Discovering the true significance of fearlessly standing up for what’s right, and fully appreciating the most important relationships in your life, especially when you’re afraid to admit how essential the other person truly is to you, is a powerful passage into maturity for adolescents. When teens realize it’s time for them to begin truly defending their beliefs, taking responsibility for their actions and only focusing on developing relationships that are beneficial to them, they honorably start to develop into the adult they aspire to become. That captivating revelation is intriguingly chronicled in the new coming-of-age drama, ‘King Jack,’ which marks the feature film writing and directorial debuts of Felix Thompson. The adventure drama, which had its world premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, features stunning performances from up-and-coming actors Charlie Plummer, Cory Nichols and Christian Madsen, who all naturally embody their characters’ humanizing realization of what it means to put others’ needs above your own.
‘King Jack,’ which unfolds over the course of a single summer weekend, follows the title character, 15-year-old Jack (Plummer), who’s growing up in a rural town and upsettingly contending with attending a session of summer school. Burdened with an oblivious mother, Karen (Erin Davie), an absent father and a seemingly uncaring older brother, Tom (Madsen), Jack has learned to do what it takes to get by on his own. After his aunt falls ill and his cousin, Ben (Nichols), comes to stay with them, Jack is initially hesitant of spending time with his newly arrived younger relative. But the cousins’ relationship begins to improve after they play a game of softball together.
Jack soon realizes that he has more in common with Ben than he first wanted to admit, especially as the two are too afraid to stand up for themselves against the violent bullies of the neighborhood, who are led by Shane (Danny Flaherty). So the cousins decide to stick together and hide, in order to avoid being targeted. The two seek solace in the house of one of Jack’s classmates, Harriet (Yainis Ynoa), who likes him, despite his interest in one of their other peers, Robyn (Scarlet Lizbeth).
But Jack is soon met with a seemingly frightening situation when Ben is captured by the older teens. The title character feels like he can’t fight back against his assailants, which sends him on a course to discover the importance of protecting friends and family, even in the most harrowing situations.
Plummer, Nichols and Madsen generously took the time to sit down for an exclusive interview at New York City’s STK Downtown & Rooftop Restaurant on the day ‘King Jack’ had its World Premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. Among other things, the actors discussed how Thompson helped them bond as co-stars and friends before they began filming on location in Upstate New York, through their rehearsal process and his trust in them to experiment with their characters to make them feel as authentic as possible; and how happy and grateful they were to have the drama premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, since they were bringing the movie back home to where they shot it, and how some of the cast and crew, including Plummer and Nichols, were able to bring their families and friends to the screenings, since they come from the New York area.
ShockYa (SY): You all star in the new coming-of-age drama, ‘King Jack.’ How did you all become involved in the film? What was it about Felix Thompson’s script overall that attracted you all to your roles?
Charlie Plummer (CP): Well, I had an audition a few months before we started production. When I read the script, I immediately absolutely loved it. I was in Utah at the time, so I flew back to New York. I had the chance to meet with Felix, and I thought we really connected right away, which was fantastic. I asked him how I could be a part of the project, after which I got the role.
Cory Nichols (CN): I read the script before I auditioned, and thought it was phenomenal. I also felt it would be such an amazing challenge for me to take the role (of Ben). Then it came down to meeting with Charlie, and we had two sessions together, to see if the chemistry would work. We clicked the first time we met.
Christian Madsen (CM): I was here in New York for another film I was making at the time the casting director was looking for the role of Tom. I met with her, and she told me a little bit about the project. I loved it right away, and really liked the character of Tom. I didn’t read for it, but we did meet.
I then flew back to L.A. and received a call from Felix, and he told me he was the director. We had a conversation over the phone, and realized we had a mutual feeling about how the family should be portrayed. We bonded over similarities over how we grew up. The next thing I know, I was a part of the project.
SY: Speaking of the chemistry tests, how did you all bond once you were cast in your roles, and began shooting the film?
CN: I would say we all connected because of Felix. Whenever someone new came onto the set, he would have us all meet together. Even though we were complete strangers when we first started the film, we ended up walking onto the set as friends. We all had amazing chemistry as we were all working together, and that all goes back to Felix’s amazing talent as a filmmaker. Before any production started, he had us all meet in the city, and we did fun exercises. By the time we left, we all knew and liked each other, which was great.
CP: I think the three of us bonded very quickly, because we were close in the film, and we were all in this area that none of us knew very well. We all also have a passion for sports, so we were able to connect over that. So that was really great, and it helped us connect very fast. We remained very good friends after filming ended.
SY: What was the process like for all of you working with Felix, who made his feature film writing and directorial debuts with the drama?
CP: It was really wonderful for me, because unlike a lot of directors who I’ve worked with, Felix really wanted to collaborate with me. Every day he’d come to set and ask, “What do you think of this scene?” He’d then put in his input, and the process helped create a really beautiful character. That was a really wonderful experience. I think he’s a really talented young director, and I’m excited to see what’s going to happen next in his career. He did some phenomenal work on this film, especially with us.
CN: Yes, I’m also so excited to see what else he does. I can’t compliment him enough, particularly since he follows a new wave of directing. I don’t think I’ve felt this way collaborating with any other director I’ve worked with in the past.
Like Charlie said, Felix cares about what we think about the scenes, which makes the scenes feel so natural. He puts his input and knows what he wants, since he’s the director. But he also works with us, so we’re not trying to copy what someone else told us to do; that way, we can naturally feel what we’re portraying. He made me feel like I was Ben, and allowed me to make him my own character, which is really amazing. The chemistry he created amongst everyone was amazing.
CP: There was a real trust on set among everyone. That was a wonderful thing to have while we were working.
CN: That was his thing-he cared about everyone being together and friendly with each other. That shows when you watch the film-you see all the talented actors in the cast meshed together perfectly.
CM: He did create a very safe environment, and allowed us to fail, if we needed to. I don’t think I would have enjoyed working with him as much as I did if he didn’t scare me into feeling things naturally.
You have to create hurdles for your character, because everything can’t be easy for them. Every day, I would have my idea of how the scene would work the best. But after I would talk to Felix, I would see it in a different way. I think that challenge helped us all be honest with our work. He has a very good ability of bringing out a realer aspect of yourself.
SY: Since Felix wrote the script for the film, did he allow you all to improv at all while you were on the set, or did you all mainly stick to his screenplay?
CP: For me, what I loved about working with Felix was that if I felt that maybe a line could be changed, he would say, “Absolutely, let’s experiment with it.” That’s what I really loved-we were able to try things, so that we could move forward with the characters, and not get stuck in one place. There was some improv-obviously, entire scenes weren’t improvised-but there was a lot more improv than I was expecting, which was really wonderful.
CM: With every setup, there was at least one or two takes where Felix would say, “Let’s do the scene like how you feel it should be.” So there was a lot of freedom in the work itself.
CP: I remember when we had our first rehearsal in the city with a bunch of the cast members, Christian wasn’t there. But one of the first things Felix said to everyone who was there was: “I wrote these characters, but they’re completely yours now. I’m giving them to you, so you can experiment with them.”
That’s really great for, and what you want to hear as, an actor. You want people to trust you like that, especially as a young actor, because a lot of directors don’t trust young actors. So that was really amazing for someone to say that to me. I think that really helped me in my performance.
SY: Speaking of the rehearsal process, how did that process help all of you bond with each other before you began filming, and build your characters’ relationships, and the overall story, together?
CP: We were all close-knit on the set as we were making the film. We all also stayed in the same hotel, so after shooting we would go hang out and play ping pong. So it was great to have that experience, and I think it helped us all bond.
CN: It was so amazing, for the three of us specifically, to go back to this deserted hotel after every shoot. There was one run-down ping pong table, which was really the only thing that worked. I actually ended up going to the mall one day just to get a new net and paddles. Then every night, we would spend at least one or two hours playing ping pong. We would also talk about sports and our home lives, and we really bonded.
CM: That’s the benefit of shooting an independent film in small quarters-you end up really liking each other. When I first arrived on the set, and we began shooting the first scenes, our trailer was a room that we all had to sit in.
CP: Yes, it definitely wasn’t a big budget film, so we were all together.
CM: So we had to talk about something, so we started talking about sports. Thankfully we did have that ping pong table…
CP:…because there really wasn’t anything else to do. (All three actors laugh).
CN: We also had the same meal every single night.
CP: Yes, there was this little restaurant near the hotel where we would go for dinner. That made it feel like it was really like summer camp.
CM: What was that diner called again? We can give a shout-out to them.
CN: It was the Olympic Diner in Kingston.
CP: Oh yes, it was the Olympic Diner. They were right across the street. We went there all the time. (All three actors laugh).
SY: Also speaking of bonding here in New York while you were making the film, do you all enjoy shooting on location? How does that process influence the way you approach portraying your characters and the story?
CM: Well, I was the only one who traveled here from L.A. I’ve always put New York as a very prestige place, especially for an actor. Theater’s taken very seriously here, and if you’re an actor out here, it’s an actual job. Ever since I was about 17 or 18, I always assumed that New York was like that.
So when I finally arrived here, it was everything I had hoped for as an actor. I like the energy of the city, as well as the people. So for me to experience this, and to be doing something that I love with acting, it’s the best of both worlds. I’m very fortunate to have shot a film in New York, but we didn’t shoot in the city.
CP: Yes, we shot about an hour north of the city.
CM: It feels like another world up there-it feels more like the Midwest than the city, but I still feel fortunate to have made a film here. But to then come to the city for the festival is also a dream come true for all of us.
CN: Yes, absolutely-it’s been great.
SY: Also speaking of bringing the drama to the Tribeca Film Festival, what has the experience been to have it premiere here, especially since you shot it in Upstate New York, and Charlie and Cory, you’re also both from New York?
CN: It really means a lot to me specifically. Last year, I had a film play at SXSW, which was a completely amazing experience. But it’s not the same as having a film play at home, especially when you shot it here. I can also bring my family and friends to see it, which is amazing.
CM: Felix has said it the best-we went through a process after we finished the film where it may have gone to other festivals. But when he called me to tell me that it had gotten into Tribeca, the first thing he said to me was that it’s like “We’re bringing the film home.” So that’s a nice feeling, especially for him. It’s also great for them to be able to bring their families.
CP: I (had) a lot of family that (came out the day after the interview), including grandparents and cousins, and that means a lot. If we were playing at another festival, like Sundance or SXSW, than none of those people could go see it. So they really (had) a chance to experience, and watch, it with me, which is wonderful. I’m so grateful to have the good fortune to be able to do that.
CN: It’s the same for me-I have family and friends who (attended) the various screenings. It’s such a nice thing to be able to show what you take pride in to the people.
SY: With theater being prevalent here in New York, like you mentioned earlier Christian, is that type of performing you’re all interested in pursuing, in addition to films?
CM: When my friend Scott was doing a play out here, I wanted to do a play about the poet Arthur Rimbaud when he was in prison. I wanted to set that up out here, because I thought it would be a good fit. I’ve always respected theater, especially in New York.
CP: I actually started off in theater, and did national tours of musicals. After performing in those shows, I got into film and television, and I feel in love with that type of acting. But I would absolutely love to go back to theater. It’s a totally different type of acting, but it’s also very wonderful.
CN: I respect theater, but there’s something that I really love about acting in front of a camera. I don’t feel the same click in a theater scenario, but I’m not sure why. But I do have a respect for actors who do perform in theater.
SY: Also speaking of television, are you all also interested in appearing on series? How does acting on TV shows compare and contrast to performing in films, particularly indies like ‘King Jack?’
CM: Yes, absolutely. I think we’re all interested in pursuing work. I’m sure for all of us, if the opportunity came up to work on television, we’d take it.
CP: I actually have a TV show (‘Granite Flats’) that’s (currently playing) on Netflix, and I’ve been working on it for awhile. I have some previous experience on television (most notably on ‘Boardwalk Empire’), and I love working on TV.
CN: I love working on television, too. But too honest, there’s nothing like independent films, especially the family sense of all of it. You have such a camaraderie on the set, which is amazing. I also love working on bigger scale movies, but it doesn’t feel the same when you’re bonding as it does on an independent film.
SY: With many independent films now being released on VOD, do you all enjoy watching movies, as well as television shows, On Demand?
CP: I watch everything on Netflix-that’s all I watch. (laughs) I like TV shows that are on multiple networks, but when they start streaming on Netflix, I watch them all there. I also watch a lot of independent movies On Demand, like on Netflix and Hulu, that I wouldn’t see in theaters.
CN: There’s nothing like binge-watching on Netflix. It’s created a whole new world of watching films and shows, and it’s amazing.
CM: I think the whole process of watching things on-the-go is great, but it has also changed things. But back in my day when I was younger, you’d wait to watch shows like ‘The Sopranos’ every Sunday, and it was an event every week.
Now everyone wants to watch the entire season of a show right now. That’s why companies like Amazon are coming out with their own TV network. These companies, like Netflix, are doing so well because everyone wants to watch things right away. It’s easier for people to stay interested in things when it’s all right there in front of them.
SY: Do all of you enjoy performing stunts on your projects when your roles call for some form of physicality overall?
CP: Oh yes, that’s a blast for me-I love doing stunts. I was able to do some stunts on this movie, which was a lot of fun.
CN: This was my first experience doing stunts, and they couldn’t have made it feel any better. It was challenging, as you’re being thrown on the ground and bullied. It’s a tough place to be in, but the entire cast and crew were amazing about the process. At the end of each take, I’d be able to start hysterically laughing with whoever was there, because we all made it such a great time. It didn’t’ feel like, “Oh, I’m being bullied.” Once we were done with the scenes, we’d have fun-everyone made it emotionally easy to film those scenes.
SY: Since the film focuses on the importance of family, especially during difficult times, and you all bonded while you were filming, are you interested in working together again?
CP: Oh, absolutely…
CM: We hope that this could become a trilogy. It’s like being in a really good summer camp, and the next summer, you can be with your friends again. It’s cool that we were all able to come here to the festival, because we’re able to hang out again, especially since the camera’s not in our face as we shoot a movie. Felix is also a great director, so we all hope to be able to work with him again.
SY: With ‘King Jack’ being a family-driven film that focuses on the effects of bullying, what do you all hope audiences can take away from the story?
CP: I hope each audience member will have a unique reaction to the film. It’s a very beautiful film, but it’s hard for people to watch. But I think it’s a really hopeful film, and I hope people will only take good things away from it.
CN: The thing about Felix’s amazing writing is that as soon as it gets really dark, he throws in something small to lighten up the feeling again. That way the audience will never think, that was such a depressing movie. Instead, the little tidbits of laughter help make it a well-rounded film.
Written by: Karen Benardello