors get to do that all the time, because predominately they're playing Americans and instantly you're not yourself, and so it takes a little of the pressure off.

This was based on the novel by Heidi McLaughlin, but it fits nicely into that Nicholas Sparks-esque genre of romance films. Was that an aspiration for you when you set out acting? Did this check off a box?

I grew up loving, like, Pretty Woman, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days -- which is one of my favorites -- Head Over Heels. I loved rom-coms growing up. So, of course I wanted to be in one and be the girl that I had watched up on the screen so many times when I was 13. But honestly, a big part about deciding to do this film was reading the script and falling in love with the story and falling in love with what a strong, intelligent protagonist Josie is. And that she's not chasing Liam! I think that that's one thing that makes our movie really different from a lot of other rom-coms out there, is that Josie's fine. She's experienced heartbreak -- it doesn't mean that she's a cold b***h, it doesn't mean that she's removed from life -- but she experienced heartbreak, she worked through it and she moved on. And she has this wonderful life with an incredible community, a brilliant daughter, and when Liam shows up, she doesn't even have to be mean to him, because the truth is, she's worked through it and she's forgiven him on her terms--

Well, you do deck him the first time you see him.

Well, I do! I do. But I would argue some of that's for me, but some of that's for Billie [Josie's daughter, played by Abby Ryder Fortson]. She's forgiven him for the most part on her own terms, but I don't think she's forgiven him for leaving their daughter yet, because that's something she has to live with every day. And I think that's honestly the only reason that Liam even gets a shot, because if Billie wasn't around, I think Josie would've moved on and one-and-done, like, out the door. But because she knows her daughter deserves the chance to have a father, if he is willing to show up and be the man she thinks he can be, that's why he has an opportunity to prove it. And then old feelings get kind of rekindled, all of those things.

You've had these three big movies in the last year or so -- La La Land, Happy Death Day and now Forever My Girl -- that are all so different. I want to go through each and have you say a lesson you learned or something you took away from each experience, starting most recently with Forever My Girl.

Oh my goodness. I actually might work the other way, if that's OK? I think from La La Land, I got to work with [the choreographer] Mandy Moore, which was incredible -- my first time working with Mandy, because I worked with her on Valley Girl. I got to be in a musical which was a longtime bucket list thing. And I learned a lot from Damien Chazelle. He's an incredible director. He is an auteur. He is such a visionary and has such a clear sense of what he wants.

I also learned a huge amount from Emma Stone, just in terms of you can be number one on the call sheet, but it doesn't mean that you don't carry yourself with class and kindness and heart and put every breathe and every waking moment and every ounce of energy into what you're doing. I respect her so much as an artist and look up to her. With Happy Death Day--

Which was a blast.

So much fun! Christopher Landon, the director, is one of my favorite human beings in the world. That one, I think, was a huge lesson in endurance, because it was a lot. It was a lot to shoot that movie. But the reason I love that film is because I got to play everything from the badass, like, heroine -- the a**-kicking heroine -- to a really mean person, in reverse order. That kind of transformation is one you don't always get to see, especially for women in Hollywood, that you get to start off as a truly despicable character and undergo such an extreme transformation.

Did you take away any specific tricks on how to not get burnt out? I mean, you had to scream so much. That seems just exhausting.

I did lose my voice once. I think it was just, we had rehearsed and understanding what we needed to do and really trusting my director. And luckily I had a director on that one that I could trust. But, you know, I didn't go out while we were shooting that movie. I went home and went to bed every single day.

And Forever My Girl?

I was so lucky in working with Alex Roe. We really trusted each other. We worked both in rehearsals with [director Bethany Ashton Wolf] and so much on our own to really understand and develop our relationship and feel at home in it and feel comfortable once it came to shooting. Because that one, also, in some way, we shot it very quickly. We were working with Abby, who's incredible but also as a child has restricted working hours, so we had to be on our game all the time. And because Alex and I put in all the homework beforehand, it made things-- not even so much easier, but possible. It made this kind of herculean effort possible, that we could achieve it. And I also, you know, learned that sometimes you can lean into the romance and it's a good thing that you can indulge in the good feelings.

Did you do any of that homework with Abby to form that maternal bond, because that's not always the most natural thing to click into place, especially with someone else's kid?

And also one that's not a baby. That you can't, like, hold the baby. I went out for juices a couple times with Abby and her mom, just so that Abby would feel comfortable with me. But the thing of it is, is that I spent a lot of my life around kids. I nannied all growing up through college [and] once I was out of school. I think it was really easy for me to form a relationship with Abby because she's so sweet and wonderful, but also because my natural instinct in the character and as me was, Is Abby OK? What is Abby doing? Is she comfortable? Is she uncomfortable? And that's what Josie would've been thinking. So, in some ways, the two worked so well, hand in hand. It would have been a different story if I was, like, the evil stepmother and making Abby miserable, but then on the set being like, [fake crying] Oh no! I'm so sorry!

Moving forward into this year and beyond that, do you have any sort of plan of attack for your career and what you want to do next?

Yes. And no. [Laughs] Like you said, these three movies couldn't be more different. And even the next one I have coming out in June, Valley Girl, which is the musical remake of the movie from the '80s, even couldn't be more different from La La Land. As a musical, they're completely, completely different films. That's what I want to do. I want to play every character from the romantic interest in Forever My Girl to, um-- a woman...I don't even know how to say this the best way for you writing, in not a weird way. But like, a crack addict! An edgier, fringier character who hasn't grown up, maybe, with the easiest circumstances in life. I would love to play a sociopath, or like, an unreliable narrator. I would love to a Bond Girl, but one of the cool ones, not one of the not cool ones. I would love to do an action movie, but I also love gritty indies, and so, for me, when I look for material, I look for things that challenge me, that scare me, because I don't know if I'll be able to do them. And I want to work with people who are better than me, because it's the only way you get better, is when you work with people who push you and push your idea of what art is. So, you know, when Steven Spielberg comes knocking, I'll...

Consider it.

I'll consider it! No, I'll be like, Yes. Please.

It feels like a billion years ago now, but we're coming up on the one-year anniversary of the Oscars mix-up with La La Land and Moonlight.

Yessssss. [Laughs]

Having been a part of that movie but not stuck onstage during that moment, where were you watching from?

I was watching in this taco place in Silver Lake with all of my friends. We won, I screamed and yelled, hugged everyone, ran to the bathroom to check my makeup before we got in the car to go to the La La Land after-party, came out and my friend was standing in the hallway with this, just like, look on her face. And I just started laughing, because the thing is, it made me remember in that moment-- Listen, I think awards are amazing. I think people should be honored and applauded for the work that they do. I would love to win awards, of course! We all would! But every film that was nominated deserved it. Moonlight deserved it. La La Land deserved it. Like, everyone who was up there deserves that award, so in some ways it was such a good reminder of that, that we are honoring creativity and art and that's the thing we need to remember. But, yeah, it was a totally--

There was an extra cocktail that night.

There was, but I thought it was so funny. My friends couldn't quite figure it out, and I was like, This is just so-- Like, you can't write this stuff.