E.L. Katz‘s directorial debut Cheap Thrills is filled with daring little bloody adventures that say a lot about money, and the things people are willing to do for it. Pat Healy and Ethan Embry are the one who do unthinkable things for money in the film as the two play a pair of old high school buddies who are down on their luck, and looking to make some easy money. Conveniently, they run into a rich couple (David Koechner and Sara Paxton) who are willing to throw money their way if only they do as they say. We got the chance to talk to Healy and Embry about Cheap Thrills, and they discussed their initial reaction to the script, challenging scenes, and the competitive relationship between their characters. Check it out:
What was your initial reaction to the script? Did you any big concerns about the material?
Pat Healy: I think we’re both very committed actors. We like to commit to our work, but also be committed because we’re a bit nutty. I relish the opportunity to go from A to Z, just start contained and go to a place where I completely lost myself, where I don’t even recognize myself by the end of the movie.
Ethan Embry: To me, my first response to it was enjoying the idea of doing something so absolutely absurd but is still based a reality, something that I can still identify with. It’s not just insane to be insane. I hadn’t read anything like it before and the idea of being invited to do it was something I didn’t want to pass up.
Pat Healy:I just remembered something: In college I took this class called Animals, where you picked an animal and you were that animal for the semester, and that animal slowly became a human character. I picked a gorilla, and this was the first time where I could remember that class actually paid off. I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, but to connect certain human attributes to being a wild animal, this was the first time that I was really allowed to do that.
Ethan Embry: I think it was more of an orangutan (laughs).
This film turned out to be, surprisingly, very funny. Was the comedy obvious while you were reading the script and/or filming?
Pat Healy: I think you approach everything the same. If you play it straight and the writing is good, then the comedy will come out. The script was well written so I knew that if I just played it for real, it would be funny. So it’s very rewarding to be with an audience the first time and have the laughs be where I thought they’d be and also where I didn’t think they’d be, but it’s because it was all played for real. And the script was genuinely funny at times.
Ethan Embry: I had to read it a second time to even see the comedy in it. It doesn’t read on the page as a comedy at all. When they brought in Koechner, I went back and re-read it, and we would ask ourselves what we were filming. We would try to figure out where the comedy is, and when we were shooting it, we didn’t really know what kind of film this was.
There’s some very bloody and graphic scenes here. At some point your characters eat a dog. What scene was the most challenging to shoot?
Pat Healy: That scene that you’re talking about, right before we eat it, I didn’t realize it was funny until after. The reason that I talk the way that I do is because I had these big tissues stuck up my nose so that I would sound like I had a broken nose. So I went up about 8 octaves. It is very funny but I wasn’t aware of that. And if you do ask David about this, he’ll tell you that he didn’t even know this movie was a comedy until he saw it with an audience. He was genuinely shocked and surprised so even he wasn’t playing it for comedy. The actual eating was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done physically.
Ethan Embry: Once we start eating, it’s not a walk in the park. It was difficult. I remember it was really hard for us to block the scene out, just getting to the table. Actually eating the dog and whatnot, once we started going, it’s difficult for us as human beings to go through that, but walking that scene out was one of the hardest parts to block out and figure out how to shoot because we’d never been in that area. When you’re making a movie, things that should be easy come very difficult and things that you’re afraid of are the things that end up being the easiest to shoot. It’s strange like that.
Pat Healy: And that was one of the scenes where we weren’t doing it together because of the way it was shot we had to do it one at a time, and we’re not actually looking at each other although we are off camera for each other. Sara could not be there for it though. She had to excuse herself from it.
You both play the more relatable characters. How did you guys tap into your roles? What sort of experience did you draw upon to identify with your characters?
Ethan Embry: I’ve heard Pat say over the past couple of months as we talk to people about the film – neither of us are independently wealthy. Working as an artist is a struggle at times so we can both identify with that aspect. Neither of us have anything other than ourselves supporting us so you do what you can and at times you do what you have to. I’ve never crossed a moral line to support myself, but I have artistically and creatively. And I know what struggle is and I know what success is, and I think if you just apply those identifications to these characters the rest of it feeds itself.
Pat Healy: I’ve been in psychoanalysis for over a decade now. I had a nervier breakdown in my twenties and lost my mind. I pulled it back in. I’m aware of those things that exist within myself, in terms of the madness. I just have to be always vigilant about, but if I were to be this desperate, and luckily I haven’t had to be this desperate, I could see myself going that way. As Ethan says, morally, there’s just things I could never do. I’d rather die than seriously harm someone or kill someone or anything that crosses serious moral boundaries. I don’t even like the idea of people cheating on their girlfriends or spouses. That crosses a moral boundary for me. It’s not my right to judge. People do what they do to get by, some people have to do more than others, but I relate to both aspects easily. I can summon that really easily. And frankly, I relish the opportunity to do it in a safe arena, in a movie, in a performance with people who accept that I’m going to be that way, rather than asking me out in public. Letting that part out of myself, it’s what my work from going totally crazy and doing something like this in public.
You’re characters have a very interesting relationship. At first Vince (Embry) wanted to help out his friend Craig (Healy), but once more money was introduced into the picture, the competitiveness and all those bad memories from teen-hood kicked in. Do you think their competitiveness was all about the money or is there some other unmentioned motive?
Pat Healy: On the surface it’s about money. I think it’s about competition and male ego.
Ethan Embry: I was playing that stuff – like you said, here’s $50 let me help you out. I was playing it like he wasn’t going to let me help him. “You’re not going to let me help you, so now you’re going to have to battle me. And guess what? You’re gonna lose. I wanted to help you and you made that hard because of your ego so here you go, now you’re up against me.”
Pat Healy: I think it’s really interesting that both characters are the opposite of who you think they are by the end of the movie. Without giving too much away or being too specific, neither of them are who you think they are. I don’t think either of them are who they think they are. Part of the movie is about the version of ourselves we show the world and the person we really are inside and what happens when that’s really challenged and you’re up against it, that’s who you are. Those are the defining moments and you’re ultimately challenged, and both of them show their true colors in the end.
This was E.L. Katz’s first directorial effort, so can you talk a little about that experience for you guys?
Pat Healy: He’s just a very smart, kind person, who is very instinctive and feels the way things are. He’s very empathetic. I thought about this recently where I was watching a retrospect. I was watching a behind-the-scenes documentary about myself, I know that I was a pain in the ass at times. I was listening to an interview with Philip Seymour Hoffman about the director Anthony Minghella, who also passed away, who said they had a difficult relationship but they respected each other a lot and the reason was that Minghella let Hoffman show up on the set and be who he was going to be whatever day. And sometimes you’re not in the best mood, and sometimes you have difficulty with a scene. You have to expose yourself emotionally and bury your soul and it’s not very comfortable to be that vulnerable and Evan (Katz) is just someone who allows you to be that and doesn’t judge you and it just really allows me to do my best work because I never felt like I was going to disappoint him or like I had to be a certain way in order to make him happy or get certain results. Those are ideal people and directors that are rare.
Ethan Embry: He trusted me by giving me a role that very few people have trusted me with. I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to play these characters that I know that I’m capable of doing, but other people haven’t trusted me to do it. To me, when I was sitting there wondering what kind of movie we’re making, I trusted him because of the trust that he put in me. I would just step back knowing that he knew what he was doing, to me that’s a big part of the filmmaking process. It’s a very collaborative, family-oriented environment and it requires a lot of trust. And he pulled it off. He really did.
Pat Healy: None of the four us have ever played roles like this before. He saw something in all of us and because he saw that in us, we were able to do it. I knew I wanted to play a role like this, but now I know I can do it. I just wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it and it was because he trusted us to do it. So that’s pretty remarkable because most of the time we go to these auditions and people just go, “I don’t know, I don’t see it.” We know we can do it, or we want someone to believe in us, or just offer us the part so that we can show what we can do so he’s pretty great in that way.
Ethan Embry: And when someone gives you that opportunity, like Evan gave us, it’s a natural instinct to return that trust. And it’s a good analogy for the movie too because the movie is the inverse of that. People being challenged to do things that they don’t know they have in them,, that they don’t necessarily want to be. Maybe we can use that faith he has in us to play the opposite of people reaching deep inside themselves to pull out the negative side of that.
Cheap Thrills hits theaters March 21, 2014.