Daily updates from the first annual AFI DALLAS International Film Festival presented by Target, founding sponsor Victory Park, March 22 to April 1, 2007

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Actor's Corner: Hubbel Palmer, AMERICAN FORK

Hubbel Palmer

The success of films and performances is often measured by how long something stays with you. And frequently, the films and performances that do that come from the most unexpected places.

Chris Bowman's AMERICAN FORK (screening Wednesday, 3/28 at 5:15PM and Thursday, 3/29 at 10:30PM) most definitely falls in that category on both parts. The film follows the pursuit of a grocery store clerk who is as dedicated to his pursuit of something bigger than himself (which is saying something) as he is keeping his store running like a clock.

Hubbel Palmer (who also wrote the script) plays the lead with a deftness and finesse that is not that common for the majority of people carrying SAG cards in their wallets and purses, let alone someone with just a handful of credits fleshing out his own script.

Q: Was this a story you had knocking around for a while and you finally got it down in screenplay form? Or was it a canny decision to tailor something for yourself and your talents as an actor?

A: I worked at a grocery store in high school and I always liked that environment as a possible backdrop for a film. A few years ago I really felt the urge to write something and get it made. I wanted to tell a story where the scope of the drama was very small, about a character who would otherwise not be likely to have a film made about him. I came up with the character of Tracy and then work shopped the idea with a friend, filling in the world around him. I did want to write a part for myself, but not in a "this is gonna help my career" type way.

Q: William Baldwin, Kathleen Quinlan, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Bruce McGill in this great cast. And you're the star. How much did you lord that over them?

A: I was amazed to be working with them. I originally planned to make this film with all unknowns, but as interest in the script grew, we found ourselves in a position where we could recruit some real talent. They took a chance by agreeing to do this film with a first time director and a novice actor and I’m so grateful for their contributions.

Q: Did you research any grocery store assistant managers to get into their heads? And if you did get into the head of a grocery store assistant manager, did you find it a cold, unforgiving place with bad fluorescent lighting from which there was almost no return?

A: The head of a grocery store assistant manager is a cold, unforgiving place. And that's why I avoided them in my research for this film. I never climbed that far up the ladder during my tenure as a clerk. But I can certainly relate to wanting to.

Q: Chris Bowman was directing you from your script. Did the dynamic shift from working with him as a writer doing rewrites to being an actor playing what was settled on as the script?

A: Absolutely. There was a point, about two months before we started shooting, where I mentally stepped away from the script as a writer and re-approached it as an actor. I was able to do this because I completely trusted Chris's vision for the film. We had communicated so much over the previous year and a half that I knew I was in safe hands. There was even a moment in production when I asked Chris what a certain line meant. Billy Baldwin turned to me and asked, "Wait a minute. Didn't you write this thing?"

Q: Was there a scene you looked forward to playing as you were writing? Afterwards, watching the finished film, was that still the favorite scene?

A: I was always excited about shooting that first scene in the acting class, where Truman (Billy Baldwin) singles my character out in front of everyone. I felt like it captured the intended tone of the film better than any other single scene in the script. I still like that scene in the final version, but my favorite scene is one that I'm not even in. I like the scene in Peggy's (Mary Lynn Rajskub) room where she's showing Truman her stuffed animals. I like it because it lets you have a peek, however brief, into the inner life of a very quiet, precious person.

Q: What is your favorite Rutger Hauer role?

A: I actually worked with Rutger Hauer a few years ago, which was ironic because it was about a year after I had written this script. I had one very brief scene with him, but somehow I ended up getting to spend a lot of one-on-one time with him. He was great. So full of life. A great story teller. I asked him about Blade Runner (I think he's terrifying in that) and he told me all about it. But I like him best as Sasha in this TV movie from the 80s called ESCAPE FROM SOBIBOR.

By John Wildman, Staff Writer