(L-R): Jim Gaffigan, Viola Davis and Mckenna Grace star in directors Bert & Bertie’s family comedy-drama, ‘Troop Zero.’ Photo courtesy: Amazon Prime Video

A child’s seemingly innocent and pure quest for connection can ultimately lead them on a life-changing journey that encourages them to reach for the stars. Their coming-of-age adventure can even alter the mindset of their parents, who may also begin to reconsider how even the simplest connections can help guide the lives of the people around them. That life-altering passage is emotionally presented in the new comedy-drama, ‘Troop Zero,’ which focuses on the progress of a motherless teenage girl, who appreciates her life with her father, but also dreams of life beyond the confines of their trailer-park home.

‘Troop Zero,’ which had its world premiere at last year’s Sundance Film Festival is now available on Prime Video. The Amazon Original family movie was written by Lucy Alibar, and directed by filmmaking duo, Katie Ellwood and Amber Templemore-Finlayson, who collaborate under their pseudonym, Bert & Bertie.

Set in a tiny Georgia town in 1977, ‘Troop Zero’ follows Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace) as she sits under a starry sky with a flashlight, signaling to extraterrestrial visitors that never arrive. Sensitive, imaginative and deeply lonely, Christmas and her equally eccentric best friend, Joseph (Charlie Shotwell) are the ultimate misfits in their rural hometown of Wiggly, Georgia. When Christmas learns that the winners of the annual Birdie Scout Jamboree talent contest will be included on a recording to be sent into space for posterity, her mission in life becomes to join the Scouts and win Jamboree.

When she is blackballed by the snobbish local Birdie Scout troop and their uptight leader, Miss Massey (Allison Janney), Christmas rallies a group of elementary-school outliers to start their own chapter. With grudging help from her dad, Ramsey’s (Gaffigan) irascible office manager, Miss Rayleen (Viola Davis), Christmas and her crew have to bypass every roadblock Miss Massey can find in the fine print of the Birdie bylaws in order to reach the Jamboree and their chance at immortality.

Gaffigan generously took the time to talk about starring in ‘Troop Zero’ recently during an exclusive interview over the phone. Among other things, the actor discussed how he instantly loved the character of Ramsey when he first read the screenplay, because he’s a well-intended, but flawed father who’s continuously evolving throughout the story. The performer also expressed his appreciation for the open creativity that Bert & Bertie supported amongst the cast on the set.

The conversation began with Gaffigan explaining what it was about the character of Ramsey, as well as the overall script, that convinced him to take on the role. “I was so excited to read this script, because I knew that Viola Davis was already attached,” he admitted. “I kind of read it with an expectation that the role was either going to go to Will Ferrell or Zach Galifianakis. But I figured I’d still read it,” the actor admitted with a hint of humor in his voice.

When he did read the script for ‘Troop Zero,’ “I immediately loved Ramsey, because he’s well-intended, but flawed. He learns things and evolves, which I think is a type of character that I think any actor would want to engage in,” Gaffigan divulged.

Further speaking of how he presented Ramsey’s flawed nature in the film, the performer disclosed that “You always have a plan of what the character is going to be like, and then what the character actually ends up being like on set is completely different. You end up spontaneously responding to how other people treat your character, particularly the main actors,” he explained.

“There was also the added element that we shot the movie in June in Louisiana, so it was incredibly muggy, especially since we were shooting outside,” Gaffigan also added. “I think that was one of those things where we were just trying to keep going.

“There were a lot of other variables that were also going on-we were also filming with children, so we could only shoot within a certain time frame. But overall, it was great. Acting is so fun, but preparation is so important,” the actor also emphasized.

Besides appreciating the fact that Davis was already attached to portray Miss Rayleen when he first received the screenplay for ‘Troop Zero,’ Gaffigan also valued the experience of collaborating with the entire cast on the set in Louisiana. He pointed out that he had previously worked with “Allison Janney before, on (the 2009 comedy-drama,) ‘Away We Go,’ so we had an immediate connection. We had a completely different relationship in that film,” but having that bond already in place helped them on the set of ‘Troop Zero.’ “Viola was also great to work with on this movie-she’s one of the all-time greats.”

In terms of acting with Grace, he admitted that when it comes to performing in movies with children and young teenagers, “you never know what the relationship is going to be like, until you get onto the set. We had a rehearsal the day before we began filming, which helped,” the actor divulged. “But you don’t know what kids’ stamina is going to be like.

“We had a bunch of kids on (his TV Land sitcom,) ‘The Jim Gaffigan Show.’ There’s a restriction on the hours they can work, but I also realized on that show that they also had a stamina,” the performer also noted.

“I was really impressed by Mckenna, and how she could hang in there in that heat. If you’re an 11- or 12-year-old, like she was when we were on set, your attention span is going to disappear, but she was a total pro,” Gaffigan shared.

While the actor and his co-stars quickly formed an easy-going, genuine connection during ‘Troop Zero’s production, there wasn’t a tremendous amount of improvisation amongst the cast while they were filming. But “There was this ongoing discussion. We were continuously evolving these characters and their motivations,” he explained.

“These characters might be inspired by people, but we were also inventing them on the go. That’s some of the real fun of filmmaking. We would bring something up to the directors, and say things like, ‘We don’t want to go there, because it would get in the way of this or that.’ But we also wanted to make our characters more complex,” the performer noted.

Further speaking of collaborating with Bert & Bertie as the comedy-drama’s dual directors, Gaffigan embraced the experience. Working with them on the set “was great. There’s the creative side, which they excelled in, and was really important. Then they also had to work with a half-a-dozen kids, as well as a half-a-dozen adults, which wasn’t an easy task. But they did great with that, and lifted the overall morale, especially in the oppressive humidity. They were such troopers,” he divulged.

“There’s a collaborative spirit to them that I think is really important for the creative process; they knew what they wanted. So working with them was great,” the actor added.

With ‘Troop Zero’ now being available on Amazon Prime Video, the performer feels the digital distribution is beneficial for an independent film like this one. He called the digital release model “interesting. I released a comedy special on Prime Video (‘Quality Time,’ which is Amazon’s first stand-up comedy special) last August. I know from first-hand experience that if content is there, people will see it,” Gaffigan disclosed.

“But I was a little surprised that they weren’t going to do a traditional theatrical release,” the performer also admitted. “But I also know that going directly to Prime Video, the movie will be seen, and the wave of people seeing it will be bigger and quicker than if we did a traditional theatrical release,” he disclosed.

“It will be interesting to see what that wave is like, because we do live in this age where there are so many options and things to consume. I haven’t been to a movie theater to see a non-kid movie in a long time, because I only bring my children,” Gaffigan admitted. “So I think that as a parent, seeing a movie like this at home with your kids is a great option.”

Photo ofJim Gaffigan
Jim Gaffigan
Job Title
Actor in the family comedy-drama, 'Troop Zero'

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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