THE WORDS LEAD YOU TO THE CHARACTER
an interview with paul eenhoorn
Last year, actor Paul Eenhoorn wowed audiences at Sundance with his headline performance in This is Martin Bonner. Then he did it again this year as one of the stars of the comedy Land Ho! But as many moviegoers and web and television audiences (and a few old school rock and roll groupies) from Perth to Sydney to Seattle already knew, there’s more to this craftsman’s career than just the past two award-winning years. In this chat with Ziggy, he discusses his passion for a craft that he’s never stopped learning, the value of experience, and what draws him to play very human characters that audiences can never forget.
Ziggy Berkeley: What was your first ever role as a young professional actor? What drew you to it, and did you know from then that this was your calling for life?
Paul Eenhoorn: Ziggy, I did so much work in Perth, Western Australia when I was younger. Initially I felt like a fish out of water. I realized that I needed to learn so much, and I had a desire even then to be in the moment though I didn't know what the moment even was. I worked with Channel 7 in their group of singers and dancers. We did a weekly show and TV specials as well. That lasted three and a half years till I got married and had to change my life, according to my ex wife. I had the bug even then, and no one has killed it, though many have tried.
I worked background in a four part telemovie in 1985. It was rare to have this level of production locally. The film was A Fortunate Life based on the book by Albert Facey and produced by Bill Hughes. It taught me the scale of what was possible in film.
Ziggy Berkeley: What roles in your early career do you feel taught you the most as an artist and as a craftsman, and what were those lessons?
Paul Eenhoorn: Commercials, and commercials. That's where you learn your set craft, and there's the same time and budget constraints, and I just now figured out that I must have been good at what I did because I did a lot of them. It was a great way to learn while being paid. The lesson I learnt without knowing that I had learnt it was just be yourself; that's why you were cast.
Ziggy Berkeley: What made you decide to leave your home country of Australia and bring your talents to the United States? Why did you choose Seattle?
Paul Eenhoorn: Seattle chose me. Or my wife did. We met in Sydney and a few years later I moved here to her home town.
Ziggy Berkeley: What if anything do you find different between working in the Australian film industry and working in America? Was there any culture shock, either professional and/or personal?
Paul Eenhoorn: A film set is a film set. Once you know the ropes, it's an international language. What was different was that the scale of crews became smaller due to digital technologies, and a lot more directors here in Seattle were shooting low budget Indies.
Ziggy Berkeley: The past two years have brought you lots of notice and acclaim thanks to your performances in two very well-received independent films that got major accolades at Sundance and beyond. In both Land Ho! and This is Martin Bonner, you play exceptionally decent men who are on the rebound from hard times, and from almost thin air with no glitz and no flash, you turn them into heroes we can’t take our eyes off of. What draws you to these characters, and how do you as an actor turn what some might initially think of as “mundane” and make it into magic?
Paul Eenhoorn: I watched The Quiet American last night, and I was drawn to Michael Caine's Character. I think the camera loves Caine's face, and the director Phillip Noyce used him so well. With This Is Martin Bonner, I was directed by Chad Hartigan, who I would work with again anytime. He had faith in his script and a clear vision and trust in his cast. Land Ho! again was Martha and Aaron knowing their script and their cast.
I am drawn to character and therefore scripts that deal with life. It's all in the script; the magic part I think is just being there with cast and crew and creating the moments. You are there to do a job, but it's a job where you reach a level of consciousness that only the camera can see. Your job is not to see the camera. It's complicated, but at the same time it isn't; it's belief in your craft.
Ziggy Berkeley: Land Ho! takes you to Iceland. When you’re shooting at a far-flung location like that, do you have any time at all to have a look around and enjoy the sights, or there just time for the work and nothing but the work?
Paul Eenhoorn: Land Ho! was a tight schedule with I think three days off in twenty. I had time to walk Reykjavik and hit the Internet café, but we were on the road traveling to locations or on set the rest of the time. It's a beautiful city, Reykjavik, and Iceland is easy to fall in love with. I ended up with a bacon and eggs breakfast habit that took me months to get over. The Laundromat Cafe was my hangout. You could sit there and people watch all day.
Ziggy Berkeley: What is you favorite memory from shooting in Iceland?
Paul Eenhoorn: The locations. They took forever to reach, and it was an uncomfortable ride and mostly cold or windy or both. But the beauty of Iceland was captured by Andrew Reed very accurately. There is a haunting quality to the place.
Ziggy Berkeley: If a friend or a relative as distant or estranged as Mitch is from Colin at the beginning of Land Ho! were to come to you and out of the blue say “Here are our tickets! We’re going to some exotic country you’ve never been to, and we leave tomorrow!”… Would you go? Why or why not?
Paul Eenhoorn: Been there, done that! That's how Land Ho! came about, actually. Initially it was Kentucky, but that's foreign country, isn't it? Yes, I would; without doubt. Why? Because I have done it and it's full of rewards to you as a human being.
Ziggy Berkeley: What do you hope audiences get from the experience of watching Land Ho!?
Paul Eenhoorn: I have let go of expectations. I hope they enjoy it.
Ziggy Berkeley: Everything about that film feels so exceptionally real. Was the movie trivia in Land Ho! scripted, or was it ad libbed? Does anyone dare play against the real Paul Eenhoorn in a Hollywood edition of Trivial Pursuit?
Paul Eenhoorn: We had a script when we shot in Kentucky and we had a script when we shot in Iceland, but a lot of the dialogue did change. The film references were there; some are rote, others are improvised.
The way the film plays is a result of shooting with Earl Lynn. It required a naturalistic approach as I was working with this big character that was playing himself, so my performance needed to counterbalance his.
I would fail at Hollywood trivia, but I know the lines of most of my favorite films...
Ziggy Berkeley: Prior to Land Ho!, there was This is Martin Bonner, which won about a zillion awards, including “Best of Next” at Sundance and two Best Actor awards for you in Nashville. When you started working on that film, did you have any idea that it would go that far? What were and what are those festival experiences like?
Paul Eenhoorn: I got the role in This Is Martin Bonner because I flew to LA and auditioned for it. Something in the breakdown appealed to me. It was a hunch, I guess. After being called back to read with Richmond Arquette, I personally felt that the part was mine; I loved what we did, and I was right. When the film was wrapped, I said to Chad that I felt the film had a good shot at Sundance. He called me on my birthday in November 2012 and told me that it was accepted at Sundance. Best birthday present ever!
I had been to Sundance a few years earlier when Zoo played there. I had a small part in it. The experience gave me some insight into the festival and a lay of the land if I ever got back there. It really is the Holy Grail for film makers to show there.
I did a lot of work when This Is Martin Bonner played there; watched interviews, looked at pictures, worked on what questions would be asked. I felt ready when I got there.
I paid for my flight and stayed in a Condo which at any time had up to twenty five people in it. Caught the bus into Park City. No frills.
I looked at it as another facet of work. I was there to sell the film and myself, so I got as much rest as I could and didn't blow the budget on parties, but I did network.
Land Ho! played in January the year after and I had been hit by a car just before Christmas in the local mall here, so my leg was in a brace and I was constantly in pain and worried about slipping. Thank God there was no snow worth mentioning. It was a little more luxurious than Martin Bonner, but Sundance is a working week. You are up and down Main Street for all the time you are there doing media all day long. By the time you are done, the most appealing thing you can think of is getting some rest.
It's a definite adrenalin buzz, and when your film gets a deal it's like being in a movie. It's the moment when all of your work and the time and dedication to it are finally recognized. It's that Susan Boyle moment.
When This Is Martin Bonner won the John Cassavetes Award at the Indie Spirits, that was another one of those highs.
Ziggy Berkeley: We all, I think, run into at least one if not more Martin Bonners in our lives; people who are there for a little while and have a tremendous, life altering influence while they are, and then we move on. Is there a Martin Bonner who’s stood out for you during your career?
Paul Eenhoorn: I have not actually had The Martin Bonner Experience. I had to find my way as a person, and I am still doing that. Professionally, I learn the most from Directors. Both of the films we are talking about here were learning experiences for me. Although I did meet someone who brought out the better parts of me, mentored me, and was always and still is the wise voice I needed to hear. She was my Martin Bonner.
Ziggy Berkeley: What was the greatest challenge you faced while working on This is Martin Bonner?
Paul Eenhoorn: We shot This Is Martin Bonner in Reno and I was staying at Harrah's. I was depressed and I had a raging gambling addiction at the time. It was not a happy formula, but looking back, I think it exposed every possible nerve I needed to play Martin well. I learnt that my circumstance in life when I am shooting is part of what makes my work; it is the underlying humanity of a character, so I go with it and trust it. Even if it's a dark place, or I seem unfriendly, it's my process. I am on set to work, not necessarily make friends. That can come later.
Ziggy Berkeley: One of the most memorable (and fun) scenes in This is Martin Bonner features your character rocking out in his apartment as though it’s an air arena… and the music you’re rocking out to is really your own. Tell us about your days as a musician.
Paul Eenhoorn: The track of ‘Genevieve’ was recorded by Kopyrite in 1969. I was the writer and lead singer. We were a great band. You can find us in "Jive Twist and Stomp: WA Rock and Roll Bands of the 50's and 60's."
There is nothing like music and singing in a band and being young and able to do whatever you want whenever you want.
When Chad heard about the track he wanted to use it, so I said fine. He gave me a little warning and then one night we set up the shot. It is a total mind fuck for me. I have only seen the scene a few times, as I just can't watch it. There is a forty year time loop in my life from being a young horny lead singer in a band to an actor watching it through some weird time machine. It phases me out.
Ziggy Berkeley: Was that scene originally in the script, or did it come about another way?
Paul Eenhoorn: I think Chad had it mapped out but rewrote the script when he had the track.
Ziggy Berkeley: Between your past as a musician and your present playing two of the most decent human beings to hit big screen in recent years, you played the evil mastermind, Dr. Flaming Skull, in the webseries “The Collectibles.” What stands out as the most fun part of that experience?
Paul Eenhoorn: I was a replacement for that shoot. Their actor ended up injured in a car accident, I think. It was just plain fun working a character that formed as we shot. Todd Downing and Dan Heinrich had a really fun concept, and the actors were all on their game. I really liked Dr Flaming Skull. Especially his interview.
Ziggy Berkeley: If you really were an evil mastermind, what kind of stronghold would you go for? Volcano fort? Space station? French chateau? Something else? What appeals to you, and why?
Paul Eenhoorn: Who says I am not an evil mastermind? I would definitely go with the large estate like Bruce Wayne. Would you believe I don't actually watch many evil masterminds films? I am more into Field of Dreams, Love Actually, Notting Hill. Although I do like the new Bond Films.
Ziggy Berkeley: Do you prepare differently for a small budget webseries role than you do for standard budget television or again for the stage or again for a feature film? Or do you find that acting is acting is acting regardless of the medium?
Paul Eenhoorn: Always the same prep, except I don't do stage. It's the opposite of what I believe. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems way less rewarding to me, and way harder. Like Morgan Freeman says, "I learn my lines and I turn up." I say, "The words lead you to the character."
Ziggy Berkeley: What do feel is the most difficult thing about being a professional actor?
Paul Eenhoorn: Down time... You have to avoid it as much as possible. With down time comes a down feeling. Not a good place!
Ziggy Berkeley: What’s next for Paul Eenhoorn?
Paul Eenhoorn: I am waiting for a rewrite of a small Indie that I like. And I am rewriting one of my own scripts that I want to shoot in the next year as well. I think both are good vehicles for me, so I will be looking for Exec Producers and raising production money down the track. We are taking a Martin Bonner budget on one – $50 to $60 k – and maybe $250,000 on the other. Meanwhile, I am always looking for scripts.
Ziggy Berkeley: Final question I always ask: what kind of cheese and recreational beverage would you pair yourself with?
Paul Eenhoorn: Castello blue and a big cabernet.
- Interview conducted by Ziggy Berkeley, September, 2014
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