Attempting to recognize and accept not only your own personal struggles as you strive to fulfill your dreams, but also the internal conflicts of the people who are the closest to you, can be a truly daunting process. But when such disheartening physical and emotional obstacles, including mental illness and addiction, add to everyone’s strive to overcome their dilemmas, those battles become even more harrowing. But actor Theo Rossi’s new independent drama, ‘Bad Hurt,’ on which he also made his feature film producing debut with his newly launched production company, Dos Dudes Pictures, relatably shows his character and his family drowning in shame over their faults. But as the film, which was co-written by first-time feature film director, Mark Kemble, progresses, Rossi and the rest of the cast powerfully showcases how a family learns to embrace the courage within themselves, in order to love each other.
Set in 1999, ‘Bad Hurt’ chronicles the Kendall family’s hopeful battle to stay together and refortify their relationships, as personal demons and destructive secrets threaten to separate them. Elaine (Karen Allen) is a determined Staten Island housewife, who struggles to revamp the passionate love affair she once had with her husband, Ed (Michael Harney), a proud Vietnam veteran. After they spent many years contending with the unspoken regrets in their own relationship, they struggle to make sense of the blossoming romance between their mentally ill adult daughter, DeeDee (Iris Gilad), and her co-worker, Willy Crum (Calvin Dutton), who they view to be a provocative romantic choice for her.
Meanwhile, their patriotic older son, Kent (Johnny Whitworth), is still trying to learn how to live with the physical and psychological scars from serving in the Gulf War in Iraq. Their younger son, Todd (Rossi), who’s still living in the shadow of his brother’s military accomplishments, is currently working as a bus drive around New York City. But Todd’s ultimate goal is to join the local police academy, even though he has previously been rejected by the force and the military. He remains persistent in his professional quest, as he wants to garner his own attention from their father, based on his accomplishments.
While Todd and his parents want to bring both of his siblings peace and relief, they have different explanations about what’s causing, and suggestions on how to best reduce, the chaos in their family, they all hope that things improve on their own. But after another unexpected family tragedy, and Todd meeting a woman, Jessie (Ashley Williams), who’s new in the neighborhood, the Kendalls finally begin to humbly realize that loving family members means accepting all of their faults and personality traits.
Rossi generously took the time to sit down for an exclusive interview to talk about starring in, and producing, ‘Bad Hurt’ at New York City’s Smyth Hotel, on the afternoon before the drama had its world premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. Among other things, the actor discussed how he decided to portray Todd in, and make his feature film producing debut with his production company, Dos Dudes Pictures, on ‘Bad Hurt,’ as he wanted to tell a personal and emotional story about family relationships that everyone can relate to; how he embraced the process of actually shooting the drama independently on location in his hometown of Staten Island, as the film received endless support from his friends, family and the local community, so that they could accurately chronicle life in the New York City borough; and how he was honored to have the Tribeca Film Festival present the movie’s world premiere, so that he could not only first play it in his hometown and where it was filmed, but also so that he could bring the entire cast, crew and community who supported the shoot to the screenings.
ShockYa (SY): You play Todd Kendall in the drama, ‘Bad Hurt.’ What was it about the character and the script overall that convinced you to take on the role?
Theo Rossi (TR): Well, about two years ago, I made the decision to start a production company. I wanted to find films that tell a story, and make the audience feel like the plot is something that could really happen to them. I found the script for ‘Bad Hurt,’ and knew it was the script that I wanted my company’s first film to be.
I didn’t have any intention of acting in it, as I was in the middle of shooting the last two seasons of ‘Sons of Anarchy.’ I thought, I’m really going to focus on that, acting-wise, as I also get this film going. But the movie’s co-writer and director (Kemble) said to me, “We’d really like for you to play this character of Todd. We think it would be great for the film and for you. It would be a really great change from the show.” Now here we are.
What really attracted me was the fact that we switched the location to Staten Island. When you make an indie film, you need as much support as you can. Staten Island is my hometown-it’s where I grew up, so I had my friends there for support. My mom was also cooking dinner for the cast, and my friends were also bringing food. Our base camp was in a church gymnasium. I was also attracted to the story-it’s real life.
SY: Like you mentioned, the film was directed by Mark Kemble, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Jamieson Stern. What was the process of working with Mark as both the scribe and helmer? Do you prefer working with director who also wrote the script?
TR: For sure. The film is loosely based on Mark’s life, so it’s his story. Mark is an incredible theater director, and this is his first venture into films. So for me to get to work with someone who’s one of the resident directors at the Actor’s Studio, which is really prestigious, was an amazing experience. He really knows the nuances of acting.
To be able to transition into working with someone like that on a film was great. When you’re on a TV show, it’s very self-sustaining, and when you’re in the later seasons, it’s really working. So for me, the film was a really great exploration of a very different scenario. It was great to be working with someone who had the same vision. He really knows the story, as it’s based on his life. So how can you not listen to everything he says?
SY: Since the film is partly based on Mark’s life, what was the process of working with your co-stars in the film, including Karen Allen, Johnny Whitworth and Michael Harney, so that you could realistically showcase the characters’ strained relationships and their equal determination to keep their family together?
TR: Well, we changed a lot of things, including the location and time, so that it would be based in Staten Island in 1999. But what we really wanted to capture was the family’s dynamic. How we got that was emphasizing that your life growing up on Staten Island is family-oriented, and it’s really blue-collar; it’s all cops, firemen and criminals. Everyone still has Sunday dinner with their families, and has each others’ back. Everyone also knows their neighbors’ names.
So when we were there doing rehearsals, the environment helped us bond. We also had such a real group of actors and people. There aren’t any big celebrities in the bunch; it’s just people who like to punch the clock and do their work, and then go home. Those are the types of actors who I like to be around.
SY: Speaking of the fact that you shot the movie on location on Staten Island, where you grew up, what did it mean to you to film the movie in place that you’re personally attached to? Do you enjoy filming on location in general, and incorporating the local community into the shooting process?
TR: Yes, and I’m lucky in that sense. I (recently) made a film in New Orleans, and I’m doing my next film in L.A. I like that I get to go into all of these little communities to make my movies. I also shot the show out in L.A. for many years.
But when you’re filming in a place like Staten Island, which has a population of 500,000 people, and is almost like the forgotten borough of New York City, the people get so excited. There are a couple shows that film out there. But to be making a film on location in a place like that, especially when they know that I’m from there, is great; everyone’s so receptive, and happy you’re there. So anytime you film on a location which is actually the setting in the project, like filming on Staten Island, which is the location in the film, it’s very cool. Everyone embraces the entire process of being there.
SY: As both a producer and actor on the drama, what was the process of making it independently-did making ‘Bad Hurt’ independently help or hinder the creative process on the set?
TR: It was a different experience for me. Producing has made me a better actor. When I was just an actor, and I was in my trailer and was told we were ready to shoot, I might have been like, “Okay, let me just grab a piece of gum or my water first.”
But now, also serving as a producer, I was running to set, because you don’t’ want to waste any time. As a producer, every second counts, as every minute means another dollar-you don’t have any money on independent films. So being a producer and actor made me overly prepared. If I got something on one or two takes, it was like, okay, let’s move on. We didn’t have time to try different things and do multiple takes. I work like that anyway, but the process of producing really embedded that idea into me. It helped me better prepare, and kept me moving. Having that independent feel, and working as a producer, made me much better as an actor.
SY: Like you mentioned, ‘Bad Hurt’ is the first feature film produced by your production company, Dos Dudes Pictures. Why did you decide to start the company, and choose the drama as the first movie you would produce?
TR: The thing that inspired me was that I’m a big movie fan. I get lost in films, and love seeing movies that I can relate to, and make me feel things and think about something in my life. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad-I just want to feel something. The film world’s really different now, and it has a different landscape. There are some films today that are really big and visually stunning, but sometimes we miss the stories.
So I wanted to make films that tell a story about things that people deal with everyday. There are a lot of things that go on around us everyday. In this film, it’s a father who has a son who’s a returning veteran with PTSD, as well as a daughter with a developmental disability and another son who feels lost. The film also has a mother who doesn’t want her family to separate.
These are the kinds of things that I’m interested in. I care about everyday life, and I thought there was no better way for me to do that than creating my own company, and making films in which I can tell these types of stories.
SY: What do you hope audiences, not just those here in New York, but also across the country, can take away from the film?
TR: I hope that they feel something. I think nowadays, when people see a movie, and you ask them about it a couple days later, they say, “Umm, it was good.” But they don’t really even remember it.
So I want people to remember how this movie made them feel. Our tagline for the film is, “Family leaves a mark.” Whether it’s in a good or bad way, family leaves a mark on people. So I want audiences to get some kind of emotion in them as they’re watching ‘Bad Hurt,’ and I believe it will leave them with some sort of feeling.
SY: With the drama being shot and set in New York City, what was your reaction when you heard that it was chosen to have its World Premiere here at the Tribeca Film Festival? What does it mean to that you (were able to) share it with your friends and family who supported you while you were making the movie?
TR: It means everything, and I couldn’t’ have dreamed this scenario any better. The second we started filming this movie, I said, “There are so many great festivals, and I’ll be happy to be in any one of them. But if we can get into Tribeca and premiere there, that would be pretty amazing.”
All my investors, and the film’s entire lifeline, including the crew, are here in New York. So to have them all be able to come to the screenings here, which we may not have been able to do in different places, is great. We had everybody here, and received massive support. On every corner of this city, there’s a friend of mine, or someone I know. So it’s so great to have had the premiere here, and it means everything.
SY: Besides films, you have also starred on several television series, including playing Juan Carlos ‘Juice’ Ortiz on ‘Sons of Anarchy,’ which you mentioned earlier. What is it about television that you enjoy working on so much? How does the process of making a television show compare and contrast to making an independent film like ‘Bad Hurt?’
TR: Here’s the funny thing that many people don’t know-if there’s such a thing as an independent television show, ‘Sons of Anarchy’ is it. Even though there were 10-12 million people watching it every week, it was still a very independent television show. When the series started, no one really knew who many of the actors were; we were just a bunch of character actors on a television show.
We were shooting our episodes in seven or eight days, and would get a lot of stuff in during that time. We would have so much material, our episodes would sometimes run for an hour-and-a-half. We were doing movie-sized television episodes in seven days, which is unheard of-we made this film in 18 days. That’s why I have to give so much credit to (the show’s creator, writer, producer, director and actor) Kurt (Sutter). Looking back on it, it was incredible what we were able to pull off.
So making a television series is a lot different from shooting films, but a lot of it is the same. The great thing about ‘Sons’ is that it was all about keep moving forward, and linking arms to do that together. That’s exactly the same thing you have to do in the independent film world-you have to work as a team. We were 100 percent working as a team on both the show and the film.
SY: Now that you’re both an actor and a producer, are you also interested in also pursuing directing?
TR: If you asked me a year ago, I probably would have said no. But I (was) a juror at the festival in two great categories-student short films and short film documentaries. Watching the student short films really amped me up, as there (was) some really great entries.
So I recently decided that I’m going to make the change, and move into directing. My company’s going to start with a short film when we have more free time, which will hopefully be in the next year or two. We’ll actually probably shoot a few before I move into the feature world.
SY: Besides acting and producing, you’re also a philanthropist, having founded GoGetItLIFE.com and StatenStrong, and also serving as an ambassador for the Boot Campaign. Why is it important to you to give back to, and support, your community through your philanthropist efforts?
TR: My belief, and I’ve been pretty public with it, is that if you’re in a position where you can have a voice in the world, you should help those in need. The way social media works in this business, and in general, is that it helps give everyone a voice, which can send their message out to even a few people. As a filmmaker, to make your publicity just about your movies seems selfish to me. From when I was busboying tables to when I was in construction to now, I’ve always been one of those people who loves to help others-it’s the way I was raised.
So I’m an ambassador for the Boot Campaign, which is a military charity, and a very special place that works with people with developmental disabilities. So that was what drew me to the film’s script. Basically, I will do whatever I can, because I’m lucky enough in this world to have a voice. As long as I have that voice, I’m going to help as many people as I can.
SY: Besides ‘Bad Hurt,’ do you have any other upcoming projects, whether acting and/or producing in films or on television, that you can discus?
TR: I recently finished acting in the film ‘When the Bough Breaks’ for Sony, which will be released next year. (Right after the festival, Rossi went) straight in L.A. to act in a movie for Imagine Entertainment and Universal Pictures, which is called ‘Low Riders’ and also stars Demian Bichir. So I’ll be busy for the next year or two. (laughs)
Written by: Karen Benardello