Saturday, January 28, 2012

Austin Peck & "The Blue Tooth Virgin"

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Austin Peck & "The Blue Tooth Virgin"

(from 9/23/09)

How do you like being daringly creative and then having your accomplishment criticized? Me, too. In writer-director Russell Brown's crafty, sharply-acted satire about Hollywood writers, The Blue Tooth Virgin, thin-skinned Sam (Austin Peck) learns the dangers of allowing others to judge the worth of his new script (which has the same title but a much zanier premise than Brown's movie.). Hoping to duplicate the minor success he once had with a cancelled television show, Sam assumes he'll have his ego stroked when he asks his best friend David (Bryce Johnson) to give him feedback on his arty, seemingly incomprhensible story about a troubled hero who morphs when he wants to hide from the world. But David, a hack magazine editor/writer who is secretly writing a commercial screenplay, can't hide the fact that he detests Sam's premise and his writing. Hoping for support from his wife Rebecca (Lauren Stamile), who pays the bills while he struggles, Sam discovers that she agrees with Bryce's opinion on the script and tears into him for losing his way and writing now only to receive praise. I greatly enjoyed and recommend this smart little movie that is comprised of scenes in which two characters exchange witty, spot-on dialogue that all creative people will respond to. In anticipation of its New York release, I interviewed the easy-going Austin Peck.
Danny Peary: Were you already an actor when you did Days of Our Lives?
Austin Peck: My father was in the navy and I was born in Honolulu. From when I was two, we lived in Los Angeles. My mother is an actress so I grew up in that environment. I took acting classes and was in little plays outside of school. I was the youngest kid to ever take a highly intensive active course called "The Mastery. I got involved because of my mother. But I got out of acting because I wasn't serious about it. I didn't know what I was going to do, and considered going into the military. I decided not to go that route, figuring, "Hey, I can be an actor and pretend to be in the military." Then I just happened to be walking down the street when I was sixteen-years-old, and someone from an agency approached me and asked if I'd be interested in acting and modeling. I said, "Okay." I started getting commercials and got to read for Francis Ford Coppola, which was a real highlight, and things started going really, really well. I decided to go the whole modeling route and that took me out of Hollywood, which was a good thing because if I'd been successful at that age I'd have been a total "True Hollywood Story." I ended up in New York and auditioned for Days of Our Lives,which was shot back Los Angeles.
DP: It may apply to this movie in which your character searches for praise and validation, but I'm sure you realize that actors on soaps don't always receive the respect they deserve.
AP: Oh, yeah. I was just in L.A. for the Daytime Emmys and Elmo got more camera time than the lead actor and actress. So I'm sitting there thinking this is the last time I'll be at the "Daytime Emmys."
DP: Are you still on As the World Turns?"
AP: At the moment-yes. My contract runs out in December. I'm still on the show and I haven't been written out.
DP: So do people take you seriously when you say you're a soap opera actor?
AP: Well, I never say I'm a "soap opera actor," because I'm an actor. I've done plays, prime time, a couple of movies. If you give me lines I'll hit my marks and say them, and that makes me an actor. Honestly, when people say "soap actor" it tends to be a derogatory. Basically, it implies "You're not a real actor." I've worked with some really good actors on soaps. I think As the World Turns is the best written and acted show on daytime. It would translate a lot better if it had higher production values and was shot on film. We block and tape three to five scenes in a row. When people come on the show and have never done daytime before, I tell them, "Okay, it's going to begin and then be over in a flash."
DP: I think The Blue Tooth Virgin must be about only writers who have not yet made it and found security in their work. Having not yet broken through as a writer, did you relate to that?
AP: Yeah. All we had was a ten-page audition script. The second I read it, I thought, "Oh, I get this." I didn't know if it was a good thing, but I totally get the insecurity, the neurosis, the need, the want. I was really happy to "get it," which is kind of sad!
DP: Also you may have related to "the motive." You're an actor, but you must have understood Sam trying to figure out why he wanted to be a writer in the first place. I lump writing and acting together as forms of communication. When you have a need to communicate, you need validation.
AP: Right. But are you asking me why I want to be an actor?
DP: And why your character Sam wants to be a writer.
AP: The reason Sam wants to be a writer is different from why I want to be an actor. I became an actor because it's fun. I like acting because at heart I'm a big kid and like to play. And honestly, it's the only thing I've ever doneso I'm kind of stuck. I don't think Sam does it because it's fun. He writes because he's looking for his voice and for validation and to be heard. Frankly, I think he's a better writer than I am an actor. I think he's much more of an artist than I am. I think the end of the movie sells that.
DP: You say you're in it for fun, but do you need validation?
AP: Yeah, many times. When you do scenes and you think you did well and you look around and no one has any response, you want someone to agree with you. It's hard going up to the cameraman and whispering, "Was I all right?" If you have to ask, you know you weren't that good. Then again, maybe it was that good. Your mind starts screwing with you. You try to just leave it alone because there's nothing you can do about it. I'm obsessing about stuff I did yesterday. I wasn't prepared enough, I didn't do a good enough job, and everyone else knew it, too. I wish I could go back a redo the whole thing.
DP: Probably what you want is to say, "In my own mind, I know I did my best." That's a time you're not needing validation from anyone else.
AP: I'm one of those people who knows when he does good. If I'm happy with it then there's a lot of satisfaction in that. I do write, and I write for me. And I draw a lot, and that's for me, too. But when I do a really good drawing, I'll share it. And I like when someone else likes it.
DP: Do you think Sam's wife is fair to him in the scene where she starts out being supportive and then rips him apart for always needing praise rather than writing for himself?
AP: No, I think she's bitter. [Laughing.] And she's disappointed because she was hanging her hat on Sam becoming a big success and he got stuck in his own mire and depression. He allowed that to eat away at their intimacy and relationship, which allowed her to get bitter. I think he stopped inspiring her. He got more into his own head and became more aware of his insecurities, instead of just saying, "Fuck it. I'm going to do it." She is seeing his need for accolades, which wasn't there before.
DP: She disrespects him for that, but should she?
AP: Absolutely not. She should encourage him. She should tell him he's awesome and sit down and help him write. She turns on him because, I think, there has been a lack of communication between them for some time.
DP: She accuses Sam of thinking he's a "misunderstood artist." Is he that?
AP: I think so. His problem is that he's aware he's a misunderstood artist and is playing the part. That he uses the fact that he's a misunderstood artist to explain himself is what she's angry about.
DP: In the amusing scene in which Sam visits his spacey script consultant, played by Karen Black, he admits that he doesn't want anyone to recognize he's a fraud. I think all writers and actors worry about this. Was that line important to you?
AP: Like I said, I just intrinsically related to all that. There wasn't much work on my part. If the writing is good, as it is with Russell Brown's script, you just say the lines.

DP: There is a line in the scene with Sam and his wife about "failure being so painful." Do you relate to that?
AP: Yeah, in more ways than one. Failure really is painful but it's the mechanism for learning. I wish I could reach that point where I accept it.
DP: When Sam's's sitting on the steps of his script consultant's house with his head in his hands, what is he thinking?
AP: Basically, what the hell am I going to do now? I've built my life around this script that no one likes and every part of my life is crumbling and I don't know what's going to happen.
DP: But eventually he seems to be moving forward, having confidence in his script again. Will he succeed?
AP: He does move forward. I think he will succeed. I don't think he'll have the kind of commercial success Dave will, not even close, but I think he becomes an artist, which is what he was after at the beginning. And I think he finds peace with that.
DP: Is David a good guy?
AP: I think he's a good guy, just shallow. [Laughing.] Of course, I'm answering as Sam. That was a Sam response! You took me back there for a minute!
DP: When David tells Sam he sold his first script, does David really not realize he has a great agent and a deal or is he feigning ignorance so Sam won't want to kill him?
AP: Oh, I think he knows! But it's great how Bryce and Russell did that scene because you don't really know. Does David know or not know? Bryce plays it "kind of but not really." Because he's not obvious about itsaying "Oh, really, I didn't know that" --it's a mystery, which is kind of fantastic. I remember sitting across the table from David and saying, "Oh, you're such a dick. You're a dick, dick, dick," and he's laughing.
DP: Does Sam morph in the end after Amber Benson's character shows up tells him how much his TV show helped her and is impressed when he tells her about his new script? Was there talk about this?
AP: Sam says to David that if you're not writing for something greater, then what's the point? Getting by like Bryce does isn't enough for Sam. The only time I had any difference with Russell is when he said to me, "Really hit him hard with that." I said, "If Sam hits him really hard, what has he learned? He hasn't learned anything." Sam shouldn't be bitter then. He has just received this amazing validation from this young woman, a stranger, and he realizes something about his script, that what he's writing is good. So when David talks to him, he thinks, "I don't need this shit. You do what you're going to do and be who you want to be. I just got a breath of fresh air. I'll pay the bill and leave peacefully." So Russell let me play it low key. It was the only difference we had.
DP: Do you remember the first times you talked about the film with Russell Brown?
AP: Russell is very meticulous. He had every beat mapped out. I don't necessarily work that way, and we had to ease our way through it a little bit. We did rehearsals. Then we got into a groove.
DP: Were you playing him?
AP: We're very, very different people. He's a lot smarter than I am. And I didn't have the sense that Sam was Russell at all. I think Sam is what Russell understands about the writing process and human nature
DP: Nobody in the film likes the title of Sam's script, The Blue Truth Virgin. Are you surprised that it is really the title of the movie you're in?
AP: I was kind of wondering if it was going to work at all. But actually it does because, as Sam says, it is a provocative title. [Laughing] It does make you go, "What the hell is that?"

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