Last year at the San Diego International Film Festival’s “Insider Series” we were treated to a great indie film called I’m Not Here. Writer/director Michelle Schumacher was there talking about it, and she brought along her husband — Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons. I asked Simmons why, if he was playing an alcoholic, he couldn’t have gone the De Niro route and gained 60 pounds. He was in better shape than 90% of the room. He laughed and said that you could either go the heavy route, or being emaciated, so he went with the latter.
I talked briefly with Schumacher at the event, but with this terrific movie finally getting distributed this weekend, I did a longer interview recently.
My original review of the film is here: https://fox5sandiego.com/2018/04/25/im-not-here/
And here’s the interview with Schumacher:
JOSH BOARD: When you write a story like this, do you try to make sure you stay away from the cliches you see in movies dealing with an alcoholic?
MICHELLE SCHUMACHER: Tony (Cummings) and I didn’t consciously try to stay away from
the usual depiction of alcoholics you see in movies. But we did try to tell an honest story about a man with an addiction and how over time that disease (along with his own personal demons)
slowly eats away at his life.
JOSH BOARD: Speaking of cliches, I have gotten so tired of movies that start with something, that we end up seeing the rest of at the end of the movie. Yet in your film, it was so damn powerful. So I have to ask, did you know when you first sat down to write this story,
that it would be bookended like that, or did that come to you later?
MICHELLE SCHUMACHER: Thank you for that. We didn’t actually write it to be bookended
but when I was looking at the footage of JK it just hit me. We’re observing this man’s day. A day that is like every other day in his life. So, I had to start it the way we end it because that is the
question — will this day be like every other day, or will he choose a different path? Of course, with quantum mechanics there are infinite possible endings…
JOSH BOARD: On the subject of writing, do you do more of that then performing? I read that you were on the stage at some point, which is where you met your husband. And, tell me both the fun of writing a screenplay, and the headache doing it.
MICHELLE SCHUMACHER: Both the fun and the headache have the same answer — Tony! Of
course, he’d say the same about me. Lol! We really are a team. We write together on the phone. He lives in New York and I live in Los Angeles. Most writers I know who have a partner usually
trade off scenes; you write this scene, I’ll write that one. But Tony and I, we’re both actors, we like to discuss the scene and even act out the scene as we write. If it doesn’t sound right, we
don’t write it. It’s nice because he sees things from his perspective and I from mine. Which is good, and bad. We don’t always see eye to eye.
JOSH BOARD: You did something in the movie, and I mentioned this in my review. It was a small thing that I adored. You made the dads good with their kids. One of them might have a drink in his hand, but he’s helping a kid with homework or playing with race cars. It’s so refreshing that a writer can be smart enough to know…an alcoholic doesn’t just have to be screaming at his kids and wife, or smashing everything in the kitchen. How did you decide on
doing that with characters, or…showing that they were functioning alcoholics, or people with good sides, too?
MICHELLE SCHUMACHER: We tried to show that no one is all bad or all good. Everyone has
something they’re struggling with to varying degrees. We’re all flawed. You can be an amazing parent but because of your particular problem, alcoholism for example, you mess up
sometimes (or a lot). But that doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you human. We tried not to judge any of the behavior of our characters. We just wanted to give an honest representation
JOSH BOARD: Early on in the movie, I thought it would be hard to watch. Seeing J.K. drinking himself to death, didn’t seem like it would be that entertaining. Yet just like Nic Cage in Leaving Las Vegas you get enthralled by their stories, despite the fact that you fear it’s never going to get better for the protagonist. When a movie has dark subject matter, do you make a conscious effort to try to lighten the load in other ways (flashbacks that are humorous, interesting, etc.).
MICHELLE SCHUMACHER: We thought about that; should we add funny scenes? But then we
thought, no we need to stay true to the story. Steve is reflecting on his past and connecting the dots that led him to where he is today. He’s not taking a stroll down memory lane. We hoped
there was enough idiosyncratic behavior to keep it interesting.
JOSH BOARD: How were you able to get Oscar winning actor J.K. Simmons to
be in your movie? Okay, I’m joshing there. But…obviously, that’s a great person to see on screen, yet…if memory serves, he has no dialogue. Was that because you didn’t trust his ability to remember lines? No seriously, that had to be a discussion you both had. How did it all go down?
MICHELLE SCHUMACHER: There are several reasons we wrote JK’s “Steve” to have no
dialogue. Some have to do with the physical world he created by the choices he made in his life, and some have to do with the quantum mechanics world. I know JK was excited to play a
character who can only convey his inner thoughts and feelings through behavior and without interacting with any other character. I think he loved the challenge. It’s like nothing he’s
ever done before.
JOSH BOARD: The couple we keep hearing about working together, is John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, because of the success of A Quiet Place. So, how was it working with your husband?
MICHELLE SCHUMACHER: Working with JK is a director’s dream. I don’t know how he does
it, but he instantly connects with the characters he plays. Even if he doesn’t have much in common with the them, he finds a way inside. And nothing, nothing distracts him. He’s fully present, and completely vulnerable. It’s beautiful to watch.
JOSH BOARD: This is now the section of the interview where I pepper you with a million questions about your husband because….damn, you’re married to one of the best character actors on the friggin’ planet. So bear with me. When you guys are out in public, I like to think people walk up to him and say, “The Russians?”; because that line killed me in Burn After Reading, which is the most underrated Coen Brothers’ movie ever. I even told him at an
event, I thought the news shows should play that clip every time they’re talking about Trump and Russian collusion. I was thrilled he laughed at that and thought it was a good idea.
Anyway…I’m guessing it’s not that, but he most often hears people quote the song ending from the Allstate commercials. Am I right?
MICHELLE SCHUMACHER: I completely agree with you about the Coen Brothers’ Burn After
Reading. What a great movie. They are so clever and so painfully funny. I love them. And yes, he gets a lot of the Farmers commercial jingle sung to him. But honestly, most people are just
really kind and appreciate his body of work. They still love him from Oz and Law & Order, and of course Whiplash. I’m hoping after I’m Not Here comes out, people will be even more inspired
by his performance. A girl can dream, can’t she?
JOSH BOARD: Since the Oscars are still fresh in everyone’s mind from a few weeks ago, I think his speech was one of the best in Oscar history. How emotional were you, first hearing he won, and second…the wonderful things he said about you?
MICHELLE SCHUMACHER: This may sound insincere but, although winning the Oscar was
incredible, we don’t really put that much into awards. It’s such a strange thing to compare performances. I mean everyone was so nice and it was a lovely experience, but it’s not really something either of us thought about much. As far as his wonderful words, it feels good to be unconditionally loved.
JOSH BOARD: So, you have an Oscar winner in your cast, but ya know…I was surprised that the rest of the cast were some impressive names. Sebastian Stan. Loved him in Destroyer and he’s in those Captain America movies. How did you wrangle him into this picture?
MICHELLE SCHUMACHER: He loved the script. He’s a really great guy and wants to do
interesting parts. He was fantastic in I, Tonya by the way. I just think he was looking for something that was character driven. I love him in our movie. He dove in head first and was completely committed. I really appreciated that about him.
JOSH BOARD: And Mandy Moore…a double threat. Tell me about working with
MICHELLE SCHUMACHER: A consummate professional! Absolutely a delight to work with;
always gives 100%.
JOSH BOARD: David Koechner (Anchorman) is a character actor that always cracks me up on screen. Tell me about casting him.
MICHELLE SCHUMACHER: He’s a hoot! The problem with him is, he had my crew laughing
so much I had to be the bad guy on set and get everybody back to work. But seriously, he’s wonderful. His attitude is a breath of fresh air. He can make any part come to life.
JOSH BOARD: The only person in your movie I bet was easy to get, was Tony
Cummings, your writing partner. So I have to ask…he gets to play a judge. Was there no part for you?
MICHELLE SCHUMACHER: That’s funny! Yeah, for some reason Tony kept wanting to write
more for the Judge’s part! Actually, I didn’t want to be in the movie. I had my hands full directing, plus I’m much more comfortable behind the camera. Although there are times that I think about getting back on stage again.
JOSH BOARD: How does this movie compare to the first movie you did with J.K. — 3Geezers and, you have to tell me a story about Kevin Pollak. I think that man is a comedic genius, and I was lucky enough to interview him after a screening at the San Diego International Film Festival.
MICHELLE SCHUMACHER: Randle Schumacher, Eric Radzan and I wanted to see if we could
make a full-length movie ourselves. I had done some short films that did well in festivals and contests (with Carolyn Carpenter) and we wanted to see if we could make features without anyone telling us we ‘can’t do this’, or we ‘have to do that’. We wanted to do something fun and relatively simple for our first feature. So that’s how 3Geezers! came about. Once we established a core group; Randle, Eric and myself (Producers), Pietro Villani (Director of Photography) and Carrie Sheldon (Sound Mixer), Tony and I started writing I’m Not Here. We sort of cut our teeth on the first movie.
I’ll tell you a great story about Kevin Pollak. We had some fun cameo Trick-or-Treat scenes in 3Geezers!. Kevin’s scene wasn’t written yet but he said not to worry about it, he’ll just ad lib. We didn’t know what to expect so, on the day of his shoot, Kevin swings the door wide open and does his best Christopher Walken impression ending it with something about a dead body buried in the backyard. The other actors in the scene were scared stiff, but the crew had to cover their mouths so they wouldn’t laugh out loud and ruin the take. Kevin’s brilliant!
JOSH BOARD: Since we’re here in San Diego, I have to ask you about growing up in Chula Vista. How long did you live out here, did you study drama/dance in high school, and…tell us anything you can about what you loved, or hated, about this town.
MICHELLE SCHUMACHER: I lived in Chula Vista my whole life, until I moved to LA when I
was 22, and then about 6 months later I was cast in CATS on Broadway and moved to New York. I went to the Chula Vista High School of Performing Arts and studied with Jack Tygett and Javier Velasco (and many other incredible teachers). I did several plays and musicals at Southwestern College with Bill Virchis and worked for Don and Bonnie Ward at Starlight Bowl. I received incredible training in San Diego. I loved growing up there. We visit San Diego all the time. I still have family and friends there and I love coming home.
You can catch I’m Not Here, opening this weekend, at the AMC Fashion Valley. If it rains and you don’t want to go out, you’re lucky. It’s also on all VOD platforms. Let all the fanboys sell-out the showings of Captain Marvel, and go see the movie this weekend that’s geared to us adults.