Please be warned that this interview is rife with spoilers for the film “Nowhere Man”. Don’t read on if you plan to see the film and hope to be surprised! And don’t bitch to me later if you do.
Michael Rodrick is used to playing characters under a lot of stress, particularly for notoriously-demanding director Tim McCann. In McCann’s “Desolation Angels”, Rodrick’s Nick is tortured by guilt and rage over the date-rape of his girlfriend. In McCann’s later film, Revolution No. 9, Rodrick plays Joe, who can only watch, frustrated, as his sister’s husband succumbs to schizophrenia. In “Under Hellgate Bridge”, he’s a recovering junky and ex-con who is coming to terms with rage and more guilt.
Rodrick’s characters don’t exactly frolic in the sun.
In, Nowhere Man, his latest pairing with McCann, Rodrick plays Conrad, who is going through a, well, very painful divorce—in many senses of the word—from the woman he loved (played by the “Goddess of Independent Film”, Debbie Rochon) when he discovers something about her past that he simply cannot handle. Then lots of very unpleasant things happen to the pair—not the least of which the wince-inducing theft of something very personal to Conrad, which is subsequently held hostage.
Yes, it’s exactly what you think it is.
“Tim McCann, unbeknownst to me, wrote ‘Nowhere Man’ with me in mind,” Rodrick says. “He sent me the script in May, and said we were shooting in August. When someone writes something for you, you’re attracted to the project. But when I read the script, I was definitely afraid of the subject matter and told Tim.”
And McCann’s response?
“He called me a wimp and said we’re shooting in August. Name-calling can be a great motivator.”
As with his previous films, McCann proved himself to be a tough director, who doesn’t rest until he gets what he wants. He isn’t above telling his actors that their performances are lacking if they really are. This is what attracts so many “serious” actors to his side. This is also what scares off so many from him at the same time. Honesty is a double-edged sword.
“I had to be in the film,” says Rodrick, “because Tim is one of the few indie directors who gets the job done. Fully executes the project. We work well together. We finish the job no matter what, and there were quite a lot of hurdles with ‘Nowhere Man’.”
With “Nowhere Man” Rodrick’s third outing with McCann (he’s currently shooting his fourth with the director in Los Angeles—at sitcom, of all things, this time!), Rodrick was prepared for the encounter, but knew the added weight of the dark, grim subject matter would make things more difficult. Of course, Rodrick is no stranger to difficult roles.
“I keep coming back for more because I’m a masochist. He’s Werner Herzog and I’m his Klaus Kinski,” he says with a laugh. “Tim has to be demanding, because we’re shooting with low budgets and because he wants to get the film in the can. He motivates you like a tough baseball coach would in high school. If you can’t take it, then get off the field. Conrad has the perfect super-objective, ‘get my dick back’. All actors try to find what their objective is in a scene. ‘Nowhere Man’ made that pretty easy. I was able to bring more detail and nuance to Conrad since I had the script a few months before shooting. Tim also likes to rehearse. So, I was able to build more layers. An actor usually doesn’t have that luxury.”
The centerpiece of the film begins as a reconciliation between Conrad and Rochon, or that’s how the audience is meant to perceive it. The scene doesn’t end that way. Lovemaking slowly devolves into a very intense rape scene that is difficult to watch, both mirroring and rivaling that of the French film, “Irreversible”. As it is horrible to view, one can only imagine how it was to shoot. But it was, Rodrick says, necessary to the film. “The rape scene was not scripted. Tim McCann and the producer, Larry O’Neal decided that a horrible event was necessary for Debbie Rochon’s character to have the motivation to sever the member. I came to set ready for a scripted confrontational scene, and was then asked to improvise a rape. That was truly difficult.”
Rodrick doesn’t elaborate.
As for the rest of the shoot, Rodrick describes it as “grueling, vigorous, and therefore wonderful.”
Inevitably, not every day’s schedule was rife with emotional turmoil. One scene with a grim undertone did produce a less-than-miserable memory for the actor. “The best anecdote would be shooting at the “HUB AGAIN” bar in North Bergen, NJ. The original HUB bar was burnt down by the owner of a rival tavern, so needless to say this place both has character and some characters! We started shooting when the bar opens, 6am. There’s the usual six or seven guys there, who always start their day with a pint. They all agree to be quiet while we shoot. They were really cool about everything, so we kept buying them rounds. Well, before long they were all pretty trashed and couldn’t control themselves, yelling and screaming during takes—‘when’s the film coming out? Boy, he’s f*****g good! I really believe him!!!’ Eventually, we had to pay the cab fares for all of them to go home, but not before we laughed our a***s off.”
“Nowhere Man” has had a difficult time of things since its completion. While it played and was well-received at the Oldenburg and Greenwich Film Festivals, it has also been rejected by countless other “big” festivals by those that just don’t get that it’s an uproariously grim black comedy about a man who has his penis cut off by the woman he mentally abused and drove psychotic. (I mean, who can’t see the hilarity in that?) There are even reports that it was almost banned from playing in L.A. at all? On the other hand, you just can’t buy press like that, and as a consequence (and lots of hard work and hustle on the parts of the director and the stars), “Nowhere Man” is opening theatrically in select cities on March 11th and 25th.
Rodrick accepts that “Nowhere Man” isn’t fun for the whole family. It is, however, a masterful work of bizarre drama and, as he explains, mainstream festivals are quickly catching on.” “Our film just needed to build momentum first. We’re in the Sarasota Film Festival and the Newport Beach Film Festival—both festivals are in G.O.P. conservative country. I think that’s quite an accomplishment, given our subject matter. The Fairfax Laemle Theater in LA has us scheduled to open March 18, 2005. Just keep checking the website www.nowheremanthemovie.com.”
Interested parties are encouraged to do what he says.