Interview: Ron Eldard and Jill Hennessy

daniel cohen interviews the stars of the rock ‘n’ roll indie film…

pop-break speaks with Ron Eldard and Jill Hennessy, the stars of rock ‘n’ roll film Roadie

Roadie tells the tale about what happens after life on the road ends, and there’s nothing left to go back to but your hometown. Ron Eldard plays Jimmy Testagross, a Roadie who worked for the legendary Blue Oyster Cult (“Don’t Fear The Reaper,” one of my all-time favorite songs), but after 20 years of service, the band fires him. Jimmy returns home to his aging mother (Lois Smith), re-connects with his high school ex-girlfriend Nikki (Jill Hennessy), and butts heads with his old nemesis Randy (Bobby Cannavale), now married to his ex-girlfriend. Talk about gut punches in the span of a couple days … yikes. [Read Daniel Cohen’s review of Roadie.]

I had a chance to participate in a roundtable discussion with both Eldard (Super 8, Black Hawk Down) and Hennessy (Crossing Jordan, Law & Order), in which they discussed their various experiences while working on the film, including some of the preparation that went into understanding their characters.

Most actors like to research their roles, and Eldard probably had one of the all-time best opportunities to do that when he was actually able to roadie for Blue Oyster Cult, working with one of their roadies, which was essentially the character he played in the film:

Ron Eldard: “When we were making the movie, we found out Blue Oyster Cult was playing in Long Island, so I asked Michael [Michael Cuesta, the director] to call them, and asked them if I could load in their show with them, and they would just film it. When you see me being a roadie, that’s me, and that’s their main roadie dude, that’s my character. I said [to their roadie], ‘I’ll come in, and I’ll just be your bitch, I’ll do whatever you want … that’s me loading the show, so I had a little bit of an idea.”

Eldard later commented on one other badass perk in regards to being a roadie for Blue Oyster Cult: “And I got to hold the cowbell. I got to do everything except touch their serious, serious guitar. That, they wouldn’t let me do.”

Hennessy plays Nikki, a small town singer-songwriter, and Jimmy’s girlfriend from his adolescent years. For Jill, this preparation was easy, because she is actually a musician in real life, currently working on her second album (her first titled Ghost In My Head). Roadie certainly rang true to her past:

Photo: Magnolia Pictures

Jill Hennessy: “I started off as a street musician, it’s something I always loved. I literally would just take my guitar out to the street to earn money just to pay my rent. I was 18. That’s how I paid for acting classes. I also just got to meet people, and I got to connect with people — it was one of my favorite jobs of all time.”

Hennessy added that the film was certainly coming from a perspective that she could relate to, and how she even got to incorporate one of her own songs into the film:

JH: “Especially when we’re in our adolescent years, music is sort of a place for us to hide, or find comfort, or find strength, or inspiration, and that’s what I got from this script. All these people with these dreams, and had to at some point give them up, and don’t really want to confront that, and are living in some sort of form of denial, but also still holding on to that hope. So to be able to play this character, it was incredibly satisfying, it was cathartic for men and also to be able to play one of my own songs from my album, which was a very, very personal song, which had a lot to do with something that my character was going through. Nikki and her husband were never able to have kids, so there’s a sense of loss there, and that’s what the song’s about. Michael [the director] was really cool and wanted to utilize that. It was a joy.”

While Hennessy was a lot like her character growing up, Eldard was not, but he was still able to connect with the character’s desire to spread his wings, and leave his hometown for a job that any teenage boy would probably take. Roadie explores the aftermath of that decision, and what happens when that ride ends:

RE: “You’re a teenager, you get to travel with this band he also loves, he looooves the band, who wouldn’t do that. But then you’re on the road, and the road is pretty cool, for a while. He’s with them when they’re a huge band, your traveling the whole world, he’s been everywhere, and then five years pass, and 10 years pass. Then you start drinking too much, disappear. I think he just got lost out there.”

Eldard added that the character in his opinion is still “a beautiful guy, screwed up, but I think he’s a good guy.” The original idea for the character was to make him more of a joke, or “the joke’s on him,” as Eldard described it. This did not interest him. Eldard really gravitated more towards the idea of Jimmy being a real person. And while Eldard still wanted to limit some of the more jokey elements after reading the script for the first time, he loved that it really captured the working class individual, whereas in his opinion, other films can treat them like a joke:

RE: “But what held up really strong, and what I did understand, is that movies with working class characters — they’re talked down to. And the people who write them don’t know anything about working class people, they are judging them, they are talking down to them. ‘Oh, aren’t they so cute.’ I come from working-class people, and it bothers me when I see these movies, or any stories done where I go, and it’s a joke, isn’t it? That is the bulk of the world, that is the bulk of the world, and that is written by some arrogant person who thinks they’re better then them. But not these guys [writers Michael and Gerald Cuesta].”

Aside from their love of the script, one of the other aspects to the film that had Eldard and Hennessy passionate about the project was the casting of Lois Smith, whose extensive list of film credits include such legendary movies as Five Easy Pieces and Falling Down. Eldard said of his director, “He wasn’t screwing around when he cast her.” Eldard added that, “She’s one of the greatest actors walking the planet.”

Ron Eldard stars as a former Blue Osyter Cult roadie

The relationship and conflict between Jimmy and his mother, which I would describe as “tough love,” was my favorite part of the film, and you might be surprised as to how Eldard and Smith prepared for their scenes:

RE: “She and I never talked once about any scene, period. We never had a discussion about our relationship. We never had a discussion about a scene. Zero. And I’ve never had that, where it just started, and you go. It just seemed something very beautiful. She really touched my heart, I was deeply moved by working with her.”

And even though Hennessy had only one scene with her, she was equally as passionate about just being with her in a scene, and being able to have the opportunity to observe her:

JH: “She’s so incredibly aware, so much more aware than a lot of actors you work with. She’s just so much fun. The ball’s just being passed back and forth, whether or not you think it’s going to be passed back, she’s just so there, and she jumps up at every little thing you do.”

Even with Lois Smith attached, the most crucial part of the film is the chemistry between Eldard and Hennessy. They share a variety of moments together, both lighthearted and intense. This was their first project together, and they were fortunate enough to have an opportunity to rehearse a lot, thanks to the passion and guidance of their director, and his approach in getting a natural performance out of them:

(From left): Ron Eldard, Jill Hennessey (Crossing Jordan) and Bobby Cannavale (Will & Grace) headline the film Roadie

JH: “Thank God Michael is really into rehearsing. Sometimes on an independent film, you don’t even get that luxury, or a studio film for that matter. We did a lot of rehearsing.”

RE: The rehearsals, they were really good. You very rarely get to rehearse.vWe had two weeks, or week and a half. Long rehearsals, and Michael also didn’t direct it hard, his thing was, ‘I don’t want to see the acting.’”

You could certainly tell they had a blast on set as they later joked about how they didn’t have dressing rooms, and they were changing in a church. Both actors were extremely passionate about the project, and even though they had room to improv in certain scenes, Eldard almost always wanted to stay true to what was written on the page, as he later went on to say:

RE: Those two wrote a beautiful script. That’s really where the heart of this comes from. It’s just there, and you try not to fuck it up.

Roadie is currently in theaters and is also available on VOD and for rental on iTunes.

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow’s fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.

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