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By Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., March 19, 2010

Chris Doubek (right) with <b><i>The Happy Poet</i></b> director and star Paul Gordon
Chris Doubek (right) with The Happy Poet director and star Paul Gordon

Double Time: Actor Chris Doubek and his comedy of riches

Chris Doubek's got a dilemma chewing his ass there in the lobby of Austin's Hilton hotel. The actor, a 10-year Austin resident, is featured prominently in two different films at SXSW this year – Paul Gordon's The Happy Poet and Bryan Poyser's Lovers of Hate – and now he's got to make a choice, oh shit: Is he going to make the Alamo Ritz screening for The Happy Poet or show up for the Lovers of Hate meet-and-greet at the Apple Store in Barton Creek Square mall? How does a man wind up with such a sweet problem to deal with?

"I've always wanted to get into indie film," says Doubek, sitting with his back against one Hilton wall. He's handsome in a middle-aged guy sort of way that could never threaten George Clooney, and he's far from laconic. "Ever since I saw Slacker in 1989 or '90. A lot of those early indie movies – Smoke Signals, Eat Drink Man Woman, Boyz n the Hood – there was a different aesthetic, everyone was telling stories that were like, 'This is new and different, let's do it.' So my goal was to eventually do something with Rick Linklater. Ten years ago, I moved here from Boston – and that was a big part of the impetus."

Ten years later, and still no films with Linklater. But a handful of work in indie titles over the years, and now this doubleheader at SXSW. Two different films, two different processes?

"With any film, you're doing basically the same thing," says Doubek. "You're trying to translate ideas into action. There's a script, a story, and you've got to, you know. But with The Happy Poet, there was more of a spirit of improvisation. Like, 'OK, I'm gonna work with this character as much as I can, and when I get on the set we'll just sort of ... go with it,' and taking cues from Paul in what to do. Because sometimes a director can have a direct influence on how you operate in the moment. Sometimes you feel like you're channeling the director's version of yourself, you know? Like they see something in you, some part of you, and so you start to reflect that part. Whereas Lovers of Hate was much more, uh, we spent a lot more time on it. We had, like, five five-hour chunks of rehearsals – which is pretty unheard of in film. That was the beauty of making Lovers, because what we didn't have in terms of getting paid, the general budget, we had in time. It's always either money or time, right?

"And Bryan took all that he knew about acting and brought it into the rehearsals. So we worked for hours with the actors just getting to know each other, developing the backstory, and working with, like, guided imagery and a little bit of theatre games. Which was great, because, as an actor, you wanna really be sure that you've accessed the character. You wanna feel possessed, you know? And there are a lot of different ways of getting there, and Bryan found a great way of doing that. And Heather [Kafka] and Alex [Karpovsky] were so amazing to work with. I was like, 'Do you guys have a theatre background?,' because that's what it seemed like. Jack Lemmon always said you can't learn how to act without doing theatre, and I agree with that. Because anyone can do a character for a take, but can you do one for 40 minutes at a time? Because, you know, you're living a life."

Well, yes. Two films screening in the same festival, having to choose where to make an appearance for publicity's sake? Chris Doubek is definitely living a life.  

The Happy Poet

Narrative Feature, Emerging Visions

Thursday, March 18, 6:15pm, Ritz 2

Lovers of Hate

Narrative Feature, Festival Favorites

Thursday, March 18, 9:30pm, Lamar 1

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