It's hard to imagine Adam Leon's GIMME THE LOOT working so well without the services of Ty Hickson, who plays graffiti artist Malcolm, who also goes by the tag name Shakes. Hickson, who first worked with Leon on his short KILLER, marking his own debut, brings a goofy but lovable personality to his character, a guy who claims to know it all and have everything figured out when in reality he knows nothing and has not one single thing figured out. He's an immature talker with a very small perspective of the larger world around him, and yet when paired with Tashiana Washington's Sofia, he is the yin to her yang. They play incredibly well off each other, with his strengths covering for her weaknesses and vice versa.
Hickson is also working on a budding music career, but as he shows in GIMME THE LOOT, he's got the charisma to make this whole acting thing really work for him, and I'd like to see many more films with his involvement beyond this excellent feature film debut. Just a couple of days ago, I hopped on the phone to talk with Ty about the film, its New York setting and the creation and traits of his character. It certainly was a fun conversation for me, so enjoy.
The Infamous Billy The Kidd - Hey, man. How’s it going?
Ty Hickson - Hey, I’m good.
The Kidd - Hey, good to talk to you today.
Ty Hickson - You, too, sir.
The Kidd - So, just to start, you’re originally from New York, correct?
Ty Hickson - Yes sir.
The Kidd - That’s one of the things that really struck me during the film, is how accurate the cadence of the speech is. Like I grew up in New Jersey, so I’m very familiar with the tri-state area. Usually when you watch a film and you have characters who are from New York, New Jersey, parts of Connecticut, they really try to hit the accent more so than anything, but as you know there’s a way people talk up there... It’s just the way they do things... Everything is done very quickly, and the pattern of speech is done very quickly too, and I think that you guys absolutely nailed the way that people talk up there. Not so much the accents, but just the way that the words come out.
Ty Hickson - Right.
The Kidd - Because Adam [Leon] is very familiar with the New York area as well, is that something that just came naturally or is it something that he stressed?
Ty Hickson - I think it did come naturally, but it was a combination of... Obviously, I grew up here, and it’s around me so I know it, but it was also like, “Okay, let’s sit down and think, how would Malcolm speak.” And it had to kind of develop this way of talking that really wasn’t how I speak, but I knew how to emulate it. So I just kept doing it... just kept practicing it a lot.
The Kidd - One of the other things that’s really nice to see is the rest of New York put on display. Usually when you have a romantic comedy of sorts, it’s all centered around Manhattan. Here, you get to see the outer boroughs. You get to see Queens, you get to see The Bronx, you get to see kinda how New York really is outside of what you’re shown, which is usually just New York City. As a native New Yorker, can you kind of speak to I guess your appreciation for depicting the rest of New York as opposed to just the main hub?
Ty Hickson - Well I think Adam always said... He didn’t want to capture the mollification of New York City. He didn’t really want to do any shots with these banks it it... He wanted to really capture this classic, timeless New York, and the only way to do that, really, is to leave Manhattan. Manhattan is one of these places... that’s where all the money is generated, so it changes the most over time. So going to the outer boroughs like The Bronx and Brooklyn, you get to see kind of the Old New York, y’know? He wanted to keep that integrity throughout the film.
The Kidd - Oh, absolutely. You have these neighborhoods that have been there and remain very much unchanged over the years, and you have these corner stores, or you have these local eateries that are staples in these neighborhoods that you can look at 10, 15 years down the line, and they’re still there.
Ty Hickson - Mmm-hmm.
The Kidd - You worked with Adam before, on the short that he had made. Is that relationship pretty much how GIMME THE LOOT was brought to you?
Ty Hickson - Yes, definitely. After I did KILLER, I stayed in contact with Adam. I just talked to him a lot about wanting an acting career, but I was young so I didn’t really know how to get into it. He also knew he wanted to write a feature, and sort of found me as a muse. He wanted to do this movie set around kids, and I guess I just fit in that picture. It was a win win situation: he wanted to direct his first feature and I wanted to be in my first feature so it just kinda worked out like that.
The Kidd - Shakes and Sofia are very much built from the same cloth in their love for graffiti, but they actually couldn’t be more different in their survival techniques. She’s very much a scrappy, street-smart girl, and Shakes... It seems like the only guy that he ever outsmarts is the stoner.
Ty Hickson - [Laughs]
The Kidd - But I think that lends to the likability of the character and what it is that draws you to him is that there’s kinda just this goofiness to him. Like he just lucks into a lot of things, in terms of how he manages to keep moving ahead. So can you just talk a little bit about the build of the character and kind of what you and Adam discussed in bringing these traits to him in order to make him this unique protagonist.
Ty Hickson - Okay, so Adam basically had the character description of what Shakes was. Shakes was supposed to be this kinda cocky, charming, naive... but still kinda a good kid at the same time. I guess throughout the process of working on the script it was like, “Okay, how does Shakes talk, how does Shakes walk, how does he make decisions. What would he do in this situation.” And I just made him my own, I made him myself. I just used my own personality... Not in a realistic sense, but in a fantasy sense. “Well if I was to be this type of person, how would I do this?” He’s very irrational, very optimistically delusional... So I just kept that in mind for everything I did. Every scene... everything. That was just what I was thinking all day when I was on set. “I’m a good kid, I’m sweet, I’m charming. Not because I want to be, because I just am, but I’m kind of stupid too because I don't really make the best decisions all the time and I don’t think before I speak a lot.” You can tell that he doesn’t think before he speaks a lot, and he kinda thinks he has a lot of things figured out when he doesn’t.
The Kidd - Well that that makes for some of the film’s best moments. Whether it’s his shoeless escape, which is a hilarious detail, because he’s walking around the whole movie just in socks, in New York City or just around the boroughs, which is gross to begin with. But then you also have the botched robbery of just these two guys who think that they have this grand scheme and couldn’t be more clueless in the moment.
Ty Hickson - Right. Definitely.
The Kidd - So when you have these little intricacies, is that really what makes the character so likable? In that he’s somewhat relatable, but you can’t help but root for him because it’s almost like he gets in his own way of becoming something more.
Ty Hickson - Right, of course. And that’s definitely what it is. It’s just stubbornness. I think scenes like... When Sophia and I have that great moment where we’re talking about our feelings and stuff... It’s definitely like a coming-of-age moment. It’s like a moment of maturity. You’ll notice that Malcolm shifts after that moment. He becomes a little more of a stand up guy when Josh is messing with her, and he defends her. He probably wouldn’t have done that the same prior to that moment, and the whole experience that they had together. I think it’s cool because we actually grow in the movie, you know? We grew in two days, too, because of the experiences. And you can see that, y’know? Sofia started softening up and being more vulnerable, and Malcolm started toughing it up a little bit and really coming to terms with reality.
The Kidd - Can you talk a little bit about the work with Meeko in those scenes of bickering? Because there’s this give and take between them of two guys who just think they’ve “got it.” They just think they are masters of what it is that they’re doing, and as a result... Because they really don’t know, that’s where the comedy in it really lies. Like the fact that they can’t remember how many flights of stairs it is.
Ty Hickson - That’s why we kinda made it funny because, from the beginning, you already kinda knew that it wasn’t going to be a success. I think that’s what Adam was trying to do. I don’t know that for sure, but I can assume that he just wanted to make it clear like, “Yeah, they’re trying to commit a crime, but they’re probably not going to be successful at this.” Because we just weren’t savvy. Meeko’s character, the way he has the tattoo on his face, and he’s all like seemingly really crazy and rough... He’s kinda just like Malcolm in a sense that he that he like... He knows what he’s doing and what he’s talking about... But he’s all talk. He’s definitely all talk. And that definitely became clear by the end. Yeah. It was interesting. Y’know, I’m thinking about it now... Malcolm and Champion have a lot in common.
The Kidd - Yeah, in a scary way. Like, “This is not the guy that he should become.”
Ty Hickson - Yeah, exactly.
The Kidd - There’s a two-pronged approach to the love life of Shakes, as you move along in the film, so I want to start with kinda this crush on Ginnie. Does she represent a legitimate love interest for him? Or is he kinda more drawn to this lifestyle that he’s never really been privy to. She’s well travelled, she speaks like she’s educated... And this is something that’s very foreign to him as far as living this kind of street life.
Ty Hickson - It’s definitely that. And I think, especially because Malcolm is like kind of a know-it-all, I think the experience of being with someone who can actually teach him something or... she kinda has one up on him when it comes to information, that kinda attracts him, because he can learn from that and take from that, and Malcolm likes to know everything. So even like the scene... right after... where we’re like walking in, and I’m like, “No, I’m telling you, our parents got that Nantucket money,” where I don’t even know what the hell Nantucket even was. I think that’s what it came down to. It wasn’t even about her being a white girl or anything. That was totally out of the question. It was just like... It was definitely like the lifestyle, and just learning. Get close to that money...
The Kidd - [Laughs] And from that, there gets to be this snap back to reality on that front which I think brings him and Sofia a little closer together, which is something that I think the audience sees as inevitable as it goes. There’s that... As you go, you’re like, “Why don’t these two people see what we see?” And a big part of that is the chemistry between you and Tashi which is very hard. That’s the crux of the film, and if that doesn’t work, then the film isn’t going to work. And you have these discussions about stickage, and condoms that are very real. These are conversations that you would have with your friends. Can you just kinda talk a little bit about how hard it is to make a relationship like that seem fluid, and if there’s anything that you’re able to do when the cameras aren’t rolling to aid in building that friendship.
Ty Hickson - I think, to tell you the truth, it really was natural. I feel like, how things felt... Every time people ask us different questions, I can’t always give like a logical answer, like, “No, this is premeditated.” Nothing was really premeditated.
The Kidd - Sometimes it just clicks.
Ty Hickson - We met each other. We knew the situation was that were kinda behind on production, and we were about to not shoot this movie, and we didn’t have a Sofia. So I knew, by the time I was reading with her... Like, “Damn, this is probably one of the last chances we have.” And she was so great off the bat. She just had it. She just naturally had that Malcolm/Sofia chemistry in real life. That’s how we knew that she was the girl. We kinda just fell into that. It’s kinda magical, actually. I can’t explain it.
The Kidd - Sometimes it just clicks, and there’s no explanation for it, and it just fires on all cylinders the right way.
Ty Hickson - And as an actor, too, just like when you read a script, and you know your relationship with this person is supposed to be, I think a part of your brain just automatically functions on that level. So we know we’re supposed to be best friends with this relationship where, even though she’s a girl, she kinda wears the pants in a way. Or she’s always trying to school me. It became that she kinda got into the mood, and she was doing that off camera. So it made it easy, when we got on camera, for it to just flow.
The Kidd - Let me ask you one more question. As a New Yorker, were you aware of this widespread but unconquered prize of bombing the Mets Home Run Apple?
Ty Hickson - No, I had never heard of it. But I’ve heard that it actually has been attempted, and I think it was succeeded before, but I think they got rid of it before it was able to be used. But no, not at all. I’m familiar with the graffiti world because I was a skater and I had friends who tagged. And I did it a little bit, but not to the extremes of Malcolm and Sofia... Like I never climbed buildings or anything... So yeah, I’m kind of familiar with it. The Home Run Apple thing, I don’t know. Adam found out about it from somebody, and he thought it would be a cool way to set off an adventure.
The Kidd - Well, as a Yankees fan, I hope someday someone actually does it.
Ty Hickson - [Laughs] Yeah, a lot of people say that. We really hope somebody actually does it, too. That might be really good press for the movie. [Laughs]
The Kidd - Alright man, I really appreciate it. I really liked the movie a great deal, so good luck with it, and thanks for talking today.
Ty Hickson - Appreciate it.
GIMME THE LOOT opens in New York City today, March 22, before expanding in a few more markets next weekend.
"The Infamous Billy The Kidd"
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