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Interview with LITERALLY, RIGHT BEFORE AARON director Ryan Eggold

October 4, 2017

 

The Blacklist: Redemption - Season 1

 

If you’ve been watching television closely, you may recognize actor Ryan Eggold, who’s been been working as an actor for over a decade in shows like the CW’s “Veronica Mars”, HBO’s “Entourage” and FX’s “Dirt”. In 2013, he could be seen in three films, “Lucky Them” with his Toni Collette where he displayed his singing/guitar-playing chops, “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her” (along with its 2014 companion) with Jessica Chastain and the indie drama “Beside Still Waters”. That same year he starred as Tom Keen in NBC’s hit crime thriller “The Blacklist”, (Season Five us airing now) where he can currently be seen in a role that viewers mostly know him from. Now he adds the role of director to his resume, expanding his short 2011 “Literally, Right Before Adam” into a feature-length romantic comedy that draws from his own personal experience.

“Literally, Right Before Aaron” focuses on Adam (Justin Long), a thirtysomethibng aspiring documentary filmmaker still reeling from his break-up with his ex-girlfriend, Allison (Cobie Smulders) and is devastated when he receives a call from her, inviting him to her wedding in San Francisco. Since she asked, Adam agrees to attend, probably not realizing how challenging it will be to see her marry Aaron (Ryan Hansen), forcing him to confront unresolved feelings and his own uncertain future both romantically and professionally. While he hopes to convince himself and everyone else that he’s sincerely happy for Allison, he winds up facing the truth that letting go is easier said than done.

Eggold wrote, edited and directed “Literally, Right Before Aaron”, just like his short that its based on, and I recently had the opportunity to talk with him over the phone. We talked about what inspired the film’s story, what it’s like stretching out his own short into a feature-length film, what he was looking for in casting his two leads and how exactly he got the likes of Lea Thompson, Dana Delaney and Luis Guzman to star in cameo supporting roles.

Check it out below….

 

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DAVID J. FOWLIE: Can you talk about the process of creating a feature-length out of your own short – what kind of decisions did you face and if this is something you always wanted to do after that your experience making the short? 

RYAN EGGOLD: Yeah, sure. I was going through a break-up and I wrote down a theme – an idea I had for the short and I just kept writing and I never really planned to make a short. I just sort of wrote this thing and then I thought, “We should shoot this”, because I know so many actors and cinematographers. So, we made it and I showed it to some folks and when they would watch it I was just surprised to hear how many folks could relate to it or have experienced something similar – you know, some version of this story. And I just thought it was really powerful to realize that you can think and feel something on your own and then it can translate maybe into something that a lot other people can feel and kind of connect to. That was really inspiring. So, I thought I should do the feature and I was acting full time, so I was sort of waiting for the right time to sit down and do it.

Also, when I made the short, I felt, “Oh, you know, that was really fun, that was great”, but then later I thought, “You know, I really should pursue that. I should get on that.” So, I eventually sat down and wrote the feature and then I just went for it.

DJF: It’s probably reassuring to know that you weren’t alone in your own experiences, since your writing about relatable themes and topics, something we can all relate to. There’s the awkwardness of reconnecting with your ex, but also agreeing to attend their wedding. Was that something that was always in the short, and can you talk about how the storylines and the themes changed or developed from short to feature?

RE: The feature is very much a development of the short. It’s not a very different story. It’s fleshing that out and going deeper into the characters, the colors and the details and letting things breathe. One thing that we added for the feature that wasn’t in the short was the flashbacks, there was no history in the short, it was very much in the present. So, in the feature, we got to really show who they were and why he was hung up on this relationship and what it meant, what it felt like and what it looked like and all that. That was really great because some of those scenes from the past are some of my favorite. We got to give supporting characters a lot more to work with and add to the story. I just watched the short and thought, “What do I want to add? What’s missing? What do I want to know? What do I want to see?” Because the short is a straight shot, but in a feature you get to live a little with the characters.

 

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DJF: Were there actors from the short that were carried over into the feature or was this a totally different cast?

RE: There were a few actors that carried over into the feature. Not a lot, but a few. Adam Rose, is a friend of mine and an actor, he starred in the short and is absolutely fantastic in it and I had him cameo in the feature in a scene in the beginning of the film. He’s sitting next to Justin when he’s at work, in the office with Peter Gallagher. They’re just brief appearances, for a moment, but it’s fun. And then Manu Intiraymi was also in the short and in the feature, he was the guy at the dinner party who says, “Did she really invite you? Everybody knows who you are, you’re that guy!” He’s the only guy who really kinda sticks it to him in the whole film. So, he came back. He was so funny in the short and I really loved that part for him.

DJF: Were you involved in the casting process for the feature?

RE: Very much so, yeah.

DJF: What were you looking for in the two leads, Adam and Allison, to accurately portray these roles?

RE: I think for Adam I was looking for somebody who was funny, certainly. But, somebody who could do the comedy and yet be earnest as well. You know, really let the audience in and be vulnerable and earnest. Somebody who could be very nuanced and subtle and there’s a lot of humor and awkward enhances and looks that Justin is perfect for. He’s great with the comedy, but he could also be very honest and vulnerable as an actor. Plus, he’s a great guy to root for. Very likable and the character of Adam does a lot of unlikable things. For Allison, I was just looking for someone who could epitomize sort of your dream girl in a sense, but also could be sort of one half glamorous 1940’s movie star “woman of your dreams”, but also be one half telling dick jokes “one of the guys” and down-to-earth, your best friend. So, Cobie has that quality. She can be both beautiful and larger-than-life, but she’s also just super funny and down-to-earth and easy-going and that was important.

 

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DJF: Since I haven’t seen the short, I was wondering if the ending is the same for both the short and the feature. Without giving anything away, can you speak to that?

RE: The ending in the short ends sooner. The short ends with the cake going over. Adam knocks the cake over and there’s kind of a look and he kind of has this look of release and he starts to walk away and it ends right there, which is really fun. For the feature, it ends after that. There were numerous endings when I was writing. The ending was hands down the funnest part….

DJF: Right. I don’t want you to give too much away. I won’t.

RE: Yeah yeah yeah. Maybe instead of saying, “He knocks the cake over”, I could just say it ends at the wedding.

DJF: There’s a wedding mishap – how’s that?

RE: Yes. It ends with a wedding mishap. But I had written like 6, 7 or 8 endings for the feature and we ended up truncating it even in production and going with a simpler approach.

DJF: Again, I won’t get into a specific scene at the end, but it definitely made me think of Mike Nichol’s “The Graduate”, was that something that was on your mind?

RE: Very much so. Yeah, it’s funny. There’s a lot of “Graduate” nods throughout the film. There’s a fish tank in Adam’s room. There’s sort of a Mrs. Robinson character wth Dana Delaney playing Cobie’s mom. It’s just this young man who is stuck and trying to figure out how to proceed. Mike Nichols in general was a big influence. His film “Carnal Knowledge” was also on my mind. But, with the ending, without giving it away – it’s funny, I had written something else entirely, then in production I thought, “What if we cut this ending off and then just end right here in this moment?” Suddenly, it was like, “Oh, it’s very “Graduate”, but what I liked about it – gosh, I don’t want to ruin it – but, it’s a play on “The Graduate”, a different version of it. I wanted to keep both characters in the shot, yet in a very different way than in “The Graduate”.

DJF: It’s definitely not as ambiguous as “The Graduate” and more life like, in a way.

RE: Yeah, thanks. That was definitely the goal.

 

 

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Literally Right Before Aaron
Photo Credit: Michael Moriatis

 

 

DJF: You mentioned casting your leads, but can you talk about casting for the supporting roles. I found some of them to be inspired, like Dana Delaney as Cobie Smulder’s mom is spot-on. Can you talk about casting her and others, like Lea Thompson as Justin Long’s mom and actors like Luis Guzman popping up in a cameo? 

RE: Absolutely, yeah. All of them were great. I had met Lea and Dana doing a game show.

DJF: You were doing a game show?

RE: Yeah, what’s that show on ABC, hosted by, what’s her name – blonde hair – Jane Lynch?

(NOTE: Since I don’t watch much TV, I looked it up later and learned he was referring to “Hollywood Game Night”, a show that Lynch hosts that’s been around since 2013, where two contestants, each with a team of celebrity guests, compete in pop culture party games for a chance to win $25,000)

So, I met them on that show and since we had these two mother roles, I just thought these two women would be perfect. And they’re great. Peter Gallagher was one of the first people thought we thought of. He’s such a nice guy and such a consummate actor and a professional. He did such a great job….

DJF: He seemed like he was game for anything.

RE: He was, man. He was up for anything and there was actually a bunch of stuff that we had to cut. We opened with Peter in the jungle with the documentary camera man filming him and trying to keep up with him and it was sort of introducing how Adam was dissatisfied at work. Peter did the funniest stuff. We had Peter in a tree, improvising something about ants biting him on the crotch or something. It was hilarious. He’s so committed and fantastic.

DJF: I hope you’re keeping those for the DVD/Blu-ray extras…

RE: You know, I think there are one or two of those on the DVD/Blu-ray extras. We did a few minutes of bloopers and we put some of that in there. As for Guzman, that guy’s a genius. He’s incredible, always.

 

Literally Right Before Aaron
Photo Credit: Michael Moriatis

 

DJF: Now, was Guzman’s character originally in the short, or was he one of the added characters to the feature? His scene is funny, but it’s also kind of poignant in a silly way, kind of up and down like that, but it works.

RE: Yeah, thanks. I like that scene a lot. We did wanna play with both of those colors there. No, Guzman’s character was not in the short. In fact, most of the supporting characters were not in the short film. It’s such a nice kind of break from the wedding and he winds up being, you know, this sort of unlikely guru.

DJF: You can tell that, like Peter, he definitely had fun with that role. 

RE: Yes. Yeah, he does.

DJF: Finally, I just wanted to ask about the editing process. I see you edited this film as well, so I assume you edited the short. What did you do differently or learn in editing  both productions? 

RE: I learned so much, but one of the biggest things I learned about editing was after I had finished cutting the short and then when I was going to start editing the feature – I mean, I had the benefit of living with the short for a while, it was done and I had my feelings about it already set in. You know, about what I wanted to do differently or what I wish I had done. One of the things I did with the short that I think was a mistake or certainly would be a mistake for a feature, was just kind of indulging myself in certain moments and staying too long because I like it or wanting to get it all in there. For example, one instance is, there’s a part where Adam kind of dreams of her and he’s seeing and for that I had all these interesting and cool shots, but at a certain point, as an audience member, you’ve gotten the information that you needed and you felt what you needed to feel. It’s all happened and it’s there. So, let’s move on. That was a big lesson I learned was just the economy of storytelling and even when you love stuff, it has to be cut. (Laughs) I cut so much stuff that I really enjoyed from this feature. And that’s one of the things that’s the biggest lesson. Less is more and if you can cut it – cut it.

NOTE: Ironically, that’s where my recorder decided to cut the live recording! I guess I needed to make some room and edit out some previous recordings, so I have some room on my device. Lesson learned, indeed!

 

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“Literally, Right Before Aaron” premiered at Tribeca Film Festival this past spring and can now be found in a limited theatrical run and is also available on VOD, Amazon and iTunes.

 

The Blacklist: Redemption - Season 1

(photos courtesy of NBC and Screen Media Films)

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