Sushi Girl Comic Con ’11 Interviews: James Duval

Noted indie film actor and Gregg Araki stalwart James Duval (Donnie Darko, Independence Day, The Doom Generation, Kaboom!) discusses working with his professional influences on the upcoming grindhouse thriller Sushi Girl

Vegas Outsider: What was it about Sushi Girl and your role within it that made you say, “I want to do this film”? Also, how does your character fit into the plot structure itself?

James Duval: When I first got the script, one of the things I liked about it was the dynamics between all the different characters. They’re all so individualistic and unique and then you have this one character who would blend over and overlap into another one, which made it kind of confusing sometimes. It is a ragtag group of career criminals, so one of the other things I loved about it was my character Francis, who is sort of the shiftiest one out of them all. You don’t really know where his allegiance stands and neither does anyone else. I like the idea of playing back and forth with that.

Without giving too much away, there’s a big turn that reveals something about my character which changes, I think, the way the audience looks at him. I found that dynamic interesting as well which absolutely drew me in further. It’s like in real life where you have opinions about people at you may not like at one point in time and then sometimes when you meet them a few years later, they’re actually not bad people. They may not have been the best people then, but they’ve grown and changed like most of us do, whether they consciously choose to or not. So I like that my character has this really nice arc throughout the film, as opposed to being just this straight bad guy.

VO: How was the on-set work experience for you on this project because it’s essentially a large pack of beloved genre actors all crammed together in one or two sets, whose characters appear to be slowly turning on each other?

JD: I can definitely say with confidence that if this movie came along a few years earlier in my career, I would have been a lot more nervous than I was. In a lot of ways for me, this has been a pinnacle for me if not exactly the top of my career. But so far Sushi Girl is one of the things I’m most proud of. As an actor or an artist, or even if you didn’t work in the creative industry, we’re all inspired and influenced in our lives by songs we hear, books we read, films we see and I found myself working on a film with the people who single most had an influence on me growing up. I said it at the panel, without meaning to embarrass him there, that I’m an actor because of Mark Hamill. He inspired me more than anyone else to be an actor and to go out and make movies when I was a child.

Noah Hathaway is another actor I grew up watching who inspired me. Tony Todd’s another one. I’m working with some of my favorite actors that I’ve known for decades, so in that sense it’s the absolute pinnacle for me to go out and work with them. To add to that, there was such a camaraderie on set and a professional respect where it was really all about the work for us and not anything else. To work in that capacity, on that level with actors of this caliber, I absolutely can’t think of anything better. In a lot of ways, this is why I wanted to act in movies, to work with these kinds of people on a film like this.

VO: One thing that really caught my eye when looking at the footage that’s been released is this sense that no one is holding back in their performances at all and really going all out. I found that especially appealing in Mark’s case because the image that we all have of him is really in conflict with the psychopath he portrays on screen. It seems to almost be an extension of the same maniacal streak that makes his Joker so revered to Batman fans.

JD: When they put out the offer to Mark, we weren’t sure if he was going to take it but we just knew that he was more appropriately right for this than anyone else. It was something no one had ever seen him do, something so different and with the background he has I think that there was never a question. For the rest of us, it would have been a dream to get him. As I mentioned before, we had so many high caliber actors on this set, so when that happens everyone brings their best A-game to the table, which only raises everyone performances that much more. I also think that that support and motivation and energy that these guys had had a lot to do with what we ended up putting down in the movie that people will watch. It was kind of like being on a playground with some of the best kids around, what can we do with it?

VO: What’s been your reaction to the rough cut you guys have seen so far and how it reflects the experience you had in making it? Reason being that you always hear horror stories about how great a shoot went and then when looking at the final product, you just don’t know what the hell happened to it.

JD: Well that’s a great question because when we finally sat down to do a read through after locking all the main actors down and then started filming, we were all excited about doing this project and how it was so different for us. We definitely had high hopes for it and knew what we wanted to achieve. But as you said, you never know especially as an actor what’s going to happen because our job is done once we’re wrapped. I’ve always found that the most important thing is what you take away with you from the experience after you wrap on set because by the time it goes into editing and comes out, the film is a whole different beast.

And again with film it’s hard to say that just because you had a bad time it’s going to be a good movie or vice versa because it’s both of those and everything in between in my experience. It is rough as you are saying but I really don’t feel that way about it when I watch it, I don’t notice that editing is rough or color correction hasn’t happened yet. Maybe you can tell that the sound is quite ready in spots but again, you’d have to be listening for that because they did a great job with temp sound.

On that level though, to watch a film that is still rough and see how complete it is already, I haven’t experienced that too much over the past twenty years after some seventy-five movies I’ve done, not all of them ending up on IMDb. Rarely do you have one of those gems which is even better than the experience you took away from the set. So in short, I can say that seeing what they’ve done with just the rough cut so far, the movie has far exceeded my expectations and I feel confident that I can speak for the rest of the cast and crew as I say that.

VO: What was your impression of the audience’s reaction at the Sushi Girl Comic Con panel, where the film’s trailer premiered?

JD: I think it was interesting to see the anticipation that the people had for this project because they’re all familiar with a lot of us and with this genre. But this mishmash of characters is much different than what people normally see and to see everyone’s responses be so positive to the footage we showed after seeing the film myself and how happy we are as to how it turned out, I’m kind of worried about it because I don’t want to think about those things and pay attention to them too much. But it’s hard not to after the response has been so positive so far.

To learn more about the film, check out the trailer and clips, go to www.sushigirlmovie.com or @SushiGirlMovie on Twitter

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