Writer/director Rustam Branaman continues to expand himself as a filmmaker. With his third feature film, Any Day, he’s gathered the likes of Sean Bean, Eva Longoria, Kate Walsh and Tom Arnold, to name a few, to star in his spiritual drama centered on the impact of others and how we can grow not just as a person, but as a member of the community, family and faith.
Though the film — which can currently be found on Netflix streaming, and on iTunes and Amazon Video — deals with a number of heavy, thoughtful topics, Branaman is here to discuss a few of them, as well as talk about the process of making the film and working with the talented people mentioned above.
In this exclusive interview, TheCelebrityCafe.com’s Will Ashton talks to Rustam about putting his actors in a safe environment, getting his friend Shane Black to make a cameo, future projects and more.
TheCelebrityCafe.com : I feel as though you’ve gotten this one a lot already, but thank you for not killing off Sean Bean.
Rustam Branaman: Oh, sure!
TCC: But my first question is: How did you two end up working together on this project?
RB: Sean was my top choice. He’s an incredible actor, and he has a phenomenal on-screen presence and inner life — which is something I look for in actors: their inner life. What’s going on inside the subject. And we got him the screenplay, and he read it. He lives in the U.K., so after he read it and very liked it, Sean and I had a long phone call conversation — probably an hour-and-a-half phone call conversation — and it turns out, so often with actors they want to be clear about (if) the filmmaker is specific in his vision and where he’s going, because there’s a lot of trust — on both ends, actually. And so, Sean and I had an incredible phone conversation, and he agreed to do the role over the phone, which was fantastic.
TCC: And especially since you got a lot of other high-profile actors for this movie, what was your method for working with them on set — especially since you’re an actor yourself?
RB: My approach with actors is, number one, to let them know that it’s a safe environment. The safer the environment is, the more dangerous an actor can be. And what I mean by that is: the further out they can go on the ledge, ultimately, the more captivating, and fascinating, and interesting, their work will be. The way I work with actors is to let them know that it’s a completely safe environment. Accordingly, at the same time, be very clear in the overall understanding of what the narrative is, and what the town is, and what we’re doing, and what the arc is, and what the moment is, and what the scene’s about, and what the feature’s about, all of that.
But ultimately, in working with the actors, the most important thing I can set up is to let them know that it’s a safe environment. Because so often, actors wind up working in an environment that isn’t completely safe, because there’s so much concern with technical elements, and there’s so much concern with a shooting schedule, and the time trying to figure out the scene they’re supposed to capture within that construct. A lot of times, actors wind up in an environment that’s not that safe, which I think ultimately can work against an actor and their instrument, and can shut them down.
TCC: And in addition to the other actors, you also act in the movie. So what was it like directing yourself?
RB: Directing myself was great! I loved it. I’d direct myself all the time, if I could. [laughs] I wanted to do a role, and it’s a little scary directing yourself, because there has to be trust. There has to be a deep trust when you direct yourself, in that yeah, you can do a number of takes and you can go back, and go and look at the playback and see what you think of it. Whereas I didn’t do that; I just had one scene in the film. We did, I think, three takes, and I got the thumbs up that every take was in focus and it didn’t have any technical difficulties. And I just assumed that one of those three would work. So that’s how that came about.
TCC: Speaking of writers/directors, I was really surprised to see Shane Black pop up for a little cameo role as well.
TCC: How did that come about? Because I know you two worked together on Iron Man 3. Well, you appeared in Iron Man 3, at least. But I was curious about how your relationship with him came about.
RB: Shane is a dear friend, and one of my favorite guys in the world. And also, I think, a fantastic actor. I don’t know if you’ve seen some of his work as an actor, but he was fantastic in As Good As It Gets, and he was also wonderful in Predator.
RB: I think he’s really a super actor. And I called him and I said, “I’d really love for you to do a role. It’s not a big role. It’s a small one, and you’d be working with Sean Bean.” Of course, Shane is a big fan of Game of Thrones, and a lot of others things Sean has done, so he was more than happy to do it. Shane and Sean got along like oak on a fire. They really hit it off. It was a real honor to have Shane in my film. I think it’s a very fun scene with the two of them.
TCC: There are a lot of heavy, dramatic themes at play in this movie, but are there any messages in particular that you’d like people to take away from your film, what would those be?
RB: I believe the most important thing that I’m really looking to articulate — if I could repose the question put forth — are the theme of transformation, that someone can change and can come from the dark to the light, and the theme of something beyond the material. Which we can’t necessarily scientifically prove but so many people believe, or have a sense, that there is something that goes beyond the material. Those two themes are very interesting, and fascinating, to me. And those twos kinda go together; they were the most important things that I was looking to articulate in the film.
TCC: And I know this is your third film, but the first two that you’ve done before have been more in the thriller genre. So as this being more of a family drama, were there any big takeaways, or challenges you had to overcome, from switching genres?
RB: There weren’t. The fact that this film was different than the other two films that I made wasn’t [a challenge]. Every film has its own life, and, for me, I feel they have to have, to quote Elia Kazan — the great director, Elia Kazan — “there’s nothing more interesting than the frame of film for actors.” So no matter what film I’m doing, you know, if I was doing a $200 million visual effects-heavy film, yes, the visual effects have to be right, and yes, they have to be phenomenal and competitive with what’s happening in that film and mesmerize us. But at the end of the day, if the acting doesn’t work, then no matter how great those visual effects are, the film’s not going to work. So, for me, it was actually a great job doing this film, because it is such a character piece.
TCC: And bringing it back to actors, I was really surprised to see Tom Arnold. I think this is the first dramatic performance I’ve seen from him. What was it like getting this sweet, down-to-Earth performance from this prominently comedic actor?
RB: Tom Arnold has natural comic timing. Working with Tom was all about bringing him down, and not letting him do what so often he’ll do — which is what he’s brilliant at, and he’s great to watch — which is being funny … and working with what he can do so well. But because it’s in him — and comic timing — and being an actor that’s funny and can do that; his comic timing is natural. Comedy is something that sorta something that you have to have. So it was all about bringing him down a little bit.
But Eva Longoria is such a fabulous actor that, with her, it was just allowing her to go deep and (to) give her total control. And with Kate Walsh, it was really allowing her to explore what this character was going through — which Kate really wanted to explore, and wanted to experiment. You know, I believe that all of the actors —all of the main actors, and even those in the smaller roles — I believe that they all turned in wonderful performances.
TCC: Alright, and for my last question: Are there any other projects, as a filmmaker or as an actor, that you’re working on or preparing to make at the moment?
RB: There are. There are a number of them, and they are all at various states. And it’s all about putting them together, and have them actually go run the gamut, which is, one way or another — by hook or by thumb — I’ll be making another film in the near future. So I hope to talk to you again, Will, about the next film that I do. I had a great time talking with you, and I want to thank you for your interest.
Any Day is now available to stream on Netflix, and to purchase on Amazon Video and iTunes.