Red State Of Mind - Part Four
Posted on Tuesday December 14, 2010, 17:35 by James White in Empire States
Empire attends Kevin Smith’s filmmaking Q&A series - Part Four: Nicholas Braun
Smith kicked off his interview with Braun by recalling that the 22-year-old actor had asked, once he got the role, if he could have a rat-tail hair extension for his character, dim bulb high schooler Billy Ray. He even sent am email with several pictures of the very hairstyle Smith himself once sported. "I wrote back to him, 'Nick, I actually had one of those...' He wrote back, 'How old are you?'"
Braun's background is in Disney's canon - he was Zach in Sky High, he has several guest appearances on Disney channel shows and TV movies under his belt, and before Red State arrives, he'll be seen in the Mouse House's Prom. "It's a good jumping off point," says Braun of his experience, while admitting that Disney keeps a tight hold on its kids.
Smith pointed out that Braun, despite his seemingly intimidating six-foot-six height, usually tends to play genial, sweet-natured types that the audience can root for. "Case in point - Red State. The role of Billy Ray was written to be more like Jason Mewes, always horny. Everybody that auditioned did pretty much exactly that, and it was like seeing variations on the same theme. And it's what I wrote, so they were giving me what was on the page. We saw Nick's audition and he went a way that nobody else went with, rather than being lascivious, he went stupid. He dialled it down from 11 to two. And it made him come across more endearing and suddenly a character that was a cipher on the page for 'bad boy who wants sex who's going to get punished' became a bit more human." Braun brought a kindness to the role that won it for him, according to the director.
"I really wanted to go for that naïveté of the guy who wants sex but doesn't know how to get it, and doesn't really know what to do or how to talk to a girl, but he really wants sex. Just like me," Braun cracked. He then went on to talk about how he was part of a trio of friends in high school with one who always seemed to be a little bit behind. "And that's who I wanted to be on screen. He's actually not that bad, but they never give him a chance. He's a little off-beat, and that's where the rat tail comes from, he's a little off the times." Braun hopes his friend doesn't see the movie...
Inspired by his father, a former art designer who helped to create the iconic lips-and-tongue imagery for the Rolling Stones, but then decided to try acting at 55, Braun got his start performing at boarding school, where he appeared in Shakespeare plays and other stage work such as Steve Martin's Picasso at the Lapin Agile. "There was an acting program, I did Twelfth Night there. Drama wasn't my thing, though. I went there to get the schooling and live a different life from just going to public school in Connecticut. But I started acting at six years old, doing community theatre, student films for NYU. I did my first short film with my dad. It was called Rocky and Pops Search for the Holy Mackerel. It was about a grandpa and his grandson on a fishing trip." Braun was his reading partner while he was going out for auditions and his father noticed he had "the bug" for acting. The actor still works with his father on auditions, and recalls reading the Red State script sides together.
Braun told how, when he got the call that he'd won the role, he reacted emotionally. "My agent called me and he was, like Nick you booked the role. I was sitting on a tennis court with my friend, and I put my head in my hands. She started to console me! But I was so happy I cried." Tennis was also involved when Braun got the chance to tell Michael Angarano - a friend since they'd worked together on Sky High - that he'd be joining him on Red State. But while he had that established relationship with one of his co-stars, he'd never met Kyle Gallner. "That was tricky - when you have three best friends in a film, you'd like to have some chemistry already, you'd like to hang out and drink a few times or do whatever, ride around in a car for this sort of thing. I met Kyle the first day at 5:30am. 'Hey man... So, you're my best friend...' I think it's a testament to how good those guys are that we could come on set and just create that relationship right away." It was a relief to Smith, too. "Everything up to Michael Parks for me was build-up. But the guys didn't treat it like that and imbued it with performance that was so good, at the end of the first take, I looked at John and said, 'this scene might work too!' And he was, like, 'what does that mean?' 'It's just a monologue I'm having in my head. Never mind...'"
After some chatter about filming at a former juvenile prison that Smith contended was full of horrific, ghostly child history, the pair turned to talking about some of the physical acting that Braun had to do. Even running around in his underwear. "That was the idea - to take what's normally the female roles and flip them to the boys," explained the director. But Braun got to be a little manlier when it came to gunplay. "Nick was working with the stunt people, and prepping and rehearsing shooting and having to fall while holding a loaded weapon," says Smith. "It sounds easy - when you're running around playing cops and robbers with your friends, that's easy because you're not carrying a real gun. You also have to trust that there's a pad, and that means you have to try to fall normally without thinking about it." "And I'm falling six and a half feet," cracks Braun. "For me to just fall back was really scary."
Smith goes on to tell the full story, since the scene went well up to a point. "We got to shoot it, and it's fantastic. His fall is beautiful. Nick passes out of the frame and all of a sudden, in the background there's a big, hard, plastic case on a shelf that starts to teeter. And you see it fall off, sail through the frame and all you hear is, 'What the f**k?!' Nick, who's normally so easygoing and sweet, explodes in rage, and rightfully so. But the rage wasn't about 'Oh my god, I just got hit by a case!' The rage was, 'All that time we spent rehearsing and you didn't tell me you were going to drop a case on my head!' We were, like, 'That part was an accident...' Braun suffered a "pretty major concussion" and was quickly rushed off to the hospital, returning like a trooper to keep working.
The two also discovered sensitivity and dealing with rejection as an actor. "It's just part of the thing," says Braun. "It's okay. You learn to audition more for your career than specific role. I could've turned in my audition for Red State and had you turn it down, but think of me for the next thing. You get to know people, to make a reputation. You're not just going for the one role." Funny he should mention being considered for Kevin's next film - he actually did win the lead for Hit Somebody, the hockey drama that Smith is planning to make next summer. And it wasn't, he insists because Braun got injured in the line of duty. "By the end of the first three days of shooting, I knew I wanted him to play Buddy in Hit Somebody." But Smith figured he would wait until the end of the shoot to tell him. "We were wrapping up and I'd been telling the boys - Michael and Kyle included - that they had to learn how to skate to be ready for the next movie. I was heading from the set and I saw you were heading towards your car. And I waved you down and said, 'the movie I was telling you about before, with you playing hockey. I didn't want to tell you during this movie, because it would've made it weird, but you're the lead of that movie." Braun was suitably surprised and pleased. And no, he didn't have to perform any sex acts to get the role.
But for all Smith's trademark penis jokes, the best line of the night goes to Braun, when asked about having seen Kevin's earlier movies and whether he expected the usual wordy script and a writer/director determined to make his actors stick to it. "I prepared myself to be very much on book and word perfect. And when we got there, we were in Kevin's car and he was, like, 'Just so you guys know, I'm at a point in my career where I don't really care that much... Don't go too far from the page, but I'm not a stickler on the words anymore..."
For a chance to hear everything, point your browsers and your ears towards the Red State Of The Union podcast.