Young adults often feel as though they know which direction they want to take in their personal relationships. But those plans can quickly change after just one dramatic experience, making them question if anything in their life really has any substantial substance and meaning. That’s certainly the case with the title character and the mysterious new young women he meets in the action romance comedy, ‘Charlie Countryman,’ which opens today in select theaters and on VOD. While mourning the loss of one important relationship, Charlie learns to becomes courageous in pursuing his romantic love of the enigmatic Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood), despite the emotional and physical changes he’s going through.
‘Charlie Countryman,’ marks the feature film directorial debut of Fredrik Bond, follows the struggling title character (Shia LaBeouf), who’s contending with witnessing the recent death of his mother, Katie (Melissa Leo) with his father, Bill (Vincent D’Onofrio). Shortly after her passing in the hospital, he sees her in a vision and asks her for guidance, and she tells him to go visit Bucharest to encounter new experiences. Without any other tangible life plan, Charlie leaves Chicago to travel to Romania. During his flight, Charlie begins talking to the passenger sitting next to him, Victor (Ion Caramitru), a Romanian taxi driver on his way home to visit his daughter.
While Charlie’s forms a casual new friendship with Victor, their acquaintance is cut short when Victor also passes away, in his sleep. Charlie then experiences another vision, in which Victor urges him to deliver a gift that he had on the plane to his daughter, Gabi. Charlie agrees, and subsequently finds Gabi at the airport. He offers her consolation while dealing with her grief.
Charlie later tracks Gabi down at the orchestra where she plays the cello, and meets her ominous ex-husband, Nigel (Mads Mikkelsen). The gangster has unfinished business with Victor over a missing video, and plans to settle that debt with Gabi. Charlie then decides to follow Gabi around Bucharest, but she refuses to divulge anything about her relationship with Nigel.
Later that night, when Charlie arrives at his hostel, he meets fellow travelers Luc (James Buckley) and Karl (Rupert Grint), and the three run into trouble at a local nightclub. There they meet Darko (Til Schweiger), another gangster and associate of Nigel’s, who is also looking for the video. Darko promises to settle Charlie and his friends’ debt if he can retrieve the video. The search leaves the American in a standoff between Gabi and the two gangsters who are looking to not only retrieve the video, but also settle the score between them.
Wood generously took the time recently to sit down at the Soho Grand Hotel in New York City during a roundtable interview to talk about filming ‘Charlie Countryman.’ Among other things, the actress discussed how she admired LaBeouf for being dedicated to his role, and so readily willing to go as far as was needed to go to give a great performance; how she spent a lot of time talking about the story with LaBeouf and Bond, and immersed herself in the culture of Bucharest, to give her insight into Gabi’s motivations; and how she was continuously conscious of keeping the audience guessing of what Gabi’s motivations were throughout the story.
Question (Q): You just had your son with your husband, Jamie Bell, over the summer. Was it challenging to make the transition into staying home with him after making this type of movie?
Evan Rachel Wood (ERW): Yeah, I had made three films right before I got pregnant. But it worked out perfectly, and it was the right time.
Q: What was it like co-starring with the bad boy, Shia LaBeouf?
ERW: Everyone asks what it was like working with Shia, but I had a great experience with him. He was insanely dedicated. He took what he did so seriously, and he was willing to go as far as was needed to go to give a great performance. So I admired him for that.
Q: Shia reportedly did acid before his big club scene. Did you go as far as he did on the set?
ERW: Well, my role didn’t call for that, luckily. (laughs) I wasn’t there that day, so I didn’t even know it was happening until afterward. If he did do that, it’s because he’s a perfectionist; he wasn’t doing it just to have a good time. I think he was nervous, and wanted the scene to be as real as possible. That’s Shia-he’s dedicated! (laughs)
Q: How did you nail that Romanian accent?
ERW: I worked on it with a dialect coach for about three months. But before I was even cast in the film, I had to prove I somewhat knew the accent. So I worked on it for awhile.
Q: Had you spent much time in Romania before you were cast in this role, in order to perfect the accent?
ERW: No, I had never been there before. I just have a great dialect coach.
Q: Did you spend time in Bucharest together before you began filming?
ERW: No, we just went right into filming. But I was happy to have it around. When you have a dialogue coach, they stay with you throughout the whole movie, and they monitor what you’re doing. But we didn’t have the money for that. (laughs) So thankfully we were in Romania, and it was in my ear constantly.
Q: It must be a totally different culture.
ERW: Yeah, it is. But they were really great to us, and our Romanian crew was amazing. Their work ethic is insane. It is a place that has been through a lot, and their history is violent. I think it’s one of the lines in the movie, actually. It’s made them stronger, and given them a lot of character. The people are really amazing there.
Q: Was this your first time in Eastern Europe?
ERW: Yes, it was. I was able to go to Amsterdam after filming as a celebration. (laughs) I was surprised that it was a mellow, beautiful place; I really loved it there. I would go to the Van Gogh Museum and cry. I had a great time overall.
Q: How did you research the subplot of Gabi’s backstory, including working in the strip club?
ERW: (laughs) I did lots of stripping! (laughs) No, I had a great girl teach me cello once I got to Romania. It was much harder than I thought it was going to be. Unfortunately, some things got lost in translation when I was having my lessons.
I showed up to film the big scene after she found out her father died, and she was crying as she was playing the orchestra. I arrived on the set and started playing, and the rest of the band was playing another song. (laughs) I had learned the completely wrong routine, and it was the completely last day. So we had no time to redo it.
So Fredrik looked at me apologetically and said, “Can you just look out of the corner of your eye at the person next to you, and mimic what they’re doing?” I was like, “Are you serious?!? (laughs) It’s one of the most important scenes!” Somehow it worked, but I don’t know how we managed to do that. But we pulled it off.
Q: You play such a strong character. Did you have any conversations or rehearsals before you began filming?
ERW: Yeah, we talked a lot. But I think the best things, and I think Shia and Fredrik would agree, was just spending time in Bucharest, and just immersing yourself in the city. It was important to get to know the women there, which gave me a lot of insight. So I had everything to draw from around me all the time.
Q: Speaking of Fredrik, what was your experience working with him? How did he challenge you during this role?
ERW: Fredrik is amazing, because he sees much more than what’s on the page. That’s why we all really wanted to work with him. He’s always pushing boundaries and trying new things. He wanted to make the movie a little wild.
But this was his first time working with actors. But he had a strong opinion on how things should go and be done. So I think it was fun for all of us to be in slightly new territory. I think we were all being tested and pushed in a good way.
Q: It seemed as though Gabi was initially using Charlie when they first met. Do you feel that she was manipulating him, at least early on?
ERW: I don’t think she was manipulating him; I think he caught her in a vulnerable moment before she lets him in, because she would have been too guarded. But we were conscious of keeping the audience guessing of what her motivations were. You never really know what side she was supposed to be on.
Q: Her husband has such a different personality from Charlie. What do you think she found interesting in Charlie?
ERW: I think for me, it’s the first time someone came along and showed her tenderness, after she’s been used and abused a bit. I think this guy sees a bit of himself in her, and he doesn’t want anything bad to happen to her; he just wants to take care of her. That’s news to her.
Q: Can you talk about working with Mads Mikkelsen?
ERW: I adore him. I think he was so perfect for this role, because it called for someone who was intimidating. When he walked into the room, you knew he was a force to be reckoned with.
But there was something that had to be kind of charming and likable about him. You have to know why Gabi was in love with him. There’s something about him that’s very alluring. I think he was perfect for that. Literally every woman on the set was madly in love with him. (laughs)
Q: You have a different look in this movie, with the short red hair and eyeliner. Did you like it?
ERW: The first description I read of the character said she has the aim of Annie Oakley and this hair, I was like, “I’m in! This hair sounds amazing! I want to do it!” (laughs) So I was very excited.
A lot of the girls in Romania have that color. I didn’t know why they asked me to dye it that red color at first, and then when I got there, I was like, “Oh, okay. That’s the thing here.” I really loved having that hair. I took full advantage of it.
Q: You play such diverse characters. Is it difficult to move away from your characters’ mindsets after you’re finished filming a project?
ERW: Sometimes it is, yes, especially when it’s a dark role. When I did ‘Mildred Pierce,’ it took me a couple months for me to decompress from it, because it was so dark.
But I always put on ‘Family Guy,’ and it takes me back from reality. Anything can be going on in my life, and I put that show on, and all is right in the world! (laughs)
Q: There was so much violence in the film. Did anyone get hurt while you were filming?
ERW: Well, again, Shia’s very method, and sometimes I think he really wanted to be kicked or hit. I think he cracked his head open on the camera once as we were filming one of the scenes. We were all looking at him, and I said, “Shia, you have to get stitches.” He was like, “No, I’m fine! Let’s keep going!” Shia’s so tough, but I don’t think he wanted stitches. (laughs)
Q: Can you talk about upcoming projects?
ERW: Well, for next year, I’m really excited that I just signed on to do a movie with Ellen Page, called ‘Into the Forest.’ It’s based on a really wonderful book that Ellen found, and she’s producing the project. We just started collaborating on that, and gearing up for it.
Written by: Karen Benardello