Writer-director Andrew Cohn drew upon his own experiences working in fast food restaurants for his new movie The Last Shift, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this past week.
“I’ve worked every shit job known to man. The highlight of my shitty jobs was teaching driver’s [ed], but I worked at Burger King when I was 15 years old, and I worked at KFC, so some of the dialogue and characters were taken from the journey along the way,” said Cohn. “I remember I was so excited to work that job and get that first paycheck. It was $75 dollars and I think I spent half of it on Burger King. I had a paper route and was like, ‘I’m rich!’
Cohn said that most of his writing starts with a character, and this time, he wanted to write about someone who loved their job. “It was kind of based on people I’ve met throughout my life. I’ve worked a lot of crappy jobs. I just wanted to tell a story about regular people, people you don’t often seen onscreen. And I wanted to tell it through a comedy about race and class and the working poor that could shed light on some things in a nuanced, not didactic way.”
It was a long process for Cohn, who spent two years writing the script. Two-time Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins stars as Stanley, a fast food worker who is retiring following a long career in the service industry. He’s forced to train Jevon (Shane Paul McGhie), his replacement on the night shift, who feels that flipping burgers is beneath him.
“In the beginning of the film, Jevon kind of passes off the blame to other people, which a lot of us have the tendency to do at times, but as the film progresses, he learns to take accountability for his actions, and in a weird way, he kind of gets that from Richard’s character,” explained McGhie. “Stanley is so committed to his job, whereas my character comes in and says, ‘what are you doing? It’s not that deep. It’s not that serious. But for him, it is. There’s a lot of growth that happens with my character in that regard.
“I always figured that he thought, ‘I’m going to end up looking like that if I don’t change,’ added Jenkins, who said it was the writing that drew him to the project. “It was incredible… just great writing, and great characters. Actors are selfish. You read it and you go, ‘hmmm… is anybody else in this, or is it just my part?” The film is set in the midwest, and Jenkins said he recognized the setting. “I just loved the take on this guy. I grew up in the midwest and knew these guys in school, and I just thought he really found that voice of these kind of lost folks.”
Fellow midwesterner Ed O’Neill plays Stanley’s best friend, while Fargo alum Allison Tolman plays Jevon’s supportive parole officer. Meanwhile, Da’Vine Joy Randolph plays the manager at the fast food joint, and since she’s coming off rave reviews for her turn opposite Eddie Murphy in Dolemite Is My Name, I had to ask whether she thinks there’s a bias against Netflix within the Academy.
“Is that a joke, or a rumor?,” asked Randolph. “Netflix’s drive is getting as much diversified content as possible, and I think they’re really focused on quality. They’re the [new] kid on the block, but what I hope is that it changes the narrative for everyone across the board. I just really hope the Academy is not making choices just because they have personal feelings about Netflix. I hope it’s about the work.”
Randolph will soon be seen in the Lee Daniels movie The United States vs. Billie Holliday, which examines the last 10 years of the singer’s life, and finds Randolph playing her childhood best friend. “It goes beyond what we generally know about her, and how the government had a hand in all of it,” said Randolph, who also appears alongside Jenkins in another Sundance movie —Miranda July‘s Kajillionaire, which recently sold to A24.
Meanwhile, McGhie will soon be seen in Charlie Day‘s directorial debut El Tonto, while Jenkins is gearing up to re-team with his Shape of Water director Guillermo del Toro on Nightmare Alley. “I start in about a week. I play a guy who has tons of money, but lost the love of his life when he was in college, and it was his fault. Bradley Cooper plays a medium, and he wants to see his lost love because he wants her to forgive him.”
The Last Shift serves as Cohn’s first narrative feature, as he has spent the last decade making documentaries. “I was surprised how well the skill set transitioned, to be honest. I took the same approach, and just tried to make the most honest choice,” said Cohn. “As a director, you want to do more listening than talking, and you want a set where people can take risks and [have] ownership over their performances, and really collaborate. That was what was really exciting for me about making the transition.”
Before I said goodbye to The Last Shift cast, I asked them to name their favorite fast food joints. Tolman is from Texas, so she said Whataburger, while McGhie and O’Neill went with In-N-Out. Jenkins joked that his favorite fast food restaurant is Spago, the fancy restaurant in Beverly Hills, while Randolph chose a healthy option in Veggie Grill. As for Cohn, he admitted his pick was politically incorrect, as he just can’t resist the temptation of Chik-fil-A.
Watch the full interview above, and stay tuned to Collider for our Sundance supercut, in which dozens of artists offer their theories on the death of Cliff Booth’s wife in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and which categories they’d like to see added to the Oscars, as well as the TV shows they most recently binged, and the ones they’d love to guest star on. To watch the stars of Sundance predict the winners of this year’s Super Bowl, click here.
Finally, we have to thank our presenting partner, the Kia Telluride SUV, which was recently named the 2020 North American Utility Vehicle of the Year. Additional thanks to support sponsors Glenfiddich Scotch, Peroni Beer, Marbl Toronto, mou footwear, ic! Berlin sunglasses and clothing lines, Laundry by Sheli Segal and Orginal Penguin.