[Editor’s note: The following contains some spoilers for Wireless.]
Tye Sheridan takes a step into new territory with the Quibi survival thriller Wireless, which comes from the minds of creators and writers Zach Wechter and Jack Seidman, with Steven Soderbergh executive producing. Sheridan plays Andy Braddock, a 20-something college kid who finds himself stranded in the Colorado wilderness after crashing his car while driving to a New Year’s Eve party. Luckily, Andy’s phone is at full power and is becomes his key to surviving a harrowing night complete with freezing temperatures and howling winds. But as Andy tries to survive, nature isn’t the only force to be reckoned with as the ghosts he’s trying to outrun in his personal life come back to haunt him while trying to seek help from his best friend (Lukas Gage), his ex-girlfriend (Francesca Reale), and his mom (Andie MacDowell). In an intriguing twist, Wireless not only shows us the survival thriller drama going on around Andy but takes us into his phone, allowing us to watch actual FaceTime calls, text messages, and scroll trips through Instagram and learn more about Andy.
Just one week after Wireless premiered on Quibi, Sheridan hopped on a call with Collider to discuss this intense survival thriller. Over the course of our chat, Sheridan opened up about the technical process of making a show where your social media life is just as dramatic as surviving a blizzard, making Wireless in just 19 (yes, 19!) days, how he got Andie MacDowell on board to play his mom, and much more.
COLLIDER: I’m really curious to know what it was about Wireless that made you want to sign on. You’ve been in projects in similarly big projects before, but what was it about this one that made you want to sign on?
TYE SHERIDAN: I think it was mostly the getting an opportunity to work on something that was the first and it’s kind. I think this format was super interesting, and I was interested to see if it would work — and I really believed in it. I think after seeing Zach Wechter and Mishka Kornai’s short film, Pocket, that they made, that takes place all vertically on the phone. It’s a year in the life of a 15-year-old kid from the perspective of his phone. It’s was really, really intriguing. I think that we all have such a personal relationship with our phones, they’re a big part of our lives, and they should be settings for stories that we’re telling. I think that it was just that realization. Realizing how prominent smartphones are in our lives, what role they play. I think this really spoke to that.
And so, there were a couple of things. I think it was one, working with that director, exploring this new format, exploring telling a story through the setting of a 22-year-old’s iPhone or a 21-year-old’s iPhone, and then working on a Quibi project. I thought it was all new and exciting.
To drill down a little further on making this Quibi show and the filming process: What was that filming process like? For example, were there discussions about filming things that would appear in vertical or horizontal, and how to go about that?
SHERIDAN: Well, I will say to the filming process, if I could sum it up in one word, it would be “challenging.” We had 19 days to do this project, and it was like shooting two films at one time because there are a lot of times where you’re shooting on a cinema camera — when you see the iPhone on screen — but we had to use a rig. It was called the “tri-phone rig.” It had a forward-facing camera, a rear-facing camera, and then an interactive phone on top. So it was like a three phone sandwich, this big brick that we were capturing all the vertical content. So, we had to separate those two occasionally because you would see the iPhone onscreen in the cinema perspective. So it was basically like, sometimes you’d have to do the same scene and have to shoot it twice. It was really time-consuming.
When you have only 19 days to shoot a project, and you’re working in freezing conditions, it was pretty challenging. But hats off to Zach Wechter and the rest of the team on Wireless for making it happen. Everybody there working on the project was extremely passionate about this new format. I think that was the only way it was going to get made the way it did.
I’m also curious to know a bit more about the discussions for crafting Andy’s social media life because his phone, and what we see on his phone, is so pivotal to some of Wireless‘s emotional beats. What was it like creating Andy’s social media presence, and what kind of things you wanted to make sure made it onto his social media?
SHERIDAN: Yeah, I think the goal was for Andy to represent a lot of us. The majority of the millennial generation. Not in the sense of how it looks, or what he’s going through in his life, but definitely his relationship with his iPhone and the connection that he has to everyone through this digital interface. I think that, above all, was the most important, and what the character symbolized, and what we wanted him to stand for. But we also wanted him to feel like a relatable guy, just another guy growing up in his teenage years, [or] early 20s, in this situation and on these digital platforms.
Because each episode is happening in a small amount of time (under 10 minutes), I’m curious to know if, on your end, while filming whether it was ever a concern for your performance about getting to those big emotional cliffhangers? Or is that all just editing that we’re seeing?
SHERIDAN: I don’t think so. When I first read the script it was like reading a 95-page feature film and there weren’t any episode breaks. Then once I read a script once, Zack and Jack Seidman, the other writer, worked on creating those episode breaks. They happen really naturally.
It was kind of amazing to see because there are all of these big, traumatic moments that were perfect for the breaks. The narrative lent itself easily to these episode breaks. So I was never really wanting to be conscious of where the breaks from the episodes are, and how viewers are. There were so many questions you’re asking yourself on this project. I say, if I could sum it up in one word, it would be “challenging” because it was challenging on so many different levels.
It was challenging technologically. It was challenging for me as an actor. It was challenging for us as a crew making this series. But we had to ask questions that no one was ever asking themselves before, like, “Where should he put his phone for this section of the scene?” Because you’re thinking about the vertical perspective, or sometimes you’re thinking about where the viewers are going to be, whether they’re going to be in landscape or portrait mode in this section of the scene. So if we have to favor one perspective, whether it be vertical or horizontal, which one would it be? And so there are all of these questions that come into play and it made it super fun. It was totally new. Such a new experience.
You mentioned that it was challenging for you as an actor. Are you able to elaborate on that?
SHERIDAN: Yeah, totally. I think it was challenging because, I think at the end of the first episode — if you haven’t seen the show yet this might be a spoiler, so don’t go any further — but at the end of the first episode we find out that Andy’s drinking and driving. He’s got a lot of problems that are revealed as the show goes on, but this is one that we see pretty quickly. We find out that he’s kind of an alcoholic. So I think it was challenging in that aspect, and it was also challenging because this guy’s basically freezing to death in this vehicle. He’s stuck in a blizzard through the night, and he’s going to freeze to death in his Bronco.
We shot all the interior scenes that take place inside the Bronco at night. We shot them in L.A. on stage. And we actually froze, [well] we actually brought in a huge freezer that would blow cold air into the stage and we’d keep all the doors shut. We were shooting in Burbank, so it was 85 degrees outside, but inside on the stage it was 28 degrees Fahrenheit, and super, super cold. So every day waking up going to shoot in extreme conditions of the L.A. stage was challenging.
Andie MacDowell plays your mom on Wireless and I was curious to know if you were able to meet her before you started filming, or were able to get some face time with her.
SHERIDAN: Yeah, no, absolutely. I’ve always been a fan of her work. I think when Zack first brought her name up as an idea, I got really excited because I think that she has just this kind of innate charm to her. I think that it’s an interesting role for her because we really only know this character through Andy’s iPhone. We see her in videos from his camera roll, we see her on Andy’s social media platforms. We hear her on phone calls, and occasionally on FaceTime, but I was really curious to know if she would want to do it. I didn’t know if she would be interested in it.
So, I actually wrote Andie a letter when I knew that they were going to go out to her, and just gave her my two cents on why I thought the project was special. She was on a vacation in India, and she, almost immediately, got my note and wrote me back on an email, which is super surprising. She was happy to come on board and it [was] super exciting.
[While filming Wireless] we did all the phone calls in real-time, which was a huge advantage for us. So, Andie would be on a trailer outside of the stage, and we would be shooting inside the stage, and I would be on the phone call with her in real-time. I think, for both of us, it was key to have that because imitating that in post, and recreating that in post, especially when we know so well the dynamic of these phone calls and these exchanges, whether they be via text and whatnot. I think we had to do it that way. I think Zach Wechter was adamant about that. I’m so grateful that everybody was game to do that.
Even when there’s the FaceTime calls with Jake, Andy’s best friend in the show played by Lukas Gage, we were shooting those real-time as well. So we would screen record on the iPhone that I was holding, and he was screen recording on the iPhone that he was holding. We would be in separate locations FaceTiming each other, and doing a scene over Face Time in real-time. Then you just take the screen recording and that’s the performance. So it was so authentic. We shot through these applications from these platforms and these mediums. So we wanted to embrace the digital nature of the iPhone as much as possible.
Finally, I’m really curious about The Card Counter, which is coming up soon, and I’m just curious to know what it was like working with Paul Schrader.
SHERIDAN: It was such a joy. I really love working with him. Of course, the movie is about Oscar Isaac’s character, and I think I’m just a piece of the story, but I was so happy to work on the project and work with a living legend. He’s such an economical filmmaker. I learned so much from that guy. At first, I think it was really surprising and hard to figure it all out and get a grip on his process.
But sometimes we would just start in the middle of a scene. We’d start shooting in the middle of the scene because he knew that he wasn’t going to be using the first half of the scene at this angle, and he wanted to start in the middle of the scene. So it really keeps you on your toes for sure. And he doesn’t do a lot of takes. He gets what he wants, and if you don’t hear anything, that’s usually good. There’re some directors, I think, that they’re really communicating and come and talk to the actors after every take, so there’s a lot of dialogue. But I think with Paul, he gets what he wants and he expects you to do your job and deliver, and occasionally you might get a compliment. They’re few and far between —and I kind of appreciate that.
Wireless is now available to watch on Quibi. Get even more Quibi updates here.
Allie Gemmill is the Weekend Contributing Editor for Collider. You can follow them on Twitter @_matineeidle.