Jim Thalman wears a number of different ‘hats’: actor, executive producer and president of the Hudson Exploited Theater Company (HexTC) production company, precision driver, screen sword fighter and stunt fighter. Jim co-stars in the multi-award winning short 16 Minutes opposite Christiane Seidel (Godless) and has a lead role in another multi-award winning short Black N’ Blue which has just screened at the Cannes Film Festival. With a new movie, Diane, being released by Sony in October Jim talked with me about his training, making movies, the role of the producer and executive producer, his musical tastes and much, much more.
DB: You were born in Manhattan weren’t you?
JT: I lived in Hell’s Kitchen for many, many years – all through the ‘90s and then the latter 2000s when I met my wife – but I was born in Jersey City and grew up just across the river, in a place called Union City that is part and parcel of the inspiration of West of the City. It’s a very unique place: we don’t vote for mayor, we vote for city commissioners and the commissioners choose the mayor. Every little town has their own fiefdom, if you will, so it is ripe for story telling. Currently West of the City is the #1 ranked drama on the Amazon Development Platform you can see for free here:
DB: What was it like, living in Hell’s Kitchen then?
JT: When I first moved into Hell’s Kitchen it was still a very rough neighbourhood but it was affordable. There were two types of people that lived in Hell’s Kitchen: actors and theatre artists (because it’s in the theatre district) and just the regular hold overs from when it was a very bad neighbourhood. Now, unfortunately, that has all gone. All the old guys are gone, all the actors too have been forced out because now it’s this very trendy, Soho-like, exceptionally expensive neighbourhood to live in.
DB: When did you first know that you wanted to be an actor?
JT: My mother was good friends with my grammar school principal – he was her History teacher when she was a young girl and they remained friends over all the years. I think in 3rd grade I did the little school play and he walks up to my mother and he’s like, ‘Fran, mark my words, that kid’s going to be an actor!’ So she took it to heart and really, from that moment on, she told me that; I had no idea what it meant, I just liked to be up on stage and everyone watching – I enjoyed that. From there she started taking me to plays and to be exposed to that, especially at the time East 4th Street in the City was really where the avant-garde stuff was happening – my mother was taking me there!
DB: Apart from acting, have you done any other jobs?
JT: Now, the older I get, I seem to executive produce more, just because I think what I do that I consider is really special aside from craft, is to build relationships – I like to meet people and I like to build relationships. I’ll build a relationship with you for five, six years and never ask for anything in return but at one point they’ll be a moment where I can introduce you, to her, to him. Because I’ve invested all that time and energy into building relationships, people are more likely to say ‘yes.’ Through that ability I have been able to assemble some amazing teams, so then we can create our own work as opposed to being wholly dependent upon auditioning for this television show or for that movie or… because that’s out of our realm of control. The ability to build your own projects: you’re working with your own crew on set, with guys and gals you know, you like, you trust. My wife is a production designer – she does the production design on all our movies – I love that aspect of looking across the set and seeing her running her own department and they’re having a blast doing their thing, while I’m with my department doing my thing. With 16 Minutes the big joke was that it was all husbands and wives! And it was wonderful! Who knows if it would have been as successful had it not had that familial environment behind it? Because we certainly didn’t have enough money, not enough time, not enough equipment, not enough personnel but when there’s an emotional investment, I think people go above and beyond the call of duty.
DB: With acting because you may have to put yourself into a vulnerable situation as you delve into character, not being in a safe place makes that a difficult thing to do, doesn’t it?
JT: If you had asked me that question ten years ago I would have been, ‘Yes, of course.’ Now, my thought process is… the preservation of self-interest outweighs everything and the director and producer want the project to be as successful as humanly possible so, I now go in with: it doesn’t matter! They are only going to put up on the screen that which works so I’m at a freer moment than I have ever been over the entire course of my career. I used to treat it like it was very precious – it’s not precious!
I was fortunate to meet a man by the name of Steve Eastin when I lived in Los Angeles. He would always say to us, ‘Listen. It’s not precious. Stop treating it like it’s precious. This is not neurosurgery, it’s not open-heart surgery, where if you make a mistake someone loses a life! It’s a movie, okay, you go back to one, try it again a different way. It’s fun.’ He was the type of teacher that got us away from preconceived notions and stamped out any ego that you have (and we all have it). He used to read us an interview with Meryl Streep or another Academy nominee and then an interview with Michael Jordan or some other athlete of the week. You’d think: professional basketball and professional acting, completely different worlds, but when you’d hear them talk about it – their craft, their profession – you’ll hear them talk about being “in the zone”, using the same catchphrases. Not really understanding what they were describing but on a much more intuitive, deep level where it’s like, ‘You’re out of your head. You’re in your body. Not thinking about anything, just letting everything flow through you.’ That changed the trajectory of my belief system which led into the way I approach things.
DB: You went to Montclair State University first.
JT: Yes. Which was a very traditional Stanislavsky-based programme. During the fall and spring semesters I was in school and then summers, I would come into the city and I’d try and get on whatever sets I could; I would be on Law and Order often. I couldn’t understand how Sam Waterston could deliver these great monologues week after week, if he was doing all the steps prescribed by the Stanislavsky method. That’s where I started questioning the traditional systems because what they were teaching at university did not jibe at all with what I was seeing in the professional world. I spoke,with Jerry Orbach once and he said to me, ‘Kid, all you need to know is: know your lines, show up on time and be polite.’ It is the soundest advice!
DB: After that you went to the HB Studios.
JT: HB is a wonderful studio, started by Uta Hagen and her husband Herbert Berghoff, which were iconic theatre actors in the late ‘50s to the early ‘80s. They started a school based on the socialist system where classes were extremely cheap but the kick-back was: twice a year, all the students had to come in and clean the entire school, paint the walls, neaten and store everything, scrub, mop. It was great because you had a lot of working actors coming back in to teach us and a lot were Tony winners, Emmy winners.
DB: That was then when you went to Steve’s?
JT: I worked at the Atlantic Theater Company simultaneously. Steve’s I was at 2002-2010 in Los Angeles. Steve was taught by Charles E. Conrad who was Meisner’s last teaching assistant but it’s even more ‘in your body’ than traditional Meisner. There were actors who were 16/17 years old and actors who were 85 years old. It was great because I was getting to see actors who I had grown up watching on television and training with them. The thought process was almost like a boxing gym: you go in, you train, you train every day like it’s the big fight, so when the big fight does come there are no nerves, you aren’t rattled; you’ve been preparing for years.
DB: What was your very first professional acting role?
JT: My first Union Off-Broadway play was Of Mice and Men which is a classic and an amazing commentary on American society at the time. We did that at the same time (1999) as The Green Mile came out and the director forced us all, the entire cast, bought everyone a ticket and said, ‘We’re going to the movies guys!’ He didn’t say anything about why he was taking us and it is Of Mice and Men, just set inside a prison facility. What it did is it changed the way we were all approaching the role – it forced us to start from a clean slate.
DB: I guess it’s one of the few professions where you get such a wide age range.
JT: One of the things that is really beneficial about acting is that it is one of the few professions that you are not forced out due to old age – now you’re revered. When I lived in LA my main job was I worked in the Glendale Center Theater. One of the plays I did was Over the River and Through the Woods it’s about two sets of grandparents meddling to set up their grandson on a blind date. I’d be in the men’s dressing room every night, and the two gents who played my grandfathers were in their ‘70s at the time. They would come in, sit down with moans and creaks and complain about arthritis and what not. We’d get out on stage and fifteen minutes later these two men were jumping around like they’re 19-year-olds. There’s this injection of endorphins into your blood stream when you start working that makes all the pain go away and it’s replaced by the joy. I would see these guys regularly do things a 70-year-old man could not and would not do, and they were doing it night in and night out for 12-week runs! It means there is no pressure: I do not have to make it today, I’ve got a life time and your best work is still ahead of you.
DB: On stage in New York you were in Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, which is a very political play, isn’t it.
JT: That was The Actors’ Studio in conjunction with the New School. They actually gave us classes on the history of the Vichy government, Nazi Germany, the correlation of literature, art and history at the time. Ionesco chose the rhinoceros because it’s like a tiger tank rolling down the street. It was very direct, very pointed at the Vichy government and what they did to their citizens and how complicit they were within that genocide. The acting was wonderful but it was the educational experience of what theatre can do, and how it can force you to change or think differently, that I will always take away from that play. I hope someone, a real brilliant producer, decides to do this show here, and now in America!
DB: Aside from theatre you also work in film. How does working in film differ from working in the theatre?
JT: Stage is joyful because it’s very much like a sporting event: you got a game to play, you’re going to go out and play it to the best of your ability and it’s going to be different every time, you don’t get to stop, you don’t get a break. It’s an out of control freight train that you’re hanging onto for dear life – it’s exhilarating and fun! You have to make sure your instrument is rested and primed for an athletic competition and you have to be able to go strong all the way through. Film: we are exploring, for the next four hours, this moment that happens on page 9. Film is moments of minutiae that hopefully can add up into something else. Now the difference that I find most joyful about film is: when you’re rehearsing for a play there’s that time where the actors are sort of ‘off-book’ but not really, they’re really dependent upon the stage manager but we’re trying to leave the script away and not run to that crutch and it’s that time where magic can occur, where things are happening spontaneously in these bursts of electricity; shooting a movie, the whole movie is in that space of barely ‘off-book’ and magic’s happening without anyone expecting it or knowing it. The difference is it’s caught in camera, so if it works you get to keep it and if it doesn’t, it ends up on the cutting room floor.
DB: So you’re obviously quite happy watching yourself on film then.
JT: Oh I love it! (Laughs a lot!) I’ll never do it while we’re on set – unless the director calls me in – I’ll never ask to see playback. Then when the film has its world premiere I’ll sit in the audience with extreme trepidation and excitement, clutching my wife’s hand really hard and watch it unfold – and it’s so much fun! Especially if it’s in a big movie house where there’s lots of strangers, because then you can hear their gasps and talking back to the screen and their rooting for you or against you and a real cathartic release happens in the dark.
DB: You were talking about being a producer and an executive producer. For a movie, what does that mean, practically speaking?
JT: For the most part a producer handles the brass tacks of the manufacture of a film: all the contracts, the hiring of the personnel, the management of conflicting personalities. It’s the hard-nosed, managerial skills needed to keep a production running because, unlike every other position on a film set, the producer has his or her hand in every single decision that happens. An executive producer assembles a team, or helps a project get greenlit. I don’t function as a brass tacks producer. On the festival circuit I’ll find a writer who I think is an extremely talented individual, ask them to send me some scripts, then I’ll take that and introduce it to maybe a name actor, or director that I’ve already worked with that I really love, and a producer I’ve already worked with and ask them what the ability is of us getting this movie made – that’s an executive producer credit. Or, you have a project and you come to me and I introduce you to Marvin who is a multigazillionaire who is looking to diversify then that’s also an executive producer credit. Then I have a piece of ownership of the film which is more and more important to me. It’s the fact of ownership because quite literally, all it takes is one film to take off and that’s a game changer!
DB: Can we talk a little about HExTC? How was that set up and what sort of projects has it been involved in and how has it evolved over the years?
JT: It’s an acronym for the Hudson Exploited Theater Company. We started as an artists’ collective when we were still in high school; I did my first play at a performing arts festival with the executive director Arian Blanco, who is still my business partner, then we went off to college. After college we got back together and decided, ‘Hey, why don’t we start producing our own shows?’ We did that and then Arian filed for a 501(c)3, which is a not-for-profit organisation. Through the years we have continually produced theatre, both in English and Spanish, in New York and New Jersey. During my years in Los Angeles, the company continued (I was strictly as a support, investing or donating to their show, so when their show would be released I would be listed as an associate producer). When I came back in 2010 I started looking at the numbers that they were spending on an Equity showcase production and I said, ‘Well listen, if you want to do this for the same dollar count that you guys spent on a two-week showcase, I could deliver a short film that’ll circle the globe for the next 18 months.’ So since 2012, we still do theatre but in addition to that we’ll do one short film a year that continues to get the brand name out. With West of the City we will have developed it under the not-for-profit umbrella which means we get tax breaks, community incentives, it’s easier to get everything because we’re not a bunch of capitalists trying to make money. We’re very writer-centred – we believe that everything starts with the written word – so we’re always soliciting scripts and material and giving them a chance to do public readings and plays etc. I’m now the president of Hudson Exploited. So you can always email me at: email@example.com
DB: In 2015 you were in A Box Came to Brooklyn?
JT: That was with Jason Cusato. We had met at Rochester Film Festival in 2007 and did an interview for the news together, wound up laughing hysterically and having an absolute blast. We buddied up that whole weekend and I have kept in touch all those years. We started the process in 2013, writing and raising money for it. We shot it in 2014 and it was released in 2015. It won a lot of awards, was a fun film and it got distributed.
DB: The feature film, In Sickness, that came out last year I think.
JT: Our festival run started ’16 and it played 2016-2017. That I did with the same director that I have done Black N’ Blue (which is screening at Cannes this week) and Ploy with (Amazon Prime), Julius B. Kelly. It’s the same team: Dayna Schutz produced all three of those pictures; Jordan Riggs shot all of those movies. Lukas Hassel, who was the star of the movie, was a joy to work with and we still keep in touch. This for me was a departure because I got to play comedic relief, so to be able to say widely inappropriate things and cracking jokes, I was thinking, ‘This is great! I wish I could always do this.’ It was a lot of fun! It won some awards and got a distribution deal which allowed the executive producers to go on to make other pictures. Ploy is a revenge thriller. I was fortunate enough to win some Best Supporting Actor awards on the festival circuit for that.
DB: So, 16 Minutes – there’s so much to love about it, from the credits to the music score and sound – that’s been nominated, and won, quite a lot already.
JT: We took home our 14th award Sunday night and a Golden REMI from WorldFest, Houston which is in its 51st year – the oldest running film festival in America. Fingers crossed. We’ve got 33 nominations, so far and we are only six months into our festival run.
DB: What was it like actually working on it? How long did it take you to film and the practical side of it, like the locations?
JT: We shot it in three days: two days in the interior location and then one day in that abandoned industrial city which the production designer, Natasha Senko, and the costume designer, Ming Wong, actually found. It was hidden between a highway and a railway line: they went for a little walk and they crested the bluff and then they saw this completely abandoned city. They took us over, did a tour and started plotting out what could be done where and then the whole art department descended upon it. We have a partner, Mike Meola of Dark Side Haunted, who runs a haunted mansion during the Fall, so we talked to him and he lent us all these body parts. I remember driving back and the windows were all open and I was like, ‘If I get pulled over and a cop sees all these decapitated heads and arms, I’m in jail!’ (laugh) That was the ‘married tour’ and it made it pretty special. Now it means we get to go to the film festivals and at every award ceremony, they see us all together. Stephane [Verzi, the director] has got a very funny French sort of humour – wildly inappropriate – and he’d crack jokes all night and he keeps all of us grounded and doesn’t let ego get into the occasion. We have a lot of fun
and, at the end of the day I think that’s the most important thing – are you enjoying the work?
DB: I heard you talking on one of your interviews as to how you created a backstory of the two main characters (Christiane Seidel’s character and your character). How did you work on the love story in that?
JT: We like to do what we call a ‘workshop’. We rented a rehearsal hall and came in with the original script from Phil Clarke and went through it. The original script is written as two men. Right off the bat Steph decided to introduce a female character instead of having two men; we both agreed that the dynamic becomes more interesting where you have emotional feelings for the other human being where you are trying to guide your partner-significant other/lover on how to handle life without you now. We went back and forth and Chris was really instrumental in talking from her character’s perspective and also from a story telling perspective. We made some changes that I think made the characters more equal. Stephane was very much, ‘Just remember the love guys!’ That was his note. It comes through in what I believe is a subtle way rather than hammering you over the head with that.
DB: I really liked it. The photography is great, the sound is really good. You had a lot of fun making it.
JT: Well thank you. It was so much fun, we had a blast and it was a very light-hearted set despite the material: lots of practical jokes on set which helped to keep everyone loose, everyone had to take a picture with our monster, Randy Howk, the actor – he was in the make up chair for 6 hours and we could only feed him through a straw. He’s a big, big guy but everyone brought their kids on set and it was really funny to see the little ones react because he’s a gentle giant and good-natured so he made himself less-scary for the little kids but the little kids, their first reaction was… we wished we had filmed that!
DB:The feature film, Diane, where you play Sgt. Windslow: can you tell me a little bit about it? I gather it is based on earlier ‘70s American film making and the Danish, Dogme 95 movement.
JT: I’m thrilled to say that Diane will be released theatrically through Sony Pictures in October 2018. Michael Mongillo is the director of that feature, he is one of these film makers that is a very studied film maker – exceptionally knowledgable. This is my second feature with him (he always uses the same ensembles, where appropriate). There are lots of really wonderful scenes that are allowed to play out. The film making in the ‘70s and most certainly the ethos of Dogme, if it’s not practically motivated or justified, it has no place being in the picture. Mike directs like hiring a jazz band, get the right players for the part and let them play! As a result, he gets very interesting, nuanced performances from actors because he challenges us all the time but also gives us room to play and run as fast as we can and see where we can go.
Diane centres around a veteran (Jason Alan Smith) struggling with post traumatic stress, drinks too much, has a real problem connecting with other human beings due to his war-time experience, who finds the body of a murdered cabaret singer (Carlee Avers) in his back yard. The truth of the matter is, this guy looks fit for the crime in every way, shape and form. The deeper we go the more the world goes sideways. Simultaneously, he’s having these hallucinations where he’s talking to the girl, she’s coming to visit him, they have a whole life together, she’s the perfect wife. We now, as an audience member, are like, ‘Is he batshit crazy? Or is she a ghost?’ Michael continually will straddle what’s fact and what’s fiction, what’s reality and what’s illusion and he doesn’t give it away until the final moment of the movie, which is a real crowd pleaser.
DB: There’s a movie in post-production at the moment, The Moon Was Twice As Big: what’s it like and what’s your role in it?
JT: I play an oddball scientist, Doctor Elmer Rossum, who invents a fully-functioning, interactive robot in 1969. There was a really horrible car accident on the way to the testing site for the robot and the robot is presumed lost. It’s found by a young boy who recently lost his father. There’s this beautiful bonding that the little boy and his sister have with this interactive robot. It’s a very sweet, coming-of-age story – for that one summer. The remainder of the picture takes place when the robot is relocated by the adult version of this boy and they track down the now aged Elmer Rossum. At its heart it is this beautiful and heartwarming story but there’s a lot of social commentary underneath. The driving factor for Elmer to build this robot is that the summer prior, he lost his son in Vietnam and so it’s his wife and he trying to deal with the tragedy of losing their only child in a war that they didn’t believe in in the first place. The strains on that marriage and how they work through this heartbreak. There’s these beautiful and endearing scenes between my lovely leading lady, Kimberley Shoniker and myself. The director and writer, Bill Jacobs straddles that line of social commentary with the feel good, heartfelt human emotion.
DB: We’ve touched on West of the City already and it’s a proof of concept TV show/short on Amazon.
JT: For us, it’s extremely difficult to get the decision makers to sit down and consider scripts because no one has the time. So we produced this concept film on the Amazon development platform. Currently we are the #1 ranked drama and 3rd-5th ranked show overall out of 26,000 shows on Amazon. That’s part of the joy of the technology: it’s much easier to produce content but it is more of a flooded market. West of the City does have a bit of a pedigree with the fact that we vacillated between number 1 and 3 for 16 months straight in our genre (drama/thriller) and overall we have been between 5 and 7. So we are hoping that Amazon will recognise that and say, ‘Okay let’s see what your first 3 episodes, 6 episodes look like.’ It’s an interesting world that we’d love to do, in Spanish and English. The vast majority of the cast is bilingual, the few actors who aren’t, play characters who aren’t. It’ll be an 80-20 split which is very much like this area that the world is set in; an area with a large immigrant community and it always has been. It also gives us a lot more choices musically because now everything is up and, for us, music is another character. It is as important as your lead actor or actress.
DB: Also, having the subtitles really isn’t a problem, as in the example of Narcos, where a lot of it is in Spanish with subtitles.
JT: I think our audiences have changed and our acceptance of (for lack of a better term) ‘foreign material’ has increased tenfold. I think everyone wants to be exposed to things they haven’t been exposed to and the television is a safe way to do it.
DB: Can you tell me a little bit about Black N’ Blue?
JT: Black N’ Blue was written and executive produced by B. Todd Johnston. We premiered Saturday April 7th in New York at Big Apple Film Festival. It deals with two very prevalent issues. One is post-traumatic stress: we spent a lot of time with Marine psychologists who let us know in very plain terms that post-traumatic stress affects certain cultural and ethnic groups and there’s a DNA marker that’s passed from parent to child. We wanted to draw attention to this world in which, on average, 22 American Vets commit suicide a day. Every day. No one is talking about it! The news isn’t talking about it. The Administration’s not talking about it. Two: the major divide between the black community and the blue community – the police community. The news will talk about the shooting of an unarmed black teen but they won’t talk about all the Town Halls happening around America between the black community and the police community – it’s the fear-mongering of the media. So we decided to make this film that deals with the shooting of an unarmed, black teenager without saying, ‘The cops are racist. The kid was a thug.’ It’s two, very regular guys.
What we are seeing is it is eliciting a conversation that I think needs to happen. Big Apple just sent us the Q&A afterwards – 38 minute conversation, longer than the film! We knew, going in, that this would not be a popular film. We’ve got shut out of a lot of film festivals because it’s very in your face, but we’ve also found its own circuit of film festivals. Big Apple, which is a huge festival, we premiered at. We’ll be at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and hopefully we’ll generate more conversations. We’re screening at Cannes this week: I’m not going but one of the stars, the writer and an executive producer will all be there. Then we come back to New York for the NewFilmMakers series which is fantastic because both 16 Minutes and Black N’ Blue are screening at the same time. It looks like we’ll screen in DC, Baltimore, Savannah, Cleveland, San Francisco.
DB: You are also a precision driver, and qualified in automatic weapons, hand-to-hand combat and sword fighting. What is the WESKE system?
JT: Tim Weske’s a sword fight coordinator in Los Angeles who does some huge productions like Master and Commander with Russell Crowe. It’s a 13-point system: most systems have 6 or 8: you guard your box and leave it at that but Tim decided to make it a little showier, so there are parries which swing behind, and back etc. – for camera it really works wonders. What he forced us to do was, once a week we had to fence, and you learn that the difference between stunt sword fighting is that it is missing as closely as possible whereas fencing is actually striking. How your body changes and reacts to that is a much more exhilarating way of working out how you miss but make it look good.
DB: With stunt-fighting it is not just the delivery, the receiver is really important as well aren’t they.
JT: The receiver propagates all violence, so the more vicious an attack looks and plays, it is all in the reaction of that individual that’s getting hit, so they’re really the most important component – the attacker really just needs to maintain safety. As my mother used to say, ‘Don’t take anyone’s eye out!’ (Both laugh)
DB: Do you ever use your precision driving on set?
JT: All the time! I don’t roll cars or do accidents but for a lot of times, when you’re rolling up in a squad car, you need to hit that mark: you need to make it look urgent but be able to hit the mark. That’s where your training really
matters because the last thing you want to do is waste time on pulling up in a car.
Gunplay: I was trained by Bill Davis who’s a master armourer in LA but former L.A.P.D. The Master Armourer on set is the individual who controls all the weapons and educates everyone on weapon safety. I was on a job with him and it was literally three days of, ‘I’m going to teach you how to field strip and assemble this weapon and this one and how to handle weapons safely.’ That makes your fellow actors and crew members feel safe. We’ve all heard nightmare stories – even blanks are deadly at 10-15 feet.
DB: What’s it like from an actor or producer’s point of view with so many films on the festival circuit? How do you fit in any acting round the films in circuit.
JT: From my own experience what it feels like is: this year it’s all about the circuit. I’ll do the circuit, the press junkets, the interviews and I’ll line up all of next year’s films. Next year will be all about shooting movies and the following year, back on the circuit. The vast majority of my work is based on other film makers seeing a movie I’m in, liking what I do, saying that they like what I do and that we should do something together.
DB: Which directors would you love to work with that you’ve never worked with?
JT: Tim Van Patten Number 1! I think he is the cat’s miaow, without a doubt. He is, by far, my favourite working director today. Other directors I love are Lesli Linka Glatter, her storytelling style is completely different from anyone out there and the way she moves camera is completely different. I think that’s the common denominator between her and Van Patten is: they move the camera and they show you a world in a very unique eye. I do love Tarantino, but I love Tarantino not for the way he moves the camera but for the way he doesn’t move the camera. He’s got these long master takes that go on for two, four, six minutes which is thrilling and exciting for an actor because now you are reaching back into the realm of theatre. I love Ed Bianci, who’s an old timer who has been doing it for fifty plus years and is still bringing something new and fresh to the table every time. With the exception of Tarantino these are all television directors but they direct television like it’s feature film with a very
cinematic eye. They all function as supervising producers on their shows so they can see the whole arc of the season play out; they function as a conductor over an orchestra.
DB: Do you have any particular actors and actresses you admire?
JT: It goes generationally. So for the ‘70s: John Cazale, John Voigt, Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, Bob Duvall. When we moved into the ‘80s: Meryl Streep, Faye Dunaway (‘70s into ‘80s). Into the ‘90s: Glenn Close, Morgan Freeman, Denzel, Ashley Judd, Daniel Day Lewis, Gary Oldman. The ‘70s were the greatest era for American cinema – there were no movie stars they were just amazing actors! I forgot Christopher Walken! Shame on me! The 2000s and as television changed then you get powerhouses like Edie Falco and James Gandolfini coming into the foray, Thomas Jane and Sam Rockwell, Laura Linney and Jason Bateman. I will always take a character actor like Michael Caine over a movie star. Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Sean Penn: they change the way you look at them and are not afraid of being ugly or awkward. And think, at the end of the day, those type of actors – the ones that mystify and inspire – I can’t take my eyes off them. They are magnificent.
DB: Is there a song, or songs, that take you back to a particular time in your life?
JT: Bruce Springsteen’s “Candy’s Room” from the River album – totalling my first car! The song forces you to raise your heart rate dangerously. It turns you into a horse! I swear you’re like a horse, chomping at the bit! I was listening to that song, drove my car, skipped first, dropped into second, into third and … Spun it out! Ate a wall! So then whenever I hear “Candy’s Room” I can’t think about anything but totalling that beautiful car!
DB: Do you have a song that, when you put it on, you have to blast it out really loudly at full volume?
JT: Quite a few! I’d have to say “Would” by Alice in Chains, “Sympathy For The Devil” by the Rolling Stones, “Paul Revere” by The Beastie Boys, “Black” by Pearl Jam and I’m sure another half-dozen!
DB: Is there a movie soundtrack or theme you particularly love?
JT: I’m a huge Ennio Morricone fan so the soundtrack from Once Upon a Time in America is huge for me! All the Sergio Leone classics. I love the soundtrack of almost everything that Tarantino does, The Hateful Eight especially but Django Unchained was also amazing. Reservoir Dogs! Going back a little further I love the soundtrack of Gladiator (Ridley Scott), True Romance (Tony Scott). The soundtrack from The Godfather, Deerhunter, Year of the Dragon, Oliver Stone’s Platoon and Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.
DB: What genres of music do you like listening to?
JT: I am a huge fan of alternative rock, so that’s everything from Stone Temple Pilots to Primus, to Alice in Chains, to Pearl Jam. Nirvana to Guns ‘n’ Roses. I’m also a big fan of what is happening now which is an interesting marriage of genres: where they’re marrying rap and rock and all that. I’m a huge fan of jazz and blues. Tony Joe White, a deep bayou singer (Elvis covered lots of his songs and made his songs famous), John Lee Hooker, Etta James, Aretha, James Brown – all of these guys who I saw at the Hollywood Bowl. I do like the classic rock: The Doors, Joplin. I’m a huge Stones fan. Some Beatles, Sergeant Pepper’s, that album I adore. Jimi Hendrix. I like being introduced to new music as well. I’ll just about try almost anything once and then twice to make sure that my first opinion was right.
DB: What was the most recent gig that you’ve been to?
JT: It’s been a while. A friend of mine, Doug Ray, he’s a musician so we go to his gigs – he’s not famous yet, but he’s damn good – they are funny, eclectic rap that he does, set to some classical beats with a rock feel to it. It’s a lot of fun!
DB: Is there an artist or band that you haven’t seen, that you would love to see perform live? Let’s be generous and say they could be dead.
JT: Pearl Jam, without a doubt. Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain and would definitely like to see both Gilmore and Waters, again. Freddie Mercury – I would love to see! The Doors, Janis, Nina Simone. Those are concerts I would pay top dollar for. The Stones back in the day.
Three questions we ask everybody:
DB: What is your favourite word?
JT: Motherfucker! (Both laugh) It works for everything!
DB: How would you describe your perfect day?
JT: On a beach, in a Third World country, with no access to telephone, internet, television. Nothing but myself, my wife, surf, sand, a pair of Ray-bans and a motorcycle. We travelled through a portion of India many years ago on a motorcycle and it was months with just us, the motorcycle, little roadside stands and cash in your pocket and living life, and the only form of entertainment we had were conversations with each other and then a book to read every now and again.
DB: What could you not possibly live without?
JT: My wife!
DB: Very good answer!
JT: I finally got one right! (Both laugh)
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This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Any opinions or views expressed within the interview are the subject’s own and publication does not imply endorsement of any such opinions or views by Absolute Music Chat or its personnel.