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Yes, that’s Will Forte in the beard and sweater, tossing sad glances from behind his handheld camera.
The 42-year old actor had spent the last decade doing every wacky thing he could think of to make wide swaths of Americans explode with gleeful, silly laughter. His eight years on Saturday Night Live included a memorable run as the dimwitted President George W. Bush and spawned the off-the-wall parody hero MacGruber, who wasn’t above utilizing the classic celery-in-bum trick to complete a mission. So it’s understandable if it takes a minute and double take or two to believe that yes, that’s Forte as the understated, fish-out-of-water neuropsychlogist in Run & Jump.
He couldn’t quite envision himself in the role at first, either.
“I was certainly nervous about it. I’m a neurotic person anyway, and this was just such a new experience. I was pretty terrified at first,” Forte explains to THR, recalling his initial trepidation toward playing the restrained, sorrowful character; think Steve Carell in Little Miss Sunshine. “I’m used to being broad characters, so it was tricky trying to find the right level and I don’t have that, I have never done a dramatic role before.”
As it turns out, the role is just the beginning of Forte’s dramatic turn; he’ll next star in Alexander Payne‘s Nebraska.
The film, which is premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, is the feature length debut of Oscar-nominated short film director Steph Green (2008’s New Boy), and tackles issues that could be heavy enough to sink even the most experienced filmmakers. Forte’s doctor character Ted arrives in Ireland to study a man (played by Edward MacLiam, now the lead in ABC’s pilot Big Thunder) who suffered a massive head injury and has just emerged from a coma, following him back to his home in the countryside, where his wife and two young children reside.
The wife, Vanetia, is played by British TV and stage vet Maxine Peake (who starred in the original, UK version of Shameless); welcoming and naturally energetic, Vanetia buries her pain under a desire to maintain a sense of normalcy for her brood. Ted moves in with them, and though he’s a loner that carried his own emotional baggage on the intercontinental trip, he quickly becomes part of the family — to the point that flickers of a romance begin to spark between him and Vanetia.
“These are three people in crisis, in some respects,” Peake says. “They’re at that point in their lives, they’re approaching middle age, they’re not in their early 20’s, you say these are people who have made life choices that they’re going to carry on with, and then a bomb’s dropped on them… Every character I completely sympathized with, which I found so unique. I can see everybody’s point of view here, and everybody’s needs here.”
The nuance of the movie comes in large part thanks to original screenwriter Ailbhe Keogan‘s own backstory.
“Her dad sustained a head injury, her mother became the carer,” Green explains. “There were questions for years, whether her mother would date. Is that appropriate? Because she was basically a carer for another child. I think it’s a question that a very particular group of people are asking themselves in this world, how to deal when your partner has a post-traumatic brain injury.”
The credits alone on the film tell a very unique story; Green, despite red hair that might suggest otherwise, is American, not Irish. She ended up in Dublin to complete a Masters’ degree in 2002, and as she puts it, “I just fell in love with the place, and one person in particular — that now I’m not in love with.”
That moment earned a few laughs and awws from her two stars.
Heartbreak aside, she continued to spend as much time as she could on the Emerald Isle, directing TV commercials in the States and using the pay to make short films in Ireland with her producing partner Tamara Anghie.
“It was like my soul was in Ireland. I had been inspired by this place,” she remembers. “It’s easier as a foreigner to come in. Your porcupine antennae go up, and you’re observing so much new stuff. For me it was inspiring, and I kept thinking of ideas and they were about Ireland, even when I was in LA.”
The Irish Film Board helped fund New Boy, that acclaimed big break of a short film, and her ability to pay them back for doing so helped secure some cash for Run & Jump. But it was over two years from the time she began to work with Forte in L.A. to when they were finally able to get started on production; having hit a funding gap, it took prying loose the coffers of Germany’s Senator Film to get it off the ground.
The government money the film received reveals a key difference between American and European cinema business: there is a much larger state involvement in Europe. Green says that “there’s no industry there,” and though she quickly backtracks on the broad statement, Peake insists she her criticism was spot on.
“In the UK, we do have a very limited film district, there’s no money,” she says. “It’s such an achievement what Steph and Tamara did to get this film. There’s amazing films knocking about that people just cannot get funded. It’s difficult. There’s a lot of people from there seem to be going out to LA to try to do that. It is very tough. There’s very limited resources, especially in television.”
Though there is a certain cultural cachet in America to knowing and liking British TV shows, from Ricky Gervais‘ comedies to Downton Abbey, Peake says that the admiration is more Old World to New than vice versa.
“Not that it’s a closed shop in England, but if you go over to the States and go back to England, you can clean up,” she explains. “Because they’re still obsessed — if you’ve made it in America, then you must be good. It’s a strange thing.”
Earlier in the discussion, it was noted that MacGruber was playing that night on television in the UK, something that Peake’s family had relayed excitedly. Green jokes that people there might now be confused by Forte’s role in Run & Jump now, too.
“What?” Forte says, mimicking an audience’s confusion. “There’s no celery in his butt?!”
Email: Jordan.Zakarin@THR.com; Twitter: @JordanZakarin
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