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Lexie Mountain Makes Her Big-Screen Debut as a Sex Cult Influencer

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Adventures in Success, the first feature-length film from director Jay Buim, humorously follows the trials and tribulations of a fictional “intentional community” that’s all about making women cum. But it opens with a man gleefully urinating curlicues on a country road. That scene pretty much establishes the scrappy DIY movie’s treatise on masculinity. The men in the ensemble cast are overgrown boys—sophomoric and irresponsible almost to the point of childlike innocence. 

So it’s not much of a challenge for Baltimore artist Lexie Mountain’s character Pegasus “Peggy” Appleyard, the ambiguously-intentioned sex cult leader, to take charge of her flock. Though it would be hard for anyone to hold their own against the formidable Mountain (full disclosure: a close friend) who tends to dominate any scene she’s in. The versatile, genre-bending visual artist and performer has brought her commanding presence to a wide range of video art, theatrical live comedy, and more music projects than I can list here. But surprisingly, this is the local celebrity’s first foray into what she calls “acting-acting,” and boy, what a role it is. 

 

The mockumentary-style film’s second scene features Peggy directing a group masturbation session (obviously upstaging the phallic opener) in what we can imagine is a sacrament of “Jilling Off,” the pseudo-spiritual, pseudo-wellness community she leads. One must emphasize the “pseudo” here; between largely ad-libbed dialogue, the characters wolf down fast food and chain-smoke cigarettes. It’s a funny send-up of the millennial proclivity for labeling indulgence as “self-care” and one of the subtler details in a production that’s anything but. (The film’s presentation of “gender,” for example, is a strict biological binary. In the doctrine of Jilling Off, orgasms are reserved for people with vaginas, and penises are not allowed to ejaculate). 

The only male who presents a challenge to Peggy is a suspicious small-town local played by the hilarious Wham City alum Robby Rackleff. It’s an oversight that the two of them don’t share more screen time facing off, but it’s hard to complain about a film this endearing. Even at its slowest or most meandering, Adventures in Success looks like the cast and crew had so much fun making it I’m willing to forgive any privation to the viewer.

I chatted with star Lexie Mountain over Zoom to talk about her first role in a “movie”-movie (now available on Amazon Video and Apple TV) and if this could be a new beginning in her multifaceted career. We ended up talking about sourdough starter influencers, adolescent awkwardness, and website-free Bill Murray #squadgoals. 

 

Michael Anthony Farley: Give our readers the Lexie-Mountain-style elevator pitch of this movie—what is it about, in your words?

Lexie Mountain: The movie is about a group of people in a (heavily quotation marked) “wellness” cult who tried to make a go of it. They come up against a lot of conflict internally and externally, and this film is about those conflicts. It also is trying to illustrate what the group itself is about, which is prioritizing feminine pleasure, specifically the female orgasm. A vaginal orgasm.

It follows the story of a new member into the group, from their point of view about what it’s like to be in the group at a moment of transition. It’s also about feminine pleasure and the awakening of what that specifically is like—traveling to a place where you feel justified in asking for it and receiving it. 

I guess the question with this movie is whether or not this organization [Jilling Off] is a cult or if they’re just a group of people with a hope. What is the difference? And what is the danger about what they’re doing? Another idea that is interesting: the group is all about exploring the female orgasm, feminine pleasure, as opposed to this being secondary to penises. We kind of had to stick in a little bit of gender essentialism. In a way, this is about [challenging] a type of binary where feminine pleasure is denied, where masculine pleasure is just the norm. And just even talking about it was something that would draw controversy from this surrounding community—a small rural community.

I feel like we’re at this zeitgeist moment where at every level of culture, from the underground to the mainstream, there’s this interrogation of “wellness culture.” I love that you’re like the DIY sex-cult version of Nicole Kidman in Nine Perfect Strangers

Oh, yeah! I watched that [after filming Adventures in Success] and actually, there are definite similarities. I was thinking about this idea of the “wellness influencer” as a type of leader as well. So [while preparing for the role] I watched a lot of videos and informative stuff about Teal Swan. 

Who is Teal Swan? Sounds like a drag name… 

Teal Swan is an influencer, and I would say she is sort of, in her own way, also a cult leader. It’s surprising to me that she isn’t more well known! But she has a lot of followers for that “loose affirmation” culture, which sort of tells you that you are the victim of society. It’s pretty creepy because a lot of it is kind of normal psychoanalysis, like wanting you, “the individual,” to have some agency about your position in society. But she also is a bit of a huckster. And I guess there are some things about her style that people follow very closely. There is sort of an extreme side of a socio-psychoanalytic-influencer-marketing thing.

The thing I liked about this character [Peggy] is that it wasn’t explicitly clear that she was “good” or “evil.” She just has this one thing that she wants out of this group of people. But it is interesting to have this moment filmed at the time, 2018. Influencers were still on the landscape, but they weren’t being investigated critically as much as today… You know, the awareness of these people [being] flim-flam artists hadn’t really come to the fore—the emptiness of images about personal success and making your own narrative of empowerment—empowerment that is sort of hinged on marketing. I think one of the things about Peggy is that she’s not really that good at the marketing side of things. She’s a bit blunt. Maybe a bit tactless. She’s well-intentioned. Well, I think she’s very well-intentioned… 

 

I love stuff about cults. I love reading about “wellness influencers exposed.” It was super fascinating to live like this and then have the pandemic occur. And then everybody [was] really investigating with a laser focus “living intentionally.” 
Lexie Mountain

It’s interesting you guys filmed before the pandemic and lockdowns, because in a way the movie seems very prescient. I think Adventures in Success almost fits in as the oddball cousin in this niche COVID filmmaking genre that emerged during the pandemic. Social distancing necessitated this whole movement of films and series that just logistically had to film in remote, insular locations like retreats or hotels, and brought storytelling back to this type of script that was character-driven and about small groups of people having these inward-facing journeys of “growth” or “betterment” or whatever. There was Let Them all Talk, where Meryl Streep is the eccentric writer on an ocean liner, and The White Lotus, which investigated a lot of the same themes as Nine Perfect Strangers, but was just so much better. They were the kinds of scripts that could’ve been theater, were it not for the fact that live theater was verboten, you know?

One of the things about this film is that it wasn’t heavily scripted for us. We had a lot of room, it’s largely improvised. We also lived all together in the house in which we were filming, and then we all referred to each other as our characters. I guess you could call that a type of method acting. It was interesting to try that exercise before the pandemic came, and then with the pandemic, I think there was much more of a laser focus on these more insular communities and insular living—really drastic living.

I mean, I love stuff about cults. I love reading about “wellness influencers exposed.” It was super fascinating to live like this and then have the pandemic occur. And then everybody [was] really investigating with a laser focus “living intentionally.” 

During the pandemic, everyone just made either sourdough or streaming content about intentional living.

I actually just made some sourdough starter the other day! I hadn’t made bread since the beginning of the pandemic, but I just got a new oven. 

Making bread has never really appealed to me as much as joining a cult might… 

It’s similar in a way though—hear me out—making bread from sourdough starter. Once you start to get into sourdough starter, you’re like “I’m gonna do sourdough,” then immediately you become the overeducated bread asshole. There’s no way to do it without becoming “the sourdough jerk”! Because it’s all about naturally occurring yeasts. It’s like a type of alchemy. And it’s a little bit linear, this colony of yeast and lactobacillus and then it sort of is like its own little cult. And everybody is all about the literature about it and all the online recipes or the stories of getting the starter from the friend in Australia or whatever and… you know, everyone’s got a fucking starter story! Every starter literally is a story. It’s like its own little cult: You have to feed the starter every day, you have to nurture it. The one thing that always amazes me about cult leaders and influencers or anybody else who maintains a type of intellectual sham or facade is the amount of fucking effort involved! Like, the total amount of non-stop delusion and effort that goes into what you’re doing is staggering to me. You know, I lived as Peggy for, I think, over three weeks—I still felt like I wasn’t doing enough. 

So when you guys were filming, the cameras were just always rolling while you were living in this house in character, Big Brother-style?

No, we still had a shot schedule. Some Jay [Buim, the director would] schedule, but we also were given a handheld camera to take behind-the-scenes shots of casual stuff. So, you kind of never knew … like, two of the guys commandeer the camera and are making their own little movies about it within the movie! There’s a whole raft of other material that’s in there. I forget how much of that material ended up in the actual film—but you kind of always were on guard. Also, people constantly were referring to me as “Peggy” and in addition to the amount of labor, I thought, cults are some pretty lonely places to be, these people must be kind of lonely. When I think of Keith Allen Raniere, I just think of someone who’s so desperate and lonely that he has to invent an entire system for people to just hang around him all the time! 

 

How much of you is there in the character? How much of Peggy is just a total invention? 

That’s a tricky question, because I’ve never quote-unquote “acted” before, despite, you know, performing and being on stage and just being out there. I never “capital A” acted. So I think there is a lot more of myself in the character than maybe I wanted to admit, because I felt like, on some level, I lacked a certain amount of skill to separate myself from the character and protect myself from some of the trauma that she was experiencing. I was kind of on call to be Peggy all the time. I did often struggle with my desire to do a certain thing or behave a certain way, and then think, “no, but a leader, this person might isolate themselves from other people, because they need to keep the font of their inspiration something of a secret or a mystery, in order to retain that type of divine authority.”

So I had to, on some level, suppress my need for approval from other people. And in certain ways be even more aggressive than I normally am. I do feel like I’m very outgoing, but I’m also desperately in need of other people’s approval. There were definitely times when that veneer was cracked, and I was a lot more vulnerable and easy to hurt. But I think on the whole it was like me struggling to be this person. I mean, that’s acting, right? 

I was constantly preoccupied with how to manifest Peggy manifesting stuff because there is a level of tongue-in-cheek and naivete about her as well. It’s impossible for me to tell, but how much self-awareness does she have? 

I think so many people, especially in Baltimore, are going to get such a kick out of you in this film because you’re just such a big personality we all know in real life from so many different contexts—music, art, sketch comedy, all kinds of performances, just being a social fixture in the creative scene. You’re such an all-around entertaining person to watch no matter what you’re doing.

Thank you! It’s really difficult to wrap my mind around, honestly, because in my mind I’m just still this awkward, kind of deeply insecure person who’s just trying my hand at a bunch of different things to see what sticks, and that is ultimately afraid of failure! Desperately afraid of failure to the point of immobility. It can be really difficult to see my life as a series of different things that have culminated in this one person, in this moment. Or I see it as a collection of random isolated situations. Just luck. Being in the right place at the right time instead of thinking, “I went out there and did it for myself!” I hope [the film] is interesting for people. In my heart of hearts, I sort of feel like, no matter what I do, I’ll just not be very good at it. So it would be really cool if people did like this.

I think all creative people can relate to that! Who doesn’t grapple with impostor syndrome? I think a lot of times the best artists are people who are just constantly trying new things and aren’t necessarily experts. I’d rather eat the bread made by the guy who’s not a dick about being a sourdough aficionado! I want to try the bakery fails… not some influencer-curated perfect bullshit bread!

That’s interesting because the whole point of being an influencer is that you craft this image. I think people have an image of me or version of me that really is always surprising—to me—to find out. Especially as I get older and I get further away from the time of almost hyperactivity… it’s really wild to think about the stuff that I’ve done and the amount of energy that I put into loving Baltimore’s cultural scene. I do feel like I couldn’t have done this without Baltimore. There literally isn’t a way that I could have done this without Baltimore. Jay, the director, had done stuff for Future Islands. And then he directed a video for Ed Schrader’s Music Beat. And Ed asked me to be in the video; a bunch of other people—Becca Morrin, Dan Deacon, Kevin Blackistone, DDm—were in the video as well. That was how I first met Jay. I wasn’t even supposed to be Peggy! The person who originally was supposed to be Peggy couldn’t do it, so he called and asked me to do it—and I still felt like it was a prank! I felt like I was Carrie at the prom! Like I was gonna get there—and I still kind of feel like it’s a prank—and there’s going to be some twist at the end, where I’ll be covered in fake blood, psychic, mental pig blood.

The other thing is that this was such a huge undertaking and involved so many people. It was such a collaborative effort. For me, the real joy was just being able to see other people who are in the film as well. They are un-fuckin-believable! Just amazing, amazing, amazing people…

I think that they really wanted me to bring myself to the role. I somehow did not anticipate an announcement that we will be living as our characters. That was a bit of a surprise. But I think it was something that we all sort of, weirdly, agreed on… thinking about how Christopher Guest movies operate—wanting us to have that kind of elasticity, that ease that is on display in movies like Best in Show… And getting inspiration from ‘80s and ‘90s [cinema with] a dreaminess and a sort of adolescent conflict that carries over. Especially in Peggy, I feel like, who’s a little bit of a big kid because she’s idealistic. 

 

I think people have an image of me or version of me that really is always surprising—to me—to find out.
Lexie Mountain

Before seeing Adventures in Success I had just been thinking about how ‘80s and ‘90s pop culture placed so much emphasis on adolescence to the point where we had actors in their 30s acting out high school trauma ad nauseam! Why did high school become the defining touchstone of popular imagination and socialization? Is American millennial adulthood just us trying to recover from latent teenage angst?! It’s a thought that stuck with me when watching your group/clique dynamics. 

I don’t know if I even want to watch Euphoria because I did go to fucking high school in the ‘90s, I was hanging out with the people who did a lot of drugs, and I did a bunch of drugs and I am not psychologically prepared to revisit this! But I feel you, there’s this eagerness to retread high school that’s very “in”—definitely a feeling like you want to prove yourself, prove that you’re valued. And the idea of a leader is to show everybody that they are valued. This type of wellness approach is like, “you have inherent value! you have inherent worth!” In that you can provide something to me, the leader. There is a striving for that, and the urge to revisit that territory is an urge to reassert your worth.

That’s why we join cults, to feel welcome at the lunch table. We’re constantly trying to reenact the trauma of adolescent social relations as adults or something.

I definitely think that my own insecurities absolutely stem from being overweight, awkward, loud, obnoxious, just cringy when I was a kid, you know? How cruel is it to look at yourself as a kid and be like, “cringe”? Like, that’s awful!

Most kids are cringe. But only a select few get to grow up and go back to summer camp and be the queen bee orgasm counselor! Speaking of which, where was this filmed?

It’s upstate New York, in Hendersonville, I want to say like, half an hour, 45 minutes north of where Hudson is.

 

God, this film was prescient in so many ways! I feel like all of the Hudson Valley was basically a cult everyone in Brooklyn joined in 2020 for “intentional living.” 

It’s kind of like Joshua Tree is to people in LA, that area of the Hudson Valley, where they want to get away, reconnect with nature. I don’t know if I necessarily want to say “simpler times”…

Orgasms?

Yeah, just literally jerk off a lot. People just want to go to nature and have an orgasm. I think that’s what John Muir said, right? He was like, “go to nature. Jerk off.”

Actually I’m pretty sure that quote is from Walden.

Did you know [Thoreau’s] mom came out and brought him sandwiches every day at Walden Pond? I thought about that because the place where we filmed was right down the street from an abandoned Girl Scout camp. It seemed really cool. We were in view of a mountain. And while we were filming—I think it was like July and August—Venus was visible in the sky every night. And people made us food! People brought me sandwiches! It was ideal. I loved acting, you know, I loved really long days full of something that you are doing.

Yes! I hope this is the start of a new acting career for youit looked like you had so much fun making this movie. Like, now I want to make a movie with you! Let’s shoot a screen test together to send to some casting directors.

I’m not afraid of rejection anymore. I can fill a suitcase with rejections. You got to be like, “give me the rejections!” Yes, we are both available. Yes. Put our emails in here. Yes. I think you and I screen test well together…

Uh, wait… we did! Years ago! Didn’t we film promo footage or a pilot for someone’s sketch comedy web series that never got produced or something? We shot like a bunch of B-roll scenes in Greenmount Cemetery? What the hell was that for…?

Oh my god. I have no memory of this except that we were both wearing vegan leather pants. So much vegan leather… I don’t remember. But there’s a lot of things I don’t remember! 

Well, I think it’s a testament to how prolific you are. 

There: “I’ve done so much honey, I can’t even remember!” Literally. This is kind of why I am not very good at having a website. I don’t really know how to go about it! Like, there’s not really a lot of lines—it’s just kind of like these things that happened that aren’t really… or no, they don’t have distinct edges

I know exactly what you’re talking about—when what you do spans a lot of different activities and some are less “your art” or “serious” than the others, how the hell do you organize that? It just feels like more work! So I guess here we are, millennials without websites against all expectations… 

You know who else doesn’t have a website? Bill Murray. I don’t think there’s a “Bill-Murray-dot-com.” He doesn’t need one, he just does what he does. He just has a flip phone that he answers. Can I just be that? I want to be Bill Murray, taking my own calls—Lexie Mountain. But I’ll probably do it on an iPhone.

 

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