One of the many films to premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was director Andrew Neel’s Goat. Written by Neel, David Gordon Green, and Michael Roberts, the film is the big-screen rendition of Brad Land’s book Goat: A Memoir. It’s a project that’s been in development for years, first with Gordon Green and then with Mud’s Jeff Nichols at one time attached to direct. The story follows a 19-year old boy (Ben Schnetzer), recovering from a vicious assault, who decides to pledge his older brother’s (Nick Jonas) fraternity. What happens while pledging tests both brothers and the film explores the “brotherhood” in a frat house while not pulling any punches about hazing. Goat also stars Virginia Gardner, Danny Flaherty, Austin Lyon and features a fantastic James Franco cameo. For more on the film, read Adam’s review.
Shortly after the world premiere, I sat down with Nick Jonas and Ben Schnetzer. They talked about what drew them to the project, memorable moments from filming, what it means to be part of Sundance, the way they like to work on set, and a lot more. Check out what they had to say below.
COLLIDER: Go-to karaoke song?
BEN SCHNETZER: Oh, man, that’s good. “Rock DJ” by Robbie Williams.
NICK JONAS: [Seal’s] “I Believe I Can Fly”. Yeah.
I thought you both did a really good job with this. When I was in school, my former roommate went through hazing. I heard the stories, but I don’t think I’ve seen a movie that captures the stuff that goes on.
SCHNETZER: Yeah, I think this is the first fraternity movie I’ve seen that’s not a comedy. I mean all the other movies I’ve seen like Animal House, Old School, and Neighbors… That’s the end of my thought.
A lot of people aren’t going to be familiar with this yet because it just premiered. So what do you want to tell people about the movie, what drew you to the role, and why was this movie important for you to be involved with?
JONAS: I think the thing that drew me to it was the dynamic between the two brothers. And then, the bigger concept and storyline about masculinity as a whole and what that looks like in 2016. I came into the movie with a pretty open mind and left asking myself a lot of questions. I want that to happen for the audience as well. I hope that they leave seeing something in a different way and maybe not having the answer to the question, but starting the conversation.
SCHNETZER: Especially after having seen it last night, it’s a very intimate story. It’s based on a very personal memoir by Brad Land, but also the structure of the film is unique. Andrew (Neel) is a very uncompromising, unapologetic filmmaker, and I really think people are going to take a lot from just the way in which he tells this story. It’s relentless and it’s not a formulaic beginning, middle, end, wrapped up little narrative. It’s challenging and it’s at times uncomfortable, but at times inspiring and provocative. I think that’s the biggest thing I can say for people going into it.
Is there a day or two that you’ll always remember from the making of the movie?
JONAS: Yeah, there is for me. There was a day where, it was the fourth day of shooting, and we had our heaviest scene. I wouldn’t say the most important scene, they’re all important, but it was on the fourth day of shooting. Which is really early to have the payoff of this whole emotional journey. I think we both felt a lot of pressure, but the first take of that scene is the one they used. It was so electric and kind of magic, because I think our emotions of wanting to get it right played into the emotions of the scene. It was actually, in the end, nice to have had that first so we could see where we were going. It was kind of a unique way of doing it.
SCHNETZER: The first scene we shot of the whole movie is the scene where Brett first sees Brad after the beating. And I remember going into it, I had spent a few hours in the makeup chair getting the aftermath applied to my face. I had said to Andrew, “Hey, I would love to not see Nick until we’re rolling.” Just to give it some tension. We were in the same car on the way to set and we sat down next to each other, didn’t look at each other but you put your hand on my shoulder or something like that and it was just a really nice, “we’re in this, we’re going to make this, this is the first scene we’re shooting and we’re just going to dive in headfirst.” We were just totally on the same page going into it. I think if we hadn’t had that scene the first day, it would have been a different movie. It wouldn’t have felt the same.
Being at Sundance is an amazing achievement for anyone. When did you find out you were part of the festival and how long have you been sitting on the information?
SCHNETZER: Until I’m there, I’m not going to believe it. Andrew called me, I can’t remember exactly. I remember I was at my friend’s Basey’s house and he called me and told me. I was stoked, man. It’s my first time here; it’s a rite of passage. It’s a really killer environment and it’s exciting to be around a lot of artists and art and work that is challenging and inspiring.
JONAS: I actually remember exactly where I was. I was performing at an event in LA, it was one of the coolest performances I’ve done in my life. I got to sing with the Boss, Sting, Pink and John Legend and all of those people. It felt like the pinnacle, and then I got the call. I cried, actually and I called my dad, it was really cool.
For both of you though, it seems as though you’ve won the actor’s lottery in terms of what’s being offered right now, in terms of being able to do these kinds of roles. Is it really challenging to maintain and be part of Hollywood?
SCHNETZER: Just super grateful and exciting and humbling. There’s so much that’s out of your control in this lifestyle, I think the kind of 4-5% that is in your control, you just have to make sure that it’s in your control and that you’re grounded in it. And then you just work hard. It’s nice to be around people who work hard. Nick works harder than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s nice to be around people you can look up to in a certain sense. You have to just try and look for work that’s exciting and that appeals to you and just go for it.
JONAS: That’s very nice of you to say that, I feel the same way about you. But I also want to say, there’s a lot of “no’s that get you to the “yes.” As an actor, rejection is a big part of it, and I’ve had a lot of it. So when there’s something that you really want to do, it’s so great to have someone to be a part of a team as great as this team is. I think I’m trying to enjoy this moment here as much as possible.
A lot of actors here do the Clint Eastwood method of one or two takes, and then other actors I’ve spoken to really love the David Fincher method of 50 or 60. For both of you, where do you fall on that spectrum?
SCHNETZER: That’s a good question, man. I always love to shoot with rehearsal. But I don’t know, man, I’m on the fence about it. Sometimes you just do something enough and you let yourself go and you forget about what you’re doing and you can just be honest and be responsive. Sometimes the first one just hits and you’re good. It was nice on this film, we’d do it on book a few times and then Andrew would let us sort of go free for a couple takes. The jury’s still out for me on that one.
JONAS: I think it depends for me on the coverage. What the coverage is going to be really plays into it for me, whether it’s going to be one take or 100. I can tell sometimes, when it’s just one or two you need. But sometimes there’s something that you need a few takes to get it and if it takes 15 takes, it takes 15 takes. It really depends.
This is obviously not a mega-budget project; this is a real indie. There’s a different vibe on an indie, in terms of getting it in time, getting it in takes. Describe a little bit about what it was like on set when you know you’ve really got to make it on every take.
SCHNETZER: There’s real camaraderie that gets formed. Everyone is there bringing their A-game, everyone is there for the right reasons, we all wanted to be a part of it, fought to be a part of it, Christine (Vachon), David (Hinojosa) fought to get it made. And I think that sense of camaraderie bled into the shoot and we were all, it’s exciting. It keeps you on your toes. It wasn’t a long shoot, we were working against the clock, but at the same time when it’s a short shoot you can be on, all the time, 100%. It’s not a three-month thing where you’re going to burn yourself out. It was a sprint, it wasn’t a marathon.
JONAS: A lot of care was in it as well, from all departments. On set, the environment was not only focused but also full of care, and if there was anything any of us could do to help the overall vibe, we were doing it. It’s a testament to the environment that Andrew and the team created that was very all hands on deck, let’s get the job done.