“I had never read a script that had so much pain and heartbreak and tragedy in it and at the same time it had so much absurd humor,” said "Hesher" co-star Rainn Wilson, “It was so funny and sad and sick and dark, and you don't really know whether to laugh or cry at any given moment.” Written and directed by first time feature helmer, Spencer Susser, "Hesher" follows a family (Devin Brochu and Rainn Wilson) broken by the shock of a sudden death in the family, and the equally as sudden addition to their life of an anarchist metal head (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who moves into the garage, makes their lives a living hell, but in many ways, also helps them move on.
We had the chance to hear from Susser and his stars about making a film that straddles heartbreaking and hilarious as well as reality and fairy tale. We spoke to all of the principal cast in one form or another in the past few weeks and cobbled together highlights and insights from Brochu, Wilson and Gordon-Levitt as well as the writer/director himself on what it took to bring “Hesher” to life.
Spencer Susser didn't think nice-guy Joseph Gordon-Levitt could pull off the role of Hesher
JGL: Well at first the director didn’t think I could do it. He said 'oh all due respect he’s a great actor, but I don’t think he could do this character he’s nothing like that'. And I convinced him to meet me and so we went and had dinner and it was great meeting him but he still said, no, he’s nothing like this character he can’t do it. So I convinced him to let me audition for him and I changed his mind.
Susser: When I was writing, I couldn't imagine an actor whose name I knew to play the role. I wanted Hesher to be Hesher. But with that said, you want to work with the best actors you can. When I met with [Levitt] I was like, he's the nicest guy ever. He's so charismatic and charming, but he's not Hesher, he's the opposite of Hesher. [But] the fact that he was so persistent and wanted to show me, we got into a room and once we started to get into it, I was like this guy is the real deal, he's a real actor, he's incredible. He's really free but he's also technical when he needs to be. And really transformed himself into another person.
Rainn Wilson, on the other hand, was pursued for his role because of his somewhat unconventional fit
One thing that [Susser] really thought... he said that he knew that I had chops, that he knew that I could play more than an annoying paper salesman and then he also said that one thing that he really wanted to do with the role was that rather than cast a “dad,” some character, some actor that you've seen be serious before playing the dad, he always liked when you had comic actors playing more serious roles, comic actors in ways that you've never seen them before, he's drawn to that as a director.
When Brochu saw his cinematic dad as Dwight, on "The Office," he admits the difference between the two characters was shocking
I didn't watch [The Office] at first, but then I saw that Rainn was in it and I really wanted to. [he laughs] It was definitely weird to see him like that.
Literally, as well as metaphorically, speaking, Hesher was not something the family was ready to deal with
Wilson: I think it's part of their condition. The father and son are so shell-shocked, and in so much trauma and so much denial that you know this heavy metal guy moves into their garage and they don't really blink an eye about it... TJ (Brochu) is a little more with it, but I think it doesn't even register, it doesn't even go on the father's [played by Wilson] radar. But of all people to bring them to life, or light, it's a tattooed, heavy metal head, drugged out guy.
Brochu: I think I definitely want him out, but there's nothing he can do about it. You're not there [referring to Wilson, who played his dad], so I can't do anything about it, he just comes in.
Susser: The idea that Hesher represents death, you know? Here's this scary, terrible thing that shows up at this family's door and there's nothing they can do about it and he's not going anywhere. And once they learn how to function with him, in a sense he goes away.
Is Hesher Jesus? Gordon-Levitt won't say
You said it. I won’t disagree with you, I think that’s a beautiful interpretation of it.
Brochu weighs in on his complicated relationship with Natalie Portman's character in the film
Natalie['s character] kind of was my only friend, she reminded me of my mom and that's why I really like being around her, because when I was around her, it just made me feel better because I didn't have any friends, my dad was just on the couch drugged out all the time (to Wilson: you were, okay, that's not my fault!) Anytime I wanted to be happy, [my character] just hung out with her.
Non-conformist Hesher in a suit and tie? Susser says it would still work
I always felt like Hesher's the smartest guy in the room. Maybe he's stoned, he's dirty, but he listens to everything and he gets what he wants out of every situation so in a way he's like a con artist. I actually thought the film could play if Hesher was clean cut, wore a suit and didn't like heavy metal necessarily. He's a strange man and he's not what you think he is. I think that's part of the film, don't judge a book by its cover. Listen to what people say, not how they say it.
Devin Brochu took several beatings in the film, from bullies to cars, but he left the tough stunts to the ladies
I had two stunt doubles, Emily and Kelly, they were actually girls, so yeah I get made fun of a lot because girls did my stunts, but they were actually really tough, you saw how much I got beat up, hanging out of cars, getting hit by cars.... I wanted to do more stuff but I couldn't.
Mainstream, indie, mid-sized budget, it really doesn't matter to Joseph Gordon-Levitt
You know to me the important thing is, like I was just saying with Nolan, the important thing is where is the filmmaker coming from, what’s the script? And what are we doing here? It’s not so much about the size of the budget or what studio’s behind it or so…you know I just hope to keep working with people who inspire me on material that inspires me regardless of what platform it’s on.
If you didn't like Hesher at Sundance, give it another shot, it was presented in rough form
JGL: Sure. Well filmmaking on the one hand is, you know you need the raw feeling and story but it’s also an enormous technical feat to have a movie that people can watch and listen to and disappear into without getting interrupted and reminded that they’re watching a movie. Yeah and especially a movie like this where there aren’t a lot of funds to make that happen, it’s a real challenge and Spencer’s done a great job. Even though made on a budget, I think it’s a really well crafted and technically accomplished movie.
Susser : A movie is designed to play in a dark room, on a giant screen with detailed sounds and all of these little details add to the experience. At Sundance I wasn’t finished with the film. It was an early cut and it was really raw. It was the movie but it wasn’t finished. I didn’t have any sound design, and I didn’t have any music actually.
Those of us not lucky to be amongst the parkas and swag bags at Sundance can catch the final theatrical version of "Hesher" starting Friday, May 13th.