CIFF 2016 – On the Red Carpet with MIDDLE MAN writer/director Ned Crowley & actor Jim O’Heir
(a little blurry from all the yucks!)
Last night, local Chicago filmmaker Ned Crowley appeared on the red carpet at the 52nd Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) with actor Jim O’Heir (of “Parks and Recreation” fame) for their film “Middle Man”. The twisted dark comedy is about a nebbish accountant in Peoria, Illinois named Lenny (O’Heir), who has an affinity for old school comedians and decides to head to Las Vegas to after his mother dies to follow his dream of becoming a stand-up comic. As his road trip gets closer to his destination, the story gets bloody and deadly and Lenny soon finds himself in a heap of trouble as he starts to count the cost of newfound success while struggling with doing the right thing. You can read my mini-review here and below you’ll find my red-carpet interaction with these two talented fellas, prior to their Friday night screening of “Middle Man”.
It was a quick chat, but these two were a blast to chat with. You can clearly tell their friendship goes back some years. Enjoy our laugh-filled brief discussion….
David J. Fowlie: Jim, you know a good friend of mind, Demetri Kouvalis, who was the cinematographer on a recently shot local film “Heavens to Betsy”….
Jim O’Heir: Oh, Demtri was so awesome! What a nice kid – everyone’s a kid to me…
Ned Crowley: What was he fifty?
JO: Yes. He coulda been my grandson. He was fifty (laughs) Nooo, super sweet guy.
DF: And you spent how many days on that set, eight? I know we’re talking about this movie, but we’ll get to “Middle Man”….
JO: No, I didn’t do eight. I came in and they shot me for four days, I believe. Because I had to go back to – we were doing this, I was doing another film in Atlanta….yeah, so I think I gave them four days. But he was awesome.
cinematographer Demetri Kouvalis and actor Jim O’Heir
DF: I took a look at your dance card, man. It’s getting pretty filled up.
JO: It’s been busy, yeah….
DF: You shot with Soderbergh recently, right?
JO: Well, I like to say Soderbergh shot with me (all laugh), because that’s all he talks about. Oh God! Jim O’Heir this, Jim O’Heir that! (laughs)
NC: Did he learn your name by the end of the shoot?
JO: He did – by the end, he stopped saying “asshole”! (laughs) So, I thought that was a big step. No, but that was amazing, yeah. I did three weeks in Atlanta for that, yeah.
DF: And that was earlier this year?
JO: Just this past month! It’s called “Logan Lucky”
NC: All natural lighting and not a lot of direction….
JO: No. No direction (laughs)
NC: …and a hundred miles an hour.
JO: A hundred miles an hour and he uses natural light.
DF: And after this film, is he gonna says he’s retiring again?
NC: Wait, was I right? He did say he was gonna retires….
JO: Yeah, absolutely and he tells you that, but…here, I have the whole explanation – because of the new cameras….
NC: Oh, okay.
JO:…he can shoot natural lighting and it changes the whole day.
NC: It’s like the fucking Rolling Stones, the come out of retirement every five years….
JO: No, but, I wanna say my first scene was three in a half pages and in my head, I’m thinking that’s ten to fourteen hours – two in a half hours later, they’re like “We’re taking you back to the hotel” and I’m like “We’re done?” (laughs)
JO: Yeah. It changes everything cuz you know your set up is your killer, the turnarounds and that’s your killer! There was none of it.
NC: And the bad actors who don’t remember their lines, (all laugh) that was our problem. That slowed us down.
JO: Yeah, that’s what slowed us down, cuz we had so much time. (all laugh) No, we were really lucky, everybody was on their game.
DF: So, I can talk to both of you about “Middle Man”. I enjoyed it. I posted a mini-review of it this afternoon….
JO: Oh great. Thank you.
JO: Well, I shouldn’t say “thank you” until I read it. But (all laugh)….
DF: I gave it three (out of four) stars. How’s that?
NC: I’ll take that!
JO: Yeah, I’ll take that too!
DF: I didn’t wanna boost you’re ego too much.
JO: No, I get it….
NC: That’s fair.
DF: It definitely felt like I was a kid watching an old “Tales from the Dark Side” episode….
JO: Oh, that’s great! (laughs)
DF: ….it was a blast, like a genre mashup. I wanted to ask though, first of all, with you, Ned, you had Jim in mind when you wrote the character of Lenny. Did the character of Lenny change at all was Jim was brought on board?
NC: Jim did not add much. He was like meat, you know? Packed meat. (all laugh)
JO: I took drivel and I made something with it. I made soup.
NC: I like to think what Jim added was foreground noise.
JO: Right (laughs). Exactly. Somewhere to put the camera.
DF: Jim’s caterer and work-out crew came in and took over (all laugh)….
EC: Oh, believe me – that was the big shock, coming off of seven years of “Parks”, he’s like “where’s my cappuccino?”
JO: “Where’s my food?” (all laugh)
NC: I’m like “Go change behind the bush!”
NC: But, no. Jim and I have known each other for thirty years. We started doing improv in Chicago in ’86 and started our group in ’87 and did that for about ten years. So, he was always the guy for this role and, originally, I wrote it for all of our improv friends, you know, and that was ten odd years ago and then I stuck it in a drawer, because everybody was busy and so forth. But, I knew him in my mind. So, the character didn’t change, but Jim brought everything I had hoped for, because – our whole thing (and we’d gone back and forth) is – I’ve seen Jim in a thousand things and I know when people are just kind of letting Jim do his thing, because he’s funny and I knew, having worked with him enough and knowing him well, I knew he could act.
DF: You knew his potential. (Jim starts fake crying and tearing up at this point)
NC: Yeah and so that was the whole point was to get something (all laugh)….
JO: (sniffles) Finally, Somebody!
NC: We didn’t write a “cry scene”, cuz he definitely can’t do that. (all laugh)
DF: And Jim said, “How much blood will there be?”
actor Jim O’Heir tolerating yours truly
NC: Everyday, poor Jim and Andy (Andrew J. West, who played Gareth on “The Walking Dead”) would be covered in – like, Andy had grease and shit in his….
DF: Well, he’s used to it from being on “The Walking Dead”….
NC: Yeah, but he did four or five days on that. We did eighteen days on this….
JO: Not to put any pressure on you, but was he not brilliant?
DF: Oh yeah, he was fantastic.
JO: For sure. I was blown away, blown away….
NC: And the nicest guy in the world.
JO: Nicest guy in the world.
NC: That was the thing that made it easy.
DF: You know, the cast is great, but what really struck me right away was the dialogue. I thought it was so witty and clever and….
JO: Thank you. When I wrote it, I was…(all laugh) I had everybody in mind.
NC: All improvised.
JO: We did a pseudonym, I go by “Ned Crowley” (all laugh) and it was…
NC: One hundred percent improvised.
JO: One hundred percent improvised. No, obviously – here’s what I’ll always say, “we had people like Andy West and Josh McDermitt and Anne Dudek for one reason: the script. Cuz they didn’t make any money (all laugh) – at least not the money they’re used to making….
NC: Well, they did. You didn’t though. They’re fine. We’ll talk about that later….
JO: Ohhh…they did, but I…Oh. No, but you know what I’m saying? The script was so strong.
DF: It really was.
JO: And they fought for those roles. They all auditioned and that brought them there was the script.
NC: It was fun hearing the words come alive. You know what, in hindsight, it’s funny you say the script, because we knew you don’t have a lot of money or time, you don’t have a lot of – you can’t screw around. And the actors we so good and so on it. One of the strongest things in the very first scene we shot – which is, you’ve seen it, after they bury the body and they’re driving off in the car and they have this conversation in the car – very first thing we shot with these two guys never being in the car before.
JO: Yeah. Andy made me up my game. He was – he’s the real deal.
DF: Was Lenny always written as a character who had this desire to be a stand-up comic?
NC: Yeah. The idea to me of having, basically a stand-up comic at the center of the film, who’s not funny, yet everybody else is, was you know – people like to say there’s a little bit of “The King of Comedy”, which is great but he was always a stand-up. The reason he was an accountant was because I was an accounting major….
DF: Write what you know! (all laugh)
NC: …which I wanna stick a knife in my heart about, but yeah.
JO: Yeah and you know the….see I lost my train of thought, cuz I’m old. You just said about the….
DF: …the stand-up comic?
NC: ….he’s always been a stand-up comic or the accountant thing?
JO: Oh yes! See? It comes back. It just takes a little time (uh, plus the meth). I’m like shaking and need a little hit. (all laugh) Yeah, get that on there “Jim O’Heir has a terrible drug problem!” Well, look at him. It looks like he does.
NC: ….wasting away!
JO: Yeah, exactly. He’s wasting away. No, what’s interesting is how so many people have compared this film, saying it’s Coen-esque, it’s “Fargo”, blah blah blah – he wrote this before any of that shit existed. That’s what I love.
NC: “Breaking Bad” is the one too.
JO: “Breaking Bad” we get a lot.
DF: Okay yeah, I could see that because of the setting in the desert.
JO: And I love that because this was just sitting in a drawer…with his underwear (laughs), which I think it shows.
NC: Wait till I bring my underwear out.
DF: There is a bit of a brown streak to the film. (all laugh)
DF: Alright, well I’ll let you two move on to the next lucky guy.
JO: Great! Thank you so much.
DF: Let’s get a picture over to the side, here….
JO: Yes. Definitely.
writer/director Ned Crowley and actor Jim O’Heir are “Flyin’ the W”