Read our exclusive interview with filmmaker Nick Tomnay, who is making his feature-length directorial and screenwriting debut with the upcoming psychological thriller ‘The Perfect Host.’ The movie follows John Taylor, played by Clayne Crawford, who just robbed a bank and is trying to escape capture from the LAPD. He shows up at the doorstep of Warwick Wilson, portrayed by David Hyde Pierce, who is preparing a dinner party for some friends. As the night progresses, the two men both discover how deceiving looks can really be. ‘The Perfect Host,’ which is based on Tomnay’s 2001 short film ‘The Host,’ is currently available through VOD and is scheduled to hit theaters in a limited release on July 1, 2011. Tomnay discusses with us, among other things, what Pierce and Hyde’s relationship was like in real life, and why he wanted to cast the two actors.
ShockYa (SY): The main relationship in ‘The Perfect Host’ is between Warwick and John, and it’s a tumultuous bond. What was David’s relationship with Clayne like in real life?
Nick Tomnay (NK): It was, you know, because we shot the film so quickly, there wasn’t a lot of time for anything but the movie. I think that Clayne and David and I were sort of obsessed with the process, and were very involved in making the movie. I mean, we were immersed in it. It was a lot of joint enthusiasm for it because of that. Because of that, we all had a great time. We all got along well and were making jokes. It was a real sense of camaraderie when we were making the film. We worked with the actors and the crew so well, I think, because we had to shoot it so quickly and had no money. We had two trailers, and that was it. There was no real luxury in all that. We all just stuck together. I remember at one point, we were shooting a shot of Clayne, and he was really enjoying himself. He said “this isn’t like making a film, this is like making a film with my buddies in Alabama,” where he’s from. That sort of feeling, just for the joy of it. That was really good, I think that helped. I wanted the film to have that joy too.
SY: You only had 17 days to shoot the film. What were some of the challenges in having such a sort shooting period?
NT: Well, you know for me, one of the challenges was shooting the exteriors, because we didn’t have a lot of time. I would have really liked to have more time to shoot some of that stuff. The opening sequence was basically in-camera edits. We got from point A to point B, and just shot in chronological order. We just did a couple of takes, and moved on. When we came to edit it, I just took off the top and splashed it together, and that was the beginning. So there was that aspect of it. It was very quick, and we were running out of time. So that was the constant thing throughout the whole movie, the time, the clicking clock was just kind of over my shoulder the entire time. For me, the challenge was to make the film without the audience feeling that we had rushed through this. We hadn’t rushed it, there was just no time for experimenting.
SY: You have said that while you were casting, it was difficult to find an actor to cast as Warwick. What attracted you to David, and why did you want to cast him in the role?
NT: I was convinced that when we first meet Warwick, that when he first opens the door for John, in that moment, the movie is asking you to make an assumption. It’s showing you some thriller conventions that I’m hoping the audience is going to make some assumptions from. It’s those assumptions that are going to throw out the undoing of the audience. Because we’re so literal these days, with ‘CSI:’ and stuff, we’re so in tune with thrillers and how they work. One other thing, I think, is that any actor always brings any previous work with them to the role they’re doing. So when Warwick opens the door in the beginning of the film, I really wanted an actor who had a lot of will and have his previous work be like that of David’s or like Tom Hanks’, who has a sunny, positive image, and certainly not a violent and dangerous feeling surrounding him as an actor. Because of that, at that moment when Warwick opens the door, I’m hoping that an audience is going, “Oh no, not him.” He couldn’t possibly get out of that situation, because you hit a guy in the face and you’re a serious criminal. So that had to be the footnote and the impression of the actor. On top of that, the actor had to be extremely good, versatile and have an amazing ability, and also willing to make the movie. There’s some pretty risque stuff in the film, it’s pretty out there. I had never made a film before. That’s hard, to find an actor who has all those qualities. I had a list, and David was on the list. I met David, and he saw the short (‘The Host’) that I made, read the script and he loved it. I think we had a pretty good lunch, and we talked a lot about the film, and what I wanted to do, and what he thought about the role. At the end of that lunch, he said “Yeah, I’ll do it.” That was actually the simplest part of the movie, I think. Everything else was really complicated. But getting David to agree to do it was really easy, because I think he just wanted to do it.
SY: Clayne isn’t as well-known as David, even though he’s been on several television shows and in numerous movies. Before you cast Clayne as John, how much did you know of his work?
NT: I had just seen his reel. He’s a really great actor. Having seen that reel, I had suggested him, but for whatever reasons, he was lost in the shuffle for a moment. Then we got to like 10 days before shooting, and his name was brought up again. Then he came in and read with David, and read with David twice. Their dynamic is interesting. David has a more East Coast, sort-of Connecticut kind of vibe to him. Clayne’s from Alabama. They’re two different Americans, if you will. I wanted John to come from a different point of view in his performance. I thought that Clayne could do that, and also, he’s a really good actor. I believe him.
SY: Like you said, ‘The Perfect Host’ is based on your short movie, ‘The Host.’ Where did you come up with the inspiration and idea for both of them?
NT: Well, they’re based on a story a friend of mine told me about how he had a run-in with someone who escaped from prison, and I thought that was really incredible and frightening. I took that as a starting-off point, and I sort-of channeled some lonely feeling that I was probably having at the time into that. It kind of evolved, and I ended up writing with a friend of mine (Krishna Jones), the short. That became the film, and then I got the actor, Graeme (Rhodes) to play Warwick.
SY: ‘The Perfect Host’ was an official selection at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. How did you feel when you found out it was chosen to play there?
NT: Oh, I was ecstatic. I’ve never been to the festival, and going to the festival with a film was incredible. It’s like a whirlwind experience. There’s something not very glamorous about it as well, since it was snowing and the weather’s really crappy. The films become highlighted because of that. It was kind of grungy, but I liked that.
SY: You have said that you were excited to see the movie with an audience. So how have audiences reacted to the movie?
NT: Really well. You know, every movie is made for an audience, but there’s something about this film that took a hold on people, if people are really enjoying it. That’s part of the fun, too. By the end of the Sundance Film Festival, we had really found audiences who were responding to it, so that was great. I mean, it’s a thrill to sit in the back of a cinema and get it and laugh and say stuff to the screen. It’s really amazing.
SY: How much time did you have to prepare for the film? Did you have any time to do any research for it?
NT: Well, yeah, I had quite a few years there, because I was trying to get the film up and it was falling over a couple times. In terms of the actual execution and filming, the direction of the film, I prepared extensively.
SY: What kind of lessons did you learn while filming ‘The Perfect Host,’ since this was your first movie?
NT: God, so many. There were so many. Time is the greatest luxury. I learned that you can never prepare to much. But I also learned that even if you prepared enough, and you feel that you know what you’re doing, it’s important to also be able to respond to what’s in front of you, not what you think is going to be happening.
SY: Were there any directors or movies that influenced you and this movie?
NT: Joseph Losey’s ‘The Servant,’ a British film from 1963. Roman Polanski, Alfred Hitchcock, ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ Stanley Kubrick. ‘Life Lessons,’ a short film.
SY: You’re from Sydney. Would you like to film a movie there?
NT: Yeah, definitely.
SY: You have filmed some commercials and music videos in Sydney. How was filming there different than filming here? (‘The Perfect Host’ was filmed in Los Angeles.)
NT: You know, we had a lot of Australians on the crew. We had an Australian DP (Director of Photography, John Brawley) and Australian actors (including Helen Reddy, who played Cathy Knight). Bit it’s pretty similar. I think of a film crew as a family. It works as well as its weakest link. We all gang together. Australia’s a little different. As a director, I wasn’t able to touch the props, which I found baffling. People kept saying, no, you can’t touch that, get the gaffer, get the art director to do it. I said, I just want to move it, get out of the way. (laughs) They said no! There’s all these union laws and weird things, so that was kind of weird. I don’t know, I’m not really sure, I don’t know enough, but it fairly similar to shooting in Australia. I think film crews might be the same the world over. I did some work in China, and it was pretty similar, too.
SY: Would you like to film a movie in Australia?
NT: Yeah, I’d love to.
SY: You said earlier that you’re working on another project. Can you talk about that?
NT: It’s a thriller. It’s a fish out of water story. But that’s all I can say, it’s still in the developmental process.
Written by: Karen Benardello