Often times in life, people struggle to find the place where they belong, and try to figure out what’s best for themselves and their families. They often have to overcome a conflict with other people to figure out what matters most to them in the world. That’s certainly the case with the main character, Pete Cozy, in the new comedy-drama, ‘Price Check,’ which hits select theaters tomorrow. In writer-director Michael Walker’s second feature film, Pete strives to find a more financially stable job, and when he finally does, it comprises his family life.
‘Price Check’ follows Pete (played by Eric Mabius), who has found himself a house in the suburbs and a job in the pricing department of a middling supermarket chain. Pete’s job allows him to spend quality time with his wife and young son, and they appear happy, despite the fact they’re drowning in debt.
Everything changes for Pete when he gets a new boss, the beautiful, high-powered Susan Felders (portrayed by Parker Posey). With Susan’s influence, Pete finds himself on the executive track, which surprises and excites him. While his salary increases, he also has to spend more time with Susan at work, however. His personal relationship with his new boss subsequently crosses the line of professional etiquette. Their growing relationship creates tension in the store and his personal home life.
Mabius generously took the time recently to discuss filming ‘Price Check’ over the phone. Among other things, the actor discussed what attracted him to the role of Peter, what his working relationships with Posey and Walker were like and how his real-life marriage and children helped influenced and prepared him for his role as Pete.
ShockYa (SY): ‘Price Check’ follows your character, Peter Cozy, who works in the pricing department of a middling supermarket chain. However, his world is quickly turned upside down when the company hires fast-talking, high-powered Susan to fix the chain. What was it about the character and the script that convinced you to take on the role of Peter?
Eric Mabius (EM): I went to an art school for college, I went to Sarah Lawrence. I have a lot of friends who are in the record business, or who are in the magazine business. They were interning, and they were all people who had dreams of starting their own label or their own magazine.
This character, Peter, is sort of that character, 15 years later, when his dream of running a record label and promoting the big bands has dried up. He has gotten married and has a child, and how does he put food on the table? There’s something that I wanted to explore there.
It’s about what we’re willing to sacrifice for the things we’re willing to get. That’s not the only thing that occurs-what are we willing to do for money? What is security, and why does that represent the simplicity in relationships?
I thought Michael Walker’s script was fantastic. His first film, ‘Chasing Sleep,’ with Jeff Daniels, I loved and respected. All of these elements culminated with (Parker) Posey being cast. I’ve always wanted to work with her. We’ve crossed paths, but never worked together.
SY: Speaking of Michael, ‘Price Check’ is the second feature film he both wrote and directed. Do you generally prefer working with directors who also wrote the script?
EM: That’s kind of a case-by-case situation. Often times, you’ll find directors who are very precious of what they’ve written. But Michael was not. He understood what had to get done for the greater good, and wasn’t too attached to things. He had a great desire to collaborate, which I think is more than half the battle.
There were things that had to go, that we didn’t think would. Then there were things that stayed, that we didn’t think would.
SY: Like you mentioned, Parker Posey was one of your co-stars in ‘Price Check.’ She plays Susan, whose relationship with Peter begins to cross the line of professional etiquette, in the film. What was your working relationship with Parker like while you very filming?
EM: We got to know each other very, very well. There was no place for us to run and hide. It was a very small and fast shoot, and it had a small budget. She’s one of the champions of independent film. On screen, her character, Susan Felders, was one of the engines who kind of pushed and shocked people into reality, as they were just floating through their jobs and punching the clock, really. She sort of woke all these people up, especially Peter. She got him to care about his job, and make him feel like he’s making a difference.
SY: As Susan gives Peter more work at the store, he has to sacrifice time with his wife and young son at home. Being married and having two young sons yourself, did you draw on any of your own personal experiences while you were preparing for the role?
EM: Absolutely. I think it’s one thing when you’re single and doing a job. You define yourself by what you do. But definitely, now that I’m married and have children, the whole value system shifts. Your priorities shift in a wonderful way.
I find myself sitting there some days on set, going, is this what I’d really like to be? In a wonderful way, the work becomes less important to having a family and focusing on a family. I feel like there’s more balance in my life.
There’s a point where I ask, do I need this job, do I need this money? My family, my children, don’t need much other than love. It’s one of the reasons why I was interested in exploring this character. Some of the things you think you want or need are not what ends up happening in reality. It’s something that I think I focus on a lot more as I’ve gotten older.
SY: ‘Price Check’ premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and also played at the Seattle International Film Festival. What was your reaction when you found out the movie would be playing at the festivals?
EM: Well, for a film of this size, it’s your bread and butter. That’s what you’re hoping for. You’re hoping that the film gets in, so then it gets press, press that you can’t necessarily afford with the budget of this film. So it’s the sign that people are noticing all the sacrifices and efforts that are made. That’s the next logical step.
Of course, you want a big hit to happen, but any recognition at all sometimes is certainly better than nothing. Going back to Sundance after all these years, I haven’t been there in awhile, and Parker as well, it was fun. It was like a circle being completed. Getting to follow it through, and witness the film, and do the Q&A, and be able to interact with the audience, was great. The audiences were fantastic at Sundance and Seattle.
I think the film was a test for the audience members, looking at the issues of infidelity. There’s an ending to the film that isn’t specific, and a lot of audience members like that, and a lot of audience members don’t like that. They’re not comfortable with what they feel is a gray ending.
**SPOILER ALERT** A lot of people want Pete to be punished for his infidelity. A lot of people want to know what happens when they move to Los Angeles. **END SPOILER ALERT**
SY: So you have been receiving positive feedback from audiences after you screened the film? How did audiences react to the movie after it played at the festivals?
EM: Like I was just saying, it has been stirring people up. They become engaged, and they have lively debates during the Q&As after, over what they think the filmmaker was saying, or what they think the characters should have done, or go on to do. Ten people watching the film see 10 different things.
It’s not stirring people up just to stir people up. These specific issues about infidelity and the economy in the toilet, show people struggling with real problems. They’re struggling with how to put food on the table and to keep a roof over their head. I think the audiences felt that in a very real way.
SY: Like you mentioned, ‘Price Check’ had a smaller, limited budget . Did having a limited budget place any restrictions on what you can shoot for the film? If the movie had a larger budget, would you be interested in adding anything to your acting, and expand the character?
EM: I don’t think there’s a filmmaker in the world who wouldn’t want more money for their film, whether they have $100 million, and they want another couple days. It’s just a smaller version of a big film.
Eighteen days is a tight shoot. I think all the actors came to play, and I think it was cast well. I think we got across what we wanted to in the time that we had to do it.
SY: You have appeared in several different film genres, including horror, with ‘Resident Evil,’ and action and fantasy with ‘The Crow: Salvation.’ Do you prefer acting in higher budget films with stunts, like ‘Resident Evil’ and ‘The Crow,’ or do you enjoy more realistic comedy-dramas, like ‘Price Check?’
EM: The honest answer is that I like all those experiences, because they only help me down the line. I don’t prefer one over the other. I had great fun with ‘Resident Evil,’ shooting in Berlin with a cast like that. It was a completely international cast. I love the traveling I get to do. I also love small labors of love like this.
I love TV shows, I thought ‘Ugly Betty’ was one of the funniest, most positive projects I’ve been involved with. I try to choose wisely, and I try to enjoy myself as much as possible. I would prefer to continue doing what I have been doing, which is small and large, and TV and film. I think it keeps me on my toes, and it keeps things fresh.
SY: You’re most recognized for your television acting, particularly on such shows as ‘Ugly Betty,’ ‘The L World’ and ‘The O.C.’ Do you prefer working on television over movies, or vice versa, or do you enjoy acting overall?
EM: There’s one good thing about doing television-you don’t have to keep looking for a job. (laughs) That’s the nice thing about it. But you become a family on a film, but it’s a family that ends up disbanding. Eventually, so does television, but the run can be a lot longer.
‘Ugly Betty’ was a special case. A lot of the people I became friends with on that set, I’m still friends with. But it really is a case-by-case situation. I do prefer taking the time to get to know a character over many months that TV brings.
SY: Do you have any upcoming acting projects, whether on television or in films, lined up that you can discuss?
EM: I shot a film in China with a brilliant Chinese director. i don’t know if it’s going to come out in America. I’m also shooting a Hallmark movie right now. I’m all over the place. I choose according to the job I think I can do. I also just told a ghost story on the Biography channel, that was a lot of fun.
Written by: Karen Benardello