Kris Avedisian and Jesse Wakeman on the US Cultural Divide in ‘Donald Cried’

     November 18, 2016

kris-avedisian-jesse-wakeman-donald-cried-interview

Odd-couple’ films have existed forever. Take two polar opposites, put them together and then watch the hijinks ensue. It almost writes itself. From The Odd Couple to Planes, Trains and Automobiles to Due Date, the formula constantly repeats with each generation. There’s something comforting about the subgenre – no matter how different the people or how much they seemingly hate one another, by the end credits, they’ll have put aside their differences and become the best of friends. Yet in the wake of the 2016 election and the growing US cultural divide, suddenly this quaint format doesn’t seem so harmless. Between the chants of “lock her up” and “drain the swamp”, the thought of mining comedy from our differences seems as improbable as it is despairing.

Enter Donald Cried, the latest ‘odd-couple’ comedy from writer/director/star Kris Avedisian. On the surface, it’s more of the same. City boy Peter (Jesse Wakeman) reluctantly returns to his rural hometown after the death of his grandmother. Once there – he meets up with his former best-friend Donald (Kris Avedisian), still living under his mother’s roof and sporting the same unfortunate hairstyle from high-school. Like any ‘odd-couple’ comedy, the two (at first) clash, only to ultimately grow closer and in the end, admire and respect one another. Yet beneath the feel-good formula, lurks an undercutting bitterness previously unexplored in the genre. Pete and Donald’s ‘friendship’ feels more fraught and dangerous than the Felix-and-Oscars of films past – to the point you’re not really sure (even by the end credits) if these two are gonna hug it out or stab one another.

donald-cried-posterAt the Los Cabos Film Festival, Kris Avedisian and Jesse Wakeman discussed this cultural divide, how their hometown experiences influenced Donald Cried and the rewriting process. For the full interview, read below.

How closely does the film represent your own background and hometown?

Kris Avedisian: I’m from Road Island – so as far as the town goes it’s fairly reminiscent. It’s one for one basically.

Jesse Wakeman: I’m from the other coast. Northern California but we’ve all had high school experiences, high school friends, people that we’ve stayed close to, people that we’ve left. That’s all wrapped up in this. I definitely have a friend I think of that would be my ‘Donald’.

Are there any moments in the film that are taken from your own lives?

Avedisian: I drank or almost drank a bottle of piss in the woods.

Oh my god — why?

Avedisian: My good friend – it was an older crowd. It was his older sister and all her friends had stolen a bunch of very fine drinks. They filled the apple juice with urine… I was on the spot. It touched my lips but I didn’t ingest it.

The smell tipped you off?

Avedisian: Yeah – there was a lot of peer pressure happening. I got much closer that I should ever. But it was this idea of guilt. I’m always talking about dealing with guilt…

donald-cried-movie-image

Image via The Orchard

Between your characters, there’s a strong cultural divide. I’m interested in how timely you feel the movie is in the wake of the election and the growing divide in the US?

Avedisian: I mean jeez… I’m happy to contribute some sort of positive energy towards that whole thing. The whole point of the movie is to understand people and be able to empathize and sympathize with different walks of life. Everybody’s coming from some place that’s informed how they’re operating. Whenever I hear somebody dislike Donald, I feel like it’s a bit of a failure because you’re not supposed to dislike him.

I would actually say he’s the more sympathetic character…

Avedisian: Yeah. We tried to do the same thing with Peter. We talked about giving him a more traditional arc but it was just the idea that there was this seed of change for him. To even give Donald his number. Peter’s acting a certain way just because of his defenses and you learn he had a bit of a tough go at it as well. So that informs him. If he comes off as a total ass, that’s not what we wanted. He’s acting like an ass but you understand why or you hope people understand why he’s acting like an ass.

Wakeman: In general we were trying to create real people that have all these colors. They’re sometimes sweet, sometimes not. They have insecurities. Certainly that’s Peter’s situation. He has a lot of insecurities about going back. It takes a long time for him to break through.

How many different drafts did you go through on the film?

Avedisian: We would work on outlines and then I’d put out a number of drafts. But we went through a lot… Peter had a sister at one point. Some guys broke his finger…

Wakeman: Peter and Donald met some women.

Avedisian: There was a karaoke bar and women…

donald-cried-image

Image via The Orchard

What made you change from that?

Avedisian: Going to those other things was a way to make our lives easier because it ended up being just the two guys the whole move. It was finding the balance. It really [ended up] being just about these guys…

Wakeman: We wanted to create a real experience that people could identify with but we also just love movies. We like hijinks and wilder things and movie type events. So we’re always trying to push over to that. What would happen if Donald suddenly went on stage and ‘karaoked’? But then it was like ‘Ehh… we don’t really want to see that.’ So it was that oscillation between the two.

Donald Cried will be released early next year.

The Los Cabos International Film Festival ran from November 9th-13th

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