IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Ron Eldard talks 'Roadie'

Wednesday, 04 January 2012 13:50 Written by  Rocio Anica
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Ron Eldard talks 'Roadie'

Roadie, which will be released in theaters on January 6th, opens with a man on his cell phone, undoubtedly using the last of his persuasive energy to keep from betraying his true pathos. Juxtaposed with the glamour of Bolex shots taken of his adventure-studded career as an accessory to rock-star life, the lead character of the film, instantaneously ropes the viewer into his tragic plight.

The man responsible for bringing the character of Jimmy Testagross to life is Ron Eldard, a film and theatre veteran last seen onscreen in J.J. Abrams’ homage to Steven Spielberg, Super 8. Eldard is also known for his roles starring alongside heavyweights such as Oscar-winners Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly in House of Sand and Fog, Ewan McGregor and Josh Hartnett in Black Hawk Down, and Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, and Brad Pitt in Sleepers. When he’s not committed to a film or TV project, Eldard practices his craft on Broadway, with roles like Father Flynn in Doubt, and Biff in Death of a SalesmanEldard’s roles often find him in complicated positions, gray areas that demand sympathy or reservation of judgment by the audience. It’s not hard to guess why; because the actor’s droopy-lidded, dimpled visage, and long tough-guy hair make you want to secretly hug him, have a beer with him, and hear him out. Roadie is no different.

The film, stars Jill Hennessy (TV’s Crossing Jordan) as Nikki and Bobby Cannavale (Win Win) as Randy, both of whom participate in Jimmy Testagross’ twenty-four hour adventure immediately upon his return to their hometown. Having been unceremoniously fired from his gig as Blue Oyster Cult’s roadie of over twenty years, Jimmy is a man flung into the ether, forced to quickly gather himself among the ghosts of his childhood and the illusions of adulthood. Written by Michael and Gerald Cuesta and directed by Michael Cuesta, Roadie hits a wide range of notes; from Jimmy’s relationship to his aging mother (True Blood’s Lois Smith) to his relationship with his former high school girlfriend, it all strikes a poignant, honest chord.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Ron Eldard about his work on Roadie. The extremely talented and charmingly modest actor discussed the new film, broken hearts, director Michael Cuesta, his favorite scene in the movie, and getting to work with Blue Oyster Cult.


Here is what he had to say:

IAR: For starters, how did you first hear about the script and what were your immediate thoughts upon reading it? Was it one of those situations where you instantly knew you would rock, so to speak?

Ron Eldard: I knew this was one right away. My agent said, “You know, read this one.” And yes, within fifteen-twenty pages, I called my agent back and said, I just started this but this is great. I don’t think anyone does that very often, by the way. Most scripts, after you start reading them, are either okay or they’re not good, or they are kind of something that you’ve seen before. Like most anything, like most songs, they’re just okay. But Gerald and Michael wrote a great script. There was no fat on it. Every time I thought I knew what the story was going to be, and I’d be like, oh, now I get it, it would change. Then I would be, oh, it’s this way, and it would change. So I knew right away. I thought it was beautiful, funny, and strange. I thought they handled these working-class people with dignity. I loved it, and I was like, I want this. I would like to go see it and I would want to be in it.

I completely agree about the story and part of the reason it was so interesting to watch is because you personally did an amazing job of conveying a lot of things while being very subtle. What did you do to prepare for this role and in what ways did Michael Cuesta help you to do that, or did he basically leave you alone so that you could create the character?

Eldard: I can’t tell you how many times an agent, or even a director is like, “You can do something with this.” The script might be okay and there’s some good things, but there are problems, so they say, “No, but you can do something great with it!” At some point, although there can be a compliment there, really, you can only do so much. The writing is the most important part, period. These guys wrote such a thoughtful, well thought-out and tight script that a lot of my work was done. In reading it and meeting with Michael, there were things I wanted to say with the story as well. It’s not just about a guy and his career but it’s about the connection with his mother. If you’ve ever had a broken heart, you know, and he’s had a broken heart from his mom, he’s had a broken heart from his dad, he’s had a broken heart from his job, and he’s had a broken heart from a high school girlfriend. He has a broken heart because he breaks his own heart every day. A lot of the connection was already there all over the place. I connected with the mother, and I looked at her life. Also, who hasn’t had a version of Bobby Cannavale’s character in their own life somewhere, you know? Everyone’s had someone who wants to shit on you. No matter what it is. So then, Michael knew my work, and once we spoke, I felt that we were a great fit, and that we seemed to want to say the same thing. I was not interested in making a joke, if they were going to talk down to the character, like he’s just a joke, or he’s a loser. I wanted to make sure that the guy had some dignity. He’s still a fuck up, you know? He’s a fuck up, but he’s a good person. He's just gotten lost, he’s indulged himself and now it’s time to grow up. So he agreed with all that. One thing Michael did want, he was like, “I know you’ve done theatre, Bobby’s done theatre, and Lois Smith is one of the great theatre actresses ever, but I want this to be like no acting. I want it to feel real like you’re just hanging out with these people,” We all can do that as well, of course, so I liked that he wanted that. I like that he would be willing to let something be subtle, just be in the eyes and not have to say everything. A lot of what my guy goes through is just his reacting. Michael is the kind of director who will sit with that because he wrote that. It wasn’t like I just made that up. That’s the way he wrote it. It’s got all these interesting scenes with sad, horrible, funny, beautiful, crazy shit going on and he respects that. He’s like, “Let’s see what the character thinks of that.”


Speaking of scenes, I thought the motel scene totally made the movie. How long did it take to shoot that, and was there anything about shooting it that was the most memorable for you?

Eldard: Oh my god, the whole thing. First of all, I think that that run, from when Bobby’s character picks me up after meeting in the bar, to the motel and until I get home, after that crazy walk home, certainly, that run, if I were not in the movie, I would want to watch it. It’s my kind of movie, but that run is one of the tightest, most interesting runs I’ve seen in a long time. It works almost as its own short story. It’s funny, then it’s weird and then it’s sad, and it takes a very strange turn, which I did not expect. That whole shoot took us two days to do. That motel is exactly that motel. There were professional women coming in and out, and they’d suddenly see us with cameras and the dudes they were with would panic. We’d hear stuff going down in the motel room at the corner. That was an hourly room-rental motel. So what’s going on there is what’s going on there. Just being there was cool. Once we got into the motel room, and really got into the meat of the scene, it was very claustrophobic. I mean, you got all that sweaty cocaine energy going on, and it’s tight. The director and the cinematographer were in a hot tub shooting it, crouched down in the hot tub that I’m sitting on. There was no room in there, and at some point the director just grabbed the camera when I’m singing, when I’m going into the song. He just grabbed it and did it handheld. The whole thing for me is that when you see it, it is exactly what it felt like doing it. That scene just didn’t feel like acting, in the best way. It was just sweaty, filled with cocaine, crazy and wild. Bobby’s turn in it is excellent, he does such a great job. It’s just really jarring.

As a viewer watching that scene, you can feel the tension in the room, which I think most directors and actors hope to achieve in a scene like that, correct?

Eldard: Yeah, and it kind of creeps up on you, too! You get that there’s a strange sense but then it gets a little quiet, and little by little some sharp barbs come out. Then it turns real, real fast.

How do you feel now that the movie is completed and some audiences have already seen it, from before when your role existed solely as a vision? How do you feel about the journey, and about what it was like?

Eldard: The making of it was one of the best experiences of my life and we shot it in very few days. Everyone was there because they wanted to be there and everyone knew how to do his or her job. It was just one of those, and I know it’ll sound goofy, like an actor saying, “Oh it was all-great, everything’s great,” but this one, it really was all great! It just was. It was lots of work in a very short period of time. But I feel like it’s just now where people are seeing it. I mean, it’s been in some festivals, but it’s just starting to get to that point where people can see it. Again, it’s my kind of movie, so if I was seeing it for the first time and I wasn’t in it, I would’ve been like, damn, I would’ve liked to be in it. So I was surprised that it wasn’t picked up even earlier, earlier than it was by Magnolia. But, of course, Magnolia’s a great company, and they do really cool, interesting films. I’m excited because it’s just now really going to get out. I’ve been with audiences in film festivals, so I think this is just the beginning. I hope people enjoy it in the theatres. I don’t say this about everything, but I think that it’s not just some little story about a roadie. I’ve spoken to fifteen year-old girls, and eighty-two year-old women at these festivals, plus men and women all in the middle, who all find something different with it. I think that if you’re open to it … this is the kind of movie that … I mean, I would eat popcorn with it and it would just crush me.


I was thinking about how generation-specific, and of a certain time this story is; about a generation defined by bands like Blue Oyster Cult, but at the same time, the themes in the movie are universal. It’s about accepting yourself, swallowing your pride, and getting wiser, do you agree?

Eldard: Yeah! I mean, you can change the music to anything, it could be R.E.M., it could be Madonna, or it could be Lady Gaga, because the story doesn’t hang its hat on that. It’s not a gimmick. So you know Blue Oyster Cult and they chose to use that music here. They could’ve hunted down and tried to get some hits, made sure they got songs that people know. Instead this music came out of Gerald, the director’s brother, and Michael’s music collection. It’s very, very specific and honest. So, it works in the way that. Yeah, it’s about a roadie, and yeah, it’s about Blue Oyster Cult, but then, it’s not. It also could be anything. I felt things from when I was eight years old that made me relate to this movie. I had a broken heart at eight. I think because of how they allowed us to play it, it has a chance to have a wide resonance.

I definitely think it will resonate with a lot of people. Finally, I have to ask, are you a fan of Blue Oyster Cult? What kind of music do you crank in your car?

Eldard: When I was growing up in Queens and I worked at a chicken restaurant, a little store called Chicken Galore, all the guys that worked there were older. They were like nineteen and twenty-five, and I was, like, fourteen. They played all this rock, they were big rock people, and they played everything. They had The Who, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Zeppelin, they had Blue Oyster Cult, and they had AC/DC. So I knew them and I knew more than just their hits, but they were not the band I followed. But in the movie, there’s this little part where you see me loading in the show, shot with a Bolex camera and it’s me being the roadie. Well, when we were doing the movie, Blue Oyster Cult was performing in Long Island, so we called them and we asked them if I could join their roadie crew and load in their show, that I would do the work and we would shoot it with just like a little handheld camera. So that’s me with the real roadie, the guy who is actually their roadie, like my character, loading in an actual Blue Oyster Cult concert. It was so awesome! I got to hold the cowbell! It was really cool and it was great to meet him. So, I’m not playing them everyday in my car, but I like their music, and I knew their music definitely before that Saturday Night Live sketch.

Roadie begins rocking out in theaters on January 6th. 


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