The 33-year-old co-stars in the NBC comedy series “Indebted” alongside Fran Drescher.
Jessy Hodges has come a long way from “the performance couch” — the Victorian-style four-seater that sat in the living room of her Huntington Woods childhood home and served as seating for a makeshift stage.
Hodges, 33, now lives with her husband in Los Angeles and co-stars in the NBC comedy series Indebted, which premiered Feb. 6. Although she describes that bygone piece of furniture in unflattering terms — “It was pea green, with a lot of stitching … I didn’t really like it; sorry, mom and dad!”— its memory still elicits a twinkle.
“It was opposite a great stage, kind of like this,” she said, pointing to a small rectangle of bare wooden floor against the wall in her current living room.
It was across from that old couch where Hodges would practice monologues and rehearse songs for the roles she had at Stagecrafters in Royal Oak and at Berkley High School, and where she would film audition tapes for Interlochen Arts Camp.
Her mother, Ellen Sandweiss, who graduated from Groves in 1977, is also an actress, perhaps best known for her role in the 1981 Michigan-made cult classic film Evil Dead. She stoked Jessy’s interest in acting. Sandweiss now lives in Asheville, North Carolina, where Jessy and her younger sister Ali were born.
“My mom is naturally a performative person,” Hodges said. “For her, it’s almost like a currency; she deals in the language of performance, so it was always a part of our household.”
Jessy Hodges’s passion for acting and the arts was further fueled by her extended family and their Jewish heritage.
“I’m very close to my mom’s side of the family; I’m still very close to my Bubbie Miriam,” Hodges said.
Miriam Sandweiss lives in Beverly Hills, Michigan. “She and my mom and my mom’s sisters were all really into the arts. There was a big emphasis on the arts from my Jewish side of the family, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”
As a kid at Workmen’s Circle, a secular, progressive Jewish cultural organization serving Metro Detroit, Hodges absorbed the community’s love of singing. This, alongside her family’s predilections, led to her associating Judaism primarily with art and education — and to her identification with those pieces.
“I feel very Jewish culturally, and that means a lot to me,” Hodges said.
Hodges also inherited a Jewish sense of humor.
“My mom’s sense of humor came from Mel Brooks, Jackie Mason, Lenny Bruce. That made a big impression on me,” she said. She recounts a family favorite joke: “A group of Jewish women are sitting in a restaurant, and the waiter approaches and asks: ‘Ladies, is anything OK?’”
Such humor fits right in on Indebted. The show is about two baby boomer parents (played by Fran Drescher and Steven Weber) who’ve mismanaged their finances and must move in with their adult son and his wife (Adam Pally and Abby Elliot). Jessy plays their other child, Joanna. The family is Jewish — and so are the actors in the nuclear family, as is series creator Dan Levy.
“I think our show makes an effort to be modern and specific,” Hodges wrote. “Hence the representation of a Jewish family on a sitcom. Hence the representation of a gay character.”
That’d be Joanna. Not that her sexuality necessarily stands out.
“The truth of her homosexuality is no more a detail than the truth of anyone else’s heterosexuality or otherwise. Joanna just happens to be gay,” Hodges said.
“(As an actress), of course it informs my understanding of Joanna, just like all the other elements that make up who she is.”
Each episode of Indebted was performed in front of a live audience (season one has already been recorded). “So, it’s like you’re making a new play every week,” Hodges said. “Everyone’s there every day. You start to feel like a family.”
Does the Jewish connection play a role?
“Absolutely. There is such a shared language,” Hodges said. “One day we were trying to come up with a Yiddish word for something and everyone was like, ‘This?’ ‘This?’ ‘This?’ It was very familial and very, very comfortable.”
It helped, too, that Fran Drescher — creator and star of The Nanny — who’s “so talented,” would bring in homemade chopped liver, always organic, for all to enjoy. “She’s a health nut,” Hodges said.
To reach this point, Hodges has had what she calls a “slow and steady” career trajectory. After attending New York University, she tussled with New York City, looking for theater roles. It was 2008. “I couldn’t even get a restaurant job,” she recalled.
Eventually, she landed a role in a one-act play that was part of a set of six, collectively entitled The Great Recession. This led to work with Pulitzer-nominated playwright Adam Rapp and union membership. In 2011, she moved to Los Angeles, where she kept climbing. Getting cast as a lead for an NBC pilot — one that, ultimately, wasn’t made into a series — was a big milestone.
“Someone saying I could be a lead of a network TV show was a big deal for me,” she said.
Along the way, she met her husband, Beck Bennett (now of Saturday Night Live), while shooting a comedy sketch. Describing how performance plays a role in their everyday lives, Hodges says, “So much of what my husband and I are doing is, ‘I had this day; it was like this.’”
Although half the year the relationship is long-distance, she describes it as “happy,” “fun” and “impossible to describe.”
Hodges has gone on to book roles on several popular shows. In 2019, she had a big part in an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where she played the moderator of a focus group that the show’s nutty main characters participate in to win Red Lobster gift certificates.
“I had a ton of dialogue,” she said, “and I was cast three days before shooting. They (the cast, who also are the producers) are so smart and they move so quickly. It was intimidating.”
Also in 2019, she was cast as a regular on the second season of HBO’s acclaimed dark comedy Barry, where she plays an agent for an aspiring actor. She is excited to begin shooting season three.
Recently, Hodges has also begun creating her own material. Sundowners, a short film she wrote and produced based on a friend’s family navigating a mother’s neurological disease, was accepted into the Sundance Film Festival last year. And she’s currently working on a coming-of-age feature-length film based on her own high school experience grappling with the resurgence of Evil Dead and facing the reality of her mother’s past.
“I think we all forget that our parents had whole human lives before we were alive,” she said.
One thing Hodges doesn’t forget is her roots. “I feel like where I grew up, we had an interesting combination of Midwestern Jewish intellectuals who get mistaken for being from New York all the time,” she said. “It was a somewhat cosmopolitan place to grow up, but in the Midwest, which I think is a really good combination.”
Although she expects to remain out West, the Detroit Tigers shirt she still occasionally wears hints at a loyalty that she puts to words: “Being a Jew from Michigan is very fundamental to who I am.”
This story has been updated to correct Jessy Hodges’ age and the spelling of Adam Pally’s name.