The Seattle International Film Festival wrapped up this past weekend, capping 25 days that brought more than 400 features, shorts, and documentaries from over 80 countries.
The final weekend also meant it was time to hand out the hardware for the top films.
Among the features receiving honors was “Middle Man,” which won the New American Cinema Competition. The part-dark comedy, part-thriller stars Jim O’Heir — best known for his role as Jerry Gergich on “Parks and Recreation,” — as a wannabe comedian without the penchant for telling jokes, who picks up a mysterious hitchhiker (Andrew J. West) and gets caught up in a desert-town killing spree.
But as the death toll rises, so does his comedic prospects.
Before the film’s world premiere at SIFF Cinema Uptown on Friday night, actors O’Heir, West, and Anne Dudek, and writer/director Ned Crowley sat down with the Queen Anne & Magnolia News to discuss the production, and their hopes for the production moving forward.
Here’s what West, who has also had roles as Gareth on "The Walking Dead," and Fisher on ABC Family's "Greek" had to say about his performance.
Q: What drew you to this role?
Andrew J. West: I think the first thing really was the fact that I didn’t know if I could do it. I was kind of scared of it, and I think usually that’s probably a pretty good sign. I’d never done anything like it before. The other thing that I really loved about it was, obviously, my character is sort of, to put it simply, the bad guy of the film, but there was a lot of room, I felt like in the script, to play against that type and to kind of make him fun and maybe even a little likable, and any opportunity that I have to be able to do something like that with a quote-unquote villain is something that I really enjoy doing, because if you’re going to play the antagonist or the bad guy or whatever you want to call him, if you lean too much into that being bad element, it feels kind of flat and it’s not that interesting. But if there’s some room in the script to kind of have fun with it, and to maybe be even sort of normal or charming or whatever, then that ultimately makes the character not only scarier, but also just more interesting and it’s just kind of more fun, and maybe it gives the audience a little bit of conflicted feeling about how to feel about the character, and I think that’s always a good thing. I think that the best stories are the ones where you’re trying to figure out how you feel about these people, because that mirrors real life. None of us are just like, a good guy or a bad person or just we are supposed to feel this way about this person. People are different people on a day-to-day basis sometimes, and they make good decisions and bad decisions, they good things, they do bad things, so to get the opportunity to play a character where there’s a lot going on and a lot of dimensions is something that’s the most exciting part of having this job, so I saw that in the script and I think that’s what made me really want to do it.
Q: You said you haven’t really played a role like this before, but are there any past pieces that you’ve done that you look back on that are somewhat similar, or that helped you on this?
West: I’ve definitely been the villain before. I don’t love that word, or even bad guy, but for the sake of shorthand that’s sort of the easiest word to use because people know what you’re talking about. But again, I don’t really like to think of these characters as villains, per se, but they are I guess, but when I’m working on a film or when I’m playing a quote-unquote villain, the last thing in my mind is that I’m playing a bad guy. For me, I’m the good guy in the damn thing, whatever it is, and I think you have to feel that way as an actor, you have to sympathize with your character and you have to feel like you’re right or you’re doing what you need to do in order to do your job well, and that’s how I always feel when I’m playing one of these guys, but you know, then you step away from it, you look at the film, and you’re like, oh yeah, I’m the bad guy. But to answer your question, I worked on The Walking Dead, and I played a character that had some elements that I kind of carried over into this film. I did a film a few years ago called “Nightmare Code,” where I was the protagonist but also kind of had this shift at the end where I kind of became sort of possessed and did some things that weren’t so good, so I had experience doing that, but at the end of the day, whatever you’re playing, I want a lot of myself to come out in that character, and I think that you get more and more comfortable allowing elements of yourself to come out, or even things about yourself that surprise you when they come out, I think, the more your work. So in a way, it’s like almost everything I’ve done has helped prepare me for this role, and this role will help prepare me probably for the next thing that I do, but yeah, there have been a few things that have been in this wheel house. I think The Walking Dead maybe, there’s big differences between the character I played in The Walking Dead and the character I played in this, but there are certainly some similarities there too that cross over, I think.
Q: What do you think the biggest challenge was for you in this production?
West: Just the dynamic of this character isn’t something that comes real naturally to me. Hitch is a very boisterous, high-energy guy, and I don’t know that I’m really like that. I think that I have that aspect in me, but it’s not something that comes to the surface as readily as it does for this guy, so I think that was a challenge, just kind of always living in that place, like that really sort of energetic, just like, come on man we got to do this we got to do that, let’s go, we got stuff to do,’ just that frenetic energy was hard to just maintain, I guess, throughout, but it was also fun, you know. That was probably the most challenging, but this movie was really fun to make. It was a fun, fun movie to make and it’s a true independent, it’s not like there was a big budget so it wasn’t like it was a super cushy atmosphere, but that was fine. I never really seemed to notice because we were just having a really good time and having a lot of fun making it, and I hope that some of that fun comes through. That was the other cool thing about this character too is sometimes you’re playing characters who aren’t having any fun in the movie and you almost worry, like if you’re having too much fun at work, maybe you don’t want that to bleed through, because maybe your character’s not having fun, but Hitch has a lot of un in this film, so I didn’t have to hide any of that. If I was having a great day, I could let that kind of permeate what I was doing in front of the camera and it just made it all the better and it served the story at the same time.
Q: You’ve made it to the world premiere, how does it feel to reach that point in the process?
West: It’s exciting, it’s really exciting, it feels like the pinnacle in a way. It’s a little unnerving too because you hope that you almost don’t want it too, it always ends so quickly and you almost don’t want it to end that quickly, you want to kind of savor this moment as long as you can, but hopefully, this film will continue to thrive and have a nice life after this, but you just never know with these. This is the first step of this film being out in the world, so it’s cool, it’s a really cool moment to finally get to share it with everyone because that’s why you make it. I think that the goal of this film was always just to make a really fun, exciting, funny, shocking, surprising film, and now we get to see if that’s what we accomplished, and I feel like we probably did but we’ll see.
Q: What do you hope audiences take away from seeing it?
West: I just want people to have fun with it. I just want it to be something where people have an exhilarating, fun hour and 45 minutes and come away with it feeling like I want to spend another hour and 45 minutes with those characters, I want to relive that adventure, I just want people to come out talking amongst themselves, saying, “Oh remember when he did this, that was funny,’ or “Oh my god I can’t believe this happened.” I just want people to have fun with it. It’s just a fun movie, at the end of the day, it’s about having a good time and it’s about just being, it’s like the classic reason why we started making films almost 100 years ago, it’s just about that thrill and that excitement and that novelty and you know, the really basic principles of why we tell stories, it’s just to exercise our imaginations and have a good time, that’s it. Nothing more than that, I think that’s enough.
Q: You have 30 seconds, someone’s walking down the street and you pull them aside. What’s your elevator pitch for them and this movie?
West: You are going to see a movie with not only tons of laughs and tons of thrills and shocking things, but you’re also going to see a lot of cool clothes and wacky fast paced characters that you’re never going to forget.
"Middle Man" screens Friday, June 17 at 9:30 p.m. at SIFF Cinema Uptown as part of the Best of SIFF 2016 lineup.