Two years ago, I was cast as FBI Agent Cooper in the Warner Bros’ feature Film Going in Style. The film is a remake of a 1979 George Burns movie with the same name and stars Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine & Alan Arkin. After their pension funds are frozen, lifelong buddies Willie, Joe and Al decide to risk it all by robbing the very bank that absconded with their money. The film also stars Matt Dillon, Ann Margaret, Keenan Thompson and Christopher Lloyd. The film is masterfully directed by Zach Braff, best known from the hit show Scrubs. I was lucky enough to be included in this stellar cast. Here are the ten things I learned while on set.
1.Time is Money
Films are expensive. Very expensive. Everyday, there are hundreds of crew members and actors working 12 hour + days trying to make movie magic. Film productions are usually on a tight schedule. Even adding just one extra day of production can cost thousands of dollars. Things move pretty fast. Try and keep up.
2. Be Prepared
Because time is money you must be ready and raring to go once you get on set. Know your lines and make your choices beforehand. Often, there’s only time for one or two rehearsals on set before they begin shooting. Of course during rehearsal you can discuss motivation, delivery and tone with your director. It's important for both of you to be on the same page as far as the direction of the scene goes. But the last thing you want is to hold up production because you can’t remember your lines. It looks really bad.
3. There Are No Small Roles
When I was originally cast in the film, I read the script and noticed that I was in two scenes. Nonetheless, I was very excited. After all, one of those scenes was opposite Morgan Freeman.But then my role was expanded and I became Matt Dillon’s partner. Which meant more dialogue, more scenes and more days worked. You never know. A role might start small but end up something else completely. But even if it doesn't, there are no small roles. Only small actors.
4. Be Ready to Improv
On set, Zach would often shoot the scenes as scripted for a few takes. Then he would have us improv and try saying different things. All in an effort to find extra nuggets of comedy. There are a number of people that get nervous at the thought of improv. They like the safety of knowing exactly what they're going to say. But improv is very valuable for an actor. Not only in performing, but auditioning too. It makes you a better actor. Better at reacting. And that's what acting is. Reacting to the people around us. Some of your favorite scenes from your favorite movies were improvised. Improv is an important tool to have in your bag of tricks. Add it.
5. Don’t Look at the Camera
I know. This seems obvious but deserves mentioning. Usually while on set, the camera is placed where you may see it in your peripheral. But you can still engage with your scene partner and forget about the camera. On a particular day, I had to interrogate Morgan Freeman while he lay in a hospital bed. When it came time to get my coverage (close up), the camera was placed literally right next to his head. It was a bit challenging to ignore the camera because even though I was looking at Mr. Freeman's eyes, I had to consciously avoid looking too close to the lens. Just one of those things you have to be ready for.
6. Sometimes your favorite actors are even cooler in person
I was a big fan of 90% of the cast before I ever stepped on set. And afterwards, even more so. Everyone was gracious, kind, warm & open. Not to mention professional. There was no Diva behavior on this set. From talking to Matt Dillon about a film he directed to chatting with Alan Arkin about his Oscar. From having the opportunity to improv with Christopher Lloyd to shooting the breeze with Keenan Thompson (I had met him a few times before). But my favorite moment was watching Morgan Freeman singing in between takes. The guy is a genius.
7. Don’t be intimidated working with people you admire
Talk about working with Legends in the film business. The cast was insane. The director was the face of a beloved sitcom. It’s easy to get distracted by all the star power. But from the beginning, Zach welcomed me into the fold. I remember sitting next to him on my very first day of shooting. He was watching footage of Morgan Freeman. I’m guessing from the day before. He looked over to me and said “There’s your costar". Goosebumps ensued.
8. Enjoy the Experience
As I stated before, working on a film set can be 12 hour+ days. But when you’re doing something you love, time has a way of flying by. Things move so quickly on set that it’s easy to let that moment pass you without really being present and taking it in. I had to think to myself - Stop. Take a breath. Look at where you are. How many no’s did you get before this yes? Soak up this moment. You’ve earned it.
9. Be Patient
They say patience is a virtue. It’s also an important tool for an actor to possess. It helps that actor stick with it for the long haul. And as most people know, it can take years to progress in the entertainment business. There are no overnight successes. But patience is also necessary when it comes to a films release date. TV is more structured and has a specific time restraint. Often times if you worked on an episode of a TV show, you can see that episode within a few weeks. Movies are a different animal. There are a lot of factors that will determine a films release date. It’s all very strategic by the movie studios in order to ensure the best possibility of success. Going in Style was shot in 2015 with a release date of May 6, 2016. It was supposed to open against a little movie you may have heard of, Captain America: Civil War. However, several weeks before the release date it was pushed back almost a full year to April 7, 2017. This happens all the time when it comes to films. Bright side - At least we didn’t have to go up against The Avengers.
10. Be Grateful
I felt honored to have been chosen to be a part of this cast. I thanked Zach on more than one occasion. I thanked my PA. I thanked my makeup artist after every touch up. Saying “thank you” can go a long way. People appreciate it. But I felt I wanted to do more. Especially for the crew. So I had my friend (Thanks Lola) bake a bunch of decorative cupcakes for me and I brought them on my last day of shooting. The crew loved them. The appreciation I got was priceless. Of course you don’t have to do any of this. But if you have the extra cash, why the hell not.
Working on Going in Style was one of my fondest memories and I learned so much. Acting opposite people I’ve watched for years was surreal but also very gratifying. A milestone earned. I had worked very hard to that point and hard work does pay off. Plus the movie is hilarious. Make sure you guys go check it out.
Going in Style hits theatres April 6, 2017