Regardless, both commentaries revolved around the same undeniable premise: that male American actors are getting kicked in the teeth by the mates from down under and the blokes from across the pond.
This trend drives actor-filmmaker John Lacy “bonkers.” His word, not mine.
“I think we’ve raised back-to-back generations of American kids who are more aware of their carbon foot print and the newest, fastest XBOX and iPhone than their character, their back bone,” Lacy told me when we sat down at Jones Cafe last week to discuss his latest creation, a dynamic new web series called The Reveal…
“I’m calling it a “Gothic Desert Noir Comic Opera,” he replied when I asked him to describe the series. “When I first assembled my cast I told them they would have more questions than answers…that the plot would reveal itself as we peeled back the onion.”
And how did they respond to that particular slice of evasive ambiguity?
“Well, considering I hand-picked not only some of my closest pals for this project, but actors whom I knew to be true collaborative artists, I got the response I anticipated…which was ‘when do we start?'”
And what a cast he assembled.
What began as a table read with a dozen notable character actors and ingenues, quickly ballooned to a rambunctious cast of 30 well-trained, mostly veteran actors, each handed customized roles to sink their chops in to.
“Told all of them from the very first table read that as a storyteller I am no longer interested in ‘realism,'” he explained. “I quoted Stanley Kubrick’s memorable instruction to Jack Nicholson on the set of The Shining, where he said ‘Yes, Jack, it’s real…but it’s not interesting.'”
And Kubrick is just one of the many legendary filmmakers Lacy has been drawing from (stealing?) to create the dangerous, surreal landscape on display in The Reveal…; a show already being described as “the most original web series ever.”
“We began our first cast meeting with a five-minute visual montage of modern-day films that I wanted our cast to absorb for texture and tonal references. Films like True Romance, Memento, Stranger than Paradise, Reservoir Dogs, and David Lynch’s Wizard of Oz homage, Wild at Heart.
“Once we established that thematic working template, I got more specific with each character as I went back and devoured classic films noir (The Killing, Gun Crazy, The Asphalt Jungle), providing each actor with specific actor references from that rich era of films made from the early 1940s through the late 50s. From Sterling Hayden to Peter Lorre to Elisha Cook, Jr. to Agnes Moorehead, and, of course, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.”
“On the one hand, because of my nearly 30 years in this business, I’m a kid in a candy store when it comes to actors to choose from,” Lacy explained as our food arrived, not too coincidentally delivered by a fellow actor he is friendly with. After an exchange of “great to see you” pleasantries, he continued. “But, it’s a delicate balance when you’re working on such a limited budget with such a skeleton crew and very few of the creature comforts actors become accustomed to when they are working. It only takes one actor who’s not on board with the creative process of the machine to send the train in to the ditch.”
So, of course, I had to ask him: Have there been any divas?
“Not one,” he takes the question in stride. “But that’s not to say this project hasn’t been a beast. Look around any one of our working sets and you will see how ambitious this show is. It is unlike anything else going on in Hollywood right now. I say that with complete confidence. I want to hold this up as a working model of what can be accomplished when everyone dives in to the process and releases expectation of results.
What I have learned with profound clarity on The Reveal… is that I have extremely good taste and judgement in the artists I choose to surround myself with. I’ve also learned to trust my own storytelling instincts, whereas not too long ago I could be talked out of my ideas by a mere shrug of indifference or a devil’s advocate ‘why are you doing it that way?
Now I’m just doing what I like. Working with the people I want to work with. Period.”
Actor and novelist, Charles Carpenter was one of the first to be enlisted by Lacy. He plays a tough-talking (but naive), video game crazed urban cowboy. “Working on this show, with this group, has reinvigorated my love for acting and storytelling. It’s the kind of job when you’re not working you still want to go to set just to watch the work. Everyone is so good!”
“Both the actors and the script provide a depth of emotion, encouraged by the director,” says Jimm Giannini, a long time friend of the filmmaker. Giannini plays one of the show’s most unhinged characters, Larry “Lasagna.” “It was great to watch each actor, one after another, come in and just hit it hard, no holding back.”
Veteran character actor, Paul Bond, who plays the film’s heavy, Mr. Chattanooga, contributed this: “We found an emotional current within our own psyches that created the foundation to play these distorted versions of ourselves that John so cleverly imagined.”
John Mese, whose own indie film, The King of Herrings, has been barnstorming the festival circuit this past year, came on board to help Lacy’s Big Fist Pictures produce their pilot “webisode.”
“I’ve witnessed firsthand the blood, sweat, and tears approach to Lacy’s production,” Mese told me. “It’s there every day with this group of guys, who switch hats and carry the sandbags and heavy equipment for each set-up, then step in front of the camera and deliver stark, gripping performances that remind one of guys like Bogart, Brando, and the rest of the old-school greats who obviously drew us all in to the profession in the first place. It’s very exciting to watch and be a part of.”
“I’ve always loved films from that noir period,”says Elizabeth Greer, who plays Nina Butler in The Reveal… “The characters so strong and the stories so engaging.” Greer, who Ray Donovan fans would immediately recognize from her work as Judy Hoffman last season, knows Lacy from years of stage work in Los Angeles. “John and I always got along because we have a lot of the same values. We are both incredibly dedicated to our families, while remaining intensely passionate about our craft. There are so many ups and downs in our line of work, it’s empowering to dive in to a project with this many hard-working, good old-fashioned, get-it-done artists. I’m having a ball.”
That surely seems to be the consensus with the actors I was able to pry away from their busy shooting schedule. They all seem to be having a ball.
Cinematographer Mitch Surette knows why. “We’re telling a good story,” he stated. “That’s what I like about working with this group – ultimately, we all want to make good films. This collaboration was meant to be.”
From their remote desert locations out in Pearblossom (just south of Lancaster if you’re curious) that are doubling as back-woods Tennessee, to their industrial warehouse lofts and studios in downtown Los Angeles, to their Hollywood back alleys and parking garages, every weekend they assemble to tell their story.
The log line for The Reveal… reads like it was plucked from ancient mythology: “A man finds his soul in peril as he sets out to redeem himself by saving the lives of those who wronged him.”
But Lacy assures me, his story lives more in the realm of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett than Euripides.
“It’s hardboiled melodrama with just a touch of Shakespearean pathos,” he says. “At its core, The Reveal… is about mother and child. The lengths a mother will go to to protect her child; and conversely, the self-destructive nature of men to jeopardize it all for the sake of their egos.”
He continued: “The world I’ve created to tell this story involves femme fatales and tough talking guys who are unapologetically masculine, often crude, and, thankfully, heroic. It’s strange for me to think that squaring all of those dimensions in to a story’s characters might be considered controversial. But…that’s where our society is today. Sadly, there’s been a concentrated effort since the late 60s to scale back and hamstring a lot of both male and female human nature.”
Lacy, who was thrust in to the national spotlight last year by leaving the stage and physically confronting a homophobic heckler during a Newhall production of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, is no stranger to controversy.
One of Lacy’s oldest pals to come on board The Reveal… is former NFL standout turned long-time actor Pete Koch, most known cinematically as “The Swede” in Clint Eastwood’s Heartbreak Ridge.
“Time and political correctness have changed Hollywood,” Koch told me over the phone from his fitness camp in the Malibu hills. “John is aiming to right the ship a bit here, and bring back some American chivalry and gravitas. Male actors who act like men. You know, old school aspirational card-carrying men, reminiscent of our greatest generation.”
The series premiered its pilot “webisode” two weeks ago to rave reviews. That first “morphine drip,” as Lacy calls it, landed exactly as intended, giving the audience just enough of its sprawling story and colorful characters to want more. And they will get more. Twelve more to be exact.
Lacy’s producing partner and series leading man, Stephen Zimpel, added this: “A lot of the actors in this film have been around the block a few times. The business side of acting can really wear you down; but when you apply yourself to something that you believe in wholeheartedly, with this many great guys and gals, only good things can happen. I’m already looking forward to our follow-up.”