On my last day of SXSW, one of the last films I screened was Vincent Grashaw’s dramatic thriller, Coldwater (review here). Later in the day one of my friends, who was handling the PR for the film, asked if I wanted to interview the guys involved. As you can probably guess I said yes and with not much time left in the day before my flight we stopped by a bar, grabbed a beer and I rattled off some questions to lead actor PJ Boudousque, co-writer/director Vincent Grashaw, actor James C. Burns and producer Joe Bilotta. Now I do realize that I’m over a month late with posting this interview and I do apologize but I just never got a chance to sit down and transcribe our conversation, but better late than never so without further ado here is the first of two interviews for one of SXSW’s finer films, Coldwater (SPOILERS INCLUDED IN THIS INTERVIEW).
Alex DiGiovanna (AD): How did you get involved with the project?
PJ Boudousque (PJ): This is my first project and, like everything else, I auditioned for it. It’s a really interesting story; I almost didn’t go into the audition because I was leaving LA to go to NY. I wanted to study theater out there and there was a conservatory I was interested in and the audition for this was on my street in Venice, I was this close to turning it down but then I looked up the address and said ok, it’s like a block away, I have to go in on this. So I went in and auditioned, the next day I met Vince for lunch and we talked about some stuff and then I left for NY. Three weeks later I got the phone call that I booked the part
PJ: Yeah, I had to move back, it was this crazy thing, I was couch surfing for a good five months there
PJ: Yea because I ended my lease, I didn’t have anywhere to stay.
AD: Do you like couch surfing?
PJ: I liked it more in NY than I did in LA but fortunately I had my girlfriend kind of take care of me.
AD: That’s nice
AD: So Brad’s kind of got an interesting setup, in your opinion did he have this whole strategy the entire time, the idea of bringing down the entire camp or do did it spawn from when his friend’s leg get snapped.
PJ: Yeah, that’s actually one of the most insightful questions I got about the film so far.
PJ: I don’t think it was planned the entire time. I think it was after Jonas gets run over, I’m not sure if this is a spoiler or if we can talk about it, but after that took place there was always the intention of not wanting to stay there. I don’t think anyone would want to stay in that situation under those circumstance at all, I think once his leg was hurt it kind of motivated him even more to escape and then. Furthermore, when Chris’ character comes in. I think him trying to escape came down to accountability. I think when he saw Gabriel’s character come in to camp and that reflection of his past it kind of reignited that spark that’s like, this is not my life, I can’t be here, I need to survive this, I need to make it right.
AD: So do you think he indirectly set off all the other inmates later in the film? When you came in all sweaty from doing a job, they are all stand there staring at you, do you think that was a moment for them when it all clicked and they thought “well we can do our own thing too”?
PJ: I do. There had been so much abuse over the course of two years I don’t think anyone wanted to stay there by any means. When they saw that my character was acting out and pushing the envelope and getting away with more and more and the consequences got more severe, I think they decided to act like animals. I think that’s what took place, they were treated like animals for such a long time that they started lashing out. I think it was motivated by what was taking place with my character and what was taking place with Jonas.
AD: Jonas was just a spark plug, he was crazy.
AD: The film is pretty intense once it gets to the halfway point, alright what’s going to happen, you’ve got this evil Colonel dude trying to do his job to rehabilitate and all that. Thus my question is, was it a tough shoot or was it relatively easy? There was a lot of physical stuff going on.
PJ: Can I answer that in two parts?
PJ: I really believe, and that’s something that the actor James Burns did that was incredible, was that I don’t think the Colonel was an evil person. I think that was something that was so endearing about his character; he brought humanity to a role that could have been played with this malevolent force, like this evil dude, and he actually seemed to care on some level about his job and the facility and rehabilitation of these teens. He had a son that had a troubled past and I think he was just losing grip, I think he was just overwhelmed with the actions of people below him like the counselors and the staff that he hired. He had to own it, I think he just lost touch.
PJ: As for the shoot and it being strenuous, yeah it was interesting. I learned how to find my light and hit my mark on this movie. This is my first time in front of a camera ever. There were obviously very difficult days, I mean it was hot, you’re getting thrown out of vans, it was physically taxing but everyone involved, the attitude of everyone that was a part of this film was just incredible. I mean my cast mates, my co-stars, if there was ever an issue or a shortcoming that we needed to work out there was such a sense of community that I could go talk to Nick Daven, I could talk to Chris, I could talk to Vince or our DP who was incredible, Jayson Crothers, the most patient dude ever. Like for me I did nothing but mess up his job, I made his job so difficult but he was so loving. I tried my best.
Vincent Grashaw (VG): He didn’t hit his marks ever. We had bets of who was going to get the best marks or be on their mark most of the time.
PJ: Yeah there was an iPod being raffled to all the actors for their marks.
VG: It was goo though, everybody got better.
PJ: But yeah, that’s part of the learning curve. They took a chance on all of us, there wasn’t a name in this film and to hire me as a lead without any credits, I mean that’s a gamble. It was definitely a learning process for me and everyone involved but there was such a community aspect to the shooting that I never was concerned.
AD: We had been talking about the Colonel and I had called him evil but he’s really just a bad guy come the end, when we first meet him he doesn’t come off like someone like the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket, why did you decide that it made more sense to go with that softer approach?
VG: You know, it’s funny because the script was actually a bit different, he was a bit more toxic. It was a little more obvious of the type of guy he was going to be and James actually brought a lot in conversation with me early on before we began shooting and up to shooting. We were revising his scenes, some of his dialogue here and there just because if it did come off toxic right off the bat and I feel like everybody would have known where it was going as well as maybe that’s what you would have expected. The second they get there here’s this guy, and that’s ok, you know where that’s going, this guy’s just evil. I don’t think he’s that at all. I think it’s not like these kids and it’s a mistake and there all here and the counselors and the Colonel are bad, it’s not. It’s a big grey area of misfortune that led to his collapse.
PJ: What I think was really brewing about that at least from what he brought to the table is that it really raised the stakes for everyone else’s relationship to him. It would have been very easy to be, that’s the authority figure, fuck that guy he treats us like shit, who cares. But there was actually a father son mentality to the relationship between them in that sense as well as the other characters. You see that reflected in the staff members, how they become assimilated and institutionalized to this camp and they are invested in him and in the facility and I think that showcases that.
VG: Yeah, I think one of the interesting things that, again, the movies evolved into where it is now, it’s permanent, even during it, stuff between him and the Colonel, it almost, if you look at them, there are so many similarities between the two, it’s almost like they are the same guy. The stuff that you brought, that I never really thought of, was your dad passing away is not in the movie but it’s obviously the cause of a lot of his demons and shit but maybe your dad wasn’t a great guy and you know there are a lot of things I think by the time the end comes, I don’t want to spoil anything, I mean I think he makes a very clear decision, he knows exactly what he’s doing.
JP: It’s all about learning consequence. That was the big thing for me is that, or the big transformation for Brad, was just understanding consequence and accepting it and really choosing to use his violence or his aggression as a tool and to accept the consequences of his actions. His relationship to his dad, I think the dad was a big unseen character that was a big part of the burden that I feel was carried throughout the film. It was an unset thing that’s really moving.
AD: Now, I don’t know much about these private rehabilitation centers so, in this film, the kids can send their parents letters and the parents can send them letters and that’s the only form of contact?
VG: Everywhere or in this film?
AD: In this film
VG: Yeah, we touch on it a little bit, we didn’t go into it in depth. We didn’t go into every single thing that happens in the camp.
AD: It’s two years without seeing his mother, at least from a mothers perspective that’s got to be pretty hard.
VG: Well it’s not two years it’s about a little over a year
AD: I see, so year two is just the start of the next year.
VG: Yeah, I’d say the first year is a couple months and then we’re in year two and that could be close to over a year. Yeah, that’s common for a lot of places, the kids in these camps could be there 18 months and nothing.
JP: It’s part of privileges that you have. There are levels in these camps and a lot of times you don’t maintain communication until you earn the right to actually talk and send emails. There was a lot of research you did [Vincent] in terms of the letters that we would receive.
VG: Yeah, and there’s stuff that, again, is fucked up, these guys sometimes wouldn’t give letters to the kids that they were receiving because they were too inspiring or for their own reasons or they would black it out, stuff like that. Letters you would send they would black it or just not send them.
AD: Just like the military.
VG: Yeah and there are some places that you visit and they have visit day. There was a scene in the script initially, we decided to take it out, there was a scene where his mom visits and it was very short and brief but they just were kind of looking at each other and he was just like don’t come here. So there are all those kind of things in real life to that you are allowed to visit certain camps but some you’re so far in the middle of nowhere that it’s just not preferred, they’d rather you not go. I got a lot of stories about kids that were sent to other camps in Ensenada and they made it impossible for you to visit them and if you did you had to go through these different rooms and they prepared the person that you’re going to see in a room, it’s really insane some of the shit that happens.
AD: Would you ever consider making a documentary on that? I ask because you had the stats at the end of the film and it seems like a fascinating topic.
VG: I’m not personally interested in making one because I know what kind of endeavor it’s going to be but I would love for somebody to take that on because it’s a big issue.
AD: And what about you, what did you do to prepare for this role, it’s your first one and kind of an intense one?
PJ: I think if I did anything I just over prepared. Again I didn’t know what I was walking into, I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t ruin anyone else’s job. I was just nervous, that was just it. I was so nervous that I was affecting other people’s performances or I was making the DP’s job difficult. I made a point after the first week of shooting of actually sitting down with everybody and having a little meeting being like listen, this is what I’m doing, is there anything I could do to make your job a little bit easier. Like I said this is a huge learning curve for me. Other than that, just a lot of script work and getting in shape, I mean I lost a lot of weight.
VG: You were yoked.
JP: Yeah, I was pretty yoked but that was something we discussed. We didn’t want him to seem frail or be a victim, it would have been too easy to make him someone that was unable to care for himself, to feel intimidated or abused in these facilities. There was a scene in the movie that was cutout where Brad is lifting weights before he gets sent off.
VG: Yeah, there are little parallels throughout the movie that are similar to him and the Colonel like he has his box of collections of his father’s stuff and under that are the drugs that he has. The Colonel’s got his package of items from the inmates that he takes, whether he gives the shit back or not, and them just working out to let off stress, the Colonel lifting weights, I mean the other scene was taken out but there are little parallels that were interesting to me. They are almost one of the same.