The determination to win every competition and continuously show your talent isn’t the sole plot point that emotionally drives a sports film forward. Director Charles-Olivier Michaud powerfully showcased that perseverance in sports also requires connecting with those around you who support your goals and dreams in his new independent drama, ’4 Minute Mile.’ The film, which is now available in theaters and on VOD nationwide, smartly relies on the importance of uniting loved ones in times of emotional need, and how that influential bond can be just as important as the extensive training athletes utilize for their competitions.
’4 Minute Mile’ tells the inspirational story of Drew (Kelly Blatz), a high school student struggling to overcome the inner-city surroundings that threaten to imprison him. After getting manipulated into running drug payments to a local dealer, Eli (Rhys Coiro), Drew has nowhere to turn in a family with a deadbeat older brother, Wes (Cam Gigandet), and an overwhelmed single mom, Claire (Kim Basinger). His only outlet is track practice, but that is taken from him as he continues down the path of his sibling; even the affections of a girl at school, Lisa (Analeigh Tipton), can’t set him straight. Just as it seems hopeless, an ex-track coach with his own demons, Coleman (Richard Jenkins), witnesses Drew’s speed and athleticism, and decides to train him to reach for more than he ever imagined possible. Together they work towards finding solace in each other, but Drew’s resolve is threatened as tragedy strikes right before the biggest race of his life, and forces him to confront everything that has been holding him back.
Blatz generously took the time recently to talk about filming ’4 Minute Mile’ over the phone from Los Angeles. Among other things, the actor discussed how he was drawn to play Drew because he instantly understood the struggling protagonist’s trouble of realizing his full potential, and striving to push through his pain to achieve his goals; how working with Michaud was the best working experience he’s ever had with a director, as the filmmaker was extremely collaborative, and brought the actors in on the creative process from the beginning of the shoot; and how he was initially intimidated acting with Jenkins, because he respects the Academy Award-nominated performer as an actor, but that unease quickly left as Jenkins became a mentor and coach to Blatz in acting, much like Coleman guided Drew throughout the story.
ShockYa (SY): You play Drew Jacobs in the new drama, ’4 Minute Mile.’ What was it about the character, and the story that convinced you to take on the role?
Kelly Blatz (KB): Sometimes I read something, and there’s something that’s underlying that I connect to, and have been through in my own life. For me, a kid like Drew who’s trying to overcome his demons, realize his full potential in whatever talent he ha and to push through his pain, really connected with me on a deep level. A brother relationship also always connects with me.
So there was something about it that made me feel like I love him and want to protect him. I told the director that, and I think that’s a lot of the reason why he gave me the role-I had an understanding of what that pain is.
SY: Speaking of the director, what was your working relationship with Charles-Olivier Michaud, who helmed the sports drama, like as you were filming?
KB: It was actually the best working experience I ever had with a director. He was extremely collaborative, and allowed the actors in on the process from the beginning. We would talk through everything and stay up into the nights, discussing the film. He shared so much, and really respected our input. So it really was a collaborative effort with all the actors and Charles. I would love to make a film like that every single time I work, if I could.
SY: You were cast as Drew a week before production began on the film. What was the casting process like overall, since you were hired so close to the start of production? How did you become involved in the film?
KB: I think they had an actor who dropped out at the last-minute. So I came in with only a couple of weeks before going into the shoot. You never know with these things. As an actor, you go in and usually expect not to get the role. Then you go in, and they think, that’s the guy.
I met with Charles, the director, and I said I had a deep emotional connection to the content of the script, and I guess it showed. Charles asked, “Have you run before?” I said, “Yes, I’ve played sports.” He then said, “Okay, you’re our guy, so start running. (laughs) We’re going to get you training.” We were going to start shooting two weeks after that, but I wasn’t in full running shape. I was a little more muscular, coming from another projects.
SY: What was the experience of filming your own running in the film, especially since you are an athlete in real life?
KB: I’ve done quite a few physical roles in my acting career. With my background in sports, which I’ve played my whole life, anything that requires a physical challenge, I have a knack for. I had run before, as I played football and other sports, but I had never done track and field, which is something I have always been curious about.
Once I started training, they had me working with this Olympic coach, I really fell in love with it. I really explored the sport, and developed an immense respect for it. But even then, it was an ungodly amount of running. I really had to learn how to take care of my body and diet. They had me working with a physical trainer every week, as well, to make sure I didn’t get injured.
SY: Drew is a high school student struggling to overcome his inner-city surrounding, especially after he’s manipulated into running drug payments to a local dealer by his older brother. Track is Drew’s only outlet to escape the life that his brother has fallen into. Do you feel Drew used track to avoid living the same lifestyle as his brother?
KB: Absolutely. That’s another thing I connected to in the story. With this film, it was driven by track and running, but I saw it as a universal theme. Everybody has a talent, and a lot of them stay hidden and unrealized, because of their fear. Drew never had a father figure, because his father died when he was young, and his brother wasn’t much of a role model.
But Drew’s still very loyal to his family, and didn’t want to leave. He felt like if he realized his potential as a runner, it would take him away from his family, and his mother and brother would be left alone. So when Richard Jenkins’ character, Coleman, comes, that’s why there’s such a resistance between them. Not only is there a resistance of his own fears of what he’s capable of, but there’s also a fear of abandoning his family. It’s a universal theme, and that’s what I understood in my own life. I’ve been through very similar things. Hopefully people will connect to that
SY: Coleman is an ex-track coach, witnesses Drew’s speed and athleticism, and decides to train him. The two not only work together on Drew’s training, but also towards finding solace in each other, particularly since Drew’s father and Coleman’s son have both died. Did the two rely on each other to not only train Drew, but also fill the emotional void of losing their family members?
KB: Absolutely, and that was the most important part to me. Like I said, running is the secondary theme in the film to me. Drew’s missing a father figure and mentor, as well as someone who’s hard on him and tells him, “You have greatness, and you need to push through that and work hard.”
For Coleman, not only did he lose his son, maybe he didn’t push his son. So maybe he’s trying to tie up loose ends, and fill the void in his life. Maybe he’s also someone who didn’t realize his own potential when he was a track star when he was younger. He sees this kid as a way to heal his own wounds.
They’re both emotionally dependant on each other. That’s why they formed such a connection that’s not overly showed or stated, and is more of an underlying bond.
SY: What was your working relationship with Richard like on the set? How did you bond with each other as you were working together?
KB: For me, I was obviously very intimidated going in, because I really respect him as an actor. Going into a project is always a bit fearful and intimidating, especially when you work with someone who’s that great of an actor. But I did realize that he could become pretty much the same way that he is a mentor and coach in the film to Drew. Richard became a mentor and coach to me in acting. Once I met him and we did that first scene, it laid all those anxieties to rest, as he was very open.
But we both very much took on the roles of Drew and Coleman. He was hard on me, and it very much paralleled. We tried to stay in that. He’s still a mentor to me to this day. I email him constantly, asking him questions and career advice. So I’m very grateful to have worked with him.
SY: The drama is currently playing on VOD and in theaters. Are you personally a fan of watching movies On Demand, and do you the platform is beneficial for smaller, independent films like this one?
KB: Personally, I’m a fan of watching films in the theater for many reasons. I like the experience of being there, watching the movie, without any distractions. I think films were meant to be shown in movie theaters.
But the good thing with how VOD and those platforms are evolving is that it makes films more accessible to more people. Many people do like to stay home and watch movies on their own big screen. So I think either way, if a movie is seen and the message gets across, that’s the most important thing.
SY: What type of message do you hope audiences can take away from the film?
KB: Overall, I think and hope it strikes that cord of universal fear and your past holding you back, and not allowing you to reach your full potential. As human beings, we’re here because we have a purpose, and this one life to realize what we’re able to give to this world and experience. I hope people see that, and realize the running is a metaphor for pushing through that pain and those past things you’re holding onto. It’s also about going for it and taking the risk, and realizing your full potential.
After the premiere, some young guys who were runners came up to me and said the same thing to me. They said, “This movie really inspired me to keep pushing when you want to give up. It’s so easy to give up.”
It even inspired me to keep going. As an actor, you’re constantly in doubt, and don’t think you’re going to work again. But it always brings me back, and tells me to keep pushing. So that’s the biggest thing I hope people walk away with after seeing the film.
SY: ’4 Minute Mile’ had its world premiere at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival. What did it mean to you that the drama had its premiere at the festival, since the film was shot and set in the Seattle area?
KB: Seattle is such a beautiful city, and Washington and the whole Pacific Northwest is a beautiful place. My experience up there was pure bliss. The people were amazing, and the surroundings were so beautiful. Running and track and field is a big deal up there. Being surrounded by track and field athletes, coaches and people who have a respect for the sport isn’t something I see so much here in L.A.
When I went back for the premiere, it brought back all those same feelings. We shot all over the city, and it really brought me back to what a special, personal and gratifying experience it was for me. A lot of the crew and cast went to the premiere, and it was great to see them. So it was very much full circle.
SY: What did it mean to you that audiences at the festival approached you at the premiere to express how much they enjoyed the drama?
KB: Obviously, that’s always my goal. That’s why I love this line of work; not only am I able to go through personal things in my own life, but my hope is that we also give people something. We hold a mirror up to ourselves. It means so much to me that people respond to it, and are inspired by it. For me, that’s more important than anything, and why I think storytelling is so special and powerful. In every single movie, I take something away from it.
SY: Besides films, you have also starred on several television series throughout your career, including ‘Chicago Fire,’ ‘Glory Daze’ and ‘Aaron Stone.’ What is it about television that you enjoy acting on it, and how does staring on a series compare and contrast to making films like ’4 Minute Mile?’
KB: Well, there are pros to both. On television, you’re taking a character on a much longer journey, and sometimes you don’t really know where that journey’s going. With television, people get inspired by each episode. But you’re also on this long journey with them. As an actor, it’s like boot camp, because you’re there every day. You get scripts week-by-week, so you’re really trying to hold onto that character, who you’re always developing so it doesn’t become stagnant. That’s something shows often run into.
With films, you immediately know the character’s ark, and you know the themes of the story. I love the process of making a film because you know where it’s going. It’s also shot intimately, over a short period of time.
But with TV, I love the unknown and the challenge. There’s nothing more challenging than doing a TV show for six months, and showing up everyday and always making it special and alive. It’s probably very similar to doing a play.
SY: Do you have any upcoming projects lined up that you can discuss? Would you be interested in doing theater in the future?
KB: Yes, I’ve been very intrigued by theater, because it is very challenging. It’s different from both TV and films, because with theater, you’re taking a character on an arc every single night. I think that’s probably one of the best training exercises for an actor. So I’ve been curious about that, and I’ve been looking into it.
With upcoming films, I have (director) Marcus Nispel’s next film (‘Backmask’), and I believe that’s coming out around Halloween. I also starred in this other movie, ‘One Heart,’ which is a football movie, which is based on an inspiring true story. I filmed that in Texas, and I played a quarterback. that one’s still being finished, so there’s no official release date yet. But that’s the thing about this business-you never know what adventure lies ahead, which I love.
Written by: Karen Benardello