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A Conversation With Josh Locy, Andre Royo and George Sample III (HUNTER GATHERER)

I met with director Josh Locy and stars Andre Royo and George Sample III on Saturday, March 12, 2016, to discuss their new movie Hunter Gatherer, for which I also wrote a review. Here is condensed digest of that conversation. 

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed

Hammer to Nail: So, Josh, I read that the story is loosely based on your friend Eddie, a heroin addicted pimp in 1980s Philadelphia. In what ways is Ashley, your main character, similar and in what ways is he different?

JL: Ashley was inspired by Eddie’s optimism and the work that he did towards a goal, but … well … Eddie’s passed away since then, but he was a little bit less self-destructive than Ashley. Ashley’s hell-bent on self-destruction in a weird way, whether he knows it or not. Eddie’s optimism and his passion for life and passion for what he was doing and what he wanted was the inspiration.

HtN: I saw, also, that you made a conscious decision to take out the drugs element and focus purely on the self-direction.

JL: Yeah, exactly. I didn’t want the characters to have an out to deal with their problem, the emotional pain that they were going through. I didn’t want them to have a reason – drugs or religion – you can’t reason this stuff away with religion, you can’t feel your way out of it with drugs. They have to actually feel their way out of it on their own.

Reed, Joshua Locy, George Sample III & Andre Royo

Reed, Joshua Locy, George Sample III & Andre Royo

HtN: You have said that you were attracted to the poetic simplicity of the script, Andre. What else touched you in Ashley’s story that made you want to play him?

AR: You know, when I met Josh and read the script, you get the first couple of pages and you automatically have a preconceived notion of what the story is about – I know what it is – and all of a sudden everything went away, and I just felt something. It’s hard to really explain. It’s like going to a museum and you look at artwork, and you say, I don’t know why they call it art, but I keep looking at it. You know, I find it very therapeutic when I find a script that’s kind of speaking to things that I’m going through at that time, where you don’t have any crutches, you don’t have anything to lean on. It was amazing to have a character that didn’t have … well, he acted this because of the alcohol, or he acts this way because he had a violent upbringing. Here, he acts this way…he doesn’t know why.

I wanted to explore why we find it so necessary to be wanted, to be needed. I found out in the research that there are 5 things they say that make you happy: faith, sleep, exercise, social interaction and social contribution. Those are the five things that define happiness, and three out of five is the idea that you are not alone, that you have something that you believe in, you have someone that you care about, or you’re helping someone. I think that, you know, that thirst and need for connection that Ashley has, is the same way I feel as an artist to be center stage, that I need to be somewhere where I can be seen. And, you know, that just grabbed me and stood out, on the pages.

HtN: This is a question for you, George. So this is only your second movie, after Michael Larnell’s Cronies, correct? What attracted you to the story and how did this experience, here, compare to your experience on Cronies?

GS: What attracted me was that the character was different than my first character from Cronies. With Cronies, I could just fall into that character because he reminded me of myself. With Hunter Gatherer, I had to kind of reach and be somebody else. So that gave me a chance to stretch my artistic abilities, and gave me a chance to really reach for things I hadn’t done before. I took the whole thing as a learning process.

HtN: Another question for you, Josh. So your film, while certainly not plot-averse, by any means, is also quite elliptical, at times, with a dreamlike quality. I’m curious: what motivated this approach, including your decision not to tell us that much about Ashley’s backstory?

JL: For this specific story, I was more interested in the characters and tracking their emotional development, throughout, and their emotional reactions to things as they were happening. So I would say that maybe there was a way in which I purposely just kept the plot out of the way. But, to that end – and I do know that plot’s important – I made an effort to make the plot very simple: a guy’s trying to get his ex-girlfriend back…gets out of jail, tries to get his ex-girlfriend back. That’s it. And George’s plot is very simple, too: he’s trying to raise his grandfather from this coma. So the plot elements that are there, I tried to make very simple, and easy for me, as a writer, to grasp, and hopefully easy for the audience to have something to grab on to. And then with that sort of skeleton, I was able to put the stuff that I was really interested in talking about – more the poetic stuff and visual language and the elliptical stuff that you’re talking about – I was able to put that on that skeleton that we had already built.

HtN: So, Andre, I’m from Baltimore, and a big fan of The Wire, and of Bubbles, the character that you play on that series, as are many people that I know. You’ve played a great variety of characters in your career: stable, unstable, powerful, underdogs. You certainly can’t be pegged for any one kind of character. But I see a lot of similarities between Ashley and Bubbles, in that they’re both struggling to overcome personal demons. How about you? Am I off the mark?

AR: Listen, I’d be an idiot if I didn’t think that, from now on, anytime I pop up on screen, people are going to think, “Bubbles.” And me and Josh talked about that, as well. We hoped that it wouldn’t be a hindrance. We had the conversation. I know it’s different. I think the one thing in all the characters that I’ve played is that there’s a real humanity. There’s no judgment on why they do what they do. They’re just doing it, and you’re kind of rooting for these people to get their life in order. And we felt that if at any minute Ashley feels like he’s going to be hated, the movie’s not going to work. And, you know, the only similarity that they have – because Bubbles is not as self-centered as Ashley, and not as selfish as Ashley – you kind of cared about him as a human being going through some stuff, and hope that he finds a way to grow up. And, you know, with Josh’s writing – I never him before, because I didn’t want him to get a big head, as he’s already about 6’9” – there was a certain simplicity, as in I’m not going to dumb down my writing for an audience, I don’t have to explain everything. And I thought Josh did a great job writing in that way.

JL: That was something that Andre and I talked about a lot. I was actually resistant to the idea of Andre, at first, because of the similarities between Ashley and Bubbles, and when we first met up, we talked about it. We did things, specifically, to get it away from Bubbles’ world. I mean, I think the character is different, but we changed things. We did things physically to him, we changed the way he looked, we did what we could with his hair, and glasses, and clothes and stuff like that, to separate him from Bubbles’ life. So I was a little resistant to him, at first, but once we met and he explained to me what the movie meant to him, I knew he was the right guy.

HtN: So, George, I’ve read that your background is in music and poetry, before acting. There’s a quiet intensity to your performance that I really admire. I’m curious: how did your previous life experience in poetry and music inform this particular role?

GS: I guess it let me step outside of myself and view it from the listener’s perspective – or from the viewer’s perspective – because doing music I have to not only enjoy what I do just for myself, but I’m creating music for other people to enjoy, also. So, I had to keep in mind, okay, don’t do it just for you, but do it for the person who’s looking at it or listening to it. And I think that experience in music and poetry gave me a fearlessness of being able to just go ahead and do it and put it out there and put some passion behind it and hope for the best for it.

JL: George got his third acting job by sending in some scenes from our movie.

The rapport between you, George, and Andre is just amazing.

 AR: There’s a certain nuance that George brings to the table, just as an actor. And then, as a person, it’s just a throwback to the memory of your first movie. The energy and the excitement and the nervousness, that I, myself, am jealous of. You’re jealous of that first time. And Josh and I talked about this: we didn’t want it to seem like father and son, but rather like those friends that you might make if there’s that one guy in your neighborhood who just walks by your house and says, hey, you want to go play ball? We wanted them to be organic like that. You know, we’re different, our personalities are different, but we kind of get each other.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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