Struggling with the continuous dilemma of listening to your conscience and choosing to live a morally correct life, instead of always following your initial impulses, can be a battle for some people, as they set out to find the person they truly want to become. That internal conflict is even more harrowing for those diagnosed with mental illnesses, as often times a mixture of events, both real and imagined, drives them to take drastic measures, as they try to determine the best way to live their lives. That emotional exploration is powerfully presented in the new independent thriller, ‘Enter the Dangerous Mind,’ which is now playing in theater and on iTunes. The movie, which was co-directed by Youssef Delara and Victor Teran, who also wrote the script, stars Jake Hoffman as the story’s protagonists, whose internal confusion over how to better his life is the thing that ultimately leads to his destruction.
‘Enter the Dangerous Mind’ follows the socially awkward and shy Jim (Hoffman), who works as a freelance computer technician, but obtains his true happiness as an electronic dance music (EDM) composer. While he has built a large following online, he’s afraid to showcase his abilities in front of a live audience. As a result of his continued hesitance to truly interact with the world, his friend, Jake (Thomas Dekker), constantly tries to push Jim out of his comfort zone and interact with the women he meets. When Jim is introduced to Wendy (Nikki Reed), who works with his childhood social worker, Kevin (Scott Bakula), as he’s called in to fix her computer, the two bond over their shared love of EDM. With Jake’s encouragement, Jim asks Wendy out, and the two bond during their date.
But when his date with Wendy doesn’t turn out the way he planned, Jim begins contending with his increasing violent symptoms that are associated with his schizophrenia. As the truth about his relationship with Jake is then slowly revealed, Jim begins struggling with the voices in his head that are giving him conflicting advice. While Wendy and Kevin are determined to find a way to help Jim, his continuously increasing emotional distress pushes him further away from reality. His descent makes it more difficult for him to find a way to cope with his surroundings, leading Kevin to raise the question of whether everyone is capable of achieving a fulfilling recovery.
Hoffman generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘Enter the Dangerous Mind’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actor discussed how he was able to better understand Jim’s struggles and motivations not only through the presentation of the story and Delara and Teran’s visions, but also his research into schizophrenia; and how it’s important to realize that everyone, not just people living with mental illness, are trying to overcome their personal demons and conscience.
ShockYa (SY): ‘Enter the Dangerous Mind’ follows your character, Jim, an EDM musician who’s contending with a traumatic past and schizophrenia. What was it about the character of Jim, as well as the script overall, that convinced you to take on the role?
Jake Hoffman (JH): Well, there were two reasons why I was interested in the character. First, it was a really intimidating role to take on. That was a key aspect, as it’s important to do what scares you sometimes, and not what’s always easy. So I was drawn to the challenging nature of the character. I also thought it was very interesting that the monster of the movie, if you will, is also the victim. Everyone’s a victim of themselves, to a certain degree.
SY: In the beginning of the story, Jim appears to want to fit into his community, despite the fact that he doesn’t always fit into typical societal norms. But as the story continues, his illness takes complete control over his life, which alienates him from his peers. How did you showcase your character’s descent throughout the film?
JH: He definitely went into a downward spiral throughout the film, to say the least. I think it’s important to clarify schizophrenia isn’t synonymous with violent behavior; in fact, it’s extremely rare. That aspect was just connected to the character in this movie. It was more about a perfect storm of his violent behavior, and having to deal with an abusive older brother, than him having schizophrenia. His illness was a constant struggle for him, but not the main driving force behind his behavior.
SY: How did you prepare for your role in the film, particularly since Jim is desperate to fit into society, but is continuously struggling with his traumatic past and illness? What kind of research did you all do into schizophrenia, which Jake is contending living with since adolescence?
JH: It’s always a combination of things, including the story and the director’s vision, that helps you form your character. As an actor, you also draw from yourself and what you know. I also did some research and was able to talk to people who struggle with schizophrenia, which was a real eye-opening experience. They’re really sweet, and their behavior isn’t their fault.
SY: The voice Jim heard in his head offered continued torture to him, as it tapped into his deepest emotional pain and drove him to commit violent acts. Was exploring and emphasizing that aspect of your character beneficial in showcasing his motivations?
JH: I think we all struggle; it isn’t just people who are living with schizophrenia or mental illness. We all try to overcome our personal demons and the voices, notably our conscience, inside. We all think about, and debate, things internally. The main, defining difference is that people who aren’t suffering from mental illness can tell the voices aren’t real.
As far as the performance aspect of that part of my character, I had to show that as a schizophrenic, that voice was really there. As we were filming, the voice was almost always there on the set. As I was performing my scenes (during which I was alone on screen, and Jim was hearing the voice in his head, Thomas) Dekker was sitting there off-camera, saying his lines. So I didn’t have to pretend like I was hearing him, as I really was listening to him. So that process led to a realism that really came across in the film.
SY: Speaking of acting with Thomas, how did build your working and characters’ relationships with him and your other co-stars, particularly Nikki Reed, who you also spend the majority of your scenes with in the film?
JH: The experience was fantastic. They’re both such good actors, I was ecstatic to get to work with both of them. I’ll be even more ecstatic the next time we work together, because I had such a great time with them on this film. They both did a great job with their characters. They’re a lot of fun to work with, even though not all of the scenes were fun to shoot. There were quite a few scenes that were challenging and heavy to film.
SY: While battling his illness, Jim continues to excel in the underground world of dubstep music. Even though he felt comfortable releasing his music online, and received a lot of praise from his fans, he was still nervous and hesitant to DJ, as he was socially awkward. Why do you think it was important that he excel in an area that connected him with others, particularly with Wendy?
JH: I liked the way you put it, and how you described that aspect of him. (laughs) One of the things I learned about schizophrenia when I was researching it is that it’s quite common for people with the illness to have headphones around their necks, or on their ears, as it’s a way for them to tune out the voices in their heads. The movie’s script took that aspect one step further, and have Jim make music, as well.
SY: What was the process of working with ‘Enter the Dangerous Mind’s directors, Youssef Delara and Victor Teran, the latter of whom also penned the script? Do you all prefer working with helmers who also penned the screenplay?
JH: It’s funny, you just reminded me that we had two directors on the film. We shot it almost two years ago, and it’s exciting that it’s coming out now. It premiered at South by Southwest (SXSW) last year. You just reminded me that I used to tease the filmakers while we were filming that one of them was in the other’s imagination. (laughs) But in all seriousness, they were both very in sync with their visions.
SY: Speaking of the fact the thriller had its world premiere at SXSW, what was the experience of bringing the movie there, as well as the overall festival circuit?
JH: I went to a bunch of the test screenings, which is always an education, as you’re still shaping the movie, and figuring out what’s working. That process is always interesting to me, as you’re trying to figure out how to make the film better. I was really upset that I missed the screening at SXSW, because I was filming something else in L.A. at the same time. But I was really excited and flattered that the film was part of such a great festival.
SY: How did shooting the movie independently influence the way you approached making the thriller? Did if offer you more creative freedom as you were developing your characters and the story, or did it create any challenges on the set?
JH: I don’t know if that process helped us or hurt us. I’ve done low-budget indie movies before, and I like their spirit. Everyone’s there for their love of the game. But I was used to the process, so I didn’t feel like it was particularly helpful or holding us back; it just was what it was.
SY: ‘Enter the Dangerous Mind’ is now playing in theaters and on iTunes. Are you all fans of watching films on VOD, and why do you think the platform is beneficial for independent films like this one?
JH: That’s a good question, particularly whether the platform’s beneficial for independent films. I don’t know if I’m ready to be a spokesman on that. (laughs) I like going to the theater, as there’s something romantic and old-fashioned about it. But it’s also fun to have that convenience of being able to watch films at home on VOD.
SY: Besides appearing in movies, you have also appeared in such television series as ‘Luck’ and ‘Arrested Development.’ Does performing on a TV show compare and contrast to performing in a film, particularly independent ones like ‘Enter the Dangerous Mind?’
JH: As an actor, you try to find characters who inspire you, and then go after the part. (laughs) Sometimes those parts can be in film, and sometimes they’re on television. It seems like now, the line between the two mediums is always getting blurred, as you can watch both films and televisions shows on iTunes. (laughs)
SY: Having acted in both movies and television shows, are you interested in directing in the future? Besides ‘Enter the Dangerous Mind,’ do you all have any upcoming projects lined up, whether in acting or directing, that you can discuss?
JH: Yes, and I actually just directed my first feature film, which I also wrote, and it’s called ‘Asthma.’ As an actor, I just starred in a comedy film called ‘Goldbricks in Bloom,’ with an English filmmaker I really like, named Danny Sangra. It has a very cool cast, and I’m excited about its release.
Written by: Karen Benardello