Interview with Circus-Szalewski
1. What were your impressions of The Doubt upon first reading the script?
The first private read of The Doubt (indeed, every new draft) was a mystery in itself. For some reason, the scriptwriting software on which the screenplay was composed did not play well with cross-platform internet transmission and required some creative hacking and cleaning to become legible. It got to the point where I dreaded updated drafts (perhaps as much as Michael Smith hated the need to revise the script). But I digress. In the first read of the script (privately, at a quiet desk), I was chortling at how arch the dialogue was and how broadly the characters were drawn. It took me about a week to adjust perspective and grasp the comic-book aspects of how the story would be told. From that point, the challenge, as an actor, became clear — to thoroughly define the inner humanity of the character as formed by his world so as to plausibly and fully justify the choice (conscious and subconscious) of actions and words assigned by the script. That would be the only way to do justice to the rich, interestingly skewed world Michael had created.
2. How would you describe your character?
Joseph vanZwick is the king teflon shark of the Capitalistic Ocean, steadily moving forward on his own terms, rarely blinking, rarely wasting eye contact on those he perceives as his inferiors (just about everyone). I always assumed (probably incorrectly) that his name is similar to the German adjective “zwischen” — between, amid — and describes the lack of compunction he feels as his path/agenda disrupts conversations, competitors’ business, or social justice.
3. What was it like working with Michael Smith?
From the audition notice nearly a year ahead of scheduled principal photography, it was clear that Michael Smith was planning a different method of creating the indie-feature. This advance preparation was a major enticement in deciding to audition for the project as Circus-Szalewski tends toward character-immersion for the brief window of a feature’s shooting schedule (a method which challenges the personal life of the performer badly enough even when a schedule is set a luxurious two months in advance). Michael Smith’s modus operandi (attacking a monstrously large project as a guerrilla warrior armed with a camera and a vision) resulted in some funky scheduling which kept C-S on the proverbial toes. eg, How many other filmmakers have a feature 50% edited before the “first day of shooting” plotted a year earlier? This drive is a marvel and an inspiration (and certainly created an interesting dynamic when Teflon-shark met caffeinated-visionary).
4. What were the biggest challenges you encountered during the making of the movie?
My biggest artistic challenge was to craft the arc to the character’s development. Joe vanZwick may be loud at times when he’s commanding his minion and surroundings, but as a rule he doesn’t allow much to impact him at a personal level (and keeps evidence of any change fairly hidden). I had to carefully select moments when the audience could be allowed to glimpse that which Joe would hide from anyone else.
Another challenge was basically “re-designing the wheel”, so to speak. Strong eye-contact is generally essential in crafting an interesting dynamic between characters. Lack of this connection will often signify a weakness in the character who fails to connect. With vanZwick, I attempted the inverse, “strong Non-eye-contact”, which could signal more than mere passivity or even passive-aggression. In keeping a wide peripheral attention, it was my intent that vanZwick would radiate a distant boundary to his commanded territory while not validating any other individual venturing into that perimeter. Such aloofness created a void which greatly accentuated the moments when vanZwick targeted his unfortunate co-conversationalist with a laserbeam of focused attention.
It was also a challenge to find enough variation in combining the few upscale items in my closet to make Joe vanZwick seem impeccably dressed every time he appears on camera without always dressing him in the same outfit. And, of course, it diminishes the man’s haberdasheral panache in a suit when the performer portraying him forgets to bring dark socks to the shoot on the one day Joe’s ankles are at camera level.
5. What scene did you have the most fun making?
The two scenes in the tobacco shop were the most fun for me. They offered the opportunity to work intimately opposite Mia Park in a gorgeously lit and dressed location. And because the two scenes (the first meeting of the characters and a later scene of vulnerability for both) shot in the same night, it was like living a relationship’s progress with the help of a time-machine. There was also the added fun/challenge of needing to keep our voices at a relatively intimate pitch while trying to let the other performer hear their cues through an inch thick plate glass door — we really needed to latch onto each other’s body language to know where we were in the dialogue and I think it forced the characters to be even more connected than if we were nose to nose.