Written by Heather Huntington
Indie DIY filmmaker couple Randall Miller and Jody Savin are back again after last summerís Bottle Shock with some Oscar race counter-programming in the form of Nobel Son, a dark Guy Ritchie-esque comedy thriller about Barkley Michaelson (Bryan Greenberg) a mild-mannered Ph.D. student who is kidnapped in exchange for his fatherís (Alan Rickman) Nobel Prize money.
We got to chat with Nobel Sonís two young stars, Greenberg and Eliza Dushku, who plays his rather eccentric love interest, City Hall. Greenberg embodies the unintimidatingly cute everyman he plays in the film, like a TKE brother with artistic leanings. And my fellow Bostonian Dushku has, as Bill Pullman says, some pretty crazy energy.
You can see them together in Nobel Son, which opens in select theaters Friday, December 5.
Question: So how did you find out about this movie?
BRYAN GREENBERG: I met with Randy [Miller] and Jody [Savin] really early on in the process, actually for the role of Thaddeus. I wasnít sure I was right for that. I could do it but I donít know if Iíd be right for it. Then a couple of months later they were auditioning for the role of Barkley and I went in and I totally sucked, but I knew I sucked because I didnít have enough time. I was in the middle of something and I never do this but I wasnít as prepared as I should have been. I convinced them, ďYouíve got to let me come back in and Iíll do it right. Give me enough time to prep for it.Ē Because it was a rushed situation. And then I just loved the script and I really wanted to do something different like this and I got it the second time around so they gave me a second chance.
Did you guys read together?
ELIZA DUSHKU: No, we didnít. Weíve known each other since I was 14.
GREENBERG: I know her brother. I went to NYU with her brother so she used to come up and visit.
DUSHKU: We used to read scenes in the dorm room Ė auditions and random stuff.
How did you get involved in this film?
DUSHKU: I auditioned my heart out. I really, really wanted it. I read it and I loved it and I really wanted it. You know, you read a lot of stuff. You go in on some things and go, ďOh, whatever.Ē But I went in and I brought props. I brought a supermarket paperback and I brought these two different masks that I had. One was this weird tin mask from Venice and then I had strings on them and I put them on. A rope, a knife. I said Iíll do whatever you want me to do. Just tell me. My audition was like an hour long. It was the last one of the day. They said, ďLetís try it like this and then try it like this.Ē I did just every possible version. One was completely different from the other and we just hit it off and I was psyched.
When you first read the script, what was it about the character that first jumped out at you besides the fact she was named City Hall?
DUSHKU: That was a good one. That would be nice to add onto my little resume: City Hall. I did City Hall. Iíd just never read a character like her and from the opening scene, sheís so bizarre and twisted and then as the story unfolds, there was just a lot going on and a lot to work with. It was super intriguing and once I started working with Randy and Jody and realized how open they were filling her up with these little nuances and things, it was awesome.
What was it like working with Alan Rickman? We you in awe at all?
DUSHKU: It was thrilling and humbling and easy and heís just such a dear, dear man. And then we ended up doing another film together a few months later and now we just meet up in all these random cities to promote the movie and we all stay in the same house and weíre just like a little family. Itís cute.
GREENBERG: Yeah. I tortured him. I got to know him pretty well. [laughs] Tell your friends about me. Read about me. Heís just such a great, committed actor and Iíve been fortunate enough to have been working the last 10 years and you donít come across actors like that too often who are committed and really stick by their choices, who actually make choices and donít just rely on charm and charisma and they actually read the script and have passion and care about their craft. I mean, the guy came in with fake teeth. He had teeth made in London. He wanted his teeth to be more shark-like because he thought his character was more like a predator. I was like, wow, I have so much to learn. [laughs]
And he used them through the film?
GREENBERG: Yeah. Thatís what Iím talking about Ė the subtle details. He cares about them. You know what I mean? As a young actor, you can learn so much from guys like that and just the choices that they make and sticking with them. Thatís probably what I learned the most from Alan was making strong choices and sticking by them.
DUSHKU: He can do an entire scene with one little raise of the eyebrow. Itís so extraordinary to watch him and to see the final movie. I love it.
Do you have a scene that you really enjoyed doing?
DUSHKU: [laughs] I get to make out with my big brotherís friend. My childhood fantasy. When we actually shot the scene we were covered in fiberglass. We were shooting on a roof in downtown L.A. A fiberglass exposed roof and we were rolling around and he was wearing a sock and I was wearing pasties and there were candles everywhereÖ
GREENBERG: [joking] Öand a sock on my foot. That was awesome.
DUSHKU: On your foot.
GREENBERG: One sock.
DUSHKU: Oh yeah, he was wearing one sock on his foot. And we had fiberglass all over us and they were like donít take a shower because the shower will embed the glass into you and the way to get it off is to use duct tape.
I donít understand why there was all this fiberglass.
GREENBERG: It was on a roof. This is what happens when youíre making a film. The sites arenít always prepped the way [they should be]. Well, you just didnít think. Nobody thought thereíd be fiberglass.
Was it just blowing onto you?
GREENBERG: Yeah. Weíre on a roof and itís like the insulation was exposed everywhere so it was justÖ There was this mattress on the roof. I never really understood why there was a mattress on the roof, but whatever. Weíll get into that later. [laughs]
DUSHKU: City Hall had a reason. [laughs]
GREENBERG: With City Hall, you can take a lot of liberties. We walk in and thereís all these candles lit and thereís matches there. I love movies! Itís just something probably nobody thought about and why would they [expect] that thereíd be fiberglass everywhere. And itís just one of those things that you realize when youíre rolling around on sheets. Thatís not sexy.
What about that scene where your character is being interrogated by Bill Pullman?
DUSHKU: Iíve had a crush on Bill Pullman since I was six. Heís just so cute. I donít know, thereís just something about him. I told him the first day of shooting. Itís kind of a Kurt Russell thing.
GREENBERG: Heís got that cowboy thing going on.
DUSHKU: Heís sexy and heís just a love. Heís such a lovely guy. And that scene was so funny. It was very like a scene from a Spanish soap opera. My character is totally crying and going through it. I mean it was a blast. It was weird and bizarre and thrilling and fun like the whole movie.
In a movie like this where there are so many plot twists, is it filmed sequentially for you guys and how do you keep track of what your character knows at that time?
GREENBERG: Wow. Thatís a really tough thing to do on a movie like this. Iíve never shot anything thatís sequential. Unfortunately, with indie [films] you just gotta go when you can get these locations and we shot this thing so quick. And this was like one of those scripts where, as an actor, you really need to count on your script supervisor, like where am I, what just happened, because there are so many twists, there are so many turns. Even reading this, it took me like three times to get it. Thatís how thick and dense it was. All these characters are very shady and slippery and youíre not sure whoís screwing who over and at what point how much this character knows. The end especially was really hard for me because thereís a twist and my character takes a turn and another character, my mother, is privy to it and I donít know when she knows and when she doesnít know and that was a really hard dynamic to play out and to figure out. This was one of the harder ones to keep in your mind. Thereís a lot going on.
DUSHKU: And then in addition to a great script supervisor, we have the ultimate advantage that our director was also the writer so they knew exactly what was going on. Randy and Jody are the DIY masters. They wrote, directed. They edited this movie from their house in Pasadena with their two kids running around and all the promotion and every resource and they knew the characters and the script inside out so every day was actually very smooth because they were like, ďOh! This is the scene for this and this just happened.Ē Theyíre just so full of enthusiasm and theyíre so on it and so creative. So we just showed up and had them and they were steering the ship.
Do you recall any funny moments on the set where things didnít go quite as planned?
GREENBERG: There was just tons of stuff. I remember shooting that beach scene where Mary (Steenburgen) and I are on the beach and it was like 40 degrees and the sun was setting. That was crazy. I thought Michael Ozier, the DP, did a great job with some of this. (to Eliza) Remember that scene where you come and find me?
DUSHKU: Yeah, where youíre laying on the grass. That was the same day.
GREENBERG: It was like raining.
DUSHKU: It was a hazy, rainy scene and I come lay on top of you.
GREENBERG: I guess thatís not one of those funny things, but itís amazing when I watch it how it turned out. I canít believe we got that.
Can you talk a little about what youíre doing now? I know youíre doing Dollhouse with Joss Whedon and that starts next month, doesnít it?
DUSHKU: We air Friday, the 13th of February. Itís awesome. Weíre on episode 7 of 13 and Iíve already played 20 something different characters and underneath these clothes Iíve got bruises galore. Iím so proud of them. Iím riding motorcycles, bow hunting, rock climbing, river rafting, muay thai fighting 6í5Ē dudes, like just everything.
Did doing Buffy help you with all the martial arts part of that?
DUSHKU: We have the same stunt coordinator, Mike Gunther. Heís awesome and he was also on Angel so Iíve had six-page fight scenes that I did with him years ago. Yeah, it helped, but even on Buffy I was kind of like that crazy 17-year-old kid that showed up on Buffy and I grew up with three older brothers and I showed up from Boston and said I know you have a stunt double here for me but how much can I do? I want to fight. I want to get into it. And they would just teach me the stuff and that, to me, is really fun. Itís really exciting.
So the premise is youíre playing 20 different people?
DUSHKU: Itís about a group of people that can be imprinted with any personality basically for hire.
So your personality totally changes?
DUSHKU: Yeah. Weíre human beings that volunteer for five years of our life. As the story unfolds, there are dollhouses all over in cities around the world and there are these underground private organizations that take people, wipe their personalities clean and house them in these beautiful, Japanese, Zen garden, underground dorm lab and then they put us in a chair and literally put a wedge in the chair and can imprint us to be anything that anyone wants Ė fantasies, bank heistsÖ
It sounds like an actorís dream come true.
DUSHKU: Yeah. The last episode they surgically implanted cameras into my eyeballs and sent me into a cult compound as a blind woman. It was cool.
Do you have a single injury thatís like your biggest badge of honor at this point?
DUSHKU: Yeah, my neck that I canít turn. I have a really good bruise right here (shows leg) and a really good one right here (shows arm) that Iíve been showing off a lot.
Bryan, what do you have coming out?
GREENBERG: Yeah, well Iíve been working on my music a lot. Iíve been on tour for that.
DUSHKU: Heís like a rock star. Totally. Iíve seen you. Youíre good.
GREENBERG: Iíve got a song in the movie actually which is kind of cool. Iím doing that. Iíve got a movie coming out next month thatís called Bride Wars with Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway. I just finished a pilot for HBO that Mark Wahlberg and those guys produced. Itís called How to Make It in America and Iím really excited about that. Weíre going to find out what the fate of that is. I just finished that a month ago. Iíve got another movie called The Good Guy, an independent film that I did. You know, Iím working on the music and waiting to see whatís going on with this pilot and Bride Wars. Thatís pretty much it.
Whatís the name of your band?
GREENBERG: Oh, itís just me. Bryan Greenberg. Iím a songwriter as well. Iím going out right now with a couple other artists, Graham Colton and Michael Tolcher. Weíre all songwriters. Weíre kind of doing this intimate evening and weíre all telling stories and playing on each otherís sets and we just played Austin two days ago and Iím going to New York and D.C. and Philly this week and North Carolina so itís been fun. Itís been a lot of fun.
Do you like music better than acting?
GREENBERG: I like them both. That way neither one feels like a job. When Iím working on a movie, Iím in my trailer playing guitar. And then on the road, I read scripts and think ofÖit just keeps both fires burning. I kind of need both. They help. I become a better actor after I step on a stage in front of like 500 people when itís just me, a microphone and my guitar. You donít get as nervous walking into a room in front of 3 or 4 people and to do a scene or to walk on a set. You gain confidence. I donít know. And itís great the interaction you can get with an audience, itís totally separate from the thrill you get from being in a scene. But I love them both. I donít want to choose.
Did you bring a song to Randy and Jody and they liked it and put it in the film? Or did they ask you to do a song?
GREENBERG: Itís kind of like how it usually goes. People want to know who are you? What are you doing in your trailer making all that noise? Iím like, well Iím a musician. Well, do you have a CD? I give them a CD and then they listen to it and then I guess it doesnít suck as much as they think it sucks and theyíre like oh, we should use this. So I think I get by a lot on just the low expectations of being an actor/musician. [laughs]
Where is your song in the film? Is it during the credits at the end?
GREENBERG: I donít know. I think itís in a scene where itís real low and itís in the coffee shop scene in the background.
With Twilight being such a big hit, the rumor mill is buzzing about the possibility of a Buffy movie. Is that just fansí wishful thinking or has there been real talk about it?
DUSHKU: I can give you Jossí number and you can call him. Heís over on the lot right now. I donít know.
Would you ever want to go back and play it again?
DUSHKU: You never know. Thatís what Iíve learned.
GREENBERG: Keep it open.
DUSHKU: I mean that show is just such an international phenomenon. There are like college courses now that dissect the world of Buffy. Itís just a testament I think to what an extraordinary creative genius Joss is and I just love the guy. Heís a hardcore feminist, heís funny, heís dramatic, heís twisted, and heís just dear. Heís my friend and my hero and people gag because we get really lovey dovey.
Did you ever do Vengeance or anything like that?
DUSHKU: Yeah, girl. I did. [laughs] And people would show up and be like hey, can we take a picture of our matching face tattoos and Iíd be like, uh, that was a decal. And you watch the color drain from peopleís faces and theyíd be like I got that tattoo so we could be lifelong sisters and Iím like, sorry. Theyíd show up with vampire teeth and stuff.
After you film the 13th episode of Dollhouse, are you going to be looking at film scripts to try to squeeze in during a potential hiatus?
DUSHKU: I just launched a production company with my brother. Itís called Boston DIY Productions and we have 3 films that weíre about to do, one of which is with Randy and Jody. The first one is going to be a biopic on Robert Mapplethorpe and my brother is going to play Robert and we have an awesome cast and an amazing filmmaker, Ondi Timoner who did a documentary called DiG! It won at Sundance a few years ago. She has another movie that just got accepted at Sundance. Sheís just awesome. So weíre going to do Mapplethorpe. Jody is actually going to direct and theyíre going to write this movie weíre doing together. Then I have a big budget working class Lara Croft crazy studio thing weíre going to do too.
How are you enjoying being a producer and taking a break from acting?
DUSHKU: Like Bryan said, itís nice because it gives you something else to do. As an actress, sometimes you go to your trailer and youíre like what do I do? Do I watch Tyra Banks on TV or what? Boredom is just not an option now. I mean itís really cool. And Iím also a producer on Dollhouse because Joss and I basically put the thing together. I never really wanted to be an actor. I kind of tripped and fell into it and it gives me a chance to feel like Iím doing more than just beingÖI get to be involved in more of the machine and the operation and yeah, like walking into a room, thereís a different kind of confidence when you feel like youíre actually a part of as opposed to being rated. So thatís cool. I love it.
Bryan, since you write your music, would you like to have a production company of your own?
GREENBERG: I donít know. Iím working on something with a friend. Weíre in the preliminary process of it. I donít know. Thereís just so much I want to do as an actor.
DUSHKU: Iím available in February.
GREENBERG: [laughs] Iím trying to get it done. Weíve got the first act done. I donít know. Iíve got a lot of artistic energy but thereís only so much of it though. You donít want to spread yourself thin. But Iím trying it out. Weíll see.
What do you think about the potential actorsí strike?
GREENBERG: I think itís bullshit. Thatís what I think. I think itís stupid. I donít support it. Thatís me personally. I love SAG, I love my union, but I just donít think itís a smart decision. I think what matters most is getting our foot in the door with new media and I think thatís on the table and I personally believe we should take it. I donít think DVDs are something to fight over. I think DVDs are like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. Thatís my personal opinion. Itís like arguing over laser disc rights. DVDs are not going to last much longer. I think DVDs are going to be around 5 years at the most. Itís already going. Youíre going to have a hard drive.
Oh, I see, just download them from the internet.
GREENBERG: Yeah, itís already happening. Like Netflix, you just stream it and then youíre going to have yourÖ Thatís my personal opinion.