There are times people will undoubtingly question where their personal and personal lives are headed, and if they’ve made the right decisions in what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Not only has that uncertainly crept into the mind of the main character, Nathan, of the new independent comedy, ‘A Short History of Decay,’ but also the actor who played him, Bryan Greenberg. Nathan’s a struggling writer who’s understandably striving to find the area he finds the most passion in pursuing in his literary career, particularly when his parents become increasingly ill and his girlfriend ends their relationship. Greenberg relatably and genuinely drew on his own experiences in his career, as he pondered where his acting was headed after certain projects ended, and enthralling infused that questioning into his portrayal of the fraught writer.
‘A Short History of Decay’ follows Nathan Fisher (Greenberg), who can’t seem to quite get it together. He’s temping at an ad agency while struggling to launch his writing career in Brooklyn, frequently moving from plays to novels to screenplays without ever finishing anything. As his ambitious novelist girlfriend, Erika (Emmanuelle Chriqui), is about to publish her first book, she finally gets fed up with Nathan’s lack of motivation, and decides to leave him. Her declaration she has met someone else leaves him vowing to get down to some serious work once and for all.
But in the midst of Nathan’s new-found clarity, life intervenes. After getting a call that his father, Bob (Harris Yulin), has had a stroke, Nathan heads to Florida where he’s called upon to deal with Bob’s failing health and his mother’s (Linda Lavin) early Alzheimer’s. In the process, Nathan gets a crash course in love, loyalty, family and forgiveness, particularly from his mother’s manicurist, Shelly (Kathleen Rose Perkins). He also learns from a troubling revelation from his brother, Jack (Benjamin King), a Washington, D.C. lobbyist who secretly reveals that he’s estranged from his wife and their two daughters.
Greenberg generously took the time to talk about filming ‘A Short History of Decay’ over the phone. Among other things, the actor discussed how he was drawn to the character of Nathan, and the film’s story overall, as the script chronicled the crossroads many young adults face as they struggle with a life-changing event, particularly having to take of a parent after they become sick; how he always looks for a director who has a clear vision of the story they want to tell, and Maren clearly knew what he wanted to say in the movie, which Greenberg admired because the writer-director was a first-time feature filmmaker; and how he and his co-stars didn’t have a lot of rehearsal time, since the movie was made independently, and he was surprised at how fast and well they clicked on the set, especially when they started improvising.
ShockYa (SY): You play Nathan in the new comedy, ‘A Short History of Decay.’ What was it about the character, as well as the script overall, that convinced you to take on the role?
Bryan Greenberg (BG): I was drawn to the script and its subject matter of getting older, and your parents getting older. That moment when every kid has to become the caretaker for their parents, and they’re not necessarily prepared to do it, is something everyone can relate to in general. I think Michael Maren brought up a great subject matter in a very funny, subtle and smart way.
I also liked that my character, Nathan, was at a crossroads in his life, and it was the beginning of a big change. The movie doesn’t show the whole change, but plants the seed, so I thought that was a really interesting and real way to approach this.
SY: Speaking of Michael, he made his feature film writing and directorial debuts with ‘A Short History of Decay.’ What was your experience like working with Michael as a first-time scribe and helmer?
BG: It may have been his first movie, but all I ever look for in a director is a clear vision. They have to know what story they want to tell, and the tone they want to set, and Michael knew what he wanted. He also had (‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest director) Milos Forman executive producing the film, and guiding him. So I felt very protected on the set.
Michael also put together a great cast. He let us take the words off the page and create moments that weren’t scripted. He trusted us to create a family dynamic that we needed.
SY: Speaking of your co-stars, what were your working relationships with your co-stars, including Emmanuelle, Linda and Harris, like on ‘A Short History of Decay?’ Were you able to have any rehearsal time with them before you began filming?
BG: Well, I’ve known Emmanuelle for a long time, because we worked on an HBO show together called ‘Unscripted.’ So it was a good chance to reunite and work together again. So we were already familiar.
I was always a fan of Linda Lavin’s work, but I had never met her. Harris Yulin actually taught a Master’s class at NYU while I was a student there, so it was cool to finally work with him as a fellow actor, 15 years later.
We didn’t have a lot of rehearsal time, since it’s an independent film. There wasn’t a lot of money or time to have a lot of rehearsals, so we just got into it right away. We started improvising, and I was actually surprised at how fast and well we clicked.
SY: Speaking of improvising, what was that process like while you were filming this movie? Do you generally enjoy improvising while filming?
BG: The script was great, so I don’t think of improvising as improving the words on the page. I just thought of it as another way to get to the truth. A lot of the movie was scripted, and I don’t want to take away from the script Michael wrote, because it was great. But to be honest, I don’t know what exactly was improvised and what was script, as we shot so quickly, and I was in every scene. But I just remember Michael being cool about it, and we didn’t feel burdened by the script. But we definitely stuck to a lot of it, as well.
SY: Besides trying to fix his personal relationships, Nathan is also struggling with finding an area of writing he’s truly passionate about, and ponders if he should try another career. Did you similarly question your choice to act when you first started your career?
BG: Yes, totally-I was at a crossroads as an artist. As an actor, you never know what the next job is going to be. When I was making this film, I was also on an HBO show called ‘How to Make It in America.’ It had just ended, and I wasn’t really sure what my next project was going to be, or where my life was going. The movie was the first thing that came along that I responded to.
Nathan thought, “I don’t know what my life will be like, just like Nathan was thinking, I don’t know where my life is going. My girlfriend just broke up with me, so I guess I’ll go down to Florida and take care of my parents. Then I don’t have to worry about reality.” But then when he gets down there, he realizes that is reality.
The same thing was true with me. I figured, I’ll do this little movie, and worry about the big master plan later. Then when I got to the set, I thought, this is my career, and I’m doing this. So I could definitely relate to his journey.
SY: Speaking of ‘How to Make it in America,’ you have appeared on several television series throughout your career, including ‘October Road’ and ‘One Tree Hill.’ What is it about television that you enjoy so much, and do you have an interest in appearing on another series in the future?
BG: I would love to do another series, preferably on cable, if a series came around and it was the right fit. There aren’t as many movies being made anymore, so a lot of filmmakers are going towards the medium of television. I feel like that’s where all the great stories are now being told. As an actor, you can really dig into the characters. I love working on films, but I’ve always found that TV is a little more rewarding as an actor.
SY: Besides ‘A Short History of Decay,’ do you have any other upcoming projects you can discuss?
BG: I did a movie called ‘Vice,’ which is a sci-fi action film with Bruce Willis Thomas Jane and Ambyr Childers, and it’s coming out next year. I also produced ans starred in a movie called ‘A Year and Change,’ and we’re in post-production on that one. I also recently wrapped the film ‘It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong.’
Written by: Karen Benardello