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What Life Has In Store: An Interview with Steve Conrad and Seann William Scott of "The Promotion"

by William Goss

In a recent blitz of promotion for their new film, um, 'The Promotion', writer/director Steve Conrad and star Seann William Scott each gave us a chance to ask about the supermarket-set dramedy.

Steve Conrad

Between this film and The Weather Man, youíve arguably carved a niche out finding the comedy and drama in middle-class malaise, specifically set in Chicago. Does this material stem from personal experience, or is this more akin to professional happenstance?

Itís a little bit of both. Any really good writer has to figure out some stuff beyond the events of his own life in order to be interesting to his audience members. Thereís definitely some events from my grown-up life that I feel very deeply about that Iíve incorporated in, that Iíve called upon in my last three scripts, namely on a very urgent need to get a job when I had a kid and was young, and there are different ways of looking at work and whatever piece of mind that brings.

Doug (played by Seann William Scott) carries a fascination with being referred to as "Mr." and wearing the long sleeves someday. Why do you think thatís such a point of pride when even his own boss insists that they remain on a first-name basis?

What raised that issue was the first time heís having that conversation with that pediatric plastic surgeon, because you have to call a doctor a new word, not even "Mr.", even when theyíre not in their white coat. Doug is like two rungs away from that, and so he believes in commanding respect through his accomplishments.

Whatís harder, adapting a true story to the screen, as was the case with The Pursuit of Happyness, or trying to make your original story real to life?

Trying to come up with something out of nowhere, from scratch, is so much harder than when the events are laid out for you in another mechanism such as a book. Adaptations provide you with a real leg up.

When did you first hear about Employee of the Month, and at that moment, did you let out a big sigh?

I knew Dax Shepard, and he called me and he just did this movie that he had a part in, and it just seems to always happen that way. When my first film [1993ís Wrestling Ernest Hemingway] came out, it was about two old guys, and that same week was when Grumpy Old Men was opening, so thatís just how it always seems to work out.

What was it like directing your own script for the first time?

It was a relief and a joy because you donít have to leave the room when it comes to important meetings, like picking costumes, which can tell you as much about the character as what they do and say. The drag of it is trying to find a relationship to the writing, and I found that I had to be hard on what I wrote.

What was it like working with both John C. Reilly and Seann William Scott?

I regard John as the best actor in the world, and he scared the hell out of me for the first few days of the shoot, coming off a Scorsese set and some Paul Thomas Anderson films. He just brings a whole lot of heavy-duty pedigree to it. Seann was pretty aggressive about getting the role, and was willing to work really hard at it.

Both you and [Seann William] Scott made mention of how you found Reilly to be intimidating. Does he turn off once the camera does?

It wasnít so much him as it was his pedigree that was intimidating to me, with Martin Scrosese and three Paul Thomas Anderson films. I was intimidated by his resume, but not his attitude.

What do you feel in this current value of film criticism in this industry? What about its value to you through your experiences to date?

Itís changing, because of the blogs and the amount of the people that donít go to the typical Siskel & Ebert thing. That day has come and gone, where they had a little say, but that time has passed. A new thing is going to happen, and one person who can connect to an audience in a meaningful way from some resource like that is going to pop up somehow. Iím always around something like 53% with my stuff on Rotten Tomatoes, so I know that Iím always going to split people in half and I steel myself for that. Interviews go better because of how I might answer different kinds of questions, as opposed to reviews, where you canít really defend yourself. But I was reading this book by David Mamet, and he basically said that you can either do nothing or be criticized.

What can you tell us, if anything, about Chad Schmidt (about a struggling actor in the '80s has to cope with the fact that he looks and sounds all too much like... rising star Brad Pitt)?

Well, I just got done with that project, and now Brad gets to have his pick of directors. I think he already has a few choices in mind, and Iíd like to do it, but itís really his call.

Seann William Scott

What was it like working with Steve Conrad as a first-time director?

Well, most of the films that Iíve done, Iíve done with first-time directors, and with Steve, I was just impressed by how confident he was on set, and I think heíll do some really wonderful things in the future.

And working alongside, or rather, opposite John C. Reilly?

It was intimidating as hell. My motivation was pretty much not to screw up the film for him, and it was stressful, because heís so good. He really added so many colors to his performance, and I mean, the guyís just an unbelievable actor. I might be biased because, you know, Iím in the film, but I think his performance is probably the best thing in it.

Did the likes of Stifler and your characters in Road Trip and The Rundown make you feel any personal pressure to show range from the cocky roles, or was that just a stepping stone of sorts to get more subdued or dramatic roles?

I donít worry about those things, because every single actor gets typecast at some point. I donít worry, because I thoroughly enjoy doing those broad comedies and having that chance to make people laugh, but Iíve always been anxious to do films that Iíd like to watch at home, which includes The Promotion, and thereís something to be said about being in those films. I mean, itís going to be difficult to work with someone like David Fincher until Iím not distracting by being in his film, but without those [comedies], I wouldnít have my career today. But this was a determined choice, these are the type of projects that I want the people I want to work with to see me in, so I think itís a step in the right direction, and I just hope to plug away and always do good work.

And what about Southland Tales, considering how little it compares to everything else?

That was amazing. I take what I do very seriously, and I felt it was a good opportunity for me. I loved Donnie Darko, and I really enjoy Richardís work, and there were days when we wondering if we had the tone right, but I respect him for having a vision and not having to flinch. I really respect that and really like that, and I found it all to be really rewarding.

As someone whoís primarily made a career to date doing comedy, do you feel a need to strike a balance between gag-based humor and more character-driven material, like this?

Iím not really like the characters Iíve played in the past. I donít see myself as a funny guy at all. I wanted to do drama, and then American Pie came my way, and I found myself being the guy who says what no oneís supposed to say, and doing what no oneís supposed to do. But my strength lies in doing more darker and dramatic stuff. I love watching movies, and I watch more dramas and foreign films than comedies, but when it comes to my own work, itís going to have to be the right one. I think people have to be ready for it, and thatís a transition Iíll have to make.

The Promotion is currently playing in select cities.

link directly to this feature at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=2505
originally posted: 06/14/08 21:15:45
last updated: 06/14/08 21:31:19
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