Pat Healy and Ethan Embry discuss making CHEAP THRILLS, crazy actors and cocaine. Lots of cocaine.
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. So, I'm going to start off by saying this isn't the typical 10 minute junket style interview. Ethan Embry and Pat Healy are way more open and honest about their work and personal lives than just about anybody I've ever interviewed... I mean, by the end of the chat they're talking about their experiences using cocaine. And no publicist came running into the room, threatening to burn my house down if I printed their words.
Both men are fantastic in Cheap Thrills with Pat Healy in particular shining as Craig, the down on his luck family man who is pushed to some extraordinary lengths to provide for his family. Embry will also turn some heads with his portrayal of Vince, who is just a flat out bruiser. If your last memory of cinematic Embry is Can't Hardly Wait then dollars to donuts you're going to thrown for a major loop when you watch Cheap Thrills. He's a rough dude you do not want to mess with in this movie.
I got a chance to talk to them both last Fantastic Fest, the morning after a huge, raucous screening. It was so early that the rest of the crew was about a half hour late. For about half an hour it was just me, Embry and Bloody-Disgusting's The Wolfman standing around bullshitting and it was perhaps the craziest, most authentic no defenses up chat I've ever had with an actor. Certainly it was off the record, but I have a feeling that Embry couldn't care less if I spilled every story that spilled out of him, both flattering and unflattering.
Healy was just as open when the show finally started and I ended up in a room with these two men. Both put on sunglasses as I started the recorder and hit play. The rest is as follows:
Quint: The sunglasses are intimidating. I'm getting nervous that you'll start asking for my papers or something.
Ethan Embry: It's hard to intimidate someone in directors chairs.
Pat Healy: That's the name of the article, I think.
Ethan Embry: I never sat in these things on set because they're the most uncomfortable fuckin' things.
Pat Healy: I've never had one with my name on it. Isn't that crazy? The movie's I've had big parts in have been smaller movies.
Quint: I was just talking to David Koechner and he said I should ask you guys about the one scene in the film that was improv'd. You guys had to cover some time or something...
Pat Healy: It wasn't improv, it was scripted.
Ethan Embry: We scripted it together, in a sense.
Pat Healy: There was a scene that we rewrote a little bit, but the scene was in the script.
Ethan Embry: I always do that anyway. For me, dialogue... unless you're working with fuckin' Mamet or...
Pat Healy: Shakespeare.
Ethan Embry: People who are dialogue gods, the dialogue to me is really a starting point.
Pat Healy: What fits in your mouth, what you can say naturally. If I say “what fits in your mouth” then Ethan starts getting weird ideas... (laughs) The scene itself was one of my favorite things to do. It came after a really crazy emotion moment in the movie and was supposed to be this throwaway thing to cover some time, but it became a very deeply emotionally resonant scene.
Quint: Which scene was it?
Pat Healy: How am I going to say without ruining it? The big, crazy thing happens and then we have a conversation, very quietly. I'm on the couch and he's sitting on the steps and it's about our history together and all that. We didn't do it too many times, we were just really connected it.
Ethan Embry: Originally, it was just talking about how you were never really part of the crew back in high school and that kind of shit, but we wanted to make it more current. There was a little something there in the script, but we wanted to stretch it out a little and also... When you make a stab at me, you're talking about now and we made it so that my comeback to you was about this night also. It's not about 15 fuckin' years ago, it's about what's going on right fuckin' now.
Pat Healy: And it's about hypocrisy. You're sort of with my character because (Ethan's) more of a down and dirty guy, but the reality is that it's far worse to pretend to be this upright citizen and keep it all in. This guy is full of shit. (Ethan) ends up being really the only truly honest guy in the movie, which is kind of tragic and great the way he does it.
We all thought all the other scenes would be fantastic and this little throwaway thing ended up being the thing that was really special.
Quint: What I love about the movie is it's really chock full of personality, both in front of and behind the camera. I love that in a weird way you can relate to all four of the lead characters, which is pretty incredible when you consider just how crazy everything goes in this movie.
Pat Healy: I think most people can relate to “God, I need money for my family or for myself, what would I do?” But there are a lot of people who will watch that movie, and I'm not criticizing them, as Violet and Colin; watching the sideshow, watching these people debasing each other. You can go in and out see it from different points of view at different times.
Quint: One of the things that really impressed me with Evan's direction. There's a sophistication to the way he sets the audience up for one kind of movie and then forces them to question why they're so into that kind of movie.
Pat Healy: Right. Also, we were just talking about it, but Ethan and I have different styles of working. You like getting hit for real and I don't! Some of the conflict in the movie, in our relationship, is real just because we have different ways of working and we butted heads...
Ethan Embry: And the environment we were doing it in too.
Pat Healy: It was crazy.
Ethan Embry: We have different styles and working in the middle of the night, six days a week...
Pat Healy: It's a hundred degrees outside.
Ethan Embry: The weather was insane, the power was going out in the fuckin' house all the time...
Pat Healy: And everyone was running around trying to get this really cheap movie done fast.
Quint: You only had 14 days to shoot it, right?
Pat Healy: Yeah and we were only in the house for 11 days. We had 14 days total.
Ethan Embry: Wasn't it 17?
Pat Healy: No.
Ethan Embry: Fuck me.
Pat Healy: There was 1 day of me at work and 1 day with me and my wife and then 11 days in the house. Oh, then 1 day in the strip club. So, yes. 14 days.
Quint: Wow, all the stuff in the club was shot in a day?
Pat Healy: That was shot in the middle of the night, actually, because we had to do it after they closed. We were all exhausted. You can't tell in the movie, but we were all exhausted. We were just done with it at that point, but it looks like we're having fun!
Ethan Embry: I'm not surprised with what the end product was.
Pat Healy: We all knew we had something special when we were doing it, but it's always a question of “will it cut together?” That's kind of out of our control. Although, we all were given a certain amount of authorship, or ownership, over the movie. We felt like it was our movie as much as it was Evan's or anyone else's, so we were really all invested in being good, but you never know what's going to happen in the cutting. There were differences of opinion amongst the head crew over how certain things should be, but in the end it's truly Evan's vision and our vision of what it could be.
Tonally, we found that if things seemed funny they were funny. If they seemed tragic or sad, they were that way. That's probably half to do with how it was written and half to do with how he orchestrated it and how we were feeling in that moment. I think all the tone changes in it are great and are so genuine.
Quint: I'm sure that's why audiences have responded so well to the film as well. There's an authenticity to the shifts in the drama. And it has a fantastic pace. There's a great energy to the film. Do you think that was a direct result of you guys having to shoot it so fast?
Pat Healy: I have two answers to that...
Ethan Embry: What have you got?
Pat Healy: Well... A guy did document every single moment of the shooting of the movie and I thought, “This is like a mini-version of the Apocalypse Now/Fitzcaraldo experience. This must have been what it was like.” The other thing is... all four of us are, in different ways and to different degrees, crazy people. I mean, you have to be crazy to do what we do for a living. We all are a little nuts.
Ethan Embry: More than a little. Sara (Paxton) is probably the least (nuts), but I don't know her very well.
Pat Healy: She's a kook, trust me.
Ethan Embry: I had to stay away from her because she's incredibly sexy.
Pat Healy: She's like a little sister to me, so I stayed away from her, too. But we're all pretty nuts. Maybe it's not fair to say we're nuts, but we're all ready to go to whatever places we need to do this thing we love to do.
Ethan Embry: I think that pace, that energy, is a huge credit to the way they cut it. You can pace anything on the set and totally change the pace of what the audience sees in the cutting room. I remember we took longer beats than they showed. You can always speed something up, but it's harder to slow something down in post.
Pat Healy: There are some wonderful slowdowns, like when David just stares at you for, like, 10 seconds or when you're sitting on the couch after I left... It allows the audience to take a breath.
Ethan Embry: There were a lot more of those than ended up in the movie. We made a lot more of than they showed you. That gives them the opportunity to choose those beats. But I think the pace of it is a testament to how successful they were in post.
Pat Healy: And what a good director he is because he figured that out. I will say, sometimes you do those longer beats as an actor because they get you to thing that does make it onscreen.
Ethan Embry: Right.
Pat Healy: You can cut it out because you don't need it, but it helps us get to the places we need to get to.
Ethan Embry: Emotions creep up. It's very rare that emotions (claps hands together) snap, especially when you're acting. You have to wait for them to come, then wait for them to come and then you have a true emotion. Most of the time those waiting periods end up on the floor.
Quint: Editing takes you most of the way there, but I think one of the other reasons the movie feels so quick is because of what you bring to your characters. The Big Lebowski jumps to mind only in that those characters are so perfectly realized and authentic despite being largely cartoony, that you're engaged the whole way through, no matter if the plot is resting or not.
Pat Healy: If it's good, you can do whatever. Especially if it has a good ending. If it has a good ending people will forgive certain things and this one has a doozy. It can be boring for 20 minutes, but if you have a great ending no one will remember that. Luckily, this is an 87 minute freight train. I think we just felt like we could do whatever with it just within the very tight constraints of budget and time.
Ethan Embry: Truly collaborative filmmaking process, this film was. On the set it was 4 actors, 1 director, 1 DP and a couple producers throwing ingredients into the pot and in post they added their own cooking times.
Pat Healy: The music is great.
Ethan Embry: The one thing I kept in my mind... there's not four minutes that go by in the movie where somebody doesn't do a fuckin' bump.
Pat Healy: Right! (laughs) I was noticing that last night.
Ethan Embry: There's a lot of fuckin' cocaine in that movie. Jesus!
Pat Healy: We had to chart our differing degrees of intoxication in that movie. “Okay, you've seen me drink some drinks, but I've at least had this much tequila and this much beer. I don't have any cocaine, but then there's a percocet and I take another one later, then I'm doing a line of cocaine, then I'm drinking a scotch...” You have to keep track of that. We mostly got to shoot in sequence, so it was easier to chart that stuff.
Ethan Embry: I remember when I used to use. You'd reach a point where it didn't fuckin' affect you. No matter what you drink, no matter what you put up your fuckin' nose. It ends up not affecting you. That's why at the beginning I acted blasted. I was getting coked out of my fuckin' skull, but he keeps doing it and pretty soon he levels out.
Pat Healy: That's also a metaphor for what happens in the movie, too. It's a theme of the movie. Very smart. Truthfully, I could not do it. I tried doing it a couple times and it made me sick. That's why I improvised that line in the movie. “No thanks, it'll give me diarrhea.” Because I get diarrhea and I vomit.
Ethan Embry: I never liked coke unless you mixed it with heroin.
Quint: And that's a perfect closing line for the interview!
Cheap Thrills opens this weekend in LA and Austin and can be found on VOD. It is one damn fine film. I highly recommend you guys seek it out, support it, share it and spread the good word.
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