The one and only Ethan Embry was nice enough to accept our invitation to a little chat during which we learned more about him, his long career, and his brand new film, Cheap Thrills, a definite must for anyone who appreciates intelligent and skilled gory thrillers.
We must say, the man is equally badass, funny and endearing…
HOLLYWOODPQ: Have you been here before (Québec/Montréal)?
ETHAN EMBRY: Yes, I did a film there back in… Gosh, must have been 2002.
Really!? It’s been too long. You must come back.
I know! Believe me, ever since I left I’ve been wanting to. I got to spend like four months out there I loved it! Great city!
Was it in the summer?
I got out there in early april. There was still snow on the ground. It was a cold winter. Since I was there for three and a half months I got to see a good amount of the spring and summer as well. So I got a good view of it, and I liked it.
Was it for Timeline?
Yeah! That horrible film! (Laughs) Yes, that’s the one I’m talking about. That horrible movie that was based upon a great book… Yes… (Laughs again)
So, you’re able to just tell that you’ve been a part of a horrible movie?!
Oh Gosh! I’ve been a part of many horrible movies!
What’s the worst one?
That’s up there, but I think the worst one, the absolute worst one has like a four on RottenTomatoes. It’s called The Reunion and it’s just awful. It’s just plain awful! Unwatchable… It’s unwatchable…
I came really close to watching it for this interview…
NO! Don’t! NO! Do you remember the old American TV show T.J. Hooker? It’s kinda like one of those shows that never was good enough to turn into a TV show. It’s like a bad seventies TV show pilot. That’s how bad it is… The camera never moves, I am absolutely horrible in it. It’s just plain bad!
I did a couple interviews and it’s really hard to get something honest, if you know what I mean…
Oh! Yeah, I’ll tell it to you straight… I got nothing to hide!
What makes you choose those projects? You’ve made such ballsy choices in the last few years! What is it that draw you to these projects?
Which one? The bad ones or the, sometimes, good ones? (Laughs)
Why did you choose to do The Reunion?
Well, on the page it didn’t look as bad… There was hope, you know! There was hope on the page! And, I got paid more money than I’ve been paid in the past five years to do a job, you know. I have a family…What are you gonna do? You gotta make a living. Making a movie, you never know how it’s going to turn out. It’s always a surprise. It can be the best script and end up being the worst film. It can be the worst script and end up being the best film.
There’s no rhyme, reason, formula… You just never know, in my opinion. Unless you’re working with the greats, and they have the greats surrounding them, where the film has been able to put together 150 of the most talented filmmakers in the business. Then, yeah, you’re gonna make a good movie.
Who’s you favorite director? Who would you say yes to on the spot?
Recently, Tarantino. I saw Django (Unchained) five times in the theatre. Inglourious Basterds is absolutely brilliant… And he was at Cheap Thrills on Wednesday!!!
Yeah! He came and watched it! (Laughs)
And it did good! I heard it did awesome?!
I was IN the theatre watching the movie with Quentin Tarantino and I was in the movie he was watching!
This is SO cool!
Did you shake his hand or something?
I didn’t know that he was there until the day after! Yeah, he came in and left and I didn’t know that he was there until the next day. And nobody knows what he thought, nobody has heard anything ’cause he doesn’t have Twitter, he doesn’t have any social media. The word from the theatre is that he was enjoying himself… So, we’ll see… I don’t know…
You’ll remember to ask him if you meet him?
OH FU** YEAH! Oh yes! Immediatly! (Laughs) But yeah, (Quentin) Tarantino, Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan), (David) Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en), Woody Allen before he started molesting people…
Woah, that’s way WAY back!
Way back like Manhattan… Way back! I’ve been really diving deep into Korean horror thriller films lately. Like all the Vengeance series, Old Boy, Lady Vengeance, Mister Vengeance. I Saw the Devil is a brilliant thriller. The Yellow Sea is another Korean thriller. I’ve been diving hard into that. The Korean cinema is mindblowingly good!
I heard Cheap Thrills won the audience award for the midnighters at SXSW and it did really good on RottenTomatoes for instance. What was it supposed to be in the first place? I mean, it’s an independant movie obviously, but were you expecting such a good response or you just never know?
You never know! And this is a testament to the director E.L. Katz. The way that he cast it, the way that he shot it, the way that he cut it, and the score that he put to it is what makes it lend so well with the audiences.
It’s the reason why, when you have a good script, and it’s something that you feel like you can bring to life, you take a risk with a guy that has never done it before because the chance is that it is somebody like E.L. Katz. The possibilities are limitless.
All those directors that I mentioned, they all had a first film. Nowadays, that’s what’s great about the industry right now. You can get your hands on a relatively cheap camera and if you have a story and a little bit of money, you don’t need much, you can make a movie that will stand up against films that are costing millions and millions of dollars. For me, the most thrilling part is to be able to work with someone that is obviously going to have a very promising career in this business. To be a part of his birth on the scene is the most thrilling part.
Take a chance on someone? Making a bet on someone…
Because he took a chance on me! He gave me an opportunity to do a role that nobody really looks at me for.
Yeah, you never really had played a caracter like that…
Right! There was a show that I did on Showtime (Brotherhood). We did three seasons of it. I played this drug addict, basically a corrupt cop, and that was the show the director saw. The director of Cheap Thrills saw that and said « That’s the guy that I want to play Vince ».
What makes it different? I mean, there are a lot of movies that flirted with the topic of « How far are you ready to go for money » like The Box or Would you Rather… What makes it different?
I haven’t seen those other films but, to me, have you seen Four Rooms with Tim Roth? The last short, the one that Quentin Tarantino directed… When I first read the script, there’s a part of Cheap Thrills that is a direct nod to that that I was conscious of the whole time. The other stuff like Would you Rather, I think we shot this before that came out… We filmed this almost two years ago.
And then you have things like Indecent Proposal, but what resonated with me about Cheap Thrills beside the comedic elements and the thriller parts of it, the graphicness of it, was what it touches on with… I don’t know if you guys up there in Canada deal with it as much as we do down here but there is 99% of the population that are struggling and there is 1% of the population that are controling everything. That’s the foundation for the film. And then we put this jackass, Twilight Zone, Tarantino nod on top of that.
There’s no apologies. It’s not meant to be polite.
No! And that’s what I love about it. Some people aren’t gonna like it for that reason. I don’t flinch. I don’t have many boundaries, and that’s why I responded to it, personnally.
You have a pretty eclectic career. You’ve had a long one. You played in big productions and independant features. What do you prefer between these two, and what do you like in each one of them?
The great thing about independent film is it’s very collaborative. It’s so small, and contained, and compact that it really becomes a team effort. With studio films, they have a mind of their own, and they’re so big! It’s almost like this wave that you just get on and ride out. Where is it gonna take you?
I prefer the more collaborative aspect of independant filmmaking and, in a way, doing one hour drama on televison is a lot like that too. As an actor, you’re in pretty much every scene if you’re the lead of the show. You and the DP, the director of photography, are the two people that are consistent the whole time. New directors are coming in, new writers are coming in, new actors that are guest starring, but it’s you and the DP so there’s a greater responsability that is similar, in a way, to independant filmmaking and I love that. Having more responsability it’s not just showing up and playing your part it’s…
You’re really involved…
Yeah, you become very involved and you value it more when you go home at night, you know.
I see you’re really involved on social media, on Vine and everything. (He laughs) Yeah, I saw everything! How is it for a public figure to manage something like that? Do you enjoy having direct contact with your fans, or anyone else for that matter, with that tool?
I just started doing Twitter and all that kind of stuff. I do like it. When I was younger, I would go to my agent once a month and pick up a box of letters, you know. Like fan mail that people would mail to my agency, and I’d go and pick it up and read it. And if they left a phone number in there, and it was a good letter, sometimes I’d pick up the phone and call them.
It’s a way to communicate. So far, people have been really nice, you know. I’m a big subscriber to the less that I hide, the less they’re gonna want.
They’re not gonna chase it, if you give it.
Yeah! And also, when you hide certain things, things are left up to interpretation and they may not get the correct point of view. But if you’re just open, and you really show « this is what I’m about », then maybe you can be better understood… I guess… I don’t know. But it’s incredibly antisocial if you think about it…
Yeah, you’re basically talking to yourself…
Yes! Exactly! You know, you have your Twitter profile on your phone, OK? I have never gone on to someone else’s Twitter and looked at what they see everyday when they log in, and get their notifications, and their feed. So it’s all through my pespective. There is nothing social about it AT ALL! It’s completely self-absorbed. It’s what the world looks like through MY eyes. Yeah, yeah… It’s actually the most antisocial thing you can do!
Social media changed the movie business. There is more visibility for independant movies. What’s your take on this? Do you think we should watch more of those and leave out the movies that are dictated to us by the big companies?
Well, no, because I think there is great content coming out of the studios… Sometimes… Like Life of Pi was a studio film and it was fuc***g brilliant! All Tarantino films these days are studio films, so there is great content out there. We haven’t spent any money on Cheap Thrills, not a penny, and people know about it because of social media. That was their plan. It’s a new way of getting the word out. You get people right into their pocket. And if there is a guy that you respect, that you « follow » on Twitter, and he says something about a book, an album, or a film, suddenly « Oh, he likes it! I like everything that he likes. I bet I’ll like that too. » And then it becomes infectious and it spreads… Like a fuc***g virus. (Chuckles)
Which might be a good thing or a REALLY bad thing…
Yeah… Depends on the virus!
You already told me about the worst movie you’ve ever done, what’s the project of which you’re the proudest.
Well, up until Cheap Thrills it was that Showtime show. I would say, the smartest thing that I’ve ever been involved in was the Showtime show, Brotherhood. It was almost too smart. That’s why it never really took off. What is bringing me, currently, the most thrill is Cheap Thrills. I’ve seen it now with five audiences and I haven’t heard people laugh, and cringe, and react in a really long time and it’s a great feeling.
Is there something you can not talk about anymore? That you’re sick of?
No, and I used to. I used to shy away from the Can’t Hardly Wait and the Empire Records. I embrace them now. They’ve become part of people’s entertainement past. I embrace that. It’s definitely not what I am doing now but I appreciate what it has given me. Do you know what I mean? And I can appreciate it now when people say that it gave them something. I used to think that they were just fuc***g out of their minds when they said that they enjoyed those films.
I would have been a little shocked by that. I mean, Can’t Hardly Wait really made a difference on me. You might not understand it, but it did!
See and that’s because the films that made a difference to me are different, but I can now appreciate that and I’m not ashamed. For a while I was ashamed of it, you know.
I’m glad you’re not anymore!
Yeah, me too. It’s a lot better to not be ashamed of your past. That choice is all up to me. (Laughs) I’m the only one who can NOT be ashamed of my past.
People have an idea of who Ethan Embry is but how would you describe yourself?
Huh… I’m a family man. I have a 14 year old boy. Everything that I’ve done since the day that I met him, when he was born, has been to try to make his life better. And… Huh… I’m fuc***g insane! (Laughs)
Life is a funny thing and… I like pushing the limits. I like to experience as much as I possibly can. I think that has something to do with what I do for a living because there are characters that I wouldn’t be able to play if I didn’t know what their perspective was actually like. I’ve gotten close, in my personnal life, to a lot of the darker characters that I’ve portrayed. But luckily I’ve come out the other side every time « so far ».
And you’re good now? How are things now?
I’m good now. I’m a happy man!
What’s your favorite movie of all time?
I would say the one that I have probably seen the most is Midnight Express. I’ve watched that film so many times, I love it! That might take the cake.
Who’s the most inspiring person to you and why?
My son. He’s such a good man, you know, and he makes me want to be better.
Who’s the most intimidating person you’ve ever worked with?
Huh… I would think Gary Goetzman. He’s the guy that produced That Thing You Do. (Laughs) I was really fuc***g intimidated by him. I just wanted him to like me.
NO! (Laughs) Still doesn’t!
When he sees you he’s like « Oh, no, not Embry again! »
Yeah, exactly. Oh yeah!
That’s kind of tragic for a question but… When you retire, please don’t do it too soon (Laughs), what do you hope you’ll be able to say about your career? What do you wish for yourself from here on out?
I just hope it keeps going. I hope that, even after 25 years, it’s only just the start, you know. And, as exhausting of a prospect as that is, I just want to keep going. A couple years back I worked with Alan Arkin and, he’s an old dude! It’s hard for him to get to set, and it’s hard for him to work twelve hours but he does it still because he’s addicted to it and it’s where he’s the happiest. So, I really hope I can continue to do this… At least being on a set until I’m frail.
Did you ever go behind the camera?
Would you be interested in that?
Oh yeah! I want to! It’ll happen. I’m a complete perfectionist and I’m still learning a lot about myself. So I’m still learning what my opinion about certain things would be, but it’ll happen.
Any words for your Quebec fans?
(Laughs) You guys treated me really well back in 2002 and I highly appreciate it. Canadian girls are awesome! (Laughs again)
Well, thank you!
We prepared a photo gallery of some of Ethan‘s most memorable roles. You can also indulge yourself in this scene of Pizza in which he plays a rendition of David Cope‘s Lush Life. And remember, Cheap Thrills will be released on DVD on May 27th, but you can pre-order it now on Amazon or rent/buy it on iTunes Canada.