People are often quick to judge others based on their limited views and exposure of the person’s actions and personality, before evening getting to know them. What’s even more shocking is that this biased public labeling has grown to include people’s friends and family, particularly in this modern world of social media. But even with the growing technology that’s modeled to help make communication easier, people are continuously keeping their personal lives a secret. That fear of revealing who you truly are to even those closest to you is a significant theme featured in first-time feature film writer-director Ted Koland’s new comedy-drama, ‘Best Man Down,’ which is now playing in select theaters and on VOD.
‘Best Man Down‘ follows couple Scott (Justin Long) and Kristin (Jess Weixler) as they marry in a lavish destination wedding in Arizona that they can’t entirely afford. The two, who have underlying difficulties in their respective jobs-Scott is a salesman, while Kristin is a teacher-as well as in the way they communicate with, and relate to, each other. Their deep-rooted problems are in part brought to the surface by the unhinged antics of Scott’s best man and old friend, who goes by the nickname of Lumpy (Tyler Labine), and doesn’t know how to hold his liquor.
The wedding turns for the worst when Lumpy is discovered the following morning in the Arizona desert, having seemingly died from drinking too heavily at the reception. To Kristin’s dismay, Scott cancels their tropical honeymoon to instead use that money to not only ship his best man’s body back home to Minnesota, but also plan his funeral.
The newly married couple also has time to fully explore, and reflect on, their relationship after they discover Lumpy’s seemingly unconventional relationship with 15-year-old Ramsey (Addison Timlin). The emotionally-conflicted teenager is still contending with the death of her father, as she lives with her financially-struggling, drug-addicted mother and her drug dealing boyfriend. Scott and Kristen travel to northern Minnesota to tell Ramsey the news of Lumpy’s death, and in the process, not only discover the truth about their friend’s life and motivations, but also the true meaning of their relationship.
Koland, along with Long, Labine, Weixler and Timlin, generously took the time recently to sit down for a roundtable interview in New York City to talk about ‘Best Man Down.’ Among other things, the filmmaker and actors discussed how actually filming the comedy-dram on location in Minnesota not only helped with their small budget, but also created a sense of community and acceptance, particularly with the local public embracing the shoot; how the characters are all multi-demensional, including how Kristin is high-functioning, despite her dependance on pills, and how Ramsey is mature for her age, but still seeks Lumpy’s comfort; and how it was important to start the story with Lumpy getting drunk at Scott and Kristin’s reception, to show everyone’s frustration with his behavior, before they discovered his surprising motives and secrets.
Question (Q): With the twist that happens in the begging of the film, how did you talk about the movie before it was released?
Ted Koland (TK): You’re right that it is hard describing the movie. For me, it’s the surprise of it all that resonates. At the beginning you think you’re in one movie, and you’re not. You assume Lumpy is just a nuisance comedy character, but then the night of the wedding he actually dies and sets this whole planes, trains and automobiles adventure into motion. It’s a totally different story that people didn’t see coming.
Justin Long (JL): When I began reading the script for ‘Best Man Down,’ I assumed it would go the way of all the formulaic romantic comedy scripts I was reading at the time. But then the whole morbid angle of the best man dying at the wedding is introduced and I was intrigued by how different it was.
Q: Did all the actors understand the tone of the film from the start?
JL: It was hard knowing the overall tone because we didn’t have scenes together. In fact the four of us never had a scene together.
Jess Weixler (JW): I found the tone along the way. But I remember doing a funny scene and then watching somebody else do their scene and being surprised it was supersad!
Addison Timlin (AT): We’d be there at the same time, but Jess might go off and do a scene and the next day I’d go off and do something different. We all had different things going on but I think that was beneficial at the end.
Tyler Lambert (TL): We eventually found the tone. We had our own little sideshows going on. There were lots of days when we’d just hang out and watch other people do their thing.
Q: Working that way, did you find consistency to your own characters that made it easier?
JL: Except for Shelley Long. (laughs) We all tried to keep it fairly grounded.
TL: I think the overall note we got from Ted is that we shouldn’t play it too goofy.
TK: I knew that if Justin and Jess’s characters are being too funny, then we were never going to find our way back to Ramsey’s story, which is more serious. I was trying to keep it grounded and real so it wouldn’t come across as schizophrenic.
TL: Except for the wedding scene when Lumpy is out of control.
TK: Well, Lumpy is super drunk but still grounded!
JL: But it always felt super real.
TL: It was an intentional misdirect to where you wanted viewers to go, “Let’s see how sh*tty this guy can get!” Then he dies, so the end of the sh*ttiness is abrupt. It’s like, where do we go now?
Q: Since some of you didn’t have many scenes together, how did you bond?
JL: Jess and I got to the set a couple of days early and we hung out and connected very quickly. Then the others arrived.
TL: The first thing we did was go to a zombie bar and drink some chartreuse.
JL: Minnesota has great bars and restaurants.
JW: We ate so much. I felt we were constantly eating.
TL: Jess and I had rooms nearby in the hotel and our doors were always open. It was like summer camp.
AT: Going to a Twins game was really fun.
TL: What Twins game? I wasn’t invited! But we did go see a Prince cover band.
Q: Ted, you come from Minneapolis. Is there a Minneapolis sensibility that pervades through the movie?
TK: It pervades through my life. This film is kind of my postcard to my hometown. Minneapolis–actually Minnesota–is so Scandinavian and I am too, so that comes across. There are just certain things about some of the characters that wouldn’t be as big of a deal if the film took place in New York.
Q: For example?
TK: For example, I don’t think Shelley Long’s character would care so much about someone dying at her daughter’s wedding if she were a New Yorker. She wouldn’t think it was a stain on the family and worry that people were talking about it. But she’s from the Midwest so she can’t get over that her daughter’s perfect wedding was ruined. Shelley is from the Midwest, so she slid into that role very nicely.
Q: There’s a gentleness found in the four lead characters that can be traced to your being from Minneapolis.
TK: Maybe. Jess, you played your character with a lot of sweetness and you don’t always play sweet characters.
JW: There’s a politeness in Minnesota. You say “Hi!” to strangers and there’s a social etiquette that isn’t everywhere else.
JL: There is a sweetness, you’re right. You see it every day. The people are unbelievably friendly and it can be a little bit disarming when you’ve lived in New York or LA for so long. You think there’s some kind of agenda. “Hello? What do you mean by that?”
TL: I’m from Canada and I think there’s a Canadian-Minnesotan kinship–bearded, hard-drinking, big hearts.
Q: Was filming in Minnesota beneficial overall?
TK: In Minnesota, you get huge tax incentives and it;s inexpensive to shoot there. There is no next door neighbor who would fire up his lawnmower and want you to pay him fifty bucks to shut it off! The attitude was so positive. The crew was by and large non-union and after doing a ton of commercial work there they were so excited to be working on a feature film. I just had to choose my cinematographer, editor, and other people carefully. There are so many fantastic, talented people working in the indie world so I never felt I was working on a dime budget.
TL: Neither did the actors.
AT: What really makes a good shoot is when everyone wants to be there and do a good job and is excited to tell the story. I’ve had experiences working on films since making ‘Best Man Down’ where I look back and say, “that budget on that was much lower, but it was so much nicer.”
Q: Do you feel that starting the film off at the reception, showing how drunk Lumpy feels the need to get to cope with social situations, helped establish his character before he died?
TL: I think that was all there in the beginning to set the stage for where these characters’ level of frustration had been. It also sets up the question of what this drunk guy is doing with this 15-year-old? So there were a lot of questionable things in the beginning of the movie that hopefully helped illustrate his character.
TK: It’s a mystery of who he is.
JW: One of my favorite things in the movie was suddenly realizing why he was like that. He wasn’t like that just because he was socially awkward.
TL: He’s a social hero! (Weixler laughs.)
Q: This movie has a parental motif, as Ramsey quickly trusts the other two adults Lumpy was close to. For example, when Scott and Kristin are driving, Ramsey is in the back, making awkward observations about them. Are they meant to be Ramsey’s surrogate parents, and is she the kid they would want to have in fifteen years?
TK: It’s definitely Ramsey’s new family, after she leaves her mom. I had to make the situation at her home bad enough so that Ramsey’s mom, Jaime, would be willing to give her own child away. So absolutely Scott and Kristin are her new family.
AT: When I read the script and first talked with Ted, I saw that Ramsey had really parented herself to that point. She’s very wise for how young she is and is now parenting and protecting her mother, too.
She feels that her future is not contingent on someone else being her parental figure. Although, maybe Lumpy in a legal sense takes on that role and helps her with college plans. I think to Ramsey, Justin and Jess’s characters are her first tangible example of normalcy. They have jobs and are nice people.They’re being parental plays a big part in her transition.
Q: What brings your four characters together is that they make good choices in who they like. They have good instincts. For instance, Justin, you make no real effort to make Scott sympathetic but we like him because he has made great choices in the two people he loves and who love him back, Kristin and Lumpy.
JL: It’s interesting that you say that. It was a challenge for my character to just exist. There’s not a lot you know about him other than who he marries and who his best friend is. Ted, would you be okay with someone saying that?
TK: Yes. I don’t know that I processed it that way but that’s how it ended up.
AT: I think what you say is true. You don’t have to know someone but can immediately have a very close relationship with them because you’ve lost someone in common who liked you both. Their death brings you together and you have someone to talk about, sharing memories. That’s what happens with Ramsey, who knew about Scott and Kristin from Lumpy.
Q: Justin, you and Jess seemed so comfortable together that it comes across that Scott and Jess have known each other for years.
JL: It helped that Jess was so easy working with. I was a fan of her work, but she went to Julliard and was a classically-trained actress so I incorrectly assumed that she’d be into the whole rehearsal process and wouldn’t be in the moment. I found that to be completely untrue. She is very loose. We had a natural trust so I didn’t feel I had to do too much.
Q: Jess, what was the appeal of doing this film for you?
JW: On this one it was the script and the cast that appealed to me. I was a fan of everyone’s work in this movie. It was fun to play a hopped-up Minnesota lady. It’s the only time I’ve played a part like this.
Q: Do you pick quirky parts or do you expect to make them quirky?
JW: I think it’s a little bit of both, unless I’m just a weirdo. I’m not that interested in playing just the girl next door or the girlfriend. It’s nice when the stakes are high and you don’t know how my character is going to deal with them–I try to play against the obvious choices. It’s fun to push against how people expect my characters to act in certain situations. My character in this movie has a drug problem so making her extra kooky worked.
Q: Why do you think Kristin uses pills to cope with her fear of flying and her other anxieties?
JW: She’s the high-anxiety, high-strung type who can really get attached to something that brings her calm. It made sense to me that for a Minnesota girl a wedding would be the most pressurized time of her life. It was a problem that probably started a year before she got married when she knew she had to do so much preparation.
TL: How did you choose your level of highness? You could have made her a highly-functioning drug addict or something else.
JW: I think she’s high-functioning. I based it on whether we see her before or after she takes a pill. The situations she’s in are all so high-strung, and not just the wedding. Being in Ramsey’s house, where her mother’s boyfriend pulls out a gun, would trigger her need to take a pill. Going to Lumpy’s funeral would trigger her need. It would be based on the stress level. But to be honest, I wasn’t always sure if I went too far.
Q: Tyler, you said in a previous interview that you liked the opportunity to play Lumpy because it allowed you to break away somewhat from your jackass image.
TL: My skill set wasn’t on ample display when I played jackass characters previously. You don’t usually get to redeem those kind of characters. My only function was to be a buffoon who makes everyone laugh. When I met with Ted, he told me that Lumpy has a heart. When I read the material, it was obvious that there was another side of the coin that people would see. I relished the idea of showing the other side of my character and being a little more tender and sensitive.
Q: Addison, why did you want to be in this movie?
AT (joking): I was in it for a Teen Choice Award.
TL: Which you didn’t win!
AT: I still have a chance-it hasn’t aired yet for the fall movies!
AT: Actually, I liked that every character in the movie is multidimensional. Also, having just finished ‘Californication,’ which was the totally opposite, I wanted to find a character who was sweeter–well maybe not sweeter but who had some innocence. I also liked that Ramsey has so much going on that she is a strong young female.
Q: Ted, your casting of Addison was inspired. I thought she was the same age as Ramsey, but it turns out she was a few years older. She was previously on ‘Californication,’ but is unrecognizable in the film.
AT: That’s good. A very impressive transition, right?
TK: She was nineteen playing fifteen going on sixteen, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch. We couldn’t have made the movie with an actress younger than eighteen because of the budget that we were on. We needed her to work twenty-three out of twenty-five days.
AT: I am twenty-one now.
Q: Would you have played Ramsey differently if you were fifteen when you made the movie?
TL: She probably would have sang everything if she had been fifteen!
JL: Addison came from musical theater. She starred in ‘Annie’ on Broadway.
AT: I grew up in New York and in the business. I was sort of on my own. That was especially true at work, where I was taking care of myself and looking out for myself in a way children need protecting.
I had a conversation, or maybe a mild disagreement, with Ted about the times in which Ramsey needs to feel younger. I felt that she is inherently going to feel older than she is. I think it comes out in the scenes with Lumpy, where there is a more youthful freedom to her because it’s the first time she feel safe, I guess.
There’s the milkshake montage, and also the scenes in the hotel room with Lumpy where she struggles to figure out who she is in that context. She knows he’s an adult and he’s pointing out how young she is. That’s when you see that she’s just fifteen and that outside of her family situation, when she is always wiser than her years, she is young.
TL: There were moments between Lumpy and Ramsey when she seemed to be in her twenties. It’s obvious in the scenes in Lumpy’s hotel room that Ramsey doesn’t know what to do or what her function is.
Q: There was a moment in the hotel room when Ramsey put her head on Lumpy’s shoulder, and it’s evident that she’s seeking comfort, and someone to take care of her. She trusts this adult right away.
JL: Yes, that’s very intimate.
Written by: Karen Benardello