How did you get involved with the project?
MV-A good friend of mine was friends with Brooks so he told me his story right when I was filming Blue Valentine. I got back from filming and once I heard his story I said I absolutely have to meet this guy, that’s pretty unbelievable and he and I met and hit it off and bonded right away. We have a lot of mutual interests and we’re very similar in a lot of ways. We just got each other right away. I think that its certainly a testament to this film by the people he’s been able to attract to it, to where their help doesn’t necessarily come easily. You take a guy like Larry Moss, who is literally one of my generation’s premiere acting coaches, has coached Leo DiCaprio and all these guys to Oscars. He heard Brooks’ story and said I need to be involved with it. He volunteered his time and was there coaching on set. So many people have responded to Brooks’ story because I think somewhere within all of us, I think myself included certainly, you hear a story like that and you want to hope and pray that you could survive the long ordeal that him and his family have been put through and that you’ll be standing at the end of the day.Chances are, not many of us could, but we want to be able to endure the final forgiveness that he was able to. I had a lot of stuff on my plate at the time but I said we’re doing this. Then we went down the first bit in Brazil in October. I was doing a Television show at the time and once that wrapped in February, I had literally 4 or 5 days at home with my family then was off to Oklahoma and we shot it all there.
What was it like portraying a real person, especially as he was on the set with you, guiding the process?
MV- It was wild because you have such a heavy – I don’t know that I’ll ever do another movie that is that emotionally involved. I don’t know that I’ll find another one. It messed me up for a while and I don’t even begin to equate myself to what he and his family went through but to some degree I had to put myself in his situation and experience what he’d experienced over 15 years in a period of 2 months. So it was such an emotional roller coaster and I had a film, She’s Out of My League coming out at the same time so I’d go from one day balling my eyes out to flying somewhere to do press for something and put a happy face on, but the next day you’re back in tears again. It was a really tough time but a great time. Brooks trusted me to a degree with his story and they’re heavy shoes to fill. This guy has not only been through so much but accomplished more than I could ever aspire to accomplish in such a short amount of time that I was really worried a misstep anywhere, but he was just cheerleading the whole time and there wasn’t a detail of his life that he didn’t open up about, as difficult and painful as it was to help me get to where I needed to get to and to get the whole story.
You have a younger sister yourself, and a lot of the film deals with the relationship between the siblings. What was that like for you?
It was interesting because you know, a lot of times actors will draw on their own experiences for what they’re going through a little. With this film, I think it was just so extreme that I couldn’t event – it was just roleplay. And because it was an independent film there’s a certain aspect – you’re run and gun all day long so you don’t even have a minute to come out of that character and enjoy the day until you’re done for the night. And then you go back and you’re preparing for the onslaught of the next day. And I think Taryn Manning did such an amazing job and her and I just had that relationship and chemistry working from the get-go. We had fun playing off of each other as brother and sister. And of course having Brooks there to, not only guide us, but playing his father. It was an honor to me. I think we spent 6 hours tied up, hog tied on the floor and it may be 2-5 minutes in the film of the crime scene. If I’m playing this guy and Brooks is there playing his dad and just tearing himself apart going through what he’s going through, I kind of said, you know what I’m not going to let myself get comfortable, get out of this positioning and go play actor. I want to put my butt here and let him know that I’m dedicated to this and that if it takes me 10 hours to be on this floor it’s miniscule compared to what he went through but I want to experience it. We did that the first or second day of filming. It was a rude welcome.
What was it like working with Brooks?
He’s been through so much in his life that he is the most even keel guy you’ll ever meet. And certainly with that comes years of baggage, but I’ve never seen anyone carry it that well. I can’t describe it – just an absolute honor to not only been able to play him in the movie but the friendship that’s come from it. I consider him an absolute near and dear friend. Our daughters uncannily look like doppelgangers – absolute twins of each other and they’re both the same age. What’s beautiful to see in Brooks is the same way he lost his family and he and his sister have struggled, now to see him with his only family, him as the father, his wife Julea, and his eldest son Brody and his youngest daughter, Cali. I mean, the same lineup as his mother his father, him and his sister – It’s kind of beautiful to see history doing it right this time around, through the son. I think it’s a really neat gift. Hanging around him while we were filming was an absolute pleasure but even more than that just the friendship that has come from it and the friendship that our families has been a real experience.
What was it like working with award winning writer, director Brooks Paul?
Paul is great. He had a huge vision for this project and worked tirelessly to do Brooks’ family and the story the proper honor that it deserves. Again, he and Brooks were able to create this thing over a period of a couple years and do it side by side so that everything maintained its credibility, maintained, hopefully, believability. That way Brooks was able to forge a relationship with somebody. I mean, he was putting his baby into the hands of this guy in Paul Brown and having to trust the direction that goes with it. I think all of us looked to Paul for his guidance and his vision.
You are a growing, successful young star – where do you see this film fit in amongst your other work?
This one stands alone for me, personally. This film was 100% for me. There were a lot of people that, for various reasons, didn’t want me to be involved with it. It’s one of those stories that you can’t not be involved with. Again, I wish this film more success that any film has had in the world, but not for my gain or benefit that I wish those things. I wish it for Brooks’ benefit and for his family’s benefit because of the horror and the tragedy that they’ve been through, they deserve that. I look at the film and I say, you know what, if it’s wildly successful, amen, that’s great. If it’s not wildly successful, praise God, that’s awesome because I know that, whether it was just to me meet Brooks or just to bring this story alive, that there was something I was supposed to do there. Success doesn’t always equate to a Box Office success. It equate to the story that you bring to life and the memories that you laid down on film that will last a lifetime.
And that’s what drew you to the acting profession, was the ability to affect people in that way?
Absolutely. The moment that I realized what I wanted to do, I was sitting with my grandfather before he passed away watching Saving Private Ryan and the first 10 minutes of that film watching him bob and weave in his seat because of the memories that the film was bringing back and I looked at that and I said, you know what, anything that can affect, I mean there vets that were checking back into hospitals after 50 years because of the memories that this was triggering. And anything that can so tangibly affect emotions and people’s lives – that I want to be a part of. And you do your fun films and you do films that never quite translate, things that do turn out, but then every once in a while you have something special like this that comes around where you don’t care how it turns out because it was about something so much more than that. If it turns out and it’s wildly successful, it’s icing on the cake. The journey that you get to travel with Brooks and with that character was the fun for me.
It’s amazing how you’ve come full circle form Saving Private Ryan to yourself being able to bring someone’s story to life. What is your dream role?
I do a lot of work with soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. I have a long line of service members in my family and again, sitting through Saving Private Ryan with my grandfather, I would love to do a film of that genre whether it’s a World War II film, whether it’s something to honor the memory of these guys and gals, that puts them in the right light. I think so many of these films that have come out in the recent past have had a lot of personal bias and that’s fine, that’s what filmmaking is about – that people get to express their opinions. Having the good fortune of meeting and being good friends with a lot of them, my cousin losing her husband over there, I want to do something that shows that enduring spirit that they all have, that the boots on the ground over there have. So whether it’s something like that or a more historical piece, for me that’s always been a dream role to pay honor and homage to my grandfather’s family members and to other friends that I know who have served over there.
If someone were to make a movie about your life, whom would you cast to play you?
Right now I’d cast myself – I’m still young enough to do it! Is that narcissistic? I have to say working with Gossling on Blue Valentine, watching him work, I’d certainly think that of my generation, he’s one of the best and we’re close in age. So there you go, Goss.
Well, congratulations on Blue Valentine, which was partly shot in Pennsylvania. Here in Ohio, we don’t often get Hollywood experience.
No, you know what, I spent a lot of time over in Ohio when we were filming She’s Out of My League; we shot in Pittsburgh.
See, you’re bringing it back.
That’s the thing. Nate Torrence is from Akron so we were over in Ohio a lot. I enjoy it. I enjoy the Midwest.
We love to hear that, especially from someone who came from the Midwest and made it big. What was your journey like? Any biggest lessons learned, advice? There are a lot of creative people here who want to know what’s in store for them out there.
The first thing I tell people when they say they want to be an actor is make sure that there’s nothing else in the world that you want to do. A lot of people would disagree with that statement, but I’m of the mindset that you’ll go through so much rejection and so much scrutiny and people tearing you down and building you up. The ringer that you get put through in the industry is huge and I think it’s important that you’ve explored every avenue that you want and you come to the end of the road and you realize that, there’s others things I may want to do, but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do this or didn’t at least give it a shot because the level of rejection and the level of commitment needed is so great. I grew up plumbing with my dad and so there hasn’t been a year that’s gone by in my career that I haven’t – if things get slow, I’m calling my dad and saying, dad, get the truck ready, I’m coming home and I’m going to plumb for the rest of my life and I’m done with it. And that’s just me being frustrated so if I wasn’t so heavily invested in this I would do that. I would jump back in the truck and say, forget it, screw it, it’s not worth the emotional craziness that comes with it. And then at that point, I can train. It’s something I’m still doing. A lot of actors in my generation are still doing, but more need to do. There was a time where Paccino and Deniro and all of these guys… Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar and then took 6 months off and then went back to class. Just because they realized that it’s a continuing thing. A lot of people get their first job, they get a movie and it’s like, OK, I’m here, I don’t need to do that anymore. I think it’s a constant process, it’s the fun part of the process is the learning and the training. My two nuggets of wisdom.
It’s great to have a guy from the Midwest making great movies. And you’ve stayed busy! You have 2 projects – The Help, What’s Your Number, coming up.
I’m excited for The Help. What’s Your Number, lot’s of fun, a fun project. And in just a short time, look forward to coming to your lovely land in Ohio!
(Interview by Allie Feinstein of Passport Hollywood, used here with permission.)