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I love KUFFS.
No, it’s not an ironic statement done out of some hipster love of Leon Rippy, although that’s a good enough reason, nor does it have anything to do with Christian Slater but taken as a whole KUFFS was a movie that was pretty good, pretty funny and had enough self-awareness that it was a film I still enjoy whenever it’s on.
And that brings us to Ross Partridge.
Seeing that he had a part in KUFFS was a good enough reason to give a shout-out to the guy (I would just as soon knight anyone involved in that production as worthy of my praise) and the fact he mentioned he hadn’t heard anyone bring that movie up in an interview as we talked about what we were really there to chat about, BAGHEAD, filled me with a little glee.
It’s not so much that Ross has obviously achieved the kind of success most actors never will, he’s been in the business for over 15 years, and is in one of the most talked about movies of the summer that doesn’t have anything to do with a gravely spoken hero of the night. BAGHEAD, Jay and Mark Duplass’ feature follow-up to the wonderfully produced THE PUFFY CHAIR, deals in a realm of comedy and horror that seamlessly blends the two in a wicked mix of thrills and laughs. After seeing this film you can’t help but wonder where Ross has been hiding amongst the soft bellied actors who wouldn’t have the wherewithal to deliver as convincing of a performance as Ross does. He understood what the part needed in order to make you think, first of all, this could happen and, secondly, how to bob and weave in between moments that have you laughing at one moment and abject horror the next. There’s a certain subtleness that Ross delivers in a movie where there are only four main people on the screen.
He took some time to talk about the film…and then about KUFFS.
BAGHEAD is now playing in limited release
ROSS PARTRIDGE: So, are you ready to do this?
CHRISTOPER STIPP: Absolutely, are you ready?
PARTRIDGE: Yeah. I’m actually in a pair of shorts walking in the ocean now so I couldn’t be more ready.
It sounds more glamorous than it is. I’m actually dealing with something in my apartment because my toilet just broke. It’s not that glamorous, I assure you.
CS: First question out of the gate, how pleased are you with the reception that BAGHEAD has received in the press?
PARTRIDGE: Man, I’m completely thrilled. It’s funny because you never really know who is going to enjoy it. We were up in Nantucket Film Festival a couple weeks ago and I swear the median age of the audience was probably 65 and I kept thinking to myself “I don’t know what about the description of this movie would make you want to come out and see this” but I have a feeling it has something to do with where people are at and they just want to have a good time and all the people just seem to love it – even at that age. It’s been pretty remarkable how people have taken to it.
CS: One of the nice things about the film was that the trailer does it so well that what I do on my side, in addition to doing interviews and pieces what have you, I also review movie trailers…
PARTRIDGE: Are you kidding me?
CS: I have not seen the movie. I’m in a podunk, backwater called Arizona and I haven’t seen it. It’s on it’s way, probably, by burro.
CS: Seriously, we get things weeks after – first, it’s New York, LA and then at the bottom of that list, I think, is Arizona.
PARTRIDGE: Doing interviews with people sometimes people haven’t seen it - I did a Q&A with Leonard Maltin up in Nantucket – he hadn’t seen the movie either and it was just kind of funny to do a Q&A with him.
CS: And you’re like, “Has anybody seen the film??”
CS: But the trailer sets it up so well that I jumped at this opportunity because not only have I been reading the press on it but the film itself seems like it does a lot with very little and that’s exactly what I want to have you talk about. When you read the script for this – you essentially have only four players in this production – how did you take it when you read the script – what were your thoughts about it?
PARTRIDGE: When I first read the script I was probably 20 pages in and I was like, “Are you kidding? There’s no way they are going to sucker me into this.” Meaning, how can we pull the wool over the audience’s eyes at something so obvious as some guy running around with a bag over his eyes and make it work. And then by page 40 I was like, “Fuck, they got me. I’m completely in.” It’s so obvious that it becomes not obvious and it becomes something that you think would become something else. That was my initial reaction but then it got me.
CS: What about the film? How does it marry together a horror film and something that seems like the human drama of four people – it’s about relationships from what I can glean – the relationship of these four people together – how does it mix the two so well? Usually with horror you have some really one dimensional stupid teenage pot smoking kids and…
PARTRIDGE: I think just as far as the construct of the movie itself goes I give most of the credit to Mark and Jay and it’s their type of film making. Their other film, THE PUFFY CHAIR, was a road movie but it was a relationship movie and it’s basically they set up a structure, a combination of things but really it’s a character driven drama with a mix of subtleties, with real conflict and the contradiction of characters no matter what the situation is.
That’s what becomes really interesting.
It is a hard thing to accomplish doing a horror movie that is really a comedy mostly all the way through and becomes almost a humanistic kind of drama at the end. It keeps people guessing – you are laughing all the way through and then all of a sudden it takes this turn and your start to scream because you’re scared and then you are laughing because you are screaming and you don’t really know what to do with yourself. It’s very interactive.
CS: How did you take a look at that when you read the script? You are thinking to yourself that there is no way people are going to buy into this and then you see…
PARTRIDGE: It wasn’t that I didn’t think people would buy into it – I thought that if they did it is going to be really a remarkable thing. It’s just a hard thing to conquer. And, as I read it I too was skeptical but then found myself completely immersed and completely had by it and thought if I’m reading it and it’s working then we can make it happen.
CS: What was important for you when you read the script and you had your own interpretation of what this character would be like? The brothers themselves, did they offer any sort of insight how they wanted you to play it?
PARTRIDGE: Absolutely. I came in, as all actors do, you prepare certain things and you kind of build a character. And, my character is an actor and there are certain strong elements of myself that I bring to the film for my character – I bring in more character type of idea and Jay and Mark were very quick to strip that down and make them as real and honest as possible. So I think it was Mark and Jay’s keen understanding of – trying to create characters – them as writers they create and directors with an audience in mind, characters that they feel that they know or feel they would like at the end of the day. Most all their characters are people that you really like. For an audience, it makes it more palatable to go along on a ride like this.
CS: The odd thing is that I’ve seen THE PUFFY CHAIR which is a brilliant little film and to see them take one strong leap into another direction and mix drama, comedy and horror together – were the brothers at all wondering how they were going to make this a scary funny film when they got down to actually making it?
PARTRIDGE: There are always those moments where I think Jay and Mark are incredible ambitious and incredibly talented. When you watch PUFFY CHAIR – this is those guys and this is what they do. They put you in a situation and it’s the complexity that gives it almost a documentary feel.
CS: And a bit about the earlier notion, the idea of improvisation, especially on a movie where the name of the game is horror…do you think as the brothers were doing it was there anything that they said to the effect of “You don’t look scared enough!” or “You’re acting like you’re not really scared…” – Was it sort of….
PARTRIDGE: Certainly. They are extremely generous filmmakers. They actually dive into the instincts of the actors as much as the actors themselves. They are just very generous and are keen on people’s instincts so. The line in the sand is what becomes too intense and falls short of keeping the humor alive and I think for the most part we were always opting to keep the audience in the palms of our hands with as much humor as possible and try even in the most precarious situations, albeit a man stalking you in the woods there is conflict of character and the characters’ intentions that end up being funny because there is such a situation that no one has ever experienced so everyone is experiencing it for the first time.
CS: And then having to marry that with the actual human drama and your character and everyone you are trying to relate to, was it odd for you to try and balance three different – the scary, the funny and the dramatic?
PARTRIDGE: No. There’s nothing I could say that was difficult about making this movie. The balancing of our intention – like I said we work in a way there were times when I was doing a scene and it was going in the wrong direction – my character breaks down in the beginning and I’ve done this shit, and I’m not doing anything with my life and I’m fooling myself to think that I’ll ever make it or be anything in the movie and it became very mellow dramatic and just wasn’t working. And, I came back and Mark and Jay they tend to take little walks on the set – that’s the luxury of producing the movie yourself to take the time in between to figure out what’s working and what’s not working and they came back to me and said, “OK, the same scene but you are not thinking about your own life, you are thinking about buying a hybrid car.”
So they are always creating new ways to get the same results but playing with our intentions. Not rehearsed. We never rehearsed anything.
CS: Was there any sort of fear that the – and I won’t draw the comparison - but I’ll just sort of illustrate it as I try to ask the question is that you know M. Night Shyamalan’s big reveal at the end that the guy was dead all along. Did you ever, or the filmmakers, think along the way that “Maybe we are trying to become too gimmicky” or that “This is looking like one of these things where the last part is that ‘He woke up’”. Do you know what I mean?
PARTRIDGE: Oh absolutely. Look, all along we were concerned with the reveal at the end if people were going to feel – the big concern was that we know that people know we have this big reveal at the end but just as long as we are responsible about making the journey up to that point making it worthwhile for the audience, then we feel that we will be OK. I think that was always in the back of our minds. We are kind of playing with the audience, having fun with the audience but as long as they are having a good time too I think they’ll forgive us. And that’s working out very well, doing it that way. Since you haven’t seen it yet, I won’t spoil the ending.
CS: I appreciate that.
PARTRIDGE: People are like, “What the f…” and then it’s not about the ending really, it’s about the characters and how they relate to one another – that’s the most important thing. The presence of the Baghead is the backdrop of the relationships and dynamics of the characters and how that’s been resolved – the audience was rooting for that even more interested in that under the umbrella of this guy chasing around the woods with a bag over his head.
CS: How is it for you anyway on a project like this? I think if the budget were more I don’t think a movie like this could be made because it seems that this is a film that rewards attentive viewing. If someone took this script and gave it to a Sony or Warner Bros. they might be a little gun shy because they are trying to mix genres and they like products that are easy to sell and easy to market – this bridges a lot different genres as it were.
PARTRIDGE: Yes, I understand. It’s kind of one of those things where everyone wants it cut and dried and fitting into a certain mold and then someone comes along and does something that doesn’t fit into that mold and no one pays any attention to it and then that becomes the mold. This is certainly not an easy movie to market. I understand people’s concerns and reservations in this business about how to market this movie, but in the end I think it’s a movie that is so unique, it’s worth taking the adventure of figuring out how to market it because that in itself becomes part of the uniqueness of the profits of what this movie could be. You come back to the old adage that sometimes studios don’t give the audience enough credit.
CS: What are your thoughts as a working actor as a viable way for you to make a living? In trying to do a little research before I talked to you I was surprised when it looks like you started off in a movie which is one of my favorites of all time: KUFFS.
PARTRIDGE: Get out of here!
CS: I love that movie and I’m damn well embarrassed almost to admit it.
PARTRIDGE: Oh my god. That’s hysterical. I never thought anyone would ever talk to me about KUFFS ever.
CS: I love it. It is – and I won’t even call it a guilty pleasure – I just enjoy – like you said you sell the audience short – for what it was you’ve got Leon Rippy, you’ve got Christian Slater…
PARTRIDGE: You got Bruce Boxleitner.
PARTRIDGE: You got Ashley Judd – it was her first job too by the way.
CS: Oh really? I didn’t know that.
PARTRIDGE: Yeah, she played a pregnant woman somewhere. I remember them auditioning her and her walking into the room at the time I was probably 25 and thought, “This girl is spectacular.”
PARTRIDGE: And then she went on and became huge.
CS: Exactly. And I enjoy that film immensely. And it looks like you did some stuff until ’93 and then there’s a 3 year gap. Little things here and there – what have you been doing to fill the time?
PARTRIDGE: It’s been hit and miss for me. It hasn’t been an easy – I’m still struggling right now. But I took some time off from acting and did a little traveling. I wrote a screenplay that I was working on for a couple years. I ended up writing and directing a feature film back in 2000 for the Toronto Film Festival called INTERSTATE 94 staring Kevin Dillon and then I started a film website with a friend of mine with Kevin Spacey’s production company. Then I was working with those guys and produced a couple documentaries and I was working the producer end of the business so I kind of jumped in and out of the business and that’s kind of how I met Mark and Jay. I was at the Nantucket Film Festival producing a screen play for one of the screen plays that was on our website and met them when they were doing THE PUFFY CHAIR and then got completely blown away by what they were doing and how resourceful they are and we became friends and one thing led to another and we started to collaborate on ideas and they had this script and they said, “You know what, we want you to do this.” So, we ended up doing it. I’ve been kind of in and out and in all different aspects – just chugging away at it.
It’s a tough business, man.
CS: Absolutely. It’s a testament to honest to God dedication in sticking with it.
PARTRIDGE: I think when you start out in this business you have an idea of how you would like your career to go and you try to find yourself doing– I do a lot of theater - I have a theater company here in New York and we produced a couple shows in the last couple years so I always try to get back and do more theater but obviously that doesn’t pay anything so you try to do a movie and put money on the boards. But it’s definitely a long road and you can’t quit when you have something you want to say and roles that you haven’t really been able to accomplish. At this point, BAGHEAD has been the reward of many years – Mark and Jay are two of the most talented people I’ve ever met in this business. I just got back – I co-produced a project called The DO-DECA-PENTATHLON which they are editing right now and hope to get to Sundance next year.
CS: And good luck with that. I like talking to people who actually have to make a living doing this and not just reaping the reward of a fanciful career. You are absolutely an inspiration.
PARTRIDGE: Thank you, man. And if you met Jay and Mark – these guys are the realist guys you’ll ever come across. Their talented and so unaffected and just love what they do. They love movies and at the end of the day to be around guys who love it and hope to do it they way we want to do it – they love making movies their way.
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