On Sunday night Movie Buzzers was invited to attend the New York premiere of Beside Still Waters, the debut film of actor Chris Lowell (The Help) as a writer/director. Beside Still Waters began making the festival rounds in October 2013, and in the meantime has seen three of its stars — Ryan Eggold (Blacklist), Beck Bennett (SNL, the “It’s Not Complicated” AT&T commercials), Reid Scott (Veep), and Brett Dalton (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) land high-profile TV gigs, and director/co-writer Chris Lowell and Jessy Hodges also starring on the cult favorite TV series Enlisted. So while Beside Still Waters is still filled with fresh faces, Lowell ended up in the very lucky position of having made a film with a cast whose collective fame has grown substantially since shooting ended which likely made Tribeca’s decision to distribute the film even easier.
With that said, from the way the cast interacted on the carpet you would have never guessed that a number of them are television stars. They jumped at every chance to answer my questions, though they frequently took brief breaks to take even more photos with each other. Suffice to say, I have never seen a cast interact with such affectionate camaraderie on a red carpet before. As Lowell pointed out to me during my interview with him, the cast has not been all together since shooting wrapped — and it appears the absence from one another has definitely made their hearts grow fonder.
Here’s our review of the film, but first check out our coverage of the red carpet below!
Could you talk to me about the long process that Beside Still Waters took to get to this point here at the premiere?
We shot this movie three, three-and-a-half years ago, I think. The gestation process of this thing has just been amazing and kind of wild. It was a labor of love and Chris and Mo’s [co-writer Mohit Narang] movie from the very beginning. We’re all just very happy to be part of it. It did well during the festival circuit and it got some love here and there, but this is wonderful that it’s gotten this late life. It’s really fun to watch my castmates from this movie go on to really amazing things over the past few years. Chris and Mo did a great job of assembling a cast that they knew would not only get the material but bond with one another very well. Chris has a great eye, and he’s going to be a fantastic director in the future.
Speaking of Chris as a director, what stood out to you about working with him as a first-time director?
The passion more than anything else. Chris has put his heart and soul into this thing. He’s a remarkable director in that he was very hands-on, always around, always available, and he really directed like a play, a living play. We were living together and were literally on top of each other with Chris and Mo and half the crew when we slept in the house we were shooting in. So it was this really weird kind of cult-ish Jonestown environment [Laughs]. But it made for an amazing experience coming back from that summer. It was one of the best summers of my life. It’s hard to put into words.
That’s excellent. So what’s it like reliving it tonight?
We’ve all stayed in contact. Half of us live in LA, half of us live in New York. It’s a rare thing when you actually build friendships on a project. You hope to just sort of get along with everyone, and you hope that you’ll be able to work together, but this was unusual. This really sparked nine new friendships, so it was pretty cool. The cast is incredibly talented, and as you can see they’ve all gone on to big things. Beck is on SNL, this guy here [pointing to Brett Dalton] is a big TV star on ABC. It’s wild. I kind of hope in a way that we don’t necessarily do a sequel but some sort of reunion project because the cast chemistry was amazing.
You’ve certainly seen a lot happen in your career since you shot this movie.
Yeah, a lot of us have. It’s pretty crazy.
Could you talk to me about how things have changed for you since shooting Beside Still Waters?
This was my first real movie when we shot it. I was doing commercials and little Internet stuff, anything I could. After that happened I did some successful commercials, did another movie, and then the following summer I got Saturday Night Live. Things sort of built up to Saturday Night Live, and then my whole world changed. I moved to New York, I got this dream job, and I’ve just been through so many experiences that have really changed my life a lot. It’s incredible.
Obviously this is an ensemble film. How did this experience help you on an ensemble-based show like SNL?
When Chris was casting the film he wanted to cast people who cared just as much about everybody in the piece as much as themselves. He didn’t want any big egos there, and I think that’s what made the movie come together so well. That’s the same sort of thing with SNL – you have to work as a group. I think that’s how you always get the best product.
I saw you and Chris fake fighting over there. What was that about?
Chris and I were freshman year roommates at USC. We’re best friends and have been through a lot together.
So what was it like working with him not only as a close friend, but as a first-time director?
Chris has built his career on being an actor. He’s always made films and acted at the same time, but I really think he approached directing as sympathetic to the actors and really tried to help us achieve our best performances and help support us. He was a really supportive director, which is kind of the way he is as a friend.
Can you tell me about your role in the film?
I play Martin, who is a very impassioned person. He may be a little bit of an outsider but loves this group of people very much. He is here his wife Abby and he’s hoping to repair what may be a broken relationship… and zaniness ensues!
Since you said your character is a bit of an outsider, did you feel that way around the cast on set?
No, it was a very peculiar experience come together with this cast because we pretty immediately got along very well and we’re very comfortable being very bare with each other, you know what I mean? So it was an easier experience than it should have been. It was great.
Obviously the director, Chris Lowell, is also an actor. How did that affect his directing style?
Because he’s acting so much, he’s very good with actors. He’s very easy and very encouraging. He wants to see any and all colors you can bring to a particular scene, so he’s very patient with everybody. But at the same time, he’s also willing to poke people in uncomfortable places to get weird things out of them, and I think that also comes from a very immediate comfort that people have with him. You come to him and you feel very at ease and he feels comfortable getting weird with you.
What’s it like jumping back into this project again?
Actually it feels so normal because we have all stayed in touch. There isn’t a single person in this cast or main crew who I haven’t seen since we shot. They’re some of my best friends now, and this is the first time all of us have been together, so I think we’re all just in a high at the moment because we loved each other so much,
Can you tell me about your character in the film?
I play Abby. I married my high school sweetheart, Martin, who is Will Brill’s character. We’ve been together since we were teenagers so there is starting to be a bit of strain in the relationship. I think Abby is also like the mom of the group. She’s the one who makes sure everyone is being responsible and tries to keep people in line, which is the worst job. I am so happy that’s not who I am in real life. [Laughs]
Since that’s not who you are in real life, how did it feel to play that character?
Well, I mean it was fun to play because it’s really different from whom I am, and I think I understand the purpose of that person in a group. You can’t just have eight insane people. Someone has to be like, “Hey guys, let’s not set fire to things!” I think I just feel a great deal of sympathy for Abby, and whenever people see the film and like her I’m like, “Yeah, thank you! She’s so underappreciated!”
What can you say about Chris’ efforts as a first-time director?
It was amazing. You can tell that he had spent a lot of years on sets, paying attention to other directors, and deciding the director he wanted to be. He was really amazing at going up to each cast member and figuring out the way we worked and how to work with us individually rather than just having his directing technique. I think it made everybody a little bit more relaxed, able to have fun, and really commit to it. He was never trying to fit any of us into a box that we weren’t comfortable with.
Can you talk about your character in the film?
He is a guy who was a high school actor who was probably in all of the plays and then decided to transition to the real world being an actor but with reality TV shows. So he becomes this kind of reality hunk and is on all of the magazines. He has an identity outside of the group, but when he goes back to the group they all know who he is. They know he’s not the guy on the covers. So it’s this fun thing we’re they’re like, “We know who you are, you’re not this other guy and your show is really terrible.” It’s kind of a bringing back to reality.
So what did you use as an actor yourself to get into that character’s head?
It was perfect. This was the first film I did after graduating. I’ve shot another film since then, but at that point you don’t know how this is going to go. You have ideas of what it’s be like to be a “star”, and you think all these doors are going to open and all of a sudden you can’t walk outside without all these people snapping pictures and whatnot. That’s not always the reality. [Laughs] But since this was my first film I imagined what would happen if the first thing that you did blew up and all of a sudden you’re in all these magazines, you’re invited to all these parties, and you have this lifestyle that you always wanted to be part of. So it was great, it was fun to imagine all of this stuff that was happening. I just assumed this film was going to be the biggest thing in the world, like, “So when this film happens, it will be exactly like what this character is going through, right?”
So now that it’s a few years later, what’s your perspective on the film?
I mean, I look different than that guy, you know? We saw some bloopers and things like that Chris put together, behind-the-scenes kind of stuff. It’s kind of like watching a video yearbook in a way. It’s this really beautiful experience that we all have really wonderful sepia-colored memories about and it was such an incredible experience. To look back on it, we were all watching this and we were like, “Oh, we were so young and innocent back then.” If you look at all of us I think Chris got us before these big huge career things started happening in all our lives. We’ve done a lot of stuff since then and to look back we really were young and innocent. Beck is on SNL, I’m on a TV show that’s now in its second season and so is Ryan Eggold, Jesse was on Enlisted with Chris. All of us have thankfully enjoyed a lot of success since then. It’s a trip, man.
Can you tell me about your character in the film?
I play Daniel, whose folks have just died before the film starts. He has gathered all his friends together to have a reunion of sorts because this is going to be the last time they’ve all sort of grew up that he’s now selling. He’s very sensitive, he’s not the best at coping emotionally when things don’t go his way. He’s not really able to hide how he feels, and I can relate to all that.
Though it’s an ensemble film, your character is the one that brings them all together, right?
It’s completely an ensemble film so nobody’s the lead, but my character instigates the gathering.
What was it like working with Chris as a director?
He was great. I always love working with an actor/director because they generally have a sensitivity to the process and an appreciation of what you need and what’s not going to help you. They’re also willing to discuss how you want to approach a scene. Other directors who might be extraordinarily talented visually or in other ways maybe don’t appreciate that side as much and it could sometimes go by the wayside and you have to do all the work yourself and just bring it on the day. I mean this in the best possible way, it’s a little indulgent in the acting process working with an actor/director. It’s fantastic because you don’t always get that opportunity.
Since it’s taken some time for the film to get to this point, what does it feel like to finally be at the premiere here in New York?
It’s funny, I was literally asking myself this exact same question as I was doing the carpet just now. I cannot believe it, not even six months ago I never would’ve thought that this would be a remote possibility. To be doing it here and to be seeing the name of my film next to Tribeca’s logo — it’s insane.
[At this point, Chris briefly left to jump in a group picture and to goof off with his actors]
Wow, you guys look miserable, like you’re not having fun at all.
We’re having fun. Honestly, you know what the secret is? You meet up an hour before this and just drink bourbon. That’s why. So ask anything of these people — they’ll tell you whatever you want to know! The elixir comes from Kentucky, and it’s distilled in barrels for eight years, that’s the secret.
That’s appropriate, because in this movie you introduce the whiskey slap. Do you see that as a thing that will be taking off on college campuses?
You know, I hope so and I also really hope not. Every job I’ve worked on I’ve played whiskey slaps — I even did it on The Help — I’ve been doing it for way too many years. I’ve stopped because I’ve been slapped so many times I’ve lost so many brain cells that I can’t get hit again. But at the time it seemed like a genius idea. In college it definitely seemed foolproof.
This is the first film that you’ve written and directed. Can you talk about what inspired this film?
I would say this film was inspired by the place that I grew up and the people I grew up with. All my friends grew up in this house in north Georgia and it really was the epicenter of our youth. Mo and I started writing the story about “What if we lost this place?” and our friends and family. We started writing this very hypothetical story and then coincidentally my folks ended up selling the house, and we got older, and our parents started getting sick. It started to become a much more scary and real story and we wanted to tell it correctly. One of the most daunting processes was finding the right people to tell this story. I have to say without a shadow of a doubt that the pride and joy of this film is the cast. They’re the saving grace of the movie. I love them.
Beside Still Waters opens on Friday, November 14 in select theaters.