the bag man

A considerable amount of time and effort goes into making a movie. When said movie’s a thriller, there’s even more you have to consider. How will you keep the audience’s attention? How much of an anti-hero can the lead character be without becoming a villain himself? When you add the fact that The Bag Man is director David Grovic’s feature debut, it takes the pressure to a whole new level. When ScreenCrave spoke with Grovic, he talked about the film’s star-studded cast, and the powerful characters that shine on the screen.

You have an amazing and talented cast for your big screen debut. It’s the kind most filmmakers dream of.

David Grovic: Well that’s true. I think I really got very lucky with the script and how everybody responded to the story itself and then the particular role that they really, really caught to it.

Were you inspired by any famous thrillers?

David Grovic: Originally we bought the script from the actor James Russo, and then from there we just worked hard on it. Then it was somewhat inspired by the Marie-Louise von Franz’s book The Cat. I just think there were a number of things that I liked, the fact that everything happens in one day. There were certainly similarities to ancient Greek tragedy plays, etc. – the unity of time, the unity of place – essentially the movie takes place in one location. I also really liked the fact that by not having countless characters, while I was able to delve into the background of the main characters. For me, personally, I really like that aspect because I just think it’s hard to get emotively involved with characters when you are meant to make that judgement within 40 seconds of seeing someone on screen.

A time restriction definitely raises the suspense level.

David Grovic: Absolutely. I guess the Greeks had a good understanding all those years ago, and that’s why we still read their work today.

You have a strong lead in John Cusack. How it was working with him? Did he bring any nuance to his character? 

David Grovic: Yes. First of all, the point that you made earlier about the cast, I was so so lucky because my first choices, they all said yes. With Jack’s role, there’s no many people who could not pull that off the way John Cusack did, and because his character, he’s not the typical hero. I should sy the character is not the typical hero, he has flaws, imperfections and yet John succeeded in having everybody root for him whilst at the same time knowing that he wasn’t an angel.

In some ways he’s a little bit of an anti-hero, rough around the edges.

David Grovic: Very much so. It’s also when the people he’s surrounded with, between Dragna and Rivka, they are both such powerful characters, that he’s sort of in the middle of that. I think he really sort of stood out because he gave a very sort of underscored performance. Rebecca [Da Costa] was just sort of so amazingly strong and interesting. Then Robert De Niro was a man of many words but worked with sort of a very high intellect. Robert is absolutely someone who liked to work from the outside in. He spent a lot of time on his jewelry, he actually arrived, I know this because we had to get special insurance for his million dollars worth of jewelry that he borrowed for the role. His hair, his jewelry, his outfit. He spent a lot of time putting that all together.

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After making The Bag Man, what do you hope audiences will love most about it?

David Grovic: We did five test screenings from Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York. I found the test screenings very useful. We got to the point where probably just over 75 percent of people absolutely loved the movie. I would say that the strongest part was that they cared for the characters, which I think is always a challenge in this type of movie. They really liked the fact that it’s multi-layered and they also appreciated the humor. To me, obviously we know we can’t have tension throughout the minutes continually, you’ve got to build it up, break, let it go down, that sort of thing. The humor really worked alongside the tension and to amplify the tension.

Does it make you nervous when test screenings happen? What do you take out of them? 

David Grovic: The first two I felt nervous about. The first one I was very nervous, but after the second, the last three I was very relaxed because people really liked the movie, they laughed in the right places, which is a plus, and, as you know, when you’re sitting in a room and you’ve actually got on average over 300 people at each screening. Of course I’m there watching the people, rather than watching the movie, and I wanted to borrow from Frank Kappa who would actually had a chair sort of by the side, tucked away by the side of the screen, looking at the people. You really get great feedback like that, and we absolutely got some very good notes early on. I would say it’s successfully addressed them.

The Bag Man opens in limited theaters and VOD February 28.