Character actor James Le Gros (Drugstore Cowboy) grizzles his soft-spoken persona for Nick Frangione‘s semi-autobiographical feature, Buck Run.
Set in the woodlands of Pennsylvania, the story follows Shaw Templeton (Nolan Lyons) in the wake of his mother’s death. Unable to comprehend the loss, he lives with the corpse for nearly two days before he is sent to live with his alcoholic father (Le Gros). The pair’s crippled relationship is slow-moving as neither mount the courage to fully communicate and understand the other.
Film Inquiry recently spoke with Le Gros about his experiences working on the film, including his approach to personal projects, as well as his collaborations with director Frangione and young star Lyons.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Luke Parker for Film Inquiry: Before you started filming this project, you said that it would turn out great if you could “just manage to shoot what’s on the page.” Can you elaborate on that? What did you first find on the page?
James Le Gros: Initially, I was compelled by the setting and the group of people whose stories, I believe, are under-told. And then secondly, I think I’m just a sucker for the father-son dynamic, without regard to the story. Whether it’s Fathers and Sons, or if it’s Wes Anderson in Fantastic Mr. Fox – it can run the gamut – those stories hook me and they move me.
Your character, William, always feels just out of reach, both to his son and to us in the audience. Throughout the film, he is hardly thrilled at the idea of being a father and yet, in one of his first scenes, he lies about his sobriety to take responsibility of Shaw. How would you describe William’s intentions in this film or his wants?
James Le Gros: It’s a complicated thing, you know? Sometimes, we have a push-pull in some of the desires that we have. One part of you that’s deep within you says you want this thing, and then another part resents the burden of having to carry it.
I feel like with people who are struggling with booze or drugs, either they know they have a problem and don’t want anyone on their back, or they don’t want to be judged, or they don’t really think they have a problem but are so worried about what other people think that they string together whatever sentences they need to get people off their back. So it’s a composite of things, I think.
You’ve said before that when you’re deciding whether or not to join a project, you ask yourself what you can do to add to the film. Now William is a bit different than a lot of the characters you’ve played before in that he’s very grizzled, whereas Nick Frangione himself has described you as having a more angelic presence. When you were considering this part, what did you think your natural demeanor could add to the role?
James Le Gros: As I said, because I have such an interest in these father-son dynamics, I felt like I could bring some insight there. And I know a lot about people struggling with loss, with addiction, and with no longer feeling valued – of being just discarded. I think you see a lot of people like that who feel sort of discarded by the larger society. So, I felt like I could bring some insights there and that was how I could help.
Then, you know, sometimes when you’re working on independent movies–I’m old, and I’ve worked a long time. Not that I’m some smart guy or anything remotely close to that, but just from having lived this long and done this many things, you can be somewhat helpful on the production side too – just because of the mileage you have.
I know you’re a father, so I understand how you’re able to tap into the father-son dynamics. But in terms of the people who feel discarded, how are you able to do that? Is it just empathy?
James Le Gros: Well, one, actors are always discarded. If you’re of a certain sex and of a certain age and let’s just say a comedy writer, for example, you’re going to get tossed out. They’re not going to renew your contract. It’s tricky.
A friend of mine was trying to direct an episode of a TV show that she had helped produce for a long time. She was very capable of directing. But she literally had to sue for ageism because she’s in her late sixties and they didn’t want her to direct this thing. So it’s easy to feel discarded as someone who works in show business.
I would also say, too, that there are a lot of people right now that feel alienated, like what they do is no longer valued. I was just reading in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago about how many people in this pandemic have been forced into early retirement through downsizing or cuts or what have you. And people that have been around a long time sometimes become the most expendable, which is an interesting thing.
The crux of this film rests on your relationship with his character. Can you talk about your collaboration with Nolan Lyons and the experience of working so directly with a younger performer?
James Le Gros: That was a great gift. He’s a very agile actor and a really good listener. Sometimes, with people who’ve started out young, part of why they continue to work – and he’s worked a fair bit as a young actor – is their ability to hit a target. And that has its advantages, right? But what usually gets lost in that exchange is that the performance is a little canned.
That does not describe our hero in this movie. He’s a very agile listener. He’s really in the moment of the experience. So that was a really great collaboration for me to work with him.
I worked on a television show after I worked on this, a couple years later. I think when you’re working with young performers, you really owe it to them to bring your A-game because they’re watching you. They’re watching how you deal with the film. They’re watching your preparation. They’re watching your relationship to situations that become difficult, just as any set can become. You really owe it to them to bring your best.
That’s what I’m really grateful for with Nolan. He brought the best out of me.
This film is inspired by Frangione’s own life and his own childhood. On these kinds of personal projects, and especially in their most intimate scenes, are there ever any moments of hesitation as an actor? Or do you perhaps find inspiration? What goes through your head?
James Le Gros: I’m always inspired by anything that comes from a deep truth from the writer or the filmmaker. I always find that great fuel. And as far as getting out there and executing the material as it’s laid out on the page, I feel like if I’m going to go to work, I’m going to execute. I’m not worried about that.
I want to make sure I leave something for the filmmaker that they’re going to be happy with in the moment, and then again eight weeks later when they’re trying to cut their movie. So, I kind of stay out of any kind of judgment. I just let it out of the gate and see what happens.
Also, playing a version of Nick’s father, can you touch a little on how you two collaborated on the character? Nick obviously has a different perspective from when he was a young man dealing with these things in his own life. How did that new perspective help frame your performance, if it came into play at all?
James Le Gros: As far as things like that go, he told me some anecdotal stuff and his father actually had a little part in the movie. He came to visit the set a couple of times, and it was nice just to meet him in and of itself.
My dear friend, Julianne Moore, operates from the template of, “it’s about the script. It’s got to be about the script. All that other stuff is nice, but I’m going to be working off of what’s in the script.” That’s a really good way to solidify your choices.
I’ve worked on stuff that have been adaptations from books and, you know, reading the book can be somewhat helpful. But at the end of the day, the script has to be your blueprint.
Film Inquiry thanks James Le Gros for his time.
Buck Run is available to rent and stream on Amazon Prime Video and Vudu, as well as the iTunes and Google Play stores.
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