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For Peter Facinelli, the responsibility for his directorial film debut, Breaking & Exiting, falls squarely on him in a way that differs from his acting projects, he says.
“When you’re an actor and you go to a screening, you sit there and you think, ‘Wow, I hope people like my performance,’ and that’s what you own. And with this movie, I take responsibility for all the performances, the clothes that they’re wearing. I take responsibility for the music that you’re hearing, and the pacing of the movie — everything falls on me,” he explains.
The actor, producer and writer perhaps best known as Dr. Fitch Cooper on Nurse Jackie and Carlisle Cullen in the Twilight films, adds that with acting, emotions are raw, but with directing it’s an entirely different feeling. “As a director, it’s more nerve-racking because it all falls on my lap,” he says.
The film stars Jordan Hinson (who also penned the screenplay) and Milo Gibson (yes, his father is Mel), who play a woman about to commit suicide and the thief who inadvertently interrupts her attempt, respectively. The two forge a bond through the unexpected, shared experience, something Facinelli says he was drawn to.
“I was intrigued by a love story that dealt with the topic of suicide prevention,” he says, adding, “It was a movie that had a powerful message of hope.”
Facinelli sat down with THR to discuss the project, the most unexpected parts about directing, whether he’d ever quit acting for behind-the-camera work and what he hopes audiences take away from the film.
How did you first come on board the project and why was this the right story to tell for your debut?
I knew Jordan Hinson through Lily Anne Harrison, who was set to do a part in it. So I had read the script. Their director fell out last minute, and I asked Jordan if she would consider me directing it. I was intrigued by a love story that dealt with the topic of suicide prevention. It was a movie that had a powerful message of hope. She set a meeting for me with the producers and financiers, and they really liked my vision for it, so they hired me. I was jumping onto a fast-moving train as we had about a week before shooting. But I was very grateful for the opportunity. I lost my lead actor the day after I signed on. But luckily I was introduced to Milo Gibson through my management at the time. We had lunch and I felt he had all the qualities to play the role.
What was the most unexpected part of directing?
It happened so fast and it came together so fast that I didn’t really have a lot of time to think about that. I mean, I’ve been working 25 years as an actor, so I didn’t know how little or how much I would know going in. I found that I knew a lot more than I thought I did. And I was able to collaborate easily with the different departments because as an actor you have to do that. But I will say, the editing room was the one thing that felt a little lonely to me. I’d never really spent a lot of time in the editing room before, and it’s like eight to 10 hours in a dark room with one other guy and it’s kind of lonely.
What did you learn from the experience?
They say there’s three movies: there’s the movie that you write, there’s the movie that you shoot and there’s the movie that you edit. And I think being open in the editing room to what the movie wants to be is an important lesson that I learned.
Were any big changes made in the editing room?
The script is more linear, and when I got in the editing room and I laid it all out that way, the first 25 minutes felt off. It felt like a completely different movie. It took me a while to figure it out, because the script is so linear. It flowed well on paper, but not when you watched it. I really had to reconfigure the opening and the first 25 minutes. It took me a week or two, and I was a little depressed actually because I had all the pieces, and I had to ask myself, “OK, what is this movie really about, from frame one to the last frame?” And I think it’s a movie about making decisions. He’s making really bad decisions and his life is really crappy, and she’s about to make the worst decision of her life, which is to end her life, and when they start making good decisions, their lives get better. So I added the voiceover and reconfigured the beginning.
Do you see yourself acting less to pursue more directing gigs?
No, I love acting. I don’t think I’ll ever give up acting. I like storytelling and for me, I write, and as a writer I get to create a world. And I produce, and as a producer I get to pull people together to help tell that story. And as an actor, I get to tell that story of that one character. And as a director you bring that whole story to life visually. So I’m more in love with the storytelling than anything else, and I love all of them, so I wouldn’t give up one over the other. I think for my directorial debut I just thought that I didn’t want it to be some sort of vanity project, so I just wanted to focus on directing. I think in the future I’d love to grow to play a part in it because there were a lot of times behind the camera where I would think, man, they’re having so much fun over there! So in the future I would like to act in [something I’m directing].
What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
If people go to the theater and walk away with something then I think I did my job. I mean, it was a very small movie and I think we made something very special. I look forward to doing it again and I hope people enjoy it and connect with it. I think the theme of suicide prevention is a really topical one. I’m not saying it’s going to cure anything, but my hope would be that someone going through a hard time sees it and thinks, “Life could be better, you never know what tomorrow will bring.”
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