By ALI NADERZAD
“Don McKay” (starring Thomas Haden Church, Elizabeth Shue and Melissa Leo), a film by first-time director Jake Goldbberger which was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival is about a depressed high-school janitor who left his hometown twenty-five years ago after a terrible tragedy and hasn’t returned there since. After a letter from his former girlfriend Sonny (Shue) arrives one day, McKay, alone and contrite, jumps at the opportunity to rekindle an ancient love. But things get weird after his return to his hometown. He finds out that his former girlffriend Sonny is homebound because of a mysterious disease, and her live-in nurse (Melissa Leo) is blaming McKay and the rest of the world for Sony’s deteriorating health. And that’s just the beginning. It even gets weirder and funnier.
If “Don McKay” reminds you of whodunits like “The Ladykillers” you wouldn’t be too far from the mark. But it was the Coen Brothers’ “Blood Simple” (1984) which Goldberger used as inspiration for making the film (Goldberger also wrote the screenplay). SCREEN COMMENT’s Ali Naderzad sat with the director and the cast to discuss the film.
Ali Naderzad- What was the inspiration for the movie?
Jake Goldberger- I wrote the first draft a few years ago after I’d seen “Blood Simple” by the Coen Brothers.
AN-Where did you shoot, and for how long?
JG- North Andover, Mass. We shot for twenty-one days.
SC- Melissa, how did you get to know your character?
Melissa Leo- I spent four and a half hours in Boston at a tatoo parlor with a very fine tatoo artist and sharpies (smiles)
Thomas Haden Church (cheekily)- everyone has their own process, their own dynamics from the world, you try to bring in as much judeo-christian knowledge (voice trails off; everyone laughs) No, but really. After I got out of college I spent seventeen years as a janitor and then…. wholly shit, this script showed up! (everyone’s in stitches)
SC-Very funny! What got you hooked to the character, Thomas?
THC-What appealed to me was the emotional isolation of the character. Something so traumatizing happened to him that he disappears from his hometown for twenty-five years and once he comes back, there is something that’s very compelling and mysterious about going back. And he has to face that tragedy that drove him away. Any love’s worth pursuing, that’s sort of his mantra.
SC- Did you guys try different endings?
THC- We had one where a monkey landed on my face.
JG- There was an initial draft where Elizabeth’s character was actually Sonny, but I don’t remember it, it was so many years ago.
SC- How did Elizabeth get involved in the project?
THC- A friend of mine sent the script to Elizabeth last Fall. And then she called me and asked how many make-out scenes with young guys there are in the film, and that they’d better put a few of those in the script if I’m going to be in it. That is a true story (everyone laughs).
SC-Elizabeth, you play different characters, and none of them are true. How can you keep yourself grounded through this?
Elizabeth Shue- Well, my approach to Sonny was that she was almost like a little kid, and she got caught up in the moment so much that she did not know what was true and not true. I think that’s the way the brain works. She didn’t understand consequences.
SC- Thomas, were you able to resolve Don McKay’s issues for yourself?
THC- I thought his loneliness was his resurrection. He’s so mired in his job and his solitude that when there is this ray of sunlight, even though it’s a murky ray, he pursues it. It’s a kind of inevitable and treacherous road to salvation, and it has its own irony as well. There had to be some sort of salvation, even if immediate and short-lived.
SC- Thomas, what kind of actor are you? Describe how you get involved in your roles.
THC- Whenever I read a script, I imagine what the writer is trying to convey to the audience, I try to imagine the world of that guy. My conversation started with Jake in late 2004. he had imagined such a complete emotional life for Don.
SC- What’s the difference between comedic and dramatic acting for you?
THC- Comedy, drama, or poignant sadness, whatever it is it has to be dealt with a straightforward manner. I never play anything intentionally for drama or for comedy. You just play what’s in front of you. For the moment.