Recently I was lucky enough to conduct an interview with actor and filmmaker Denis Theriault who can be seen in the upcoming film All the Wrong Reasons playing an overzealous assistant manager named Radley Weil. The film All the Wrong Reasons will be premiering at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. Denis, along with being an actor, is also a writer and director and his short film Sibling Rivalry will be premiering at this year’s Atlantic Film Festival. It was a lot of fun listening to Denis talk about his love for movies because he clearly has a lot passion and respect for film and the filmmaking process. Chatting with him was an absolute delight and if we’re lucky we’ll be seeing more of his work in the future.
In this interview Denis talks about what inspired him to become an actor, his love for filmmaking, what it’s like to transition from acting to directing, and his dream role. Check it out, guys!
What inspired you to become an actor?
Oh, what inspired me? As a kid I wasn’t a huge sports person, but my dad was. He was a carpenter, he plays hockey, he used to play tennis, like he’s a big sports guy, and he’s not so much into the arts. The one thing my dad and I bonded over is that we would go to at least two movies at the theater together a week. It was the thing my dad and I did together, so I think that was kind of the seed of it, of how it started. As a kid I did a lot of theater, but when I got interested in film and TV it was from that, going to the movies. It sounds so cliché to say it, but movies are magic. Everything that’s involved in movies, the process from the beginning stages, and the fact that they wind up becoming fully formed films. They’re miracles. So I think that’s where it started, my dad taking me to see movies, and then I started to make my own short films. The first time I made them I think I was eight or nine. I just used the family 8mm camcorder and made my movies. I literally edited them by filming, putting it into a VCR, pressing pause, like editing the film onto a VHS. That’s how I would edit. I guess that’s how I started my love affair with movies and then I booked my first TV part when I was fourteen.
Tell me about your role in the upcoming All the Wrong Reasons.
My character’s name is Radley Weil and I like to refer to him as a weasel with a heart of gold. The film takes place in a big box store kind of like Walmart, in the movie it’s called Fairfax, and I play the assistant manager in the store. The manager is played by the late Cory Monteith and all of my scenes are with him. Basically he’s just about to get a promotion to more of an administration position in the offices of the store as opposed to working in the story, so he’s training me to take over for him once he leaves. Radley starts to overstep his boundaries a bit. He gets overzealous in a sense because he cannot wait to become manager and he wants the opportunity right away, so he oversteps his boundaries when it comes to what his current position is. He tries to overtake Cory’s character, James, he tries to take over the role even before James’s has vacated the position. So Radley is still a nice guy, he’s just overly ambitious I’d say.
What was your favorite thing about playing Radley Weil?
He’s so far removed from me. I like to consider myself a fairly high energy person, but he’s pretty out there. The director, Gia Milani, is a good friend of mine and she actually convinced me to dance on film and I apologize now to everyone who is going to see it (laughs). It’s hilarious. She somehow convinced me to dance in the film and that’s not something I think I would just break out in the middle of a party and be the center of attention and dance. Well, I might do it under certain circumstances. Anyway! What I am getting at here is that I did a lot of things as that character that I wouldn’t do in real life. I’m more of a passive person in real life and I am very shy and reserved, I’m sure people will have a hard time believing that after they see the film, so he’s much more extroverted than I am. Playing him allowed me to let go of all of my inhibitions and my insecurities as Denis, the actor, and I got to do stuff that I wouldn’t do in my everyday life. That was really cool.
You are also a writer and a director. What’s it like to transition from being in front of the camera to being behind the camera and also taking part in the writing process?
It’s a whole different ballgame because when you show up to set as an actor you have to know your lines, your character, know where you are in reference to the story on that particular day. Compared to being a director your brain has to be firing at all times. You always have to know what every character on screen in doing, you have to communicate what you are visualizing in your head and be able to communicate that to a team of people who can make it happen for you, but the hardest part is telling them exactly what you want and ensuring that they deliver what your vision is. It’s such a mind trip. I had wanted to do it for years and as a kid I had made my own films, but I had never properly hired all these people and hired someone to just do editing, someone to just do this, I used to do everything myself. Gia, the director of All the Wrong Reasons, ultimately is who inspired me to do this. After we wrapped I wrote Sibling Rivalry, which is the name of the short film, and then we shot it two months later. Now here we are almost a year later and it’s going to have its world premiere at the Atlantic Film Festival. It’s a totally different ballgame, but I’d like to think that coming from to it from the perspective of an actor is a good thing. That’s why I think a lot of actors make great directors, for example Ben Affleck and Mel Gibson. Ben Affleck almost grew up on film sets, people don’t realize he started acting when he was very young. You gather all of this experience on film sets and that’s what I’ve done.
I’ve relished all of my experiences on set, I’ve observed people, I’ve observed what the etiquette on set is, what’s this person’s job, and what’s their job. I was totally ready to do it and on the first day at the first shot I was supposed to call and my voice cracked because unbeknownst to myself I was nervous. It was overwhelming. I had my first day of shooting and a cast and crew close to about forty people in this funeral home. We were actually filming in a legit real funeral home. I was just standing there with my little earphones on in director mode and I just felt so overwhelmed and it was just so surreal that I wrote this little story on my computer desk in my room and here we were. It was so surreal, but it was a great experience, I’m so glad that I did it, and now I just want more.
From the different roles of writer, director, and actor, which genre do you think you are drawn to the most?
Oh wow. I really truly am in love with the movies. I eat, sleep, and breathe movies. It’s all I think about. When I get hired for a gig, not only do I get to go there and be an actor and do what I love which is my passion, but it’s also an education. You’re learning by being there on set and observing. For me it’s almost like I can’t separate them [writing, acting, directing] because when I do get the opportunity to be on a set it’s not just an acting gig for me, it’s a learning gig. Gia, for example, was open to suggestions and wasn’t this director that wouldn’t take any input from anyone else. If you had a suggestion for either a line, a moment, or anything she was open to it and some of them she wound up using in the film. Acting I would say is my first passion, and I am going to group writing and directing into filmmaking. So acting first and then filmmaking second.
What are some of the things that you like to geek over?
Like I said before, movies, and at one point I had just over 500 DVDs and I sold the bulk of them to move to Toronto in order to pursue my career. It was kind of a bittersweet thing where I’m selling movies in order to be in them. Now I’ve been able to build up my collection again with Blu-Rays, so that’s my big geek thing. My office that I write from is covered, littered in posters. In high school my two jobs that I had were at Jumbo Video for three years, which is a chain of movie stores, and then I worked at Blockbuster for two years as well. I wracked up so many movie posters from those jobs. I’m a big sucker for celebrity culture too even though it’s become very nasty, like with all of the Amanda Bynes stuff and how there’s no privacy anymore. Some of them choose it, some of them don’t, but anyway to return to your question I like celebrity culture. Believe it or not I love Perez Hilton (laughs) even though I don’t agree with some of the things he says, but he like to be informed with that culture although he has reverted back to being a little mean, but I like to keep up on that geek out on celebrity culture.
What are some projects of yours that we can look forward to?
There’s Sibling Rivalry which is the short I wrote and directed and that’s going to be premiering on September 14th at the Atlantic Film Festival. That’s the world premiere and then we’ll be showing it at other festivals, hopefully internationally, shortly afterwards. I’ll be appearing on the upcoming fourth season of HBO Canada’s Call Me Fitz which is headlined by Jason Priestley. He was the director of the episode I was in and it was great to work with him, he’s a great guy. I think it’s episode eight of the upcoming season and it will air on HBO Canada and on Direct TV in the States.
What is your dream role?
OK, this would never happen, BUT I am a huge huge huge huge HUGE fan of James Dean. James Dean is like my main man, I even have his face tattooed on my lower arm.
Yeah! I’m a big fan of his and I just like the way that he lived his life. To answer your question I would love to play him, the role of him in his life story. That being said it’s already been done very well might I add by James Franco in the TV film James Dean. I don’t know if I could top that and I don’t even look anything like him, but I can dream, right?
Totally, don’t limit yourself.
Yeah, exactly. There are prosthetics and costumes.
Exactly, don’t dash your dreams!
Totally! That would be my dream role to play the role of an actor coincidentally.
What is your favorite comic book movie and why?
Ooh, comic book movie. I really liked X-Men: First Class. I really like that and it was a good return to form and I’m really excited for the next one coming up. After the disaster that was X-Men: Last Stand…
(I can’t help but laugh)
Yeah, you know what I’m talking about! I really enjoyed First Class, it was so well made. Yes, it’s a comic book movie, but it wasn’t just “let’s make some money out of this cash cow,” it was well made and I love that.