The indie dramedy Beside Still Waters, from first-time feature director Chris Lowell (best known as “Piz” from Veronica Mars), follows Daniel (Ryan Eggold), as he invites his oldest friends to spend one last weekend at his parents’ lake house. Even though none of Daniel’s friends share in his nostalgia of the good old days, they still find themselves confessing secrets and rekindling romances that ultimately allow them to let go of the past and look ahead to the future.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Brett Dalton (who plays James, a struggling actor turned reality star who is less than truthful when it comes to his own romantic life) talked about how he came to be playing this role in his first acting job out of grad school, why he so clearly identified with this character, the challenges in figuring out film acting while on the job, and the experience of working with this ensemble for the shoot. He also talked about identifying with both sides of Grant Ward on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the big fuss about his beard, how different things are in Season 2, and why he prefers playing the lone wolf side of his character. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: How did you come to be a part of this film?
BRETT DALTON: I auditioned. That’s the long and the short of it. I had just graduated, and this was the very first job that I got out of grad school. Chris [Lowell] was looking for a real ensemble cast, that would not only do justice to the parts, but also not annoy each other while we were hanging out in Michigan for four weeks, shooting this film. That’s where the magic comes in. That’s where the alchemy comes in. Chris is really good at getting the right people in the right room, together, and that’s what he did with this film. I’m just very excited to be a part of it. I probably would have said yes to anything, at that point. I’m happy that it happened to be such a beautifully poignant film. When I read it, I was like, “Okay, this is great,” but at the time, I was going out for anything. Any job, at that point, I would have been like, “I’ll do it!” So, it’s great that it’s finally having a release, after two years. It’s a very special thing for all of us.
It’s cool timing, though, because this is so different from what you do on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that people can really see another side of you.
DALTON: Not only that, but I look about 30 pounds lighter because I am. When Chris had assembled his first cut, a couple of us who were in New York were in his apartment, watching it. When I went through the door, he was like, “Dude!” I tried to keep it a secret, too, because Marvel is very secretive and I didn’t want to jinx it, and we were in the process. But I had gone to the gym, for the first time in my life, so I had put on weight. I just remember Chris opening the door and being like, “What happened to you?” It’s interesting, a lot of us have enjoyed a lot of success since this film. I think it’s just a really wonderful thing to be a part of a talented group of people like that, and we all knew it. We were all like, “I can only imagine these other guys’ careers taking off,” and it’s special to see that happening. And the fact that we’ve kept in touch is a really good thing.
When you auditioned for this, did you know which character you would be playing?
DALTON: I did audition for this particular part, yeah, and I could tell from the script that it was going to be very special. I didn’t know that it was Chris’ first film, or anything like that. I didn’t have any idea that this was all of us, on the very start of our journey together. I think I was the last piece of the puzzle to come together. Chris told me that they were having some trouble casting this guy because he does some things in the film that could come off as not likeable. There are some things that he does and says that not likeable, but I didn’t see that, at all. When I read this, I was like, “This is the greatest character in the whole movie, and I’m so happy that I get to go up for this guy ‘cause that’s the guy I really connected with. I understand him.” I never thought he was a dick, at all, so that was news to me. I just saw him as somebody who was misunderstood. Chris said that he wanted to cast somebody who was impossible not to like, and that was me. That was a very nice thing for him to say. I felt like I connected with this character, right away.
Were there any challenges for you, in playing this character?
DALTON: Yeah, there were challenges, for sure. This was my first bit of film acting, which doesn’t really have anything to do with the character and more to do with the actor. I had to figure that all out, which was a little difficult. But, I felt like I really got him. James’ journey is that he was in all of the high school plays, and he wanted to get to the furthest place, the quickest. He wanted to be in the heat of the spotlight. He wanted to have all of those parts. He wanted to be on the cover of People magazine. He wanted to be there, in the mix, in that sort of lifestyle. The quickest way to get there, at the time, was reality TV, so he decided to do that. That’s not the path that I chose, but I totally get that. I’d like to be invited to those parties, meet Brad Pitt and take a selfie with him, and be on the cover of all those magazines. That hadn’t happened to me, in real life, at the time, and it still hasn’t, but that certainly was something that I had imagined before.
How was it to work with this ensemble, inside of this house for most of the scenes?
DALTON: We shot for four weeks, and the last two weeks, we were on split days. We weren’t even shooting until 8 o’clock, when the sun went down, and then we’d get to our hotel rooms when the sun was going up. The hotel people hated us because a van full of people would come in at 5 am. Chris did a pretty good job of making that whole thing happen, organically. It never really felt like we were doing theater games, or something like that, to get into the character. We were just hanging out. Sometimes we would rehearse, but it was not like, “Okay, guys, I need complete silence. Let’s rehearse.” There was no big formality about it. We were able to wade in the water a little bit, and then we could swim. I feel like it was a real gift that he gave us with these characters, and even with the script, as well. It was a wonderful script to start with, but he also wasn’t precious about every single word. Eventually, we had these characters down and he let us throw in a moment, here and there. The whole thing happened really organically. I’ve heard that 80% of the success of any project is just in casting, and I think that Chris nailed that part. We all just worked as a really well-functioned team and made this thing happen. It was really an ensemble thing. This was an ideal movie shoot. I think we were spoiled.
What was it like to have the unusual experience of being connected to Grant Ward on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and then have that all thrown away when you found out that nothing about him was what you thought it was?
DALTON: What they gave me, in the beginning, were dummy sides, and we had three or four pages, at the most, to go off of. I remember going into the casting room. and thought I had really connected to the character and got him. I wore a leather jacket and a button-up with a tie, and thought it was perfect. He was a very buttoned-up guy, but he was also a field agent, so it made sense to me that he’d have a leather jacket. So, I walked in and everybody was wearing the exact same thing, and we were going on for the exact same role. It was the busiest I’d ever seen that casting office. I was like, “There is just no way this is ever going to happen.” I was tossing my hat into the ring, but in a way that I fully expected was just not going to happen. I didn’t think it was going to happen, at all. And then, when it did, it was a big surprise.
When I finally read that script and thought it was a fantastic script. I did connect with the character that it started out as, but then it changed with that big reveal. I think that the writers handled it in a really good way. They prepared me for it. They pitched this other idea in a way that I got that, too, so that when we actually started shooting those scenes, in the week or two after they told me, then I really could press into that direction. It’s almost like playing three characters on the show. There’s the Grant Ward before the reveal, the Grant Ward afterward, and the other path that he’s on this season, as well, with the beard. When they do an action figure, there will be a beard that you can put on and take off. It will be real hair. That will be fun.
Could you ever have imagined that you’d play a character where people around the world would be crying that he lost his beard?
DALTON: Right?! It’s crazy!
Do you feel like you’re doing a different show in Season 2 than you were in Season 1, or does it just feel like that next step in the growth of the character?
DALTON: That’s something we talked about a lot, actually. I think this season is actually quite a bit different for all of us. We were talking about the pilot the other day, and that just feels like forever ago. I had never been a series regular on a show before, so all of that was very, very new and different. And there was so much hype about this particular thing, as well. All of us were well aware of how special this thing was. When I move to L.A., it was literally everywhere. I could not drive down the street without seeing the poster for it. I was like, “Oh, my god, I’ve never seen anything hyped like this!” We were all well aware of how big of an opportunity we had been given. So, it does feel like another show, in the fact that we were all so new to it, and now we’re in our second season. At least for me, it was like, “What’s a mark? You want me to stand on the mark? Okay.” This season, we’ve really found ourselves, and the show found its voice, as well. And we’ve got a couple new characters. Last season, our hours were almost inhumane. They were just crazy. This season, it’s a little bit more spread out.
Do you, personally, want Grant Ward to find some redemption that brings him back to the team, or do you prefer playing this lone wolf that he is now?
DALTON: I prefer the lone wolf. I do. I think it’s so fun. It’s so exciting to play the match or the powder keg. Whenever he’s there, you know something crazy is going to happen, or something big is going to happen. He’s a wild card. He’s unpredictable. The writers have done a really good job, this season, of utilizing that. With a hero, you know they’re gonna to save the day. With a villain, you know they’re gonna try to just stand in the way and destroy the world. With an anti-hero, or a character like Ward who’s the lone wolf or renegade or the agent gone rogue, that’s a character where it’s completely unpredictable. He could do anything. He could do stuff that’s good, but he’s not a good guy. He could do stuff that’s bad, but he’s not all bad either. It’s an exciting place to be because the possibilities are endless. It’s a really fun part, and I think they’ve done a lot of very good things with it, this season. I’m very happy to be a part of it.
Beside Still Waters is now playing in theaters, and is available on VOD on November 18th.