Thursday, October 13, 2016

Gavin O'Connor

"The Accountant” Interview
with Kam Williams

Gabbin' with Gavin!

Gavin O'Connor is a native New Yorker who began writing while studying at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduation, he returned to New York, where he began his career writing short films and plays. He made his scriptwriting debut with the award-winning short film The Bet which also marked Ted Demme’s film directorial debut.

Gavin first garnered widespread attention when he directed the independent feature Tumbleweeds starring Janet McTeer and Kimberly Brown. He also co-wrote the screenplay with Angela Shelton, based on Shelton’s childhood diaries. The mother-daughter road drama brought him the Filmmaker’s Award at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, and landed McTeer a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance.

Gavin’s next directorial effort was the well-received, 2004 hit Miracle. The film, starring Kurt Russell, told the inspiring story of the U.S. Hockey Team’s Gold Medal triumph at the 1980 Winter Olympics, including a stunning victory over the seemingly invincible Russian team.

Next, Gavin co-wrote and directed the 2008 drama Pride and Glory, starring Edward Norton, Colin Farrell and Jon Voight. The film follows a multi-generational police family whose moral code is tested when one son investigates an incendiary case of corruption and murder that involves his brother and brother-in-law, forcing the family to choose between their loyalties to one another and their loyalties to the department.

In 2010, Gavin co-wrote, produced and directed the critically-acclaimed sports drama Warrior, starring Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte. The story of two estranged brothers whose pasts collide in an elite Mixed Martial Arts tournament earned Nick Nolte an Academy Award nomination for his performance.

Here, he talks about his latest offering, The Accountant, a clever cat-and-mouse caper starring Ben Affleck as a a CPA-turned-cutthroat assassin.

Kam Williams: Hi Gavin, thanks for the interview. I really loved this film. I just hope it isn't forgotten by the time Oscar season rolls around.
Gavin O'Connor: Well, I don't know. We'll see what happens. I hope it stays in theaters for awhile.

KW: What interested you in The Accountant? Was it screenwriter Bill DuBuque's success with The Judge?
GO: No, it had nothing to do with The Judge. I was sent the script by [producer] Lynette Howell, and I was just captured by its originality. It was wildly original, and the conception of it was just unlike anything I'd ever read before. I'd never seen anyone like this particular character, Christian Wolff, before. And I thought, "Wow, if I can bring him to life in a cinematic way, it would make a really interesting movie and a story that I really want to tell."

KW: Did you have any reservations having an autistic hero with Aspberger's Syndrome in this hyper-sensitive age of political correctness?
GO: Honestly, I never did, because we did so much homework first. I read everything you could read, watched documentaries, listened to podcasts, and met with specialists and teachers. And then Ben [Affleck] and I were afforded access to about thirty men between 18 and 30 years-old who were on the spectrum. We had really great times with them in a classroom environment. they knew what we were doing, and they opened up their hearts in speaking to us about their lives, behaviors and proclivities. I think it's a good time to be different, and my intention was always to celebrate being different. Plus, you can't tell stories worrying about how people are going to react. I just can't think that way, although I'm sure they'll be somebody out there who will have an issue with it.

KW: How did you manage to attach so many big names to the project? Ben, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, John Lithgow, Jeffrey Tambor and so forth?
GO: Ben was the first person I approached. And after we discussed it, and decided to partner on it and go on this journey together, we started to think about who was right for the other parts. I happened to see Whiplash on the opening night, I was so blown away by J.K. Simmons' performance that as soon as I left the theater I called my producer and asked her to get the script to him for the part of Ray King. I met with him a week later and brought him aboard. As far as the part of Dana that Anna Kendrick's playing, it was very important to me to fill the role with someone who could not only make the movie fun but who could make you believe she appreciated Chris' amazingness. Anna kinda marches to a different drummer, and Chris kinda marches to a different orchestra. But I thought that she would "get" him, and that some fun could be had with the two of them, and that she would kinda strike a fire in his heart, because she's different from him in a nuanced way. So, I offered Anna the part, she said "Yes," and I just continued down the line like that, thinking about who was right for each role. And everyone I approached said "Yes." That was wonderful!

KW: What is it about your directorial style that enables you to get so much out of your actors?
GO: I don't know, really. But I truly believe that you make the movie before you make the movie. So, I'm really big into working out back stories and doing biographies of characters, and then dissecting the scenes in a way that we really understand the DNA and complexity of each scene, what the subtext is, and what the intention of each character is. I just try to go as deep as I can with a character before we even shoot. Filming, I kinda try to sit back and let them do their thing. you can make some tweaks here or there, but I generally just enjoy watching them be great at what they do.

KW: Why did you settle on the slightly deceptive title The Accountant? It reminds me of movies like The Transporter and The Mechanic where there was much more to the protagonist than suggested by the job in the title.
GO: I always loved the title. We all thought it was funny because most people think of an accountant as a dry, mundane, numbers-crunching job. That's the wink of the movie. It's like, maybe your accountant has a secret life.

KW: And how come Gavin O'Connor regular Noah Emmerich isn't in this movie? He'd been every one of your films except your first, Comfortably Numb.
GO: [Laughs heartily] That is so funny! You know what, Kam? You're the first person to ask me that.question. I called up Noah and said, "Dude, I just don't have a part for you in this." I was a little saddened because, as you know, I try to put him in every movie. But he was also shooting the TV series The Americans at the time. So, it wasn't going to work out anyway.

KW: What did you major in at the University of Pennsylvania?
GO: Sociology?

KW: So, when did you develop an interest in movies?
GO: I always knew I wanted to make movies from when I was a little boy. Penn didn't have a film program, so from the time I came in as a freshman, I started preparing myself. My VHS player was on fire from all the movies I was watching. And I was already trying to write screenplays.

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
GO: [LOL] That's a great question in itself. No one's ever asked me that. No, it feels like I've been asked everything that needed to be asked, except the one you just asked about Noah.

KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you'd like to star in?
GO: No, I would never remake a classic. How do you top a classic? I don't know if I'd even call it a remake, because Seth Rogen did a comedy version of it, but I got the rights to The Green Hornet, and I'm going to be doing that. He was always the one comic book character I loved.

KW: I liked him, too. I look forward to the film What was his sidekick's name?
GO: Kato.

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
GO: [Laughs again] I see a dad and a husband.

KW: Finally, what’s in your wallet?
GO: I don't really have a clever answer for that one. Money and credit cards, that's it.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Gavin, and best of luck with The Accountant. It really was quite a pleasant surprise because I went into it cold knowing nothing about it but the title. What a great film!
GO: I really appreciate that, Kam. Thank you so much. 

To see a trailer for The Accountant, visit:

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