Red State Of Mind - Part Seven
Posted on Sunday January 23, 2011, 20:23 by James White in Empire States
Empire attends Kevin Smith’s filmmaking Q&A series - Part Seven: Kyle Gallner
A veteran of films such as the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Haunting in Connecticut, and Jennifer's Body, plus cult detective drama Veronica Mars, Kyle Gallner has been acting for years, and appears in Red State as one of the three teenagers who fall into the clutches of the religiously terrifying Cooper clan.
Gallner, a native of Pennsylvania, got his start into acting at the age of 14/15. "My sister was a dancer and went to a performance arts camp and I had my first audition at an agency. I didn't even know what an agent was. It was kind of a snowball effect after that and when I hit 16/17, I finally decided it was what I wanted to do. New York's really hard. If you do Law & Order, you're kind of done," he laughed. Realising that his biggest chance at scoring movie work lay with moving out to Los Angeles, Gallner, along with his agent, convinced his parents to move to California. "I booked my first job, on Smallville, within about two months." Getting that show, and playing Bart Allen (AKA Impulse), gave Gallner to sort of exposure he never dreamed about when working on commercials and theatre in New York. "It's been eight years, and I've never looked back."
The actor's next biggest job saw him become the underappreciated Cassidy "Beaver" Casablancas on Veronica Mars, which starred Kristen Bell as the female private eye. "That was a year or so after I moved out to Los Angeles," explained Gallner. "I did three episodes and then they invited me back to be on the second season as a regular." Smith asked Gallner about - spoiler alert! - the "f****n' massive turn your character takes at the end of season two," and whether he knew it going in. "No, I had no idea I was going to get molested by Steve Guttenberg! I found out from the wardrobe guy that I was going to be the villain about two weeks before we filmed the last episode. It was, basically, 'Steve Guttenberg raped you, now you're going to rape Veronica and blow up an airplane, jump off a building and kill yourself.' 'Oh! Okay...' I knew I was only going to be on for Season Two, but I figured everyone was going to college!" Gallner relished the challenge of playing his character in a totally different light.
After that, Gallner put his nose back to the grindstone to score auditions and continued trying to crack into more film work. "My first studio work was Haunting in Connecticut," he explained. "I did some straight-to-DVD stuff that, every time it's on cable, you kind of cringe." From that, Gallner seemed to specialise in horror. Gallner revealed that he received lots of offers to make bad horror films with similar characters to the ones he'd played. "This is a creative industry being run by sometimes not the most creative people. So they pigeonhole you and don't put you in their films because it's not the same genre. It gets frustrating." His relief has come through indie movies, and he was picked as an actor to watch for this year's Sundance thanks to his work in Red State and the drama Little Birds.
Smith admitted Gallner's horror history was even a minor issue for the casting on Red State, because the actor wasn't sure he wanted to do another horror. "But I read it, and the subject matter was so different -no running away from monsters or ghosts or possession. It's kind of a horror movie in the sense of people being horrific. I had the basic audition where I got the sides and read them and was, like, 'What the f**k is happening?' laughed Gallner, who revealed that he'd been given scenes from the early part of them film which is, as Smith explains, a very different experience from the latter half. But Gallner clicked for Smith almost right away. "It was the fastest process I've ever had with a movie, where I auditioned on Friday, got told you guys liked me that day and on Monday was told I'd booked the movie, where usually you get strung along for a month or a couple of weeks. But I booked it and then realised I had not idea what it was about. I couldn't sign on until that point. Then I read the script and was really shocked by what happened, I had no expectation, because I figured it would be a comedy. I had to digest the script for about a week, because the script's really dark and messed up. The kids were just s**tbags for most of the movie. You originally wanted to see them get hurt. As Smith explained, it was Gallner, along with co-stars Nicholas Braun and Michael Angarano who humanised the characters. "It's boys will be boys now," said Gallner. "We played around with it and changed it like you said to more humane characters."
When asked if he ever considered the low budget - and corresponding low pay packet for Red State, the actor explained his approach. "There's the whole 'one for you, one for me' kind of thing, where you'll do something you don't want to do, but you have to, because those are the ones that pay more," he laughed. "You figure you can pay rent and eat."
Talking of, it sounds like A Nightmare on Elm Street falls into the "one for you" category, with Gallner talking about his audition and how the studio originally wanted him to sign on without reading the script. "I finally convinced them to send it to me - it was a very different script at the time! It was a good experience, though. I learned a lot. Jackie (Early Haley)'s a great actor, so it was great spending time with him and it was the biggest movie I'd been on. But if you're given a lot of money, people end up making problems out of stuff that doesn't need to be a problem. It can get in the way sometimes." The big takeaway for the actor? "Learn to pick your battles. Because in that environment, you're a little fish in a big pond."
The director was full of praise for the actor, who he described as "one of the most intense actors I've worked with, who shows up totally prepared. He'd go into dark, dark places and I'd get so scared for him. There's a lot of physicality and to pull it off, he'd be walking around before those scenes, walking around with ear buds in, off to the side by yourself. We'd ask you if you were ready to go and in the moment, you'd be so dark and committed." Gallner revealed part of his process includes listening to music to psych himself up for whatever the scene demands. "Sometimes I won't listen to music, and then other times I'll even listen to a happy song. Because in a weird way, if you think about it, if a song makes you really happy and you start thinking, 'I'll never feel like this again,' it has an opposite effect and really depresses you." For Red State, he listened to heavy rap music, with one song in particular helping him get into character as a young man at the mercy of a truly frightening villain.
"If it's a movie you really want to do and you're given great material, if you're not going to go for it, then 'go f**k yourself,'" was how Gallner saw it. "Why do it half-assed. If it's something I believe in and stand by, it's an injustice to yourself and the people who are going to see the movie." Asking Gallner if he's ever worked with someone who didn't want to be there, Smith got the chance to offer a sideways nudge at Bruce Willis' behaviour on Cop Out, even digging up a story about Ben Affleck mentioning the star never showed up for his off-camera work on Armageddon and how Affleck had to play his single shot scenes against a tennis ball on a camera stand. "It's kind of heartbreaking when you run into something like that," admitted Gallner.
Smith also made mention of Gallner's commitment to his job, including the fact that he still attends regular acting classes. "The cool thing about this industry is that's no ceiling on what you can learn. As a mechanic, you can learn everything about cars until something new comes out, you don't have too much to worry about. As an actor, there's no such thing as that, every character's different, every part's different, so the more tools you have in your toolbox, the better you'll be. The day you think you have nothing left to learn is a really bad day. Then, all of a sudden, people don't like the performances as much because you haven't grown, you haven't gotten better."
With lessons in mind, Gallner revealed that he learned an important lesson on not taking the role home earlier in his career. "I did this episode of the drama Cold Case where I went Columbine on this mall food court. I religiously watched Elephant and every night before bed would read the Columbine diaries and study all their school papers and really mess myself up for a long time. I got to this place and almost threw up with a panic attack because when I went out with my friends, I thought everybody knew what I did and had to have them drive me home. But I learned to leave your work at work. A good character stays with you, but you can't take it away with you, because it'll drive you nuts."
The work that Gallner put into his character and the chemistry he shared with Angarano and Braun on Red State led Smith to pick him for a role in the director's next film, Hit Somebody. "Everybody knows Nick's the lead and Michael's in it, but you were the first guy I talked to about it. I asked him if he could skate, because I wanted him for a very important role: I want him to play someone like Wayne Gretzky, who anyone who knows me means I'm asking him to play my version of Jesus. You don't meet him until the third act. I pulled Kyle aside and told him that it would be a lynchpin character in Hit Somebody because it represents everything that the main character, Buddy, wants to be. And they finally meet and become friends near the end. It's 180 degrees away from everything we did in this movie, but you're more than up for it."
A note: the final class introduced us to Michael Parks, who plays the film's chilling main villain, obsessed pastor Abin Cooper. The Parks Q&A was a long, rambling affair, and is better listened to than transcribed. You can find it here.
For a chance to hear everything, point your browsers and your ears towards the Red State Of The Union podcast.