“I’m Drawn To The Kind Of Characters That Tend To Be A Little Bit Explosive” Interview With Actor Jeremy Allen White of THE RENTAL and SHAMELESS

Jeremy Allen White has been playing Phillip “Lip” Gallagher on Showtime’s Shameless for 10 seasons with a concluding 11th season on the horizon and can now be seen in Dave Franco’s directorial debut The Rental, which arrived in select cinemas and drive-thrus July 24. We got on the phone with the versatile actor to talk about working with Franco, his dance background and what’s it been like playing Lip for so long.

Maria Lattila for Film Inquiry: Hi Jeremy! How are you doing?

I’m doing pretty well. How are you?

Yeah, not too bad. How have you been managing with everything?

Yeah, me and my family are in Los Angeles and we’re very lucky, we’ve just kind of been home for a very long time.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about The Rental. And I just wanted to start by asking, what was it that made you say yes to the project?

I got a cold email from Dave Franco. And he just wrote a really nice message about me, having wanted to work with me for a long time and he sent me the script and it was written by him and Joe Swanberg, and I’m a big fan of both of theirs and it really got my attention. And I think they already had Alison Brie and Dan Stevens attached at that time, and I was a big fan of theirs. So, right off the bat, it just seemed very exciting and I read the script. I’d never done anything horror and I never really had any plans to. But they found something that was very grounding in the genre which is this idea of who can you really trust or how often are you being watched. It’s just a more plausible fear for every person. So I think I tuned into that really quickly and I thought that a lot of people might find this very frightening and that was exciting to me. It was really fun because in the morning I felt like I was doing this very intimate scene work with another actor. And then in the evening, jumping over rocks and there’d be blood everywhere and I kind of felt like I was doing two movies at the same time, which was kind of fun.

"I'm Drawn To The Kind Of Characters That Tend To Be A Little Bit Explosive" Interview With Actor Jeremy Allen White of THE RENTAL
The Rental (2020) – source: IFC Films

Did you guys have a lot of rehearsals?

We didn’t have a whole lot. We shot the film in Bandon, Oregon and Dave were up there for quite a while. I believe the rest of us got up there maybe five or six days before we started filming. The first thing we did, it was kind of very generous of Dave, we all kind of sat down just Dave, the DP and the four of us, the actors, Sheila (Vand), Dan (Stevens), Alison (Brie) and myself. We read through the whole script and Dave was just like if anything sounds false or you’re uncomfortable or you don’t agree with anything because of your character he was like, just point it out, we’ll work on it, we can change it. And that reading was so helpful and it kind of honed everybody’s character pretty quickly so I felt like that was like a bit of a jumpstart, like a couple of days of rehearsals into a couple of hours.

I interviewed Sheila a couple of weeks ago and she spoke to length about how well all of you got along and what great environment it was to make the film, but I was wondering if you ever to ever get scared or nervous about trying to translate that chemistry behind the scenes to the screen for the audience to see?

I feel like we were really lucky in that we all got along so quickly. I think there’s like a forced intimacy about the whole thing. We were in a town that was very small and we got to spend like an incredible amount of time together in those first couple weeks and I think whether our characters were getting along or not, just having a thorough understanding of another person who acts, helps you act.

And your character Josh, he can be quite explosive. Was it easy to tap into that side of yourself?

Yeah, I think for some reasons I probably need to get into therapy or something but I feel like I’m drawn to the kind of characters that tend to be a little bit explosive. I feel like it’s kind of healthy way to get that stuff out of me. So it doesn’t have to come up in my day to day life. I think that was something that was interesting about Josh and intriguing. I was happy to do it.

And how was your experience with Dave was director? It’s his first film and it’s so remarkably stylish and controlled and Sheila spoke about actors making quite good directors, do you think so?

Yeah, in Dave’s case, certainly.  Just aside from him being a good actor and working with actors so well I can get to that later but his approach to the filming of the movie was such a laser-like focus and specificity. I spoke about that table read situation where we kind of all voiced any issues we might have had, not there were many, but we had that opportunity and then after that, he was kind of like in the zone, knew exactly how he wanted to shoot everything, how he wanted everything to look. And as amazing as Dave was, we also had a really amazing DP Christian Sprenger. I think the film is very beautiful. And as an actor, working with a director who’s an actor, you feel like you’ve got your back covered, you feel like you’ve got kind of a safety net because you know that person’s been exactly where you are. I feel like I had a bit of extra freedom to fall on my face, and maybe try some things that might have been too big or too small, knowing that Dave would have my back because he understands what it’s like to try and exercise that way as well.

"I'm Drawn To The Kind Of Characters That Tend To Be A Little Bit Explosive" Interview With Actor Jeremy Allen White of THE RENTAL
The Rental (2020) – source: IFC Films

I absolutely love the beginning of the film where you arrive at the office and Charlie and Mina already there, and it feels like there’s just so much that goes unsaid between you and Charlie’s character although there’s obviously quite a lot of dialogue that gives us a glimpse of the history there but did you and Dan Stevens talk about what goes on between your characters?

Josh has just so desperately wanted his brother’s approval, probably his whole life, and for whatever reason Charlie, it seems is always kind of like holding that above his head a little bit. I think almost just after that Charlie and Michelle are having that talk before they leave on the trip where Charlie really says such brutally honest and kind of hurtful things about how Mina is so out of Josh’s league and it’s not going to last. So you immediately know kind of where Charlie stands and I think that’s the setup, it’s his little brother really seeking approval and this older brother refusing.

I also want to ask you before you turned into acting and got on Shameless, you trained in dance but you’ve never really done those kinds of roles. Was that a conscious choice on your part?

No, I mean I’d love to do something involving dance. It’s been a long time since I really studied it. I was around 14, when I stopped. But, I mean, if something came around where the dance was involved, I’d be happy to give it a shot.

"I'm Drawn To The Kind Of Characters That Tend To Be A Little Bit Explosive" Interview With Actor Jeremy Allen White of THE RENTAL
Shameless (2011-) – source: Showtime

Shameless has been on for 10 seasons which is incredible. What’s it like being able to develop a character over so many years and how does it compare doing a film where you only get a couple of months to get into the headspace and get the performance out of yourself?

I think they both have nice things. In the case of Shameless, it’s never-ending, Lip’s always growing, as I’m growing, his decision making is always changing. He becomes a little bit better of a person than a little bit worse. It’s more like life, because it’s been so, so long. And that’s really fun, but it’s also sometimes frustrating because I don’t know how it’s going to end, I don’t know where the period is on his life or at least how long people are watching his life for. But what’s nice about a movie is you’ve got it, you’ve got your character, you meet the character, you’ve got the middle, and you’ve got the end when you say goodbye to the character. So, it’s kind of easier in a way, even though you have less time to kind of prepare because you’ve got it all right in front of you, whereas to do a show, which I’m very lucky to be able to do for so long, but because you’re doing it for so long it just feels a little… It’s open-ended, which can prove difficult, at least for me sometimes.

Going back to The Rental which is releasing this week but with Covid-19 and everything, it won’t have the usual release. Did you guys talk about it at all? What kind of conversations did you guys have before this week?

I might not have been involved in the conversations about the release so much but what I’ve gathered from Dave is that they’re kind of excited to be able to release it on this VOD event because everything’s being released mostly on VOD right now. And what’s also I think very exciting and kind of a silver lining to this horrible situation we found ourselves in is folks are going to be able to go see this movie in a drive-thru, which I just think is so, so, so cool. So I hope that people try and find drive-thrus near them and watch a good old fashioned kind of slasher film under the stars.

 It definitely deserves it. Thank you so much for your time, and congratulations on the film!

Thank you so much. It was very nice talking to you.

Film Inquiry would like to thank Jeremy Allen White for chatting with us. This interview has been edited for clarity.

The Rental is in Select Drive-Ins, Theaters, and on Demand July 24th. 

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