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Merritt Wever, from 'Nurse Jackie' to post-(post?)-feminism

February 17, 2010 | 10:00 am

Wever1 Most rising young actors would leap at a chance for a press interview. Merritt Wever -- the young "Nurse Jackie" actress who is on stage at the Geffen Playhouse in "The Female of the Species" -- approaches the journalistic process with a caution that borders on trepidation.

"I'm not used to all this yet," says Wever, when asked about her rising stage and screen profile. A foot-long hypodermic needle -- the kind administered on "Nurse Jackie" -- might have provoked a less anguished look on the actress' face.

Wever, 29, is performing opposite Annette Bening in "The Female of the Species," a farcical look at '60s feminist ideology and its present-day fall-out, running through March 14 at the Geffen. Written by Joanna Murray-Smith, the play depicts an armed showdown between a renowned feminist scholar (Bening) and a disgruntled former student (Wever).

Next month, Wever can be seen in the second season of Showtime's "Nurse Jackie," in which she plays Zoey, an eager nurse trainee, alongside Edie Falco. Wever also has a supporting role in "Greenberg," the latest Noah Baumbach film, which is also set to open in March.

Wever2 Though she winces at the word "career" and refuses to talk about her personal life, Wever doesn't come off as distant or unapproachable. Nor does her modesty appear false. She projects the shy, self-effacing manner of a drama nerd who would prefer to talk about her art rather than herself.

A New York native, Wever has performed in a number of off-Broadway productions at such notable houses as the New York Theater Workshop and the Ohio Theater, earning some positive mentions in the press.

"Theater has always been terrifying to me," she says. "You have to have a lot of courage and discipline, which had been lacking in my life for a couple of years.

"It's actually very difficult to find theater jobs in New York now. There are so many supremely talented stage actors."

Wever has recently spent more time working in television -- she had a recurring role in "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" and the past two years or so have been devoted to "Nurse Jackie."

After she finished filming the second season of "Nurse Jackie" in December, Wever traveled to L.A. to begin rehearsals on "The Female of the Species." She said she was offered the role in "Female" without an audition -- which she is still trying to wrap her mind around.

"It's the first time that's happened to me. It made me nervous coming here, not having auditioned and for them not having seen my take on it," she says.

"I read the play a couple of years ago in New York and thought it was really funny. I couldn't believe my luck."

Wever describes her stage character, Molly -- a gun-toting young woman who takes her former college professor hostage --  as passionate and well read but stops short of calling her crazy.

"I actually got on a downward spiral during rehearsals thinking of her as crazy. I was having a hard time for a little while --- it was a steep learning curve," she says. "Now I don't want to place any value judgment on her."

The play's chatty discussions on the evolution of feminism weren't foreign to Wever, who says she became familiar with a lot of the arguments while growing up in a "liberal environment where everyone I knew called themselves a feminist." She also got a dose of feminism from her studies at Sarah Lawrence College.

"I came across a lot of Mollys at Sarah Lawrence. They weren't as extreme as she is, but this is definitely familiar territory."

Working for the past several weeks on the play has made Wever reconsider the various waves of feminism -- from post to post-post.

"I wish feminism wasn't so scary to people," she says. "It should be an evolving concept. I think it's an umbrella term to embrace conflicting ideas. What I really like is Molly's speech at the end of the play -- 'ideology denies the true strange beauty of the human experience.'"

After the play's run at the Geffen, Wever says she will most likely embark on an apartment-hunting expedition. She says her New York apartment in the West Village is getting too expensive.

She will also spend time recovering physically from the stage role. She says she has developed sore arm muscles from having to hold a gun for extended periods during the play.

"Also -- and this sounds bad -- but I have a gun callous on my middle finger," she says. "But I love these things. They're like battle scars."

-- David Ng

Photo (top): Merritt Wever and Annette Bening in "The Female of the Species" at the Geffen Playhouse. Credit: Ann Johansson / For The Times. Photo (bottom): Wever and Edie Falco in "Nurse Jackie." Credit: Ken Regan / Showtime.

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