Opening in theaters this weekend is a touching family film from director Mitch Davis titled The Stray.
Davis, whose resume extends to The Other Side of Heaven and Christmas Eve, had an experience unlike any other on the set of The Stray. The director was giving actor Michael Cassidy instructions for a character based on himself. Cassidy was burdened with representing a true story from the director's life, right before the director's eyes, every day during production of The Stray.
Not only was this something new for Davis, but also an experience unlike any other for Cassidy, an accomplished actor with credits including Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Argo.
PopCulture.com caught up with Cassidy to hear his perspective on the upcoming film in a wide-ranging interview from performing for Davis to how this film will impact pet lovers emotionally.
PopCulture.com: You're playing a character who is actually the story of director Mitch Davis. I'm curious what that's like for you, on set, to have to act this out right in front of him?
Michael Cassidy: Basically I got sent the script, I read the script before I met him, and I responded to the script. My first question for him was, "Okay man, how's this going to work?" Like, how are we going to tell the story? Because I want my acting to be personal to me, but the reality of the story doesn't have to be my story. I wanted to talk with him about that, and he was just sold on set, and from the very beginning, he was so good at being like, "Hey man, you're much more interesting than me. So I support you, and it's all ... It's going to be a good movie, independent of how accurate you are in who I am, and what I do." I think there are things in the movie that are outside of my performance that he paid attention to more than the specifics of matching his life.
He really, I think rightly, felt like the story props itself up independent of having it actually match something that he went through. But it was a totally weird experience.
PC: You've been on all kinds of sets. Looking at your resume, you've been on a lot of effects heavy sets, too. This one, you have a dog, you have a lot of little kids. I'm wondering if there's any kind of different challenges doing these big effects type of shoots versus more contained, but with kids and animals, type of films?
MC: That's a great question. In some ways, in many ways, acting is waiting. In that way, it doesn't matter how big the crew, and how big the budget is, what you're waiting for ... There was a day on the Batman v Superman set where we were just waiting for a cloud to clear the sun because we needed the sun to be out. I was looking around thinking, "Man, they've got a lot of money on this movie, and they cannot move that cloud faster than it wants to move." In this movie it's, you might have guessed, slightly smaller, and sometimes we were waiting for kids and dogs to hit the tape, so to speak, and say the line. Sometimes they were waiting for me to do the same thing. It's just a part of the gig, and in a lot of ways it's actually not that different, but yeah. It's all about sort of like staying awake and present for whatever's in front of you and reacting to it honestly.
PC: What kind of journey is this is for your Mitch Davis character?
MC: I think the journey that Mitch goes on is about finding what his personal, like calibrating his personal compass. I think he's very focused on his job, when we first meet him at the beginning of the film, and wants very much to connect to his family but doesn't know how, and the job is the thing that's taking up so much of his time and energy. And his wife, and this dog, and the other external realities shift in a way that allows him to find a more meaningful, personal connection to his family and community.
PC: I know that as an actor it's easy to get caught up in doing a lot of work, and dedicating yourself to it. Would you say that you found any of yourself in this character? Especially with how he seems to be so dedicated to the studio, early on in the film, like you just mentioned?
MC: Yeah, I definitely chose to do this movie because I really connected to Mitch's relationship with his son, Christian, and also connected to the ... You know they say, I don't know if it's a Hillary quote, or a Oprah book, forgive me, but it takes a village. I find that this movie is about my experience as a man, also. It takes a village to turn into a man, and Mitch had to find his way. What kind of provider is he going to be? What kind of storyteller is he going to be? What kind of artist is he going to be? What kind of father is he going to be? The movie is so good at describing the other people, and this case, animals, prop up that journey so well.
PC: Mitch has a few really inspirational movies under his belt. What is it like to work under him and his direction?
MC: Mitch is like the golden retriever of film directors that I've ever worked with. He's super chilled out, and very loving toward everyone on set. It's a very, very relaxed set. He's clear about what he wants, but he also has, at least what it looks like to me, is a real humble face in the people around him's ability to bring it about with him, as opposed to for him, or against him. I have to say, it's pretty fun to work with a guy who likes actors as much as he does. I'm an actor, I need a lot of validation, and he's very good at giving it to me.
PC: Speaking of actors, The Stray has a really cool cast. With these cast members, were there any funny moments, was there anything improvised, was there anything behind the scenes that people might not get to see that stands out in your memory?
MC: There was a lot of stuff. This isn't super funny, but I think it's really cool and weird, which is that two of the big things that happened in my personal life while I was making this movie were, one, I went for a hike on the only day that I had time off on this job, and I went for a hike and it was blue skies when I left the car, and as I'm hiking a thunder storm rolls in and I'm in the middle of a lightning storm. I was never in danger, I was never struck by lightning, but I was like, there was lightning striking the mountains near me, and I sort of know what to do in that situation so I was safe, but I was definitely like, under this tree, listening to it rain and thunder, and lightning, and thinking, "Man, there is no end of the irony of that." Then the other thing that happened was that my dog of nine years got sick and ultimately died shortly after making this movie, but he got sick while I was making this movie, and I have to say the timing was magic, for me.
I really went through the death of Mitch's dog over again, with him and his family, because his family was very involved in making this movie, a couple months before going through it myself. Mitch and Mitch's family, who the Davis family went through the death of Pluto with a lot of grace...
PC: Wow, sorry to hear about your dog, but that's amazing that it worked out like that.
MC: Yeah, I kind of went heavy there. I mean, let me say that all of the cars in this movie were really difficult for me to drive. I know on the cutting room floor there, there are 20 takes of me killing the engine before I even leave the parking lot with that BMW. Then also just, there are a lot of outtakes of me trying to keep the kids cool in that blue land cruiser, whatever it was, and just not being able to do it because the air conditioner doesn't work, or we can't roll down the windows for sound, or whatever it is. There's slightly happier anecdotes.
PC: How would you describe the film over all in terms of its tone? Is this a feel good family flick? Is it a bit of a tear jerker? A little bit of both?
MC: Yeah, I think it's equal parts of family coming together pet's movie, with some really sad stuff that I think it dealt with in a really nice, and accurate, and emotionally realistic way.
The Stray opens in theaters this weekend.