People can often leave a lasting impression on those they inadvertently meet as they struggle to find their true identity and purpose in life. That is certainly the case with two brothers who are the polar opposite of each other, with one being a responsible family man and the other being a spontaneous free spirit, as they embark on an impromptu journey to reconnect with each other. As they strive to rebuild their estranged relationship in the new independent comedy, ‘Awful Nice,’ from co-writer and director Todd Sklar, which is now available on VOD and iTunes, and opens in theaters tomorrow, they meet an unsuspecting waitress they disastrously pull into their catastrophic shenanigans.
‘Awful Nice’ follows Jim (James Pumphrey), a disenchanted but popular college professor and author who must leave his wife and children to track down his dead-beat brother, Dave (Alex Rennie, who also co-wrote the script with Sklar), who he hasn’t seen in years. Jim, who finds his brother drunkenly passed out and living in a tent, forces Dave to return home, as their father has unexpectedly died. After the funeral, during which the two continuously argue and revert to their youthful need to beat each in trivial competitions, the brothers are forced to travel down to Branson, Missouri together to redeem their inheritance-the family’s lake house.
Upon arrive at the house, they discover their belongings in disarray, which leads them to believe people were squatting there. After speaking with their father’s business partner, Jon Charbineau (Christopher Meloni), Jim and Dave realize they must fix the house before they can sell it and receive their money. Dave convinces his brother they should work on repairing the house themselves, in order to bond again after their long separation. What follows is a series of costly mishaps and misadventures that help the brothers repair their strained relationship, including a drunken encounter with a local waitress, Petra (Keeley Hazell), who Dave is attracted to and persistently pursues. Despite the weariness of Jim’s wife and bosses that he plans on being away for so long, the two brothers learn how to reconnect with each other during what started as a forced reunion.
Hazell generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘Awful Nice’ over the phone. Among other things, the British actress discussed how she was drawn to Petra’s interesting, free spirited personality, as well as the entertaining script; how she didn’t actual audition for the role of Petra, but was offered the part after the director saw her previous work; and how she developed natural working relationships with Rennie and Pumphrey on the set, which was in part fueled by the improv Sklar allowed them to infuse into the story.
ShockYa (SY): You star as Petra in the new comedy, ‘Awful Nice.’ What was it about the role, and the script overall, that convinced you to take on the part?
Keeley Hazell (KH): I think I just responded to the fact that Petra’s so free-spirited, and is an interesting character. There was a light, sexualized feeling about her. I also really liked the script.
SY: How did you become involved in the film? What was the audition process like?
KH: It actually came about in a funny way. I didn’t really go in to audition; the casting director (Marc Hirschfeld) had seen some of my work, and forwarded it to Todd. He responded to my work, so it came down to me and a few other people. They ended up picking me.
But in the original script, Petra was supposed to be Russian. (laughs) I really liked the part and wanted to play her, but she was Russian. I wasn’t sure if I was able to get that accent within a couple days. Todd said it was fine, and they were happy to have me on board.
So it was a very weird process. I don’t think anyone actually went in and auditioned. They just responded to people’s work and hired them, which is great as an actor. When you don’t have to go through the auditions, it’s great, because they’re nerve-racking.
SY: Speaking of the fact that Petra was written to be Russian in the original script, during the scene in the film where Dave and Jim first meet her, they debate whether she’s Russian or English. Was that in reference to the fact that you’re English in real life? Was that scene improvised?
KH: Yes, that was definitely because she was Russian in the script, and then I ended up playing her as being English. They did change things in the story.
There was also improvisation in many of the scenes, which was great, because many of the guys come from that background. So they came in and went off on things. That was great for me, because I think it’s freeing to be able to improv and not always stick to the lines. There was definitely improv in the scene that we did.
SY: How does filming in America compare and contrast to shooting in Britain?
KH: It’s usually warmer in America. (laughs) I’ve had the luxury of shooting in L.A. But there’s not too much of a difference; it tends to be the same, in terms of the crew.
But the snacks tend to be different when you film in England. We have biscuits-well, they’re actually cookies, but we call them biscuits-in England, and I noticed that doesn’t always happen in America. There aren’t 10,000 tea breaks, because nobody drinks tea in America. But overall, they’re pretty similar.
SY: Alex Rennie and James Pumphrey play Dave and Jim, respectively. What was your experience of working with both Alex and James on the film?
KH: I loved the guys-they were all great. I always seem to bump into James now. Our relationships on the set seemed to develop naturally; everyone really got along. It was a really fun and interesting environment to work in.
SY: Were you able to have any rehearsal period with the two of them before you began shooting?
KH: No, there actually wasn’t any time scheduled in for rehearsals. I think we were fortunate our relationships developed naturally, since we didn’t have the privilege of having the rehearsal time. So there wasn’t any rehearsal time; we went just straight into shooting.
But I think having the improv helped, since we didn’t have the rehearsal time. I think everyone knew what they were doing, and had ideas on where to go. So we were able to be loose and play around.
SY: ‘Awful Nice’ is a feature film adaptation of Todd’s award-winning short, ”92 Skybox Alonzo Mourning Rookie Card.’ Were you familiar with the short, or any of Todd’s work, at all before you signed onto play Petra?
KH: Yes, I was familiar with the short, which went to Sundance. I watched it before we got to the set. I watched Todd’s projects first, because I think it’s important to know what you’re getting into. (laughs) You have to know what they’re trying to achieve, because it makes for an easier time to pull something together.
SY: You have starred in several short films in your career, including ‘Venus & the Sun’ and ‘Queen of Hearts.’ How does appearing in shorts compare and contrast to making the features, and do you have a preference of one over the other?
KH: I don’t know if there’s that much of a difference. I haven’t found much difference of being in a short film, as opposed to a feature, besides their lengths. But as an actress, it’s the same process, really. I think there have been some shorts that I worked longer on than I did on features. (laughs) So there are differences in how long you shoot, but overall, it’s really the same thing.
Written by: Karen Benardello