SXSW Interview: Brian Geraghty on ‘Kilimanjaro’, Acting Survival Jobs and Working with Denzel Washington

Kilimanjaro-brian-geraghtyBrian Geraghty is so good in smaller roles in films like Flight (opposite Denzel Washington) and The Hurt Locker, just to name a few. He’s always got something going on in his eyes and most anything he does I’ve always enjoyed watching.

In Kilimanjaro, which premiered at SXSW this year, Brian is out front and center as the star of the film. He plays Doug, a guy who’s life isn’t what he imagined. He’s got a bad job, boring relationship and he’s just wading through life. When his girlfriend packs up and leaves, he decides to embark on a more meaningful life and starts planning to climb the famous Mount Kilimanjaro. But, as sometimes happens, life gets in the way and he finds himself trying to get to that elusive mountaintop… both literally and figuratively.

Brian is an interesting guy and I got a kick out of talking to him at SXSW. We talked about how he prepared for his role in Kilimanjaro, how he got his start, what it was like showing up on the set of Flight and working with Denzel Washington and what was his acting survival job(s) were.

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

Is this the first role you’ve had where you were in every single scene?

Brian Geraghty: There’s been a few of them. Probably maybe my fifth one. I did another one called Easier with Practice about 2009, it went on to go to a lot of festivals and do really well and we were really proud of it, that I was in every single frame of that. It’s hard to find the right thing that you really feel like you’re gonna be able to kind of be in every single scene and propel the movie forward regardless, I mean, if I’ve done that or not, but I did have that feeling like I could do this right away.

The smaller roles you do in the big films, man, your acting in there, you can just see all the stuff that’s going on behind your eyes.  How differently do you have to prepare?

Brian Geraghty: Yeah, this one movie I learned to fly a plane. But I shoot… it’s like I go to shoot a big scene with Denzel Washington would be my first day. You know? And then it’s like you’re scared shitless, no matter who you are, you’re scared.

But here it’s like, you know, in the pre production process the only way I think through these movies to be successful because you don’t have any money and because you don’t have the luxury of time, you need to work out everything beforehand and in that process you become so comfortable with what you’re doing. That adds to an element of, you know, on the day when you’re actually shooting, but little things you talked about are kind of there. It’s part of the preparation process.

So, meanwhile, it’s a lot more responsibility. If the movie doesn’t fail completely a lot of it will be on your shoulders. I mean, sometimes it’s not your fault and sometimes it is, you know, whatever. But you have to be ready to accept that responsibility.

And, look, I read the script, I read 10 pages, then I read 20, read 30, and usually when you get to 30 you’re trying to… like, “I can make this work,” this one was like, “Oh, I can do this.” By the end I’m like, “Oh my God, this is perfect. Like, I can do this tomorrow,” and I was hoping the director was smart, which he obviously wrote the script, we all thought was great. And it was one of those processes where it was so easy and we ended up having a couple hour conversation and he took his time and eventually they let me come onto the project and we worked together for months, you know, we were talking. And then we got right when we got a start date it was about 3 weeks constant rewrite, just kinda talking through. And so when you get there you just… once you start, it’s like once you get that first moment, you know? Like when you’re doing a speech, it’s like that first word out and then you’re good.

That’s how it is where other stuff, you know, it’s like you come in, you’re never really comfortable. Just when you get comfortable, you’re done. So if that makes any sense.

Once you were attached did you guys tailor it to more towards what you were thinking in your head?

Brian Geraghty: We just kinda maybe aligned things here and there in moments. We just talked through everything and tried to make a trajectory because we knew that the way I played the character and kinda my instincts, which Walter encouraged, was that this guy bordered on complete no confidence would have moments of, like, almost getting there. And to make that watchable for an hour and 30… or, an hour and 20 minutes is with a real meditative kind of movie where we purposefully… this movie takes place in Manhattan, in Brooklyn, but it’s not… there’s no gratuitous sex, there’s no explosions or anything. It’s a journey of this guy and to make it interesting was really difficult. You try to find the honesty of what this guy was going through, if that makes sense. And it was… that was the process.

In the movie there was a quick little segment where your character is applying… interviewing for jobs?

Brian Geraghty: Yeah.

Have you ever had an actor survival job?

Brian Geraghty: Yeah. Oh, yeah, man. I’ve done… I catered. I catered in New York as a caterer at all the museums and that was tough. I mean, it was fun, once I switched over to bartending and have a little more control. I’ve obviously waited tables. I taught surfing in Santa Monica. I was a personal trainer at New York Sports Club. I worked at a video store, kind of a specialty video store, when we still had VHS cassettes. Kinda switching over right when I got out of theatre school in 1998. I washed windows, I did a lot of different stuff.

Yeah. I did a lot of different stuff and, you know, then luckily got to commercials when they were in their heyday.

Now you can’t make as much money doing them.

Brian Geraghty: Yeah, I haven’t been doing any commercials, but I’m good.

What’s your advice to actors?

Brian Geraghty: You know, it’s really interesting being an actor. You focus on the work and good things will come. You focus on this other stuff, the noise, which we all get sidetracked.

I’d say you focus on the work till you… that’s the only thing you can control is the work. You’re an actor, if you wanna act. If you focus on all the other stuff, like getting this job or trying to just keep focus on the work and, you know, you become… see, that’s what John Hawks does, that’s what Ed Harris does, that’s what, you know, those guys aren’t trying to make hit plays and movies. Their trying to exercise their need to create and their talent. That’s it. Focus on the work.

What’s your nightmare audition? What’s the worst audition that you’ve had?

Brian Geraghty: Oh, man I’ve had a few. Some TV… I mean, everything. Just talking yourself into something, just to like, “Ok, I haven’t worked in a while and I should go in there.” Not having enough time really and, you know, just knowing you have no idea what you’re doing and kinda stumbling through and having that nervous feeling, you know. I’ve been there. Everybody has.

You know, it’s one of those things. You know what I wanted to say too? It’s like when you make a movie, this is going back to when you asked… when you make a movie, particularly a 200,000 thousand dollar movie, you know, I looked at this as a dream chance to act. I’m like, “Man, I get to act every day.” For almost 2 months with rehearsals and use my mind and exercise.  Just that experience alone was like gratifying. Because sometimes, like you’re saying, when you go and do a bigger movie, yeah, you’re there for 2 months and you work 10 days, if that.

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