Thursday, June 18, 2009

Noah Segan: Actor, Underdog, Replacements Fan

Still from Still Green.

Get hip to Noah Segan.

This is not to say, merely: 1) watch a film of his, 2) check off "knowing of him" form your hip independent film credibility list, 3) then move on to the next actor/director/cinematographer whom a friend just told you about. Definitely, check out a film of his. But, watch it closely. Watch Noah Segan closely. See how he fits right into each role.Fits right into each film, and changes it.

This happens whether the role is expansive and lets him unravel his range, or it is minor and showcases more tight and nuanced gestures. The thing is, he is well-versed and carefully-composed for each role.Yet, it is not about posturing, pretending, and pulling one over the audience. You note his eyes, and trust that he shares the same head-space of his character. The temperament, the tone of voice, and the gait are just some of the things that are seamlessly right-on in each Noah Segan role I've seen.

Consider him in Brick, the sleeper hit that is bound to impact the genres of noir, teen film, and coming-of-age. Noah's leather-jacket strutting, edgy loner, Dode, tears across the screen from the moment he is introduced. His moodiness is palpable, and by the film's end, it is easy to see how this is his, "Wow, who is this actor?" role. In What We Do is Secret, he embodies Don Bolles, the singular drummer of the explosive LA punk band, The Germs. He does so without that: "Hey, look at me. I'm a great actor doing a spot-on job in this period piece. I'm as authentic as my period-piece clothing, man!" unfortunate grandiosity that can easily plague a bio-pic. Naturally, Noah call his conviction-based methods "punk rock acting."

Noah's back-to-back acting schedule is paying off, with several films coming out this year. Two of those films (The Brothers Bloom, Still Green) opened nationally in May. Rian Johnson follows up Brick with The Brothers Bloom, a one-last-con story that is as stylistically sharp as it is emotionally textured. Noah rovides an "in the pocket" (to use a jazz term) cameo that adds spunk to the cornucopia of characters we meet. Still Green (a film previously covered on this site) anchors Noah as the visceral, tumultuous underbelly of a compelling ensemble, as they come-to-terms with the vanishing of youth's clear horizons. Then, we will get to see Noah in a slew of much-anticipated suspense and gore films that will offer dark, strange places for him and the audience to explore. Deadgirl, one of these flicks, has received glowing reviews on the festival circuit, and will potentially floor audiences in its not-soon-enough (but upcoming) theatrical release. However, this is not the story of a flash-in-the-pan actor being typecast any time soon. With each film, we seem him honing his craft, expanding his palette and grounding his artistic intentions.

In a phone interview with Noah Segan, I had the chance to hear him unpack his methods, explain why he does what he does, and talk about the artists who have informed his creative headspace. Just as his acting is not filled with fluff and obvious proclamations, neither are his thoughts. I heard the vision of a clear mind that is not afraid to do the real work of bringing to life the dynamic and vivid characters he takes on. As a sign of his well-honed skills getting noticed, Noah is spending the summer acting in the influential director Monte Hellman's upcoming film. As opposed to an actor whose career may come and go with the whims of the film market, something tells me that Noah will stick around. Which is to say, watch a film of Noah's. Watch a few.

* The Brothers Bloom opened in New York & Los Angeles on May 15, 2009 & nationally May 22. Still Green opened in Worcester, MA on May 15, 2009. Still Green will be playing at Naples, Florida's Pavillion CInema 10 June 19-25, 2009; and at Los Angeles's AFI Theater on June 27 as part of NYU's Tisch West Alumni Council’s Cinema Club Screening Series. Other cities TBA on Still Green's official site.

“Dode appears, dusty and black.”

NS: Hey, there

CE: Hi, Noah. How are you?

NS: I'm good. How are you doing?

CE: Pretty good. I'm an old friend of Georgia's and Doug's. I have this interview web site, where I interview people, nonchalantly.

NS: Well, I'm a very nonchalant guy.

CE: That's good. I'm quite a fan of your acting, so far. I'm going to ask you some questions about Still Green, and then some questions about your style. How you get to form these characters, that sort of thing

NS: Yeah.

CE: What lead you to Still Green?

NS: Well, when the movie was happening, I had come off of a really long year. I like to go through fits and spurts, where I like to work back to back to back to back, and wear myself out. Then, I'll take a little bit of a break. I had been just working my butt off, doing all types of fun stuff, like the movie about The Germs [What We Do Is Secret]. I got a call from people who I had worked with at the time, who were packaging together Still Green. Because it was an in-house project, they had come to me with it. I read the script, talked to Jon [Jon Artigo, the director]. Jon is about the most gregarious, friendly, funny guy you'll ever hope to meet. That made me feel good about it. I appreciated that it was an in-house project–- that everybody came with such high recommendations. It made me feel honored to be included in that, so I jumped right on it.

CE: When you say in-house, who in the Still Green family were you familiar with?

NS: I was familiar with Ryan Kelley, who was represented by the same people who, at the time, I was. They had packaged him into it.

CE: You guys know each other from before. You're also mixing with Jon, Andrea, Georgia and Doug, who have been working together for a while.

NS: Exactly. It's always a good thing to work with your friends, and then work with other people who are friends, because it immediately gives the sense that people are collaborators. If they are already set up in a unit, as a team, then they like to work together as a team. It gives me all the confidence in the world that I can join that team and collaborate, which is why I like working on little movies.

CE: Right. Speaking of that, I like the nuances you throw in with your character. I want to know about certain things you brought to the character, or that you felt compelled to focus on. Then, I want to know more about the drawing you do in the film.

NS: One of the things that I immediately picked up on when I came to Florida– I picked up on it in the script, but I really picked up on it when I came to Florida–- was how beach-oriented the cast was. You've got this cast of very good-looking kids who are in great shape, and are very tan and very active. Of course, that immediately gave me the inclination to stay inside [laughs] and put on a couple pounds, which I tried to do for this role. And just create the history of Sean being a little distant, and not necessarily being someone who is out doing and acting exactly like his friends all the time. Because, after his freak-out, the guy became an introvert. One of the ways you could show that is physically. It was a distinct choice that I made, and I think it came across. It definitely felt, when we were making it, like it came across, and it helped me to stay in character.

The drawings: I tend to play characters who have very specific skill sets, whether it's a musician or an artist. The wonderful part about being an actor is that you get to take on all of these jobs and persona that you don't have— to get to really be everything. I grew up in an artistic family, and I've had the pleasure of being surrounded by artistic people. But, I don't draw regularly and I'm not as accomplished an artist as Sean was. I had some help from the art department with drawing, but I made the effort to study art theory, and so was able to do a lot of that myself.That ended up being a big influence on the character. If you're acting like the dude you're playing, then the lines become even more blurred. I tried to create a guy who is sedentary and introverted– physically and emotionally.

CE: It works very well. With your characters that I've seen-- but especially in Brick–- there's a sharp edge in each one. They seem to straddle the line between– the characters are very sincere, but stylized. At what point is it stylized, at what point is it just this sharply wrought-out character that you make? Does it become emotionally taxing for you to get in these places and fully form these characters?

NS: I think it depends. Brick is an interesting example, because the only description of Dode in the script is when he first appears from behind the dumpster. It says: “Dode appears, dusty and black.” [My italics and punctuation.] There was no inclination to take him any other way, other than dusty and black. Well, that's a beautiful phrase, and that's beautiful prose, but what does that mean, in a literal sense, in a visual sense?

When it came time to designing the character, it just sort of came. The leather jacket came, and the boots came, and the haircut came. These were all things that I came to the director, Rian Johnson, with. These were things we spoke about, and I asked for, and we worked out. It happened in a very natural way. The same thing happened on Still Green. There are times where I've had to really push it, The Germs movie being a great example. Because, I was imitating a real-life person, who not only did people know, who not only was a well-known figure, but who I was a big fan of.

CE: Yeah, yeah.

NS: I had a lot of pressure, and I had very little wiggle room. I had to really be this guy. In that respect, that was literally putting on a costume and having to spend time with Don [Bolles], who I was playing. I had to learn how he acted, how he spoke, how he dressed, how he played drums. He had to teach me how to play drums. That was a lot more academic, a lot more mathematical, doing that part.

CE: Was it satisfying, after The Germs movie, to act out this other type of character, in Still Green?

NS: Well, that was part of why I was drawn to Still Green and Sean in the first place. It was a very straining experience, because it's a fictional character. It's a guy who is going to evolve based on how I interpret him, how the director interprets him, as written in the script. That allows for things that weren't in the script to come out and help move the story forward. As opposed to having to do something physically right, or otherwise everyone goes: “Oh, that doesn't work.” So, that was very satisfying. It was also challenging, because it was really switching gears.

CE: With The Germs film, were you satisfied, in the end– with your version of Don Bolles?

NS: I think I am. I'm satisfied with the authenticity of Don, and of how authentic I was able to make him. In the story, it has a lot of drama, and there needed to be comic relief. In the film, that fell upon Don–- for me–- to be the comic relief. Don is a very funny guy, and he's a very irreverent guy, and he's a very smart guy. But, he's also a very deep guy. He was also very involved in a lot of the drama, and the tragedy, and the instigation that went on in the real story and during that time. Of course, in a movie where you're trying to distill five or six years of four people's lives into two hours, you can't get that all across. That became sort of a challenge.

CE: That's what happens in a bio-pic movie. You'll get a version of the facts, but if it feels authentic, that's great. That must have been hard, for the director [Rodger Grossman] to squeeze that story within two hours, and make himself happy and the potential Germs fans happy; while, at the same time, try to get something authentic. It must have been an exciting challenge for you guys.

NS: Yeah. It was very challenging for the people who were really there. What was so beneficial about making the movie was that we had The Germs there. Pat Smear, Lorna Doom, and Don Bolles were there with us. And Hellin Killer and Paul Roessler and the whole group of people that are still around. You know, they are the circle: that whole "Circle One" thing-- that is the song, that is the spirit of The Germs.

Still from What We Do Is Secret.

"Us punk rock actors are

few and far between."

NS: Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever. That was my major role in a studio film. It was also something that was very new because I had to be the capable, heroic man. I didn't know about that. I was, like, wait a minute, I play drug addicts and degenerates in movies. I don't play the guy who gets the girl, and he's a bad guy who just makes the right decisions. I don't know who that guy is. So, I ended up watching Bruce Willis's movies.

CE: Ha.

NS: I got hip to Bruce Willis. It was, like, you know what? He's able to hold his own, and it made a lot of sense. I connected to it, for that.

CE: Yeah, yeah.

NS: I definitely make a very strong connection to music and film for my research, and to make sure that I get in the zone.

CE: You had mentioned The Replacements as an influence, especially while making Brick. I grew up about half an hour from San Clemente, where you filmed Brick. In the Laguna Hills/ Laguna Beach area. I felt the kind of dynamic, complex, darker suburban high school experience that's in Brick. I mean, not the drugs and all that, but more the idiosyncratic head space, and that nothing's really clear and good and polished. The Replacements were huge for me in high school, because of that. You just walk down those nice, clean suburban streets of Orange County, and listen to that lyric: "We'll inherit the Earth,/ But we don't want it!" And it fits, you know?

NS: One day, when I was a teenager, I heard Let It Be on vinyl. Somebody put on Let it Be, and I was, like: “Wait a minute. These guys are completely telling me everything I needed to hear." And with the utmost sincerity and truth, in spite of everything, in spite of–- it sounds like they shouldn't be able to do this.

CE: Right, right.

NS: If you could sound just like the underdog, that's what those guys did. There's a great biography you should check out on the 'Mats [The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting: An Oral History by Jim Walsh]. It's an oral history, like a Please Kill Me kind of thing. I mean, if I can work with anybody outside of the film industry, creatively, it would be Mr. Westerberg. I think that the guy is able to channel a very specific kind of truth.

That's how I tend to pick and choose my roles, and how I tend to perform my roles. I tend to perform characters who work in spite of, and to me that's how Westerberg works. Like, how do you tell the truth in spite of, and then fill in the blank. That's what their music is to me. Like: in spite of not having a girl, not having a job, not being at home, not knowing what the fuck to do. How do you get that out there? I tend to play those roles and I tend to listen to that music and watch those movies.

CE: Yeah, I see that in your face, with your different characters.

There's this ballsy, ballsy conviction, that you throw around, but it's, kind of, stuck in place. It's mixing with this other energy, where your characters are coming from. It's really strong. I think some actors— younger, older, but especially younger actors— will try to do that in a stylized way, and try to hype it up, but it doesn't seem sincere.

There's some real conviction in where you're coming from. Like you're saying, you're coming from the voice of the underdog. That energy comes out in your characters, definitely.

NS: Well, you know, us punk rock actors are few and far between.

CE:[Laughs.] Right.

NS: [Laughs.] There's not a lot of us punk rock actors. But that's what I call it, punk rock acting.

CE: Oh, that's a good way to put it. That's a good way to put it.

The mark of a true auteur

CE: So, tell me about working on The Brothers Bloom.

NS: Rian [Johnson] was doing The Brothers Bloom. Because the Brick family is just that–- a family–- he made sure that a couple of us from Brick did The Brothers Bloom. They were trotting all around Europe, and I came out to Serbia to do a little part that's in the beginning of the movie. I play opposite Mark Ruffalo in the scene. I got to hang out with Mark and spend time with Adrian [Brody], and ended up getting to know the new family. It was amazing.

I mean, the mark of a true auteur is coming up with a flick, and then hiring the exact right people to work on that flick with you.

CE: Right.

NS: Rian does that like I've never seen it done before. I showed up to Serbia and I met these actors, whom I'm a huge fan of. I'm a huge fan of these actors, and it was like hanging out with an uncle, like an estranged uncle or a second cousin, whom I just happened to have not seen for a long time. There's just this connection. It was a fun time. The role is just a simple role. We figured it out when I got there. The guy who I play is called The Duke. He is loosely based on the Thin White Duke [David Bowie], of course, because everything is [laughs].

I just showed up, played this fun character, and I had a great time. Just like I said, it's sort of like being at home, and I had to go halfway around the world to find it. It's going to be a really good flick, and I don't even have a big part in it.

CE: That sounds sweet. When you see the work and read the writing of different filmmakers, especially auteurs, you notice that they develop these families. Like Jarmusch, and the actors he works with. And the older auteurs [who wrote for Cahiers du Cinema]–- Rohmer, Godard and all those cats. And more recently, Spike Lee and Linklater, they're working with the same people again and again. It's amazing to see, like you're saying, the families that emerge. The actors will play various characters, and new actors join in on later films, but it doesn't seem out of place.

NS: To me, the most important connection while making a movie, whether the movie is good or bad, or the script is good or bad, or the actors are good or bad: it could all be helped and pushed along as long as we they're all making the same movie. I don't know if that makes any sense to you.

CE: No, it does. It does.

NS: The only way that I could put it is that we're all making the same movie. We're all trying to do our little part to get the same grand scheme and concept across. That's where that collaboration and that family come in. And that's why, as long as he'll have me, I'll drop whatever the fuck I'm doing and show up for Rian Johnson. It's an honor. To be able do it. It makes me feel complete. It makes me feel like I've done my job.

CE: Definitely.

"And that's what I want to do." ....

"And that's communication."

NS: Let's get this out of the way. My favorite movie is The Cockfighter. It's a Monte Hellman film, starring Warren Oates. Monte is my favorite director and Warren is my favorite actor. Those are guys who worked together a lot. Warren also worked with Peckinpah a lot–- Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is another favorite movie of mine. Those were guys who found each other, and found out that they could get a grand scheme across by maintaining that relationship.

CE: Speaking of Peckinpah. In Bring Me the Head, there's that scene where he [Warren Oates] is running through the mountains and cavorting with the woman, then she's taken away by the biker [Kris Kristofferson]. Later, Warren shoots both bikers dead, in retalliation. It's just, it's just so jarring. At the same time, when I saw it, I was floored with the grace that the guy had.

NS: It is a Peckinpah film: it's all about the great, true, honest, sincere sort of violence that you would expect out of it. Something that I respond to is: there has been an emasculation of young men in film, as far as I'm concerned, over the last 15, 20 years.

Masculinity, and the true archetypical concept of what it means to be a man– it's been lost. Of course, you go into the western, and the John Houston, John Sturges, and the John Ford whole concept, and then you bring it up to Hellman and Peckinpah, in the 60's and 70's. These were guys who were telling very basic stories. They were telling classic tragedies, in an accessible way.

CE: Right.

NS: I don't see a lot of that being made these days. And so, I really appreciate it. I think movies like that cover the basics. There's a reason why we still read Shakespeare today. Those guys were telling very similar stories. And that's what I want to do. That's why I do it: to get very basic concepts of communication across.

CE: Yeah.

NS: Then, we have a guy like David Lynch. His movies are pure cinema. In my mind, I don't think that there's really anybody who is more versed in using cinema to communicate what you can only communicate in cinema, than Lynch. He uses every element of film– whether it's narrative, whether it's dialogue, whether it's visual, whether it's movement, or editing– and it's to tell a complete story that is a cinematic story. That isn't a painting, or a picture, or an essay.

I think that Lynch goes beyond all of the tricks to create a visceral experience that could only be described in a movie. And I want to see more of that. I think guys like P.T. Anderson do it. I think, obviously, guys like Rian Johnson do it. I think Chan-Wook Park does it. Chan-Wook Park's movies, coming out of Korea, are like the best movies being made right now. The Vengeance Trilogy, in my mind, is the best series in years.

CE: Old Boy is so, so gorgeous and strong.

NS: He's taking very basic concepts of masculinity, of revenge, of responsibility– things that existed thousands of years ago, in stories– and he is making them accessible, in a modern sense. And that's communication. That is something to work toward. It's out there. It's happening. And I'm just trying to do my little part and make my way in there, so I get to hang out with some of these guys.

CE: Just to go back to what you were saying about everybody making the same movie. I definitely hear that– my father is a theater professor, so I can see where you're getting with that.

It seemed like that happened on Still Green, on some level. There are no actors that are acting outside of the other ones, or beyond the others. All the scenes work together to tell you the story of this house that these friends are in, and of their time together. How did you like working with the family of Still Green, so to speak?

NS: They were really accommodating, they really went beyond. I've worked on a lot of independent films where I can say the people were accommodating and helpful for an independent movie, which means, all things considered, it was still great. On Still Green: in any respect-- on the biggest movie in the world-- these people would have still been the most helpful, the most accommodating, the most understanding group. From Jon [Artigo], who is– not only is Jon always in a good mood, but he's very accessible. He's always willing to give it up to you as an actor, in terms of forcing you to do your job and stop and help you work something out. He doesn't pretend to have all the answers, but he's there to guide you, he's there to direct you. He did a great job of it! Then, being able to have the writer on the set, being able to have Georgia [Menides] there, is a huge blessing and a huge benefit. You end up with these questions, like: "What is the intent here?" And you want an answer– you want a strict answer, sometimes. Of course, the person who wrote the thing is going to be the best and most qualified to give you that answer. It was great having her there.

And the other actors were a lot of fun: whether it was the kids from Hollywood, who were all there to inject a little bit of by-the-book professionalism, or it was the kids from Florida, who were there to work their buts off and do something completely new. It helped everybody out. Everybody had a foothold, one way or another.

CE: Right. Is there a favorite scene you have in the movie, or something you were glad you got to do, as an actor?

NS: I gotta look at it as the big picture. There were some really fun days, yeah. There were moments that I remember, viscerally. The peanut butter sandwich scene with Brandon Meyer [Daneck] was a pleasure, because I love working with that guy. We got to become good buddies and great comrades. That was nice. That scene in the canoe [with Meyer] was really groovy. It wasn't a big process trailer, giant film shoot. It was just a couple kids out in a canoe somewhere, and somebody was just shooting it. And we talk about authenticity, and that was, like, authentic. You know?

CE: Yeah.

NS: Two boys going out for a boat ride!

1 comment:

simon n josh said...

I'm so glad I found this. Great interview. Very enlightening.