Wednesday, June 29, 2011

David Hyde Pierce and Clayne Crawford star in Nick Tomnay's THE PERFECT HOST; a short Q&A with the filmmaker

An "original" that repeatedly pulls the rug out from under you, THE PERFECT HOST fares well to be among the most enjoyable movies of the year -- for audiences who appreciate surprise upon surprise and are willing to embrace a movie with little more on its mind than to give them a very good time. With David Hyde Pierce essaying one of those roles "he was born to play" (I suspect there are many more of these than we might realize), and the young actor Clayne Crawford (who looks like a cross between Zac Efron and a young David Hasselhoff and has so far spent most of his career doing TV and cable), this film -- from Australian writer/director Nick Tomnay -- succeeds better by its finale that you could possibly imagine from its beginning. (And that beginning, by the way, ain't bad at all.)

Mr. Tomnay, shown at right, tosses us into the middle of things -- a fellow racing from car to bike to car and then into  a convenience-store robbery gone ridiculously awry (below) -- and he doesn't track back until mid-way along. We don't know who our "hero" (Mr. Crawford, below) really is (or even if he is our hero) for quite some time; even then, our understanding keeps growing as more information is gradually revealed.

Likewise our pro- (or maybe an-) tagonist, played by the delectable Mr. Pierce, below, who certainly saw a plum role when he read this script. The actor grabs the role and runs with it, scoring a touchdown, topping that with a perfect kick and then even a field goal -- all in one.

This is the kind of movie for which the less you know will only increase your enjoyment. Suffice it to say that, along the way, you'll meet some fascinating dinner guests (below)...

take a refreshing dip in the pool...

and meet a beautiful young woman who suffers from a debilitating disease -- among other negatives.

The threat of some horrific violence hovers near, but torture-porn this ain't. Identities, as well as upper hands, keep changing; suspense builds nicely (there's a scene with our hero in a Creature from the Black Lagoon suit that is as creepy as it is funny); and if the ending -- and I mean the last, brilliant few moments --doesn't have you grinning ear to ear, I'll be very surprised.

Crawford and Pierce make near-perfect foils: the yin and the yang, the boom and the bang. It's their movie. The other characters, with a few exceptions are mostly window dressing -- but dressed to the nines. Tomnay integrates past and present fluidly and with just the right sense of timing so that intelligent viewers can keep up -- but not ahead -- of the game.  Should you imagine that you are ahead, just wait: That rug will be pulled from beneath you soon enough.

The Perfect Host makes its theatrical debut this Friday, July 1: in New York City at the Quad Cinema; in Los Angeles at the Laemmle's Sunset 5, and in Lansdowne, PA, at Cinema 16:9.
For further playdates, cities and theaters, click here.


We’re talking to… Nick Tomnay (the filmmaker pronounces his last name with a long “o” and a long “a” -- and the accent on the first syllable). In the interview below, TrustMovies'appears in boldface, while Mr. Tomnay (shown below) is in standard type. There may be some spoilers ahead, so see the movie first and then come back to the Q&A.

Your movie is surprising – particularly because you keep threatening to drown us in horror and gore, and yet nothing happens.


Or almost nothing happens, and yet a whole lot happens. We’re constantly jerked around and having the rug pulled out from under us.  Which is great fun. And – it just keeps going, building up until the final moment when he exits with the two policewomen flanking him.  This is hilarious.  A brilliant little visual moment. I am very impressed.

Thank you.

It’s just such an enjoyable movie. And the performances are really good, too, even the performances from the people who don’t exist.  (Tomnay laughs)

Now, this was based upon a short you made earlier, right?

I had made a short verson of it called The Host, which we shot in 2000, did post production on in 2001, and then ran in festivals in 2002, here and at home. It has won some awards in Australia and here in the states, too.

How long was this short?

25 minutes.

Is this see-able?

Well, I have a copy. (He laughs.)  Perhaps Magnolia has a copy. The short is pretty similar to the full-length -- and in fact, it was invaluable in getting the film made.

Since you’ve seen the film, you know it’s a strange film. It’s eccentric, tonally. And it’s got a lot going on. The comedic, the serious. The short has the same tone. So it was a really great way to show people and explain what I was trying to do: “Look: Here it is in 25 minutes. Now I want to make it in color, in America -- and longer."

But that was ten years ago!

Yes, right. Well, you know: it’s really difficult to make a feature, and to get the money together.  I started writing the feature in 2003, when I wrote the first draft with a friend of mine, with whom I wrote the short.  Then my wife and I moved to New York City in 2004.

So you’re a New Yorker now?!

Not anymore. For five years we lived here, but now we live in San Francisco.

I sure prefer San Francisco -- to L.A., anyway.  

Funny, because San Francisco kind of reminds me of New York. They are both very small, compact, elite -- and expensive. Both are beautiful in their own way. But San Francisco is a bit more relaxed. I haven’t been back here in two years, and so this morning when I woke up early, I wandered around where we used to live.

Which was…?

The West Village. When I got back to my hotel after walking around for three hours, my ears were ringing – just from the trucks and the noise and all that. 

I found something similar when I moved Manhattan to Queens. Whenever I come back into the city, I am surprised anew at all the noise.

I think when you’re in it, you don’t notice it so much. But when you leave it and come back to it – boy!

Is your wife Australian?

Yes, she is. We came over here in 2004, and I started writing the full-length script. And it was set up with two different production companies, but both fell over. The first time it was because the production company wanted to take out all the irony and the humor.

Oh, no?!

Oh, yes! But I didn’t want to do that at all. My manager and I agreed that this was not the way to go. So it just took some time. Because also, I had not made a feature film before. And it is very difficult to convince someone to back it.  But once we decided to go out to David (Hyde Pierce), everything just fell into place.  He had seen the short and read the script and we had lunch. At the end of the lunch, he said, “OK, I want to do this.”  It was so simple – compared to all the years of toiling.

How long between the time he said yes and you began filming?

I think it was about five months. Once we got him, we got our financing.

Where did you find your other leading man, Clayne Crawford.

He is originally from Alabama but he now lives in L.A. When we saw his original reel, I really liked it.

He’s very good. And very different, in his own distinct way.

Yes, and what happened was, up to ten days before the shoot, we still did not have this role cast.  So we saw him again and had him read him a couple of times, and he really is so different from David. A very different energy. Ordinarily those two men would not be in the same room together. You just wouldn’t put them into the same environment.

And when you do, their personalities interact so oddly and it almost seems that they begin changing.  Or at least our understanding of them changes.

Because things are revealed about them. One of the things I was trying to do when I was writing the script was to present a hero and a villain whose identities would completely swap by the end of the film.

You also do a little back-and-forth swapping during the film.

Yes, your allegiances change.

In this day and age of torture porn, it is so pleasant to see something like your film -- that plays with you and threatens but then delivers something much more clever and better, instead.

I am not into the torture porn thing at all. One of the production companies wanted to push the film into that direction by removing all the humor.  I did not want this film to be sadistic; I wanted it to be entertaining.

And it is!

The tone of the movie is meant to have a lot of humor. Even the violence – the threat of it -- has a different vibration going on. 

Yes, it’s remarkable, really, what you’ve managed to do. Where are you from in Australia?


I like SydneyMelbourne, too. I’ve been to Austalia a few times, and it seem to be the country most like American of any I’ve been to.  More even than Canada.

We are, in some ways. And I think we are becoming even more American, too. Lately, my mother will sit on the bus and listen to school girls speaking with virtual American accents now!

I think Australia and America appear to be very similar in lots of ways, but I think at our core we are very different. Americans are quite reverent, and Australians are really irreverent. Musically, America loves a ballad before anything else -- a low, rounding song. If you go to iTunes and you look at what’s coming out, the most popular songs here are always ballads. 

Cast members, left to right, Nathaniel Parker, 
David Hyde Pierce and Clayne Crawford

That’s interesting. I always thought that Australians were like us because they make the best Capitalists. Also, they did to their Aborigines what we did to our Indians.  We have so much in common.  The first time I was over there I spent quite awhile there. It was the mid-to-late 70s -- just at the time when women’s lib was coming to Australia.  Petersen was the big film, and Jack Thompson was the big thing then. Hearing the Aussie populace talk about all this was so interesting. Is the word “ocker” still used there?

Oh, yes. I think at that point -- the late 70s early 80s -- Australia was facing a kind of identity crisis. There was the notion that the country didn't really have an identity -- a notion that we were ockers, throwbacks to what we had always been seen as. Another part of Australia was saying, “No we are not. We’re sophisticated, middle class, intelligent and  literate people."

And both were true?

Yes, and both still are true.

Interesting. You have such an interesting country.  Do you think you’ll continue living over here. San Francisco?

Maybe.  Or Los Angeles.

Ah! Has good stuff started happening from this movie?  Or is it too soon yet to tell?

Well, it has been playing on VOD for a couple of weeks, and it is supposed to be doing quite well there.

Really? That’s great! VOD looks to be an increasing part of how we watch movies.

Yes, and really -- you can now see something in HD on VOD on a big screen with a good sound system and pay only ten bucks.  No restaurant, no baby sitter, no evening out for 80 bucks. And nobody talking behind you in the theater and ruining the experience. I always loved the cinema experience, but I can see now how people are turning to something different.

Yes, I think they are.  I really hope for the best for your film.  If I liked it there have got to be others who do too.

I’ve been looking at some of the web sites. Because once you make a movie, you’re in a kind of a vacuum, so it’s good to hear feed-back.  And people seem to be saying, "This is really entertaining!"

And it is! And the biggest reason for this is because your film is original – in content, form and style.  I see maybe 15-20 movies over a week's time, and this one really is one of the most original I’ve seen in awhile now.

 Thank you!

(We get the time-is-up sign from the publicist, so we say "So long.")

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