Jennifer Esposito: ‘I Was Tired of Seeing What Was in the World for Women’

Jennifer Esposito: ‘I Was Tired of Seeing What Was in the World for Women’ featured image
Photography + Makeup: Tina Turnbow using Juice Beauty
This article first appeared in the Summer 2024 issue of New Beauty. Click here to subscribe

After a 25-year career as an actress, Jennifer Esposito is ready for her reintroduction as she brings her passion project Fresh Kills to life.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to go to film school, but my family didn’t have the money. I left home and put myself through acting school, thinking that it was the way to tell the stories. When I got into the business, I soon realized it wasn’t.

I’ve had this story [for Fresh Kills] in my mind for a very long time. I pitched it around and no one cared to listen. If they did, it was a pat on the head. Every actor has a script.

This film is a culmination of years of turning my back on myself. I listened to the outside world for way too long—who I should be, what I should be doing. I am finally doing what I knew I was capable of doing. It is a really personal journey for me, and it’s also the work I’m most proud of.

Fresh Kills

However, it’s also been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Every filmmaker will tell you the same thing. It’s a miracle that anything gets done, especially in the independent film world. And then to be a first-time female writer–director who everyone thought they had pegged into ‘the box’ they were comfortable with me being in…

I knew it was going to be a journey, but it was more so than I ever expected, and for reasons that I never expected. It has been four and a half years since this project started. And before that, it was 10 years of me writing it on and off. It feels like I’m limping over the finish line. It’s bittersweet.

I always have to remind myself of what’s ultimately the most important thing to me, which is the art. I never cared about being famous. What I cared about was doing things that meant something to me, and hopefully, connected to other human beings. I wanted to tell the stories—all the ugly and beautiful and imperfect.

This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a very, very long time.

I think we’re conditioned to fall into the labels: You’re pretty, you’re young, you’re a wife, you’re a mother. When it comes down to it, you barely know who you are. I felt like I sort of knew, but I was trying to be what I was told I was supposed to be. And I was so miserable.

I was also tired of what I was seeing in the world for women. I just thought, ‘Well, you’re going to keep complaining or you’re going to do something.’ I wish I had thought, ‘Oh, I got this.’ But instead it was: ‘The amount of pain I’m in with the place I’m in has to stop. No one’s coming, no one’s calling, no one’s going to change anything until you change.’ I think we all get to that place of like, ‘OK, what are you going to do?’ That’s when I think you have a choice to learn from whatever it is you’re going through. There are many times throughout the process that I thought, ‘Can I do this?’

jennifer esposito outdoors trenchcoat
Photography + Makeup: Tina Turnbow

I remember being at the first day on set and really looking around and seeing everybody wait for me to call ‘Action.’
I was like, ‘Holy shit, what did I do?’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, what the hell did you do!’ But here it is.”

“The beauty part of this film was fun. Everything is cyclical, so that ‘mob wife’ aesthetic stuff came back at just the right time for our film. I think as you get older, you realize beauty is much less about, ‘Is it ‘80s? Is it ‘90s? Is it my lipstick?’ It’s about living really authentically. The best thing you can do is be human.

I teach something called ‘The I’m Sorry Monologues’ with a female friend of mine , Alicia Coppola, who’s also an actor. We really push for other females to find their voice in whatever they want to do, because there will never be a beauty potion, lotion or cream that will ever make you feel more alive and more beautiful than being authentically who you are. I truly, truly believe that. I’ve done a lot of great things in my life, but nothing compares to really believing in myself.”

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