Interview: The Souls Behind 'Cost Of A Soul'
May 18th, 2011 10:54am EDT
COST OF A SOUL is an amazing film which follows two men returning home from war to discover the home front is nearly as grimy as what they left behind. Tommy Donahue (Chris Kerson) and D.D. Davis (Will Blagrove) both grew up in the same neighborhood in the rough streets in North Philadelphia, and volunteered for the U.S. Army, serving tours of duty in Iraq. Drugs and violent crimes have always troubled their community, and now these convoluted occurrences have hit even closer to home. Tommy's father is a mechanic in the local Irish mob, and he went to war rather than become a hired killer for his dad. Upon returning home, Tommy tries to reconnect with the wife he abandoned (Judy Jerome) and the four-year-old daughter he's never met (Maddie Morris Jones), but his father isn't eager to let Tommy go his own way. Meanwhile, D.D.'s older brother Darnell (Nakia Dillard) has become the head of a violent gang of drug dealers, and has recruited his younger brother James (Daveed Ramsay) to sell dope. D.D. tries to persuade Darnell to change his ways and James to get out of the game while he can, but rescuing his family and his community is no simple task.
This priceless work of art was the first feature film from writer and director Sean Kirkpatrick.
Having been lucky enough to book a press junket for the film, aside from having visually indulged with one of the best award winning independent films I’ve ever seen, I had the privilege to partake in a pretty interesting roundtable. So much was said, and out of respect to the other reporters, I will not take their questions and make them “my own,” however, I will present you with my questions which I was lucky enough to muscle in during brief conversations with up-and-coming award winning talents: Director Sean Kirkpatrick, and Actors, Chris Kerson and Will Blagrove.
This cool event took place during a rainy Tuesday morning in April, over at RELATIVITY MEDIA's cool offices! What made this day begin to crack a shining light was the minute Director Sean Kirkpatrick walked in the room. With confidence that oozed through his pours, and a straight-forward demeanor, his conversation started, and as the other reporters unleashed questions like bullets out of an Uzi, the following are summarized answers to many of those questions.
In regard to how it all started, Mr. Kirkpatrick set the pace by mentioning how COST OF A SOUL had been screening within the festival circuit—10 to be exact—and after having been received well leading to standing ovations, encore screenings were added. Once the buzz was out, Mr. Kirkpatrick began to look for distribution, and ran into Jonathon Risinger, who at the time was looking for a film to produce, asked Mr. Kirkpatrick if he had a film, and the rest is history.
Mr. Kirkpatrick goes on to say how the process was incredible. ROUGE and AMC didn’t revise anything, and best of all allowed him total creative control—which in most cases for new filmmakers almost never really happens. He was given power to oversee the process, and from loving the film as it was cut and/or edited, to allowing him to have final say with the film’s poster, Mr. Kirkpatrick mentions he was always kept in the loop.
Originally from Philadelphia—and strongly confessing it being his heart and soul—due to his knowledge regarding the reality of North Philadelphia, there was a strong obligation for him to not only portray what transpires in the neighborhoods properly, but also expose the semi-racial divide which to date still exists within the Irish and African American sections.
After having expressed the following, and bringing up the military, I found myself with a moment to interject, and ask my question.
PLR: When it comes to reality, did you actually meet with soldiers who had gone to Iraq or Afghanistan—leaving one war zone and entering another in their violent-ridden neighborhoods?
SK: Yeah. I know a lot, and have a lot of friends that served in Iraq & Afghanistan, my brother's stationed in Japan right now, but in terms of actually coming home to the other… war – I didn’t know anyone per say, but I know it was an issue. And while we were shooting, it seemed like everywhere we went, and told them the premise of the movie—2 vets that come back from one war zone, and thrusted into another war zone that is North Philadelphia—and it seemed like everywhere we went, someone would say “Oh, my cousin, or my brother, or my friend… that happened. They came home after Iraq or Afghanistan, and ended up getting in trouble, or shot or something happened months later.” So I knew it was an issue… I knew it was a problem.
PLR: Would you hold separate screenings for troops?
SK: Absolutely I would.
Following my questions, was another pertaining to being able to shoot on location in some of the country’s most dangerous inner city neighborhoods. Mr. Kirkpatrick mentions how although not one incident went down during the film’s shoot, the feeling of where they were and what they were doing become surreal and authentic considering there were 4 drug related homicides while they were working.
The film’s budget was almost close to no money, the production wasn’t able to afford police escort, and it was a good think, because police presence could have raised eyebrows and perhaps jeopardize the production.
What was done was the slow process of interacting with the community prior to the shoot, and having been lucky enough to have started relationships with former neighborhood “knuckle-heads” who had seen the light, stopped their ways of the streets, and imply a much more positive outlook towards keeping kids away from the streets. Despite their morph from bad to good, these guys STILL hold a huge level of respect within the neighborhoods and liaised between the community and the cast and crew of COST OF A SOUL.
Mr. Kirkpatrick then goes on to say how thankful he is the cast and crew who also rendered their services to the project for also interacting with community locals.
Slowly but surely, the project was embraced and fully respected.
Closing in on his interview, it was asked who were his influences and if there were future projects in the works. Without any hesitation, Mr. Fitzpatrick goes on to mention how his inspirations are a couple of the greats like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Copola. Then mentions he does have two other projects in the works, could not mention names, but one has A-list actors being sought after, and the film pertains to NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen section during the 70’s and 80’s. His other project is more of a cable drama-like series (HBO, Showtime etc.) which pertaining to a Blue Collar guy who winds up very rich and successful, exposed to corporate corruption, and the further up he goes, the more his life falls.
Following up with this, I noticed another window of opportunity, and due to curiosity from having worked with other filmmakers, I asked the following:
PLR: Is there a specific approach you would, or wouldn’t use, from your first feature into your second?
SK: In terms of my approach… obviously to adjust the budget, but I think I made the right approach. I’m glad I made this film on such a low budget, because it taught me to focus on the actors, on the performances... I’m going to take everything I learned from this, and put it into the next one, because you can always get more shots, but we didn’t have the time to get many shots. Most of what you see is 2 or 3 shots, 2 or 3 takes… a lot of them were done in 1 or 2 takes… so it was really essential that I focus on the cast, and really let them tell the story. And that’s what great cinema comes down to… the actors and their performances, so I’m glad I learned that early… I can’t wait to take it and use it in my next film.
Before we knew it, Mr. Kirkpatrick was done with his interview, and upon his departure, in walked two of the most interesting and talented actors I’ve ever come across with.
Adding to their pizzazz, Chris Kerson and Will Blagrove are two of the most open, vibrant, and humble actors I’ve ever encountered. I’ve dabbled on all ends of the movie business, and I’ve come across lots of egos, but these two guys were easy to speak to, and oddly enough shared some similarities with me.
One of them is being native New Yorkers!
Mr. Kerson, from Westchester, received his training from Charlie Laughton and Marcia Haufrecht—who happens to be the sister of an actor/instructor friend of mine. He has starred in 17 off-Broadway plays and he recently appeared alongside Keanu Reeves and Vera Farmiga in Henry’s Crime.
Mr. Blagrove, from Queens, NYC, had recurring role as Brendan on ALL MY CHILDERN, has also appeared on LAW & ORDER: Special Victim’s Unit, AS THE WORLD TURNS, and GOSSIP GIRL. He has worked with esteemed director Spike Lee, and recently, he appeared in HOW DO YOU KNOW, directed by James L. Brooks, starring Jack Nicholson, Owen Wilson and Reese Witherspoon.
As usual, talent is always asked about how they fell into the process of acting, and Mr. Kerson mentions having fallen in love with acting due a class he took in college, and having received rave reviews from his acting professor who influenced him into looking into reconsidering whatever plans he originally had professionally, Mr. Kerson jumped at it!
Mr. Blagrove goes on to say how he fell into it when having landed an all-of-a-sudden spot directed by Spike Lee for the United Negro College Fund, found interest in acting and felt going with his new interest.
Much went back and forth regarding COST OF A SOUL, and seeing as most pertained to their feelings having landed their roles, my interest pertained more towards research.
I found my chance, and generally asked:
PLR: Did you meet or train with soldiers prior to shooting?
WB: Oh, yeah… I was lucky enough to live next door to a kid who was deployed to Iraq on his 18th. Birthday. And he was able to tell me as much as he could about his experiences out there, and I went on line and did some research as well—there’s so much information out there! After compiling info, and working on this film, I have so much compassion for our troops. In the training aspect… well, hitting the gym, and also having certain sternness about me. I wouldn’t say I’m as method as Chris, but as an actor, naturally you want to maintain if you’re shooting during a course of a month on location. So, everything about the way I woke up… made my bed—I just felt and lived like a solider. My father actually served in Nam, and probably to answer your question about me and my whole path in this career, there’s certain conservatism about me. I grew up with a military father, and grew up with Jamaican parents who were strict, and so doing this role was perfect for me as far as my life and upbringing, and more so as an actor. I wanted to maintain and pay homage to those troops after my research, and knowing what it is they go through.
CK: For me in the gym (L.A. Boxing) there were a couple of guys who are kick-boxing instructors who had come back from Iraq. I had mentioned the project, and you don’t know how open these guys are going to be with you in regards to what they’re coming back from. I trained with a guy named Brian Fuller. And I had 3 weeks to become Tommy Donohue—that was the length of time before I played that part. So I couldn’t go to boot-camp, therefore, had to take whatever he told me to do. We talked and talked and talked on the weekends, and then he told me—and I probably shouldn’t mention this, because it’ll blow the whole method mystic out of the water, but he said watch GENERATION KILL. He said watch that, because it was so authentic. So real. And it really helped in one aspect of developing the character, and as for the Philadelphia aspect, Mark Borkoski, who plays Jake in the film… he’s from Kensington, so I was coming into town, and hanging out with all these guys from Fishtown to get the whole Philadelphia aspect. And these guys rallied around me. They were inviting me into their homes, meeting their kids, telling me about their problems with their kids… when we were filming sixteen hours a day—I worked 16 days… 12 to 16 hour days—waking on only 3 hours of sleep, and they were so taken by the whole experience, they started taking me out to breakfast, and really showing gratitude.
Following up with their methods of research, and lending their talents as best they could portray these characters as real as possible, they felt this was the right project to allow them to not only expose them as ACTORS, but also heartfelt considering the reality that stems from the film’s core.
Both conversations were quite informative, interesting and very appealing - I can't thank them enough! As a reporter, I’m really glad I got a hold of these guys before they become so big, they’ll be damn near untouchable. There’s a lot behind COST OF A SOUL, and recommend everyone keep a look out for it this coming Friday, May 20th. 2011.
Photo Credits: Prinz Lee Romero/Starpulse