jason-coffee

Coffee with a Filmstar: Jason Priestley

In the uproarious new film Die Mommie Die! {opening 10/31 for a three-week run at Loews Uptown Cinemas} Jason Priestley plays a washed-up TV actor. Not really much of a stretch, until you consider that his character is also a mysterious lothario indulging in an unbridled affair with a fallen pop diva {who's played by a man, might I add} and said diva's twentysomething daughter and son!

Well, I'm assuming that part is a stretch.

Jason {JP} and Die Mommie Die! director Mark Rucker {MR} were in town recently to promote their glorious film. igLiz and I {along with our fantastic new imaginary friend Jessica} joined the glimmering stars at the W Hotel for a scintillating afternoon of coffee {black drip for both}, convo {big fake tits, broken hymens, and reviled actresses were on the agenda}, and lots of hearty laughter.

Loved the movie. Do you think the general public are ready for this film?
{MR} We've been surprised so far by how many people have embraced the movie. We've always hoped we'd have a core audience that would like the film. It's a kind of adventure — this is a fairly unique movie and there aren't a lot of other things out there like it. We decided to make a movie we wanted to make rather than make a movie that we thought might make the most at the box office. One of the benefits of being able to make an independent movie is that you don't have squads of people strategizing about who it's going to play to.
{JP} {laughs heartily}
{MR} Charles Busch had this nightmare before filming that at the last second money was going to fall out and they were going to fire him and replace him with Kathleen Turner.

{Everyone laughs}

This film originated as a play by Charles Busch [who also plays songstress Angela Arden in the film]. How did the two of you get involved?
{MR} I had been a fan of Charles' work and actually one of the producers of the film [Dante di Loreto] is my partner. When he was in film school I went to a lot of the screenings and after a movie called Now, Voyager [campy 1942 flick that, according to Hollywood lore, was actually ghost-directed by star Bette Davis], I turned to him and said I'd love to make a movie like this with Charles Busch. And he remembered that, and many years went by… [and he] had a talk with Charles about another project, and somehow [Charles] was appearing in this play in L.A. and we went and we became interested in this project. And [Charles] was destined to play this part!
{JP} It's so naturally a movie. I have trouble imagining it as a play. The screenplay is perfect.
{MR} So much of [Charles'] stage work is actually film-inspired. Everything he studied is from Hollywood. So it was very easy to take it to its natural impulse.

So how do the play and the movie differ?
{MR} In the stage version all the seduction stuff that [Jason's character] Tony does is offstage. What's so funny about the sex scene to me is that Natasha, and Charles too, they were nervous and Jason was, like, nine and a half years on an evening soap!
{JP} This shit's easy guys, come on!

With sex scenes in this movie a lot is implied. Like the [deliciously tacky] pool scene [with aforementioned Natasha Lyonne] — you don't really know what's going on until Edie announces that her hymen has been broken. How many takes were required for that scene?
{JP} Well when it comes to breaking a hymen, you've got one shot at it! {laughs heartily} No, the whole movie shot in 18 days, so all the actors had to be on the top of their game and know what they were doing. And Mark had to be on top of his game and know what he was going to shoot and we just powered through it pretty good. I think we shot a lot of film for 18 days and we got a lot of work done. The days were long, but they were fun.
{MR} Also we fashioned a schedule around Jason so he could get ready to become a famous racecar driver, so he did his work in two chunks. So in order to get these great people to come and do these little movies, you try to do everything you can to make it as quick as possible.

It seemed like everyone was having an amazingly good time. This must have been an awesome cast to work with.
{MR} It was pretty fun. Everybody was really congenial, so there wasn't too much wackiness going on.
{JP} It's always nice as an actor to work in an ensemble of such accomplished professional actors. Then everyone's there to support each other, where as sometimes in ensembles everyone wants to be the center of attention and that just doesn't work. With this ensemble, everyone was so professional, they knew their place.

Their place…?
{MR} There were specific challenges too. I remember there were times when particularly for Jason and Philip Baker Hall [Angela's spiteful hubby Sol], you know you're waiting for some drag to get put on! They were so generous about that and not getting kind of tweaked because someone over there has three people surrounding them and no one gives a shit about me. That's a road you can go down if you want to.
{JP} And we've all seen actors do that, right?

Yes we have, Jason. Yes we have. Well there's a piece on Charles Busch in the most recent Interview magazine. There's a quote I found very interesting. Charles said the only time he was ever fearful or nervous on the set {JP grins and points to himself} was when having to do the big kiss scene with you. He said, "I was very self conscious, but Jason was very cool. He said, 'dude, this is what you do.' Then he grabbed my head. Whoa!"

{Everyone laughs hysterically}

Jason, it seems like you were pretty well-versed on what to do here. Had you ever kissed a boy before?
{JP} No I hadn't.
{MR} Not a boy, a middle-aged man!
{JP} {Laughs nervously} No, I've never done that, but obviously I've kissed many women on screen before.
{MR} I'm sure there are women that you kiss that you have better relationships and not as great relationships, or that you're attracted to.
{JP} That you like or you don't like, hate even sometimes.

Hate…?
{MR} It was sort of adorable, because Charles was so nervous and Jason was like, "You go left, I'll go to the right, we're ready." Charles was like, "I've never had a romantic sc
ene in a movie or a play! No one has every wanted me to do this!"

{Everyone laughs}

You were talking about the close-knit ensemble feeling. Do you find the atmosphere of a film like this is better or worse — different I'm sure — than a bigger budget film? And do you prefer one or the other?
{JP} I find little movies like this that people are making for the right reasons, you know, they're there because they really want to be there, they're there because they love the project. Not necessarily just to pad their bank accounts. I think that these types of movies are much more conducive to a cast and a director and a crew and everyone just being far more close-knit, simply because the reason behind you being there is much more from the heart. The antithesis of that is true as well. You work on these big movies where there's… {trails off for a moment} not everyone, but some people are there just because they want to get paid and I think that type of sentiment filters down and works its way through everybody. So yeah, I think that these little movies are better for a more honest approach to filmmaking, as opposed to a lot of people just wanting to get paid.
{MR} I wouldn't know. This is all I got. I can imagine things on a bigger movie where the comfort level is a lot nicer.
{JP} Yeah, they can be more comfortable, but at what price? You know what I mean?

Yes I do. Well Frances Conroy was also just incredible. How did you not crack up when she so dryly uttered lines like, "As catsup is to meatloaf, so sorrow is a condiment to joy"? {Everyone else laughs} I mean, really. How could she deliver that line and you actually get through the scene?
{MR} Sometimes you can do it and sometimes you can't, but also we didn't have the luxury of being able to break up too much.
{JP} We didn't have the money to spend on the film stock for a gag reel, did we?
{MR} No, no. There is precious little that's around that we didn't use in the movie. There's a little tiny bit at the beginning of the movie that we trimmed out, because it looked a little too complicated, but that is it. Everything else is there.

We'll look for that bit on the DVD. Now back to Natasha Lyonne for a moment. The way her character [Edie, Angela's bitter daughter] develops is fantastic. You start to notice some very intricate details in her speech pattern — she actually seems to be speaking a lot like Angela. It's wonderful.
{MR} Natasha was very taken with Charles, and very interested in finding some way to connect to that, but I think it's her very own way, you know, I don't think it's through an imitation in any way. It was her way of kind of emulating Charles in some way. What I liked so much about what she and Jason do in the movie is they find this way to be a little bit bad, and I mean that in the best way. They know they're actors in this period movie that are just a little bit like Sandra Dee, who wasn't such a good actress {embracey laughs in agreement}, but was the girl in a lot of those movies. Some of those good-looking but not-too-deep actors like John Gavin. Natasha is really interesting, and Stark Sands {as Angela's boy-toy son Lance} too. They don't know all the movies we took from, but they recognize a kind of style. And that's what's interesting about young people having access to this movie. When we started casting, people are like, "I love this!" They don't know the movies, but it's still part of culture — you have satire and style. I was thinking maybe there is a part of SNL that does this kind of style of comedy that comes from the past.

It works well for the character because she's basically becoming her mother. It's amazing to watch.
{MR} She really loves this person that she outwardly hates.

Yeah, and it's very touching in its own way when it all comes together at the end. So do you think this team will ever get together and collaborate again? A sequel? Die Edie Die perhaps?
{MR} I had a fantasy after we finished that Charles and I talked about. We would make a Charles Busch comedy and everyone would have another part. The next one, he wants to set in a Catholic nunnery and he'll play the Mother Superior who had a past as a model in the swinging '60s in London. I can see Jason as the lothario groundskeeper.
{JP} {laughs heartily}

That sounds great. Be sure to come back to Seattle with that one. So what's next for the both of you?
{JP} I'm going to Victoria to shoot a romantic comedy up there, I just got done doing another comedy, and I was in the hospital a few months.
{MR} I've got a couple of things I'm trying to get going. I am also a theater director, so I've been doing plays since we finished this movie and I will do a big show in March.

Jason, you're from the lovely city of Vancouver, B.C.
{JP} I most certainly am.

What do you miss about living in this part of the world?
{JP} I miss the four seasons. The four seasons in L.A. are pilot season, Emmy season, Oscar season… I'm sure there's a fourth.
{MR} Re-up the contract season.
{JP} Renegotiation season. That's about it. Yeah, I miss the seasons. I love the seasons. I still keep a place there; my family is all in Vancouver. I spend a lot of time up here in the PNW. I find that Vancouver is the Paris of the Pacific Northwest.
{MR} The Manhattan of the Pacific Northwest. What were you saying in Chicago?
{JP} Chicago is the Manhattan of the Midwest, yes.

Were you there promoting the film? Making the rounds?
{MR} Yeah, and I was in D.C. just last night.
{JP} I went back to L.A. to get food poisoning for a day!

Oh no.
{JP} Well, then I came here, so that was fun.
{MR} We are getting ready to go to Dallas. {To JP:} I've never been there, have you?
{JP} Oh yeah. Dallas is awesome.
{MR} I bet you are going to know a restaurant there, aren't you?
{JP} I will.

There'll be a lot of big hair in Dallas.
{JP} A lot of big hair and big fake tits. It's Texas, everything is bigger. I think [breast enhancement is] the most popular graduation gift for girls in Texas.
{MR} No, come on!
{JP} I'm serious! It's the plastic surgery capitol of the world.
{MR} Really? Because Las Vegas has got to be up there.
{JP} They all came from Texas, baby! No one's from Vegas!
{MR} See, I don't know from fake breasts, that's why I need him around.
{JP} I'll learn ya!

Well, Jason, I know you get tired of talking about 90210
{JP} No, that's fine, man.

Grosse Pointe [90210 creator Darren Star's wicked, hilarious, short-lived sitcom about the behind-the-scenes goings-on at a very similar teen drama] was a brilliant, brilliant show.
{JP} Thank you, I thought so too.

When I mention it to people, no one knows what I'm talking about. It's one of those exceptionally wonderful shows that never made it onto the collective radar. Much to my chagrin.
{JP} Really? I thought that Darren's idea of like setting up the behind the scenes shit that went on on 90210 was awesome. I liked it so much I directed an episode of it, and I [played a] sexaholic. That was funny.

Yes. How much of it was based on reality?
{JP} The characters on Grosse Pointe were drawn in very broad strokes and I think that Darren was very careful to not really base any of them too much on any of us. I'm still mystified as to which one was supposed to be me, and even Darren couldn't tell me that. I think that there was a truth in that show into the kinds of things that go on behind the scenes on a show like that with a bunch of people in their early twenties. It's what goes on and it's funny because certain people's egos get huge and other people's don't, so there can be a lot of conflict through that. People get wrapped up in things that aren't really important and try and make them important. That's just life in your twenties, and it was just exaggerated by living under the intense scrutiny of the media. Not just a media that's your age, a media that's forty-five and doesn't like you anyway. So they are trying to make it worse than it is. But I thought the show was hysterical.

I was pissed when I learned it wasn't renewed.
{JP} Oh well, Darren has got another hit on his hands with Miss Match.
{MR} Is it a big hit?
{JP} I think it's doing okay.

Actually, it's already had a timeslot change — Joan of Arcadia is also on at 8 on Fridays, and I assume it's going for the same demographic. Joan has been winning the hour.
{JP} Joan of Arcadia is kind of an interesting idea for a show. I kind of like that. Have you seen it?

Just one episode. It's not bad. Mary Steenburgen [who plays the momma] is a fellow Arkansan. I have to watch her whenever I can.
{JP} Ar-kan-san huh? {laughs heartily}
{MR} Now that's a lady of a certain age with an amazing body. You see that movie How to Build a House?

You mean Life as a House?
{MR} Yeah! Life as a House, with Kevin Kline.
{JP} She's smoking.

She's been in the last two John Sayles films and has done amazing work there.
{MR} She's a great actress.

But Miss Match is really cute. You should check it out.
{JP} I'm going to have to, I got friends writing over there.

And the next time you see Darren you've gotta have something to talk about.
{JP} We will, believe me. A lot of life experience has gone on. {Laughs heartily}