Rebecca Cook Talks About Jason Behr and ‘Shooting Livien’:
Writer/Director Rebecca Cook discussed how Jason Behr was chosen for the movie, how prepared, and his performance in an interview with About.com.[…] Jason Behr is not necessarily an obvious choice to play the lead in a movie of this sort. How did you connect with him?
It was a real challenge casting this part because we went from do we want a singer who can act, and with that comes a great degree of risk. Can a singer actually act? And having no money and in the short period of time we’re going to shoot this, can I get what I want out of him? And then we went the Broadway route. We met with Patrick Wilson and Adam Pascal and we were going to go that way for a while. Then we got a call from Jason’s manager. I still felt it hadn’t yet clicked, and everything’s starting to click into place and this is the one elusive thing. It just didn’t necessarily fit with me. And I’m telling you, it was like fate. He called my producer and he said there are two people he represented – Sam Ball and Jason Behr. I knew Sam Ball but Jason Behr I was completely unfamiliar with. I’d never seen “Roswell,” although I had heard of it. I looked him up on IMDB and I was like, “Okay, he’s got a great look. We’re in our final hours here so please get him in there so our casting director can get him on tape.” That’s what we did. [Jason] just nailed it from the get-go. He had actually, ironically, grown his hair long prior to the audition, for really no purpose. He just walked in Livien. He understood my words. There’s probably no other person on this planet who could’ve interpreted them the way that Jason did. It was so evident without my direction even, just from his audition, that he connected with the character. And physically was even in a place where I believed he was a New York underground rock star. I called the producer. I was like, “This is it. This kid needs to be a movie star because he’s amazing.”
That same week we got the audition tape from [Dominic Monaghan] to play the character of Owen, which is Livien’s best friend. It was the same thing. It was just like it had been handed to me on a silver plate. It clicked. So for me, I hadn’t seen “The Lord of the Rings” either (laughing), I wasn’t working with their stereotypes at all. In fact, I still haven’t seen “Roswell” but I did finally see “Lord of the Rings.” But I didn’t want to because they had impressed me so much from their auditions. It was sort of irrelevant to me what the producers may say they could be perceived as. Much the same way that we came to casting Ally Sheedy. She comes with her own set of expectations. And I just thought this would be so interesting to put her in a role that probably someone wouldn’t think to put her in necessarily. We went against stereotypes here. I think that’s why I’m so excited for audiences to see with Jason this incredible depth he has. He really should be a leading man. He deserves a lot more roles that hopefully will come to him once audiences get a glimpse of what he’s able to do.
I read in the “Shooting Livien” notes that Jason lost 40 lbs for the role. He’s always been slender and it doesn’t seem like he would have had an extra 40 lbs he could have lost.
I know. He’s so fit. He reached a point where we were literally telling him, “You need to eat today.” He was like, “No, I’m fine. I’m fine,” and he’d go eat more carrots. As a director you feel like you’re a caretaker, and here I’m watching this person withering away for the integrity of my work. It comes with a lot of responsibility, not to mention I care about him as a person. I definitely mothered him and I definitely said, “You know, you’ve got to put some food in your mouth.”
It’s a low-budget film and you try to get him chicken or something healthy, but he just so totally immersed himself in the character that there was no turning back. You could physically see the difference within a week. You’ll see it in the film, but I can remember at one point you can see his spine when his back was on camera. It was like, “Okay, Jason, good thing this film wraps in three weeks because you’re going to have to start eating.”
Let me tell you, the best day – one of the best days was the day after we wrapped. We went to this place that he’d been dreaming about since he got to New York. It had something like $50 hamburgers with something stuffed in the middle of it (laughing). I mean, the kid had been talking about it for weeks and weeks. To see him eat again was the most exciting feeling. We’re all like, “Here Jason – eat more, eat more!” He just had the biggest smile on his face. He let go of Livien’s doom and gloom and became Jason Behr again.
That brings up another point: was Jason able to put this character away at the end of each day of shooting?
No. I mean, well, sure, enough that he could be loving and we could go out for a couple of drinks and have some fun. He’s definitely capable of doing that. But part of it is where we’d go to have some drinks is very much the tableau of what the film was about.
We were just working insane hours so it was like none of us could sort of escape the “Livien” capsule, which made it so intense and wonderful and why the connections between all of us are so strong. But we definitely could have a drink and relax, or drive home in the car and talk about it in sort of an objective perspective of what we accomplished that day, or what we need to accomplish. He could break from it long enough to do that. He wasn’t totally Livien but he’s a much more cheerful person, happy person, in real life than he is as Livien, which is fun. He did a great job of keeping himself sane and I don’t know how because he was so fully immersed.
Did Jason play an instrument before starring in your movie?
No. We basically fed him to the wolves. He knew a little bit of guitar but basically had to learn. We set him up with a guitar consultant who gave him the basic chord structures. There were certain scenes where poor Jason was trying to remember the words, he was trying actually to be Lennon to a degree, and he was also trying to play the guitar accurately. So there’d be certain takes where I’d have to say, “Jason, screw the guitar. We won’t lower the camera. The camera won’t go below your chest. Right now, focus on the words and the feelings and the emotion and do the acting.”
It certainly is a challenge to try to act while you’re focusing mechanically on what you’re doing with your hands. It kind of blows my mind what he was able to pull off. He did it well enough that in the film you see him playing guitar. He was very dedicated. We did the music the first week, which was a lot for him to handle. But I think the first week was hard because the other actors were bonding and the crew was bonding, and every free second Jason would put his headphones on and head into a corner with his guitar and listen to the music, or work with the guitar consultant. It worked for his character because Livien’s a detached character to a degree. It certainly helped in that regard, but he would just really put all of his time into it. He’d go home and he’d practice. He pulled it off.