I originally saw Donal Logue’s directorial debut “Tennis, Anyone?” at Sonoma Valley’s “Cinema Epicuria” Film Festival early on a Sunday morning. Being a big fan of Logue since his “Jimmy the Cab Driver” and “Tao of Steve” days, I couldn’t believe this film had slipped past my radar. I had never heard of it. So, with a hot coffee in my hand and a hangover banging in my head, I excitedly ventured over to see everyone’s favorite every-man, Donal Logue, star in his writing directing debut.
I really had no idea what to expect other than what the film description said. Basically, the film told the story of two B-list actors who loved tennis and thus started making a name for themselves in celebrity tennis. It hardly sounds engaging, but it was Donal Logue! I had to give it a chance. However I soon discovered “Tennis, Anyone?” is about much more than tennis. It’s about the loneliness and despair felt by artists and people who have skimmed the surface of success. It’s about pursuing your passion, no matter what people think. I found that “Tennis, Anyone?” told the tale of a man who has to learn to be himself….no matter what.
I loved the film and wrote a review that said just how honest, strange, funny and great “Tennis, Anyone?” was and then I sat back and waited for everyone else out there to see it and start the buzz. And I waited. And I waited, waited and then waited some more. The movie never really caught a buzz. Every year several great films just get cast to the side as people fall all over themselves for something the mainstream media said they should like. Why does it happen? Who knows. Yet as fate would have it, I was perusing Craigslist one day and saw a posting written by Donal Logue himself.
The post was titled “Independent Film Enthusiasts” and it was looking for a few good eggs to basically hand out flyers on campuses to promote “Tennis, Anyone?” which was playing at a movie theater in Berkeley. I was stunned. Not only had this terrific film never blipped on a radar, it is now being taken by the hand to small theaters across the country. I quickly responded and mentioned I had reviewed the film favorably for Film Threat and before long, the interview you see below you was spawned.
“Tennis, Anyone” was written by both you and by Kirk Fox. Who came up with the original concept? ^ Completely a synchronized epiphany between the both of us. It had brewed without articulation while we worked on “The Patriot,” but it wasn’t until we went to a charity tournament and this guy with frosted hair who was a bit time guy on soap operas came rolling up that we both looked at each other and knew that there was a film in this somewhere.
How long have you and Kirk known each other? Where did you meet? ^ We met on “The Patriot.” I think I had seen him in LA here or there. The day I showed up to South Carolina to work, I was with my kid and my ex and our dog and Kirk was hanging with this weird guy and I kind of defined the two of them by his friend and made a vow to avoid him.
This was one of Kirk’s only roles that has an actual character name. He usually plays characters like “FBI Agent” or “Sharpshooter.” Has this film helped him land some roles with names? ^ I really think it has. He did such a tremendous job. I broke him down so brutally in the two years leading up to shooting. When he is teaching tennis, he says things like, “great, now try hitting that backhand like a heterosexual” – I was equally as ruthless with his acting. I tried to break him of seeing his lines in quotes, of hearing them in his mind before they were “delivered” in a preplanned and contrived way. He was so good that my friends from “Grounded for Life” saw “Tennis, Anyone?” and put him in this big pilot for NBC where they forced him to go big and ridiculous on every line reading again.
You know all your fans perceive you as a smoking, drinking, philosophizing everyman…do you really play a sissy sport like tennis? ^ First of all, I am an alcoholic and smoked (no longer) three packs of Marlboro reds for almost fifteen years. I have had my a*s kicked many more times than I kicked someone’s a*s (twice, for the record) and yes, played a p***y sport like tennis. My Mom, she’s from Ireland, coached tennis in Nigeria when she was a Missionary and turned me on to it when I was young. I was living in Nogales, Arizona – on the Mexican border- and started by hitting a ball against the side of a school wall.
Who do you think the greatest tennis player of all time is? What tennis player is your most despised? ^ Loaded question filled with necessary qualifications. Greatest ever, Pete Sampras. But possibly so boring personally that people don’t give him the credit.
Personal faves- Borg and McEnroe. It’s like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson- they need each other to exist. The “holy s**t this guy is an inspiration and unbelievable” award goes to Andre Agassi. Finally- even though Laver was the s**t, Connors looked unbeatable in 74, etc… the guy who does stuff no one else could dream of is Federer.
The players I most despised are a******s from back in the day who were preppy, snotty juniors who didn’t amount to s**t but were liars, cheats and arrogant pricks. Apparently, players don’t like Roddick, but I wish the guy success, he is a fighter.
The film clearly has some parallels between your character “Danny Macklin” and your true self. Were you afraid that your honesty onscreen would be taken to heart? Did anyone in real life get pissed off at you? ^ Not at all. The only person who possibly could have really been upset, my ex Kasey Walker, was so proud of me and Kirk, she cried at a screening in LA and gave us big kisses and hugs. My bosses at “Grounded For Life” came and loved it too, but they are the best guys in the world- and by “they” I mean Jim O’Doherty, David Israel, Bill martin and Mike Schiff.
You had a really positive, almost magical festival experience with “The Tao of Steve.” How does “Tennis, Anyone?” compare experience-wise? ^ It’s weird. It didn’t get into Sundance although I showed a rough cut which is a mistake to all filmmakers out there. I actually think “Tennis, Anyone?’ is a ballsier, more brutally honest movie than the “Tao of Steve” and obviously I am closer to it. I loved the “Tao of Steve” because of a million factors, mostly how much I love Jenniphr Goodman. It was very satisfying to receive acting accolades for it because it confirmed a suspicion I had about the project, the intelligence of the dialogue and my ability to give the character life. “Tennis, Anyone?” has been really successful in festivals and has moved some pretty disparate crowds in different ways. Ultimately, it has been a struggle- but I was in Minneapolis and Austin a couple of weeks ago, sitting in theaters with complete strangers watching this weird movie that Kirk and I thought up and I was excited to be making film.
Based on your “Tao” experience and not to mention all your other indie endeavors…including hosting the American Spirit Awards…were you expecting your film to get a “warmer” reception and into “bigger” festivals? You got into some great fests but nothing “big.” What happened? ^ It’s a strange film. And by strange, I mean cool in a way that I think some really snotty, erudite or just snobby a******s don’t entirely get. It’s the kind of movie that people who think anything outside of contemporary Iranian cinema might not be worth watching, probably don’t like. Some Sundance people really dug it and I got a note from them and I felt a little burned, but I am sure a number of decent films do too. Fair or not, it always sucks when everyone wanders back from Sundance talking about how bad the movies were. I went to Australia after that and missed a lot of Fests. We dropped the ball on Berlin because Roland Emmerich ran the fest last year and initially was in our movie and loved it. I thought my buddy was submitting it and he probably thought I was. Although I have been burnt out by cutting and poster design and marketing and begging and all the stuff I had to do on the film.
You must have had a ton of contacts to indie distributers and festival people from all your years in the business. Were there any true-to-life “Tennis, Anyone?” moments where someone you thought would help you kind of screwed you over? ^ Not really. I thought Sundance could have helped a bit more but, such is life. A lot of distributors loved the movie and then they would get a screener for their boss who watches it in an office and passes- or video passes. I got a lot of flak for having Kirk as the lead because they all claimed it was a much harder sell, but no one else could have done that part for many reasons. Whatever. I was hoping good reviews and some limited success would help us get a bit of the last laugh, but I am proud of it. It was about the most guerilla, indie movie made last year. “Sideways” cost fifty million god damn dollars, we didn’t have a port a potty. We didn’t have hair or wardrobe or permits or anything and we made it. I was a little bummed that all the fests that pay such lip service to the indie spirit are really just speaking about films with big corporations behind them. P.S. F**k Toronto- now and forever.
Talk about some of the experiences you’ve had seeking distribution for the film. You mentioned “Tao of Steve” turned a pretty penny, but none of the investors saw much of it. Was it a priority to avoid that same fate with your film? ^ Absolutely. The distribution environment for little movies that aren’t about blondes with big tits shooting machine guns is more grim these days than ever. We could sell rights to our movie for fifty grand, but beyond that you will never see anything again. We own our movie and are now close to breaking even, even without finishing domestic DVD deals. It is rough. Even “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” had millions to keep it pumped up until it found an audience. All I have is my ATM card and I can’t do that with kids.
Why do you think people shied away from picking it up? Too dark? Not enough big stars? Not enough “festival prestige?” ^ All three…maybe your opinion would be better than mine because my perspective has been so skewed, I have no objective sense anymore. I thought “Napoleon Dynamite” was forced and stupid and “Welcome to the Dollhouse” pure genius and the market says I am dead wrong.
In my review of “Tennis, Anyone?,” (a film I really loved) I mentioned the performance of Jason Isaacs. Just who was he impersonating? ^ Tom Sizemore and probably stole a little bit of Olivier from “The Entertainer.”
Speaking of the actors in the film, did you have people like Paul Rudd and Henry Thomas in mind to play the porn stars? That was some f*****g brilliant casting, by the way. Also, how did you go about scoring The Dorffman (Stephen Dorff) and was it tough for him to play a vapid country superstar? Did he have anyone in particular (*cough* Toby Keith *cough*) in mind during his performance? ^ I asked them what they (Rudd and Thomas) wanted to do. Dorff had just come back from Nashville where he was hanging with his dad and we were riffing on country music. Dorff is a complicated character I will admit that, but we have the greatest working relationship and I love the guy. He is such a fantastic actor- from the “Power of One” on. I wish he had done twenty more films in the last five years of the “Back Beat” ilk.
I read you were a roadie for The Lemonheads. Can you tell us just what the hell is wrong with Evan Dando? ^ Nothing- other than he had a drug problem and was too good looking for his own good. But I met Evan when he was in high school and he was so f*****g talented. We all thought he was going to be like the punk rock Elvis. No one knows how smart he is- he is really, really bright. We were tight years ago. Although in his drug haze, after I moved to LA, I went up to him at Rhino Records when he kind of was on top as a star and he was so f****d up. He thought I was a fan who wanted an autograph and that was the first time I was really tripped out by how f****d up drugs are. I saw him after that and the Rhino Records thing was an episode he has no recollection of but it stung me. He is doing great now, married and doing good acoustic music. I think he could be like Nick Drake.
Was there any trepidation about just how dark this film gets? I mean, it’s great stuff but alot of it is borderline creepy. Did you seek to stun viewers or was there a particular idea you were getting at with the darker scenes in the movie? Shock? Honesty? Shocking honesty? ^ Dark, but not gratuitously so. Loneliness, a painful afternoon when you feel your life is completely adrift and in that moment, totally empty? Like the masturbation scene after which Danny immediately calls the woman who broke his heart. I have engaged in such self-loathing confirmation behavior. I just thought it was stuff I and others might relate to.
What was the festival reaction to the scene where you’re jacking off? ^ They all laugh when I reach for the lotion and then I run and duck.
Is “Ghost Rider” going to suck? If so…how bad? ^ I hope not, I had the greatest time. Nic (Cage) was in tight leathers the whole time and (of course) we immediately took it to an Elvis/Tom Jones kind of homoerotic place of humor between takes that busted us up. He was really disarmingly funny and smart and the director, Mark Stephen Johnson, besides Mark Ruffalo and Mark Waters is the NICEST man in show business.
What do you hope happens with “Tennis, Anyone?” Are you going to continue the DIY thing as you have by four-walling the film yourself? Do you plan to self-distribute after that? ^ We are going to continue four walling it. I think what I am doing is that I am going to screen it at colleges and do Q and A’s and also from now on, every screening we do for an audience – the proceeds will either go to the two charities that I feature in the film or the charity of the theater’s or institutions choice. We are showing in Boston and I am giving the proceeds to Peace Games, the Brattle Theater (in danger of closing) and a couple of Harvard Undergraduate charities.
Will there ever be another sighting of “Jimmy the Cab Driver?” Perhaps a film? I think we’d all love to hear his take on this current political administration. ^ I want to, I just need to raise a little cash. I think I might do it next summer with my friend Rob Burnett who runs the Late Show for David Letterman.
You’ve had a pretty great career so far…a nice build with lots of big budget stuff and great indie stuff. What has “Tennis, Anyone?” taught you about the business that you didn’t know before? ^ Just to keep hustling. It wasn’t the great success that it might have been, but honestly, if people with really good tastes like you and others really see what we were trying to do, I feel vindicated and happy about doing it.
The film has an extremely honest portrayal of how fake and power hungry the entertainment industry is…and you and Kirk should know. After shopping the film to festivals and distributors, did you ever feel they thought the joke was on them? ^ I think in a weird way that the entertainment industry is strangely more brutally honest than any other. In the world of academia, people get f****d over all the time and someone can just find an academic reason to screw them out of a position. Usually things that a lot of people like that are successful aren’t good movies. Like, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” But people like them and the market sustains them. Conversely, Hollywood can come through with huge films like the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which can be fantastic.
What festivals did you enjoy the most? ^ Woodstock and Austin. I missed my new hometown festival of Ashland, Oregon because I was in Australia. There was a film festival in Minneapolis called SMMASH- I loved it and the people that ran it.
What advice can you give young filmmakers now…having run the gauntlet with a film you wrote and directed? ^ Do it and do it on video so you don’t spend as much as I do. Swing for the fences and if it doesn’t happen, keep doing it- who knows? Once a film is made and it exists, someone somewhere is going to watch it and that is kind of the magic of it all. I guarantee “Tennis, Anyone?” will have a bigger future than “Taxi” with Jimmy Fallon.
Watching “Tennis, Anyone” raises many important philosophical questions. For me the most important one was…are El Caminos cars or trucks? ^ Cars with truck beds. Hot rods I should say. I have two.
What’s next for you? Any more writing/directing projects in the works? ^ I adapted a Walker Percy Novel I am going to direct with Bill Paxton in the lead. It is called “The Second Coming” and I am writing a pilot about my home town for FX called “El Centro” with John and Rick Dahl.
Any last words of warning or advice for Film Threat readers? ^ Don’t let the bastards grind you down!!!!