SXSW Interview: John Gallagher Jr. & Kate Lyn Sheil Talk ‘The Heart Machine’, Skype Auditions and More

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John Gallagher Jr. (Short Term 12, The Newsroom) and Kate Lyn Sheil (House of Cards) star in writer/director Zachary Wigon’s terrific new film, The Heart Machine. It’s a film about dating and sex in the internet age, where you can still be anonymous even if you’ve been intimately talking to someone online for months.   

John stars as Cody who enters into an online romance with Virginia, played by Kate. They’ve never met because Kate is going to school in Berlin. Or is she? Cody suspects that she is still in New York City and starts obsessively looking for clues to find out where she really is. I won’t spoil anything but this was one of my favorite films at SXSW. And that’s where I interviewed them both. We talked about the film and rehearsal, Skyping auditions, nightmare auditions and more.

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes.

You guys you had some rehearsal time for the film? How long was that?

John Gallagher Jr.: 4 days, right?

Kate Lyn Sheil: Yeah, something like that.

John Gallagher Jr.: A couple days.

Do you guys like rehearsing?

Kate Lyn Sheil: I love rehearsing. I love it.

John Gallagher Jr.: I do too.

Kate Lyn Sheil: I think it’s so helpful.

John Gallagher Jr.: It was great. We did a lot. Basically we went in with the script and we would go through all the scenes. We went through all the Skype scenes in the film and then Zack is very big and kind of into improv and fearless about it and luckily we were game and into it. And so then we would do a bunch of improvising and then Zack would kind of take notes on what we improvised and a lot of the improvisation made its way into the script.

And then also when we were shooting it, we would do a couple of scripted takes and then he would let us do whatever we wanted, which was very cool. It sometimes can be terrifying because you feel like a pressure or something, but there was… didn’t feel that in this one. Because the goal was basically just to be kind of natural and speak to each other.

Kate Lyn Sheil: I think without the rehearsal period, the improvisation on set would’ve been much more terrifying.

John Gallagher Jr.: And bad.

Kate Lyn Sheil: Less fruitful, yeah.

I liked in the film how at times we didn’t know if you were the crazy one.

John Gallagher Jr.: Right.

And if you were the sort of normal, I guess is the only word I can think of right now. And, John,  you played that very well. And throughout the movie it’s like you were getting sort of  going deeper and deeper in the rabbit hole.

 ohn Gallagher Jr.: Oh, yeah. He’s definitely spiraling.

Did you have to keep some sort of documentation on how obsessive you were getting?

John Gallagher Jr.: Yeah, I mean, that was something definitely that Zack luckily, with each scene, especially when you’re shooting things out of order you have to, obviously, pay attention to what is happening right before this that’s making the character kind of do this or do that. And thankfully, I had Zack who was paying a lot of attention to that. And so if I ever was losing my way on that balance, he would kinda help remind me.

But in a way there’s something very cool about the freedom of when you shoot things kind of out of sequence and then you might misstep a little bit on the kind of sequence of events but then when you cut it all together, you’ll have these kind of happy accidents or kind of magical things.

There’s a scene where I’m talking to this guy about my suspicions and we’re getting stoned outside of this bar. And then there originally was a different… there was a scene in between those scenes that ended up kind of getting cut and so it goes to another scene right after that and what Zack pointed out to me last night was he was like, “You know, in the editing it now actually seems like you’re still stoned in this next scene.” I certainly wasn’t playing that, but then that’s kind of the cool thing about when you give something up and then it turns into a movie. Kinda on a bit of a tangent here, but… yup.

You said you Skyped your audition?

John Gallagher Jr.: Yeah.

Was that the first time you’d done anything like that?

John Gallagher Jr.: Yeah, I had Face Timed a couple of times before, but I’d never downloaded the Skype software. And my agent emailed me and was, you know, said this director wants to talk to you and I read the script and I was like, “Great.” I was in LA and Zack was in New York and so I was like, “I’ll Face Time him,” and she was like, “No, he only has Skype.” I was like, “What?” So I had to download it and learn how to work it and I messed up a couple of times and then finally Skyped with Zack to talk about the movie. That was how it all started for me.

I’ve talked to a couple of people now who’ve said they’ve Skyped their auditions. Kate, have you ever done that?

Kate Lyn Sheil: Yeah.

How does the logistics work with that?

Kate Lyn Sheil: I’ve always been sitting down. I mean, I’ve mostly had conversations with directors over Skype. I had one audition, it was just a horrendous experience. But then you’re in the comfort of your own home when it’s over.

John Gallagher Jr.: Yeah, exactly. I know, that’s the kinda nice part about it.

Vodka is quickly accessible.

Kate Lyn Sheil: That’s right. It’s actually right below the camera.

I’ve never done that. So I just think it would be sort of a strange…

Kate Lyn Sheil: It’s very strange.

…experience. And they’re reading the lines to you?

Kate Lyn Sheil: I had to improvise mine. It was… it was not a smashing success.

John Gallagher Jr.: I’ve never done that. I’ve only done conversations. The last 2 movies I did I met the directors over Skype and then met them in person later on. But I can’t really doing the… the Skype audition, I think, would be terrifying.

Kate Lyn Sheil: Yeah. Yeah. It was bad.

How do you guys like auditioning?

John Gallagher Jr.: Can’t get enough of it. [laughs] It’s terrible. It’s just the worst.

Kate Lyn Sheil: It’s so, so bad.

John Gallagher Jr.: It’s horrifying every time.

Kate Lyn Sheil: It’s bad.

I go usually go in for small roles but I just get completely nervous.

Kate Lyn Sheil: I get so nervous.

John Gallagher Jr.: Oh God.

Kate Lyn Sheil: Oh God yeah. Oh my God. So nervous. Just horrifyingly nervous. Yeah.

But I would imagine they’d really wanna see you. Me, I’m just like number 29 out of 40 guys.

Kate Lyn Sheil: There are so many actors.

John Gallagher Jr.: There are so many actors in the world and then also just the process in and of itself kind of like levels you in a way.

Kate Lyn Sheil: Yeah, because the casting director has seen so many people.

John Gallagher Jr.: Yeah. And so it’s very easy to go in there and kinda still just feel like, “Oh, I don’t belong here. What am I doing?”

For a while I think I used to really shoot myself in the foot where I would… I think I had a couple of auditions that went well when I didn’t really prepare and then I was like, “Oh, well maybe I’ll just never prepare.” And then you’re like, “This is terrible. I’m killing myself. I’m going in there and doing nothing. And that’s becoming what I’m known for.”

I remember once getting an email finally where a casting director in New York reached out to my agent and was like, “You need to talk to John because he’s coming in and he’s reading everything, he’s not off book, and he’s just looking down the whole time.” It was a huge eye opener where I was like, “Oh, God. I’ve been doing that.” Yeah, that was a couple of years ago and thankfully I stopped doing that. Now, regardless, it’s like, “Well, yeah, of course you have to show up and know what you’re doing.”

Kate Lyn Sheil: It makes so much… I love a rehearsal period when I’m doing a film, but somehow I was under the impression that I could go into an audition when I’m going to be extremely nervous and not prepared. That makes sense?

John Gallagher Jr.: Yeah, it’s kinda backwards. But luckily… I wanna say that it’s getting easier, but…

Kate Lyn Sheil: Well, it does somehow. You become a little bit anesthetized to the horror of it.

John Gallagher Jr.: Yeah, exactly.

Kate Lyn Sheil: But it’s still… I still get extremely nervous and it’s still tough.

What are some of the nightmare auditions you guys have had?

John Gallagher Jr.: Oh, man. I had one for a play years ago where it was… it was very up in the air about there were two guy characters and it was very up in the air about which one I was gonna read for. And I wanted to read for one but they wanted to read me for another one. And so I prepared one and they switched it at the last minute and I tried to learn this other character at the last minute. And I went in and I didn’t really know what I was doing and there was a scene… there’s a big scene where a character, it’s very disturbing, where a character throws a baby into a lake in a bag.

Nice guy.

John Gallagher Jr.: Yeah, great character. And I decided I was gonna make a great grand gesture where I was gonna throw my pages. Because I was like, “What’ll I throw?” I was like, “I’ll throw my pages and it’ll be cool like I’m…” and I threw the pages and then forgot the lines. And then the pages were scattered all over the audition room and…

Kate Lyn Sheil: Did you collect them?

John Gallagher Jr.: I kinda tried to collect them and I kinda tried to do it. And then I went outside and left my bag in the audition room and then stormed back in as they were all talking about me…

Kate Lyn Sheil: Oh God.

John Gallagher Jr.: …to get my bag, and that was great.

And then I also had a director once who I started doing the audition and he was like, “Hang on a second. Let me see what happens…” this is… I’m saying too much. Showing how not prepared I was with it back in the day. And he was like, “See what happens when I do this,” and took the sides away from me. I was like, “Oh, I don’t have it memorized,” and he was like, “Just go.” And so I started trying to improvise but it was a period western, so now I’m trying to improvise in a forgotten tongue. It wasn’t going very well and he finally stopped me and was like, “Do you even want this? Do you wanna do this movie?” And I was like, “Oh, yeah.” And he was like, “Go outside and take 20 minutes and learn it and come back.” Then I did. That was a film called The Heart Machine. No, I’m kidding. I didn’t get that.

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