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Exclusive: Chris Lowell Talks Brightest Star, Veronica Mars Movie

Actor Chris Lowell has an expansive list of small screen credits, including “Life As We Know It,” “Private Practice” and the role for which many people still most remember him — Stosh “Piz” Piznarski on the CW’s “Veronica Mars,” a role he’ll reprise later this spring in the big screen spin-off. He also has a starring role in a new movie in theaters now: Maggie Kiley’s striking “Brightest Star,” about a young man’s post-college romantic and occupational wanderings. For ShockYa, Brent Simon had a chance to talk to Lowell one-on-one and in person last week, about “Brightest Star,” twentysomething ennui and what he thinks of how the “Veronica Mars” movie came to be. The conversation is excerpted below:

ShockYa: It was only at the end of “Brightest Star” that I realized your character actually has no name. What was Maggie’s explanation of that?

Chris Lowell: I think it was her way of communicating that this is not one person’s story, that it’s a very universal story — that we’ve all felt lost, we’ve all felt heartbreak, we have all had to fall down and pick ourselves up. I think for her, limiting it to a specific character with this name made it feel too specific. I think she enjoyed the idea of putting into everyone’s mind that this could be them.

ShockYa: I quite liked it, but for better or worse “Brightest Star” doesn’t trade in conventional emotional pay-off, really — it’s this work of twentysomething portraiture.

CL: That’s a good description, because it’s not a conventional story in that it’s boy meets girl, girl breaks boy’s heart and then he falls in love with girl number two and she’s alternative and everything he ever wants and then they live happily ever after. It’s not going to satisfy people in terms of that plot and structure, because it’s told in a nonlinear fashion. What I like about it is that coming out of my 20s now, it’s certainly the way that I’ve experienced the person I’ve become — I can’t tell you the one moment where everything changed and I became an adult or something. I think it’s all been in these bits and pieces of moments along the way. I love that (about the movie), I love that there are these little snapshots of a person’s life, and you can kind of see this person growing.

ShockYa: It connects so deeply to feeling, and particularly the ambivalence of youth, which I think has a certain unfortunate connotation.

CL: Yes, that word can be taken very negatively. But for me, again, that’s what life is (at that age) — I feel like, often times in films you want to tie it up with a bow, and there can be satisfaction with that. But I think you can be completely dissatisfied when you see a movie like that sometimes. Because (you think), “Well, that’s not what it was like for me — I still had a lot of questions afterward, and a lot of doubts. And I still didn’t necessarily know what I wanted when I reached that time in my life, whatever that time is.” That’s what I love about this film — you can see that growth has been made, that he’s not the same person at the end of this film that he was at the beginning, but exactly how or what it means for his future is left to be decided —

ShockYa: It’s a conversation-starter.

CL: It’s a conversation-starter, exactly. I love films where I walk out and there [can be an argument].

ShockYa: Your character going to the observatory is an out-of-left-field third-act twist that plays almost like a spirit quest.

CL: Totally, it’s a real hail mary. And that’s one of my favorite parts of the film, when Allison Janney confronts him and [asks] what he’s doing there and he has this sort of pathetic moment where he says, “I just sort of hoped that I would arrive here and some magical, brilliant astronomer superhero would emerge.” And that’s not how it works. But I think at that point the character is so desperate for answers that he’s doing whatever he can. I’m sure with most people there’s a time where you really have to hit a wall or hit bottom, in order to pick yourself up and look around and see a different direction to go. You have to stumble around in the dark a while.

ShockYa: Was Maggie’s short film, which served as an inspiration for “Brightest Star,” a tool for the actors?

CL: She was very hands-off, which was great about Maggie. Coming from an acting background I think she understands that — that every actor has their process, and as a director she just wants to be there to service that process. And so with me, I definitely wanted to see the short, because I wanted to know the world that she was envisioning, but I think it really would have been deadly if I’d studied it too much, because I’m not Jesse Eisenberg and we were telling a different story. And Maggie understood that as well — that “Some Boys Don’t Leave” was this great, beautiful short film that certainly inspired “Brightest Star,” but it wasn’t going to be that plus 80 minutes, you know? It was going to be a different film, a different story. But I definitely learned the state of mind that she wanted me to begin the film in, and I [grasped] the visual landscape that she was working in, which I loved. And those things informed a lot (about the character) for me.

ShockYa: With respect to your character’s delayed-onset ambition, the film doesn’t really get into technology that much, but that’s what it reminded me of on a metaphorical level — the increasing degree to which technology is hardwired into our lives creates this interconnectivity, but also swallowed panic about having so many options.

CL: I think technology plays a part of it, but it’s also a generational thing. My grandparents grew up through the Great Depression and two world wars, so when my parents were born it was all about security — that was the priority. Go to school, get married, have a mortgage, save up enough nuts for the winter — that was it. I think with my parents’ generation, a lot of them reached that, did everything they were told and then (looked around and) were like, “Well, I’m not happy.” So for a lot of people in my generation I think it became, “Do whatever you want! Don’t get married until you’re 50! Travel, study landscape architecture, do everything you want to do.” And I think there’s a backlash to that now, in this millennial generation, where people have every opportunity and freedom and choice, and it’s daunting and overwhelming (to them). When you have so many options, how do you choose? I think there’s definitely something to be said for the creativity and invention that comes out of having a limited number of choices. But at the same time it’s something that’s very topical, it’s something that a lot of people are dealing with these days.

ShockYa: Wrapping up, what’s your perspective on how the “Veronica Mars” movie came to be?

CL: I think it’s a miracle that it happened, but one that feels almost like any good movie — when the big twist happens that you never saw coming it just also feels inevitable. That’s how I felt about it. They’d been trying to make the movie for so many years, and it felt like this impossibility. And the fans were and are so intense. So that idea — let’s just see if the fans want to pay for it — seems crazy, I know. I think there’s a lot of controversy about crowd-funding a studio film. For me, though, especially with “Veronica Mars,” it was never an issue because Rob and Kristen literally tried for seven years every other way to get this film on its feet. This was literally a last-ditch effort, and then it happened to be the greatest thing that could have ever happened for the film. I’m just excited to get to be with those guys again.

Written by: Brent Simon

Chris Lowell Brightest Star

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A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International and Magill's Cinema Annual, and film editor of H Magazine. He cannot abide a world without U2 and pizza.

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