The gripping and distinct encounters and connections people experience throughout their lives often times form and shape their ideals, self-perception and interactions. People often hold deeply onto the personal baggage that has informed their current personalities as a comfortable and familiar security measure. But allowing those increasingly unconventional feelings linger prevents anyone from forming, and maintaining, meaningful relationships and personal growth. That essential idea is presented in the new comedy-drama-thriller, ‘The Master Cleanse,’ which was written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker, Bobby Miller.
‘The Master Cleanse’ follows Paul (Johnny Galecki), who was recently left at the alter, and seems destined and content to now wander through life without a clear sense of purpose. However, his outlook on life suddenly changes after he sees a television commercial that advertises a spiritual retreat in the mountains. Hoping that the retreat can deliver on its promise to inspire complete renewal in him, he visits its website to find more information. After following the website’s cryptic instructions, Paul finds himself in an anonymous corporate office. Along with a few other people who are in similiar emotional situations, they’re all encouraged to discuss their deep emotional pain on camera, which serves as an audition reel for the retreat.
Paul captures the attention of the retreat’s officials, so he’s soon sent into the mountains with a derisive group of individuals. The other patients at the retreat include aspiring actress Maggie (Anna Friel), as well as a younger couple, the at-times controlling Eric (Kyle Gallner) and the shy Laurie (Diana Bang). The group is then shown to their private cabins by an on-site caretaker, Fredericks (Kevin J. O’Connor), before then being introduced to their whimsical guide, Lily (Anjelica Huston). The guide gives each of the four self-cleansers jars of liquid that will supposedly rid their bodies of the physical and emotional toxins that are plaguing them. When Laurie struggles to get through her allotment, Paul, Maggie and Eric rely on their collective courage to help her heal.
Galecki and Gallner generously took the time to talk about starring in ‘The Master Cleanse’ during respective exclusive phone interviews on the afternoon the comedy-drama had its World Premiere during the Narrative Spotlight section of SXSW 2016. The two actors discussed how they were drawn to play such distinct characters, as they’re not only so different from their own personalities, but who also don’t realize that they don’t know everything about leading a happy and successful life. The performers also both noted how they feel that this month’s SXSW was the perfect festival to premiere the comedy-drama at, as it’s known for its laid-back atmosphere, and attracting audiences who are enthusiastic about genre films.
“I enjoyed the character for many reasons,” Galecki revealed when he began discussing what attracted him to the role of Paul in ‘The Master Cleanse.’ The actor laughed when he then admitted, “His life is very much in shambles, but he doesn’t seem to have much awareness of it all. He only starts to realize that throughout the course of the movie. That’s always fun to play.”
Galecki added that it’s just as important to sometimes portray a character who doesn’t realize that he doesn’t know everything “as it is to play a character who thinks he has all of the answers. So to have a character have self-realizations at the same time the audience finds out about them was really interesting.”
Once he decided to play Paul in the film, Galecki stated that he had developed a very specific idea for his approach to the character’s physicality, including his posture. The actor began thinking about Paul’s physicality early on in the filmmaking process. “I think my idea aligned with what Bobby had in mind, and he was pleasantly surprised when I started doing it on set,” the actor revealed. The performer and director independently formed the same idea about the character’s physical presence, as Galecki added, “If there’s one word to describe Paul, it’s that he’s lonely, which is something that we can all pull from and relate to.”
“Eric’s kind of fun,” Gallner admitted when he started his conversation by discussing what attracted him to his role in the comedy-drama. “He has such a smart mouth, and is so different from me, so it was fun to play a guy like that.” The actor added that the movie’s “script was so strange, and the characters and cast were so great. Bobby is also such an interesting guy. So there were a lot of pieces of the puzzle that I really liked.”
Gallner then further discussed his experience of collaborating with Miller, as both the writer and director, on the comedy-drama. The actor laughed when he revealed, “It was great, actually. I had a take on the character when I went in and auditioned for it. I thought, (Miller’s) either going to like this, or I’m going to be way off base,” Gallner explained about his first experience with Eric in ‘The Master Cleanse.’
“Luckily Bobby liked what I was doing. It ended up being very free and manic at times, as Bobby really allowed me to play,” Gallner explained. He further praised Miller by saying, “He’s a really good director, and works well with actors. He was really collaborative…but would rein (the character) in when he needed to.”
Galecki also further chimed in on his experience of working with Miller on ‘The Master Cleanse.’ He described their connection as forming “immediately during the first time we sat down for lunch together. We had effortlessly creative communication. What should have probably been a 45-minuted lunch ended up leading to him and I walking around the block together for two or three hours afterward, as we were just working everything out.”
The actor then divulged that their relationship remained that way throughout the duration of filming the comedy-drama. He added that it was exciting to support “a new, unique and fresh voice like Bobby’s. I’m really excited to see what his career is going to be like” after this film is released. “Hopefully we’ll continue working together; this won’t be our last collaboration together.”
Besides discussing his working relationship with Miller on the set, Galecki also chronicled the rehearsal process with his fellow actors on the set. “We didn’t have too much time to rehearse. Fortunately, Anna Friel, Bobby and I spent a couple of afternoons together. It was more about talking about the scenes than reading through them,” the actor revealed.
Galecki also described the story as being very layered, “so we all knew that we had to be on the same page, and have the same goals for each scene. That was especially true, since this was a very ambitious schedule that we had to begin with.” So while he added that he wishes they had “the luxury of more rehearsal time, but then you always do,” which he laughed about, he also noted that the cast “managed what we could.”
Gallner also spoke about the process of connecting with his co-stars on the film. The actor noted that he also didn’t have extensive rehearsal time with the other performers, but “we talked a little bit. We would rehearse, and discuss things, on the day. Everyone was so great and prepared, and really knew their characters, so everything felt like it really fit into place.”
While then discussing the process of shooting ‘The Master Cleanse’ independently, Gallner noted that the experience “didn’t really change the way I approached playing the character. Indie films are always running out of time and money; it’s always a run-and-gun process.” The actor added that “with an indie film, you have to show up prepared. Everybody showed up ready to go.”
With the comedy-drama being shot independently, Galecki was finally able to try his hand at executive producing a feature film. “I have wanted to produce for a very long time, but I’ve just been waiting for the right projects,” he explained. “So I have started my own production company (Alcide Bava Productions), which is based at Warner Bros., and I have been enjoying the heck out of it.
“I have been working with these writers who I admire, and have been throughout the entire process,” the actor revealed. “I’m in the room when the idea is hatched, and then follow through on all aspects to days like today,” Galeck added, referencing the film’s premiere at SXSW. He also called collaborating with the scribes as “an exciting and much more intimate connection to a project than when I’m just hired as an actor.”
Galecki also revealed that he initially only joined ‘The Master Cleanse’ as a producer. “I wasn’t going to play the role, but the actor who was initially cast had a scheduling conflict. So at the eleventh hour, I stepped in to play Paul, which was great; I’m not complaining at all, as he’s a wonderful character,” he explained.
But he admitted that he was initially “worried about wearing two hats. It doesn’t matter who you have hired as your producers-they can be the best producers that the industry has ever seen. But if your leading man doesn’t know his lines, he’s not going to be very good,” which Galecki also laughed about. “But I fortunately had a very supportive cast and crew who understood that once we started principal photography, I had to put the produce hat aside. That way I could focus on this performance.”
Galecki also noted that he decided to launch Alcide Bava Productions because he had been acting for so long. So moving into his role as a producer was a natural fit for him, as it allows him to have a bigger role in the storytelling. “I think a lot of younger actors believe that the whole process begins and ends with their start date and the wrap party, and that’s probably only about 15 percent of the process,” he revealed. That’s particularly true when “you’re talking about the years it could potentially take to put a film or television show together. I want to be there for the whole trajectory of that experience.”
With the film being driven by both thriller and comedic elements, Galecki noted that mixing those two elements was “something that was very important to Bobby. The story is really rooted in dark comedy. I think this genre in general is very conducive to having layered stories, and smuggling in deeper ideas that are on the surface.” The actor-producer further complimented the film’s director by adding that he thinks Miller did a great job with that element of the movie.
“We talked a lot about David Cronenberg’s movies, and the way we approached this film was all by design,” Galecki added. “Bobby put a lot of heart and soul into how he imagined this movie as a finished project. That allowed us to focus on the craft, which was a luxury with such a small budget and our 22-day shooting schedule.” The actor then praised the director for being so prepared, which allowed them capture everything they needed and wanted.
Gallner also commented on infusing comedic moments into the more dramatic elements. He explained that he thinks “with a story like this, those aspects give it a really unique tone and vibe. It’s dark and then it’s funny, so you question what’s happening. I definitely feel like this film has its own voice. I think that finding humor, especially in inappropriate places, is a good thing.
Another element of filming ‘The Master Cleanse’ that Gallner enjoyed was shooting on location in Vancouver. “I love being on location. This is a sh*tty thing to say, but hen you’re at home, there are a lot of distractions-your friends want to hang out, and you go home and are comfortable with your own stuff,” the actor revealed.
“So there’s something about filming on location that allows you to really step away. You can think, this isn’t where I live; it’s where the character lives, and this is his world,” Gallner added. “It’s always fun filming on location; I feel like you can dig a little deeper sometimes.”
Galecki also chimed in on the experience of filming the comedy-drama in Vancouver. “We shot most of the movie on location, but we also had to build a lot, because there are practical effects, puppets and puppeteers,” the actor-producer revealed. “Again, with a budget and schedule such as we had, we mostly shot at real locations. But we also had to build a cabin, for example, so that there could be puppeteers underneath the floor. So there was a lot of both-real locations, including exteriors, and stages, so that we could accommodate the puppeteers,” he explained.
After putting hard work into acting in, and producing, ‘The Master Cleanse,’ Galecki said he was “terribly excited” to have the comedy-drama premiere at SXSW. “It’s been a long journey, so it’s great to finally be able to share the movie with audiences.
Gallner also mentioned the experience of having ‘The Master Cleanse’ premiere in Austin, calling it fun. But he also admitted that before he and his fellow actors and the crew showed the film to an audience for the first time, “We were all a little anxious. It’s exciting to have something you’ve done finally go out into the world, and have people see it.”
The actor added that he thinks “SXSW has the perfect audience for a film like this. It’s such a great festival; it’s so laid back. It really feels like there are a lot of people (here) who really love film, and want to enjoy themselves, and not take themselves so seriously. I think people are really going to respond well to a movie like this here.”
Written by: Karen Benardello