Q+A: Blowtorch Director Kevin Breslin + Sex and the City Actress Lois Robbins
Blowtorch, filming during April in Brooklyn and starring William Baldwin, tells the story of a new widow hunting down the gangsters who killed her son. Pop Goes the Week! helps you virtually tag along with interviews from the set featuring director Kevin Breslin, soap actress Lois Robbins in her first film lead role and the on the verge of being someone big actor Jared Abrahamson.
You’re a director now, but way back when, you had a small role in “The Pope of Greenwich Village.” Bet you didn’t think a girl like me would know that film. 😉 How did that set you up for anything you’re doing today, as far as making people as excited on a film set as you probably were then?
I learned from a master, Stuart Rosenberg, who directed the film. Stuart brought an easy way to the set. He also knew about moments and beats. I was hi assistant. I tried to understand how he related to actors and the crew. I remember thinking, wow, this is a great way to have to make a living. I remember he did not like any meanness on the set or egos. Nor do I.
You co-produced the Weird Al film “UHF.” When I grew up, your movie was a favorite of many, many kids. My classmates and I loved it. When you took on his screenplay, did you ever think it did poorly before becoming a cult classic because audiences weren’t ready for it at the time?
I read the story with my partner Deren Getz and we knew it would be a crazy movie. I didn’t have the chops to direct it at the time, but we knew we had to get it made and went to Gene Kirkwood, a big time producer who knew how to make movies. He helped us to make it happen. I’m happy for Weird Al…
Your short film, “Living for 32,” debuted at Sundance a couple years ago. When handling difficult subject matter -and it seems the hard to please film industry types thought you did an outstanding job – what so you do so you won’t not only avoid offending the victims’ families but people who knew the gunman and the gunman’s parents? How do you approach it from a well rounded point?
I was making a film about 32 dead and a young man, Colin Goddard, who was shot five times by Cho. Colin relived every moment of the massacre and how moment by moment he tried to stay alive during all the gun fire. I was sensitive to his needs. While I was filming he told me his back and leg was killing him. The shrapnel from the bullets shift in his body and he lives with the pain. Both in his leg and in his mind. He is so young and strong. I just listened and sensed his emotional pain as we walked and filmed on the Virginia Tech campus. It is not easy standing in a spot where a short time ago all your friends were murdered. When I direct people in sensitive or painful moments, I care about them. I don’t talk too much. And I look them in the eye and relate. They know it. I have lived a little and understand people. This works for me with documentaries and fiction material.
“Blowtorch” is a genre done many times. How are you aiming to please women who might love action and mystery but may prefer “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” regular men who like tough guy movies and an easily distracted young audience?
Women have backbone. They are carrying much of this nation. I wrote the film about a mother wanting an answer in a man’s world about who murdered her son. She asked, got a dopey answer, and asked again. Then said “Hell with everyone, from cops to DA’s.” She wanted an answer and became inexorable until she got the answer, I know a mother’s strength. This story is about a mom who was not afraid to stand up against men. Women will like this. There is no sugar coating. This is about a mother or any woman not backing down. I don’t’ know if it’s a genre film. I know it is a hard, real New York story about teenagers, bathsalts, drugs and a murder. I am not aiming to please women. It just happens the mother has no choice but to hit the streets of Brooklyn day and night for an answer. I think not having an answer about who killed your teenage son could demolish the rest of her life.
When you are directing a sequence that may not have much dialogue, what do you do so they remain riveting?
Well, a great camera angle is vital. A moment, a gesture…from the actor will bring the moment to the scene. I quietly roll. Actors who are good use their eyes.
When you were a kid, did you and other boys ever play robber, chase people, imagine the old west, etc? As an adult, do you ever rewind your memories to see what was so honest in those days and put it in your work?
No, I can’t be that eloquent discussing my youth. I came out of fistfights on schoolyards and playing ball. I do have a peculiar recall for memory and poignant moments. Even smells.
This week, I referenced “The Professional” in another interview. It’s absolutely a great “man’s man” film maybe with elements similar to what you’re doing, from seeing your film’s current production description. If you could describe your movie for anyone, what elements from other beloved films are apparent in your work? And what about your film and work in general, then, now and in the future, is enough to spawn imitations?
I think Lumet and Scorsese have given New York an energy that I like. Too many others to mention here also have a great impact. My film is about the waterfront streets in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. It is about an innocent working class kid who needed some cash. He started dealing bathsalts to keep his single mom with money on the kitchen table. She is a struggling waitress. He was in with the wrong crew and he ended up getting killed. The film has a raw energy. Violence, passion and great performances. The music will also wow people.
What are you up to after this film wraps?
I have a new film, “Forsaking All Others,” a love story based off the novel. I worked a long time in production and wrote scripts. I always figured I would start directing them.
When you grew up in New York, you probably saw TV and film productions often. When you were a little girl, did you ever dream you were part of it? When did childish desires, if any, become a serious career choice?
Absolutely! I always had a very active imagination and was always singing and performing. Starting at the age of five I was performing in talent shows and plays. There was never a doubt in my mind that acting was my destiny.
You’ve done plenty of day and night soaps. Your co-star, William Baldwin, is coming fresh off “Gossip Girl.” What is different about television experience than film, and how does a cast with TV experience work more cohesively?
The thing about doing daytime is that you have to make fast choices and have the discipline to learn a lot of material in a short amount of time. Billy and the rest of the cast have a great work ethic and love to rehearse and run lines with whatever time we had available to us. It was a joy.
The “Sex and the City” episode you were on, “The Baby Shower,” has a character learning another woman “stole my secret baby name.” This has happened to me in the past, in real life! Of all the productions you have been a part of, which has hit you hard or have you related to in a funny way? And have you ever had a secret baby name stolen by a friend or a grandmother you told?
Actually, I did have a friend use the middle name I had chosen for my eldest daughter and it is a very unusual name. I was kind of shocked but decided to be flattered instead! Also, I love to entertain and have a thing about punctuality. So, in the ‘baby shower” scene, I understood how my character felt about the girls being late!!
You had a role in a stage version of “Cactus Flower.” Did you compare yourself to the Goldie Hawn movie?
With Cactus Flower I was, frankly more excited my reviving Lauren Bacall’s role from the Broadway production than thinking about the movie. Obviously, I hadn’t seen it but I am such a huge fan and felt a big responsibility to do the role justice. I read her biography and learned that she loved Zabar’s. So, I went there, put together a goodie basket and sent it to her apartment at the Dakota with a note saying how excited I was about playing the role. I got a lovely note back which I will always treasure!
“Blowtorch” is your first film lead. Why do you believe it happened at this point in life when you have done so much theater and previous TV work?
I think like most things in life, opportunities come when you are ready to receive them. I was ready for this.
In the film, you’re chasing after these really rough criminals. You’re out for vengeance. As someone who probably has little real life experience with that sort of thing – hopefully not! – where did you draw your inspiration?
I have children. All I had to do was imagine someone hurting one of my kids. A mother’s instincts are pretty raw.
What has surprised you about working on this film?
I can’t say anything surprised me. Maybe I surprised myself at how calm I was with the weight of carrying a film. I thought I’d be more nervous working with people who had more film experience than me. But, I was ready and they were all generous and supportive.
In the future, now that you have a great starring role under your belt, how are you going to choose your future film roles? How do you want to see yourself on film? How far would you go to play against type?
I hope I have lots to choose from! Roles like this one don’t happen that often. But now that I’ve played Ann Willis, I’m ready to glam it up a bit in my next role! I love playing against type and relish the opportunity to do more of that.