Interview with Director Jesse R. Tendler
What was your casting process like? Casting a family: mother, father, son?
I had worked with Mike Starr previously on a short film. He's a terrific actor and also a super nice guy, so we hit it off on that set and kept in touch. When I first read the script for Deadbeat, I knew I wanted to cast Mike as the father (Mickey). Our executive producer, Eric Grisanti, had a connection to Trace Lysette and had asked her to do the voiceover work for the role of Ryan's wife. I have known Dawn Jamieson (who played Maria) for years. We met probably over a decade ago as part of the Times Square Playwrights group, which workshops plays by New York playwrights. I was an actor in that group and performed in several readings and productions. I knew Dawn would be great in the role of Mickey's wife. The final piece of the puzzle was the lead -- Ryan. We posted the role online and looked at a ton of submissions as well as a lot of reels, headshots, actor websites, etc. We narrowed it down and had just a handful of people come in to audition. We had a good feeling about William Jousset before we actually met him in person, but when he walked in the door, we knew we had found our lead. We brought him back in for a callback, just to have the opportunity to work with him a bit further and be 100% sure, but at that point we basically knew. Not only does he look like he could be Mike Starr's son, but he inhabited the character of Ryan so fully. His acting skills are phenomenal, and he had the gritty persona we needed. And finally, I did a couple of the other voiceover parts myself. In addition to being a director and producer, I've been acting for over 30 years and love doing VO work.
Your film is in one location with a focus on relationships: what was your rehearsal process like if off set/ on set before shots?
I wish we had the luxury of having time for rehearsals before the shoot. Mike Starr was flying in from Los Angeles, while William Jousset is based in NYC, so there wasn't any opportunity for rehearsals beforehand. Plus, I was in the middle of rehearsals for a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which was opening in Manhattan a month later, so my schedule was kinda full. We had Mike Starr for only one day. We basically shot that entire hospital scene, all 11 pages of it, in 8 hours. We ran through the scene just once or twice to establish the blocking. I also spoke with the actors briefly about their characters and the dynamic between them, but then I just trusted their instincts and trusted that I had made the right decisions in casting. Once we started filming, I gave small adjustments, but Mike and William are skilled professionals, and honestly they took the words and made them their own. With each shot, we had time for at most one or two rehearsal takes, and then we generally got our shot in two or three takes.
It's a deeply emotional drama: what inspired the film?
While I directed and produced the film, Deadbeat was written by Eric Grisanti and Robert Mosca. To a large degree, the film was inspired by personal events in the lives of the writers. They created the story by cobbling together elements from their own lives and then interweaving these with some fictional elements. I was quite involved in the rewriting and script editing process (we had about 9 revisions before settling on the final shooting script), but the initial concept and the autobiographical elements were all theirs (i.e. Rob and Eric's).