Interview By Deborah Ferguson
Describe what we’re up to before you were cast in Boyhood.
Well, every actor needs a “day job.” And sometimes that day job is a full time job until another role comes along. My passion is acting and music. I’ve done both for over 20 years. But often, you passion can’t be your career. Acting jobs come and go. There are times I work back to back projects. Then there are times I go months and months without booking a single job. I love the work, and the challenge of auditions, but it is a difficult process to get the job. So I found a career in restaurants. I’ve always been in the hospitality business in one form or another. My first job was a bar back at a restaurant bar in South Carolina when I was 15 years old. I was a host at California Pizza Kitchen at 18 in Studio City. (wore the vest and tie….the whole set up!! hahaha) I’ve been a General Manager, server, bartender, buss boy and dishwasher. So I’ve done it all.
When I moved back home to Dallas in 1996, I helped grand open the Ghostbar at the W Hotel Dallas. I was the VIP Host and took care of celebrities, athletes, and some of the biggest DJs in the world. From there I met a few investors that ventured out with me to open our own venues. We opened a night club, 2 restaurants, and most recently a mechanic shop themed sports bar called the Chopshop Sports Garage. So over the years I was filming Boyhood, these were my “day jobs” in before and in between shoots. I worked several of the shows that were filming in the Texas market at that time as well. I had roles on Prisonbreak, The Chase and The Good Guys.
At what point of the 12 years did your casting take place ?
I shot on Boyhood for 3 of the 12 years. so I came in around year 6 or 7. It’s actually difficult to remember exactly when it all happened. When you shoot a movie over such a long period of time, it feels like trying to remember something from high school. When I auditioned for the role, what seems like, forever ago. It was very relaxed.
Rick is one of the most organic and real directors I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. He just wants you to be natural and let the character come out through you. So we chatted and got to know each other for a few. He brought me up to speed on what his vision was with Boyhood.
He told me where they were at in the storyline of the movie and he said he wanted to introduce a new character in for Patricia Arquette’s character. He said “she needs a good guy.” The previous husband had been very physically and verbally abusive. So we discussed the role of “Jim.” There were a lot of elements of Jim that I could relate to or parts of my life that I knew I could bring to the role. The only part of Jim that wasn’t familiar to me was the fact that he was a soldier. That was something I would have to research to keep it authentic.
How did you research your role ? How did you interpret your role? Did you evolve the character? Or was it presented as we saw it?
Jim was a soldier returning from 2 tours. I have never served in the military but I had several friends that had. So I reached out to them for input. I needed to know what it was like to be there, in the field, and what it was like once they returned.
From their stories I learned that there are 2 lives…the one you live while serving and the one you have once you return.
Several of them expressed the difficulties of getting back to a normal life in the states. So I knew that was something I wanted to incorporate into the character over the arc of the storyline. So did Rick.
One really special thing that happened was we had one of the crew members, Garin Sparks, who had served, sit down with us and tell us his experience. We ended up adopting his story and that became the scene I did at the dinner table with Patricia.
It was extremely humbling being able to share his story as my story. I felt that it paid a tribute to his service and and the unit he was in. A way of saying thanks and that their service was recognized. I’m very proud of that. Over the 3 years that I shot, we wanted to show Jim slowly break down from the pressures of being back in the States…..the pressures of being a step day, taking care of a family, having an unfulfilling job, etc.
So we began showing Jim “day drinking” and miserable. You see the shift on screen and ending with his final blow up moment with Ellar’s character on the porch. Some people have described me as “oh…you were the mean guy on the porch” or “the soldier that was an alcoholic.” Jim wasn’t a bad guy nor was he a drunk, we saw what kind of person he was in the first scene at the table. I wanted Jim to unravel over time and start to numb his depression with drinking to cope. I hope that came across on screen. Because it was deeper than just being a mean drunk.
Did Richard share dailies / edits so you ad an understanding of what was shot and evolving in the storyline?
Rick didn’t share dailies with anyone. From what I heard, he didn’t even share it with the producers. And most people don’t know that their wasn’t an official Boyhood script….ever! Rick had the entire thing in his head. He knew where we wanted to go with the storyline and the arch of the characters. Only he knew where he wanted to go and didn’t share that with anyone until right before we shot.
We would all meet up the day before shooting and create the scenes together around where Rick wanted to go with the story. Rick would tell us what he wanted to accomplish in the scene. So we would improv the scene and Rick would mold it to tell the story the way he saw it in his head. It was extremely challenging as an actor. I’m use to having the full script and each scene ahead of time. You rehearse that and the director will do edits on set if needed.
This was completely organic and unrehearsed. I had never had the opportunity to create scenes with the filmmaker before so it was an incredible experience. But that’s the kind of filmmaker that Rick is. He wants to share the experience with the actors so everything is authentic and honest.
There weren’t too many edits. Even the scene with me and Ethan outside the house was done on the spot. Ethan and I stood there, on our marks while the crew set up the cameras and we improved that entire scene. Rick gave us the direction of “what would these two guys talk about?” and we ran with it from there.
Ethan’s character is easy going and relaxed. He has respect for Jim because Jim is taking care of his kids now….and being a positive influence for them as well. Rick wanted me giving the camera to Ellar’s character incorporated into the dialogue.
That was important in the storyline because the camera ultimately becomes his creative escape and molds his future. So Ethan and I took that input and ran with it. It only took us about 15-20 mins to come up with the scene that ended up on camera. Same goes with my final scene on the porch with Ellar’s character. We worked up that scene and wanted to push the envelope with Jim being intoxicated. That way it opened up the opportunity for him to say what’s on his mind and ultimately lose it on Mason Jr.
There was a guy in my past as a teenager that was dating my mom at the time. He and I got into an argument one time and he told me to do something. I told him I didn’t have to because “he wasn’t my dad.” He responded with “I know! Because I’m actually here!” That cut pretty deep and I brought it to Rick as a suggestion. He loved it and we made sure it made the scene. So I got a chance to relive that moment in my life and bring it to my character. As an actor, you get to deal with your demons through your work. I’m glad I got a chance to to that. It’s never easy but it’s so rewarding on a personal level. Like paid therapy. I’ve had several people tell me that line resonated with them when they watched it. So I feel like a lot of people can relate to that scene. The one funny part that came out was at the very end of the scene. The last line was ‘I’m THAT guy!” Something about playing up the intoxicated part plus the delivery of that line made it come out sounding just like Al Pacino in Scarface. hahaha. Like “the bad guy is leaving the building!!”
At the end of each take Rick would come over and say “that was really good….let’s try it again, a little less Scarface.” We got a good laugh out of that.
Rehersals? Did Patricia and Ethan spend any time with you to rehearse ?
We would rehearse and create the scenes with Rick the day before each shoot. Sometimes the day of. You just had to come to each shoot open minded and ready to dig in and create. That concept was a little scary at first. But Ethan and Patricia were such veterans and Rick was so relaxed and supportive that it made it very easy. Rick would give us homework assignments in between shoots too. He would encourage us to put some thought into where our characters would be in the next year of filming.
Did you expect the award nominations ? And winning best film at the golden globes , bftas etc ?
When the first critic reviews came out it was very exciting. There were some really big names (Variety, New York Times, Hollywood Reporter) saying some pretty positive things about the movie. Then it started winning film festivals. Then it had a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It was starting to snowball. It got bigger and bigger every month. That’s when it got really exciting. It was out there….it was real and the initial response from some very big critics was impressive. Then the movie came out. It was an independent so it was in limited release. I think it peaked out at around 600 theaters nationwide. So a lot of my friends and family couldn’t see it if it wasn’t playing in their city. But the box office response was looking good and since it was only a $4 million dollar movie, IFC was probably excited knowing their 12 year gamble was going to be a success. When the award nominations were announced it was very real for all of us. Golden Globe nominations, then SAG Award noms, PGA, DGA, Spirit, and BAFTA then Academy Awards. It was overwhelming…especially for an actor like me who had never been associated with something that was getting such a response like this. Winning several of those awards was exciting. Patricia swept everything, but Rick and Ethan were acknowledged as well…..and rightfully so.
Every award that was won, no matter where it was and what it was for, was a win for the film. It was a labor of love for all of us.
So every acknowledgment was special for us. I sat at the Boyhood table at the SAG Awards and that was a surreal moment for me. To walk the red carpet, do interviews, mingle with other actors and film makers that I respected. It was one of the biggest moments of my career.
Where were you when Boyhood won a Golden Globe for ‘Best Drama Motion Piicture’?
I was at one of my best friend’s house with a lot of my closest friends with me. They threw a Golden Globes party and it was great. Intimate and fun with the people that have followed me on this journey. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Winning Best Drama Motion Picture was EPIC!!!
Coming off of that win, we all believed that Boyhood stood a great chance at getting Oscar nominations and a potential win. But when we didn’t do as well at the PGA and SAG Awards and Birdman did, we all knew that was the film to be concerned with. Then American Sniper came in with 6 nominations out of nowhere. So we knew it was going to be a tight race to the finish.
Has there been any recent types of acting offers due to your amazing role in Boyhood?
I would love to live the in the fantasy land of my imagination where offers are thrown at me right and left. But that is a whole different movie. I’m right back in the grind with everyone else. The award shows are over, reality has set in, we are back on Earth. The ironic part is that after all of the praise for the movie, all of the nominations, all of the awards, the award shows, the publicity, the hype, the heat and the wins, it’s still hard to make this passion a career. I met multiple talent agencies from January to March of this year and got turned down by all of them. Every. Single. One. So nothing has changed. As I’m doing this interview, I am in Los Angeles for the pilot season. Meeting with producers for new tv shows and movies. Trying to convince them that I’m the actor they need for their project. But it’s still hard, it’s still political, it’s still Hollywood. You just keep pushing forward and believe in your heart that you are doing the right thing and doing what you love. I don’t care about the money or the fame, I just want to go to set and work with other actors. Create….breathe life into words on paper. Day in…day out. It’s a very simple goal. But it’s the movie “business” and sometimes you’re just lucky to be able to play the game and contribute. I’ve been an actor for right at 24 years now. I know that I can compete on that level. I can play with the big boys. I’ve done it. Just got to keep my head up and keep pushing forward. Until the passion becomes the career.
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