Sam Trammell on His New Film, ‘All Mistakes Buried’, Co-Writing the Script and the Challenges of Playing an Addict
Sam Trammell is terrific in the new film, All Mistakes Buried. It’s the story of a struggling drug addict named Sonny (Trammell) who takes on a dangerous underground criminal ring so he can retrieve a stolen pendant that he believes will save his marriage. You’ve never seen Trammell in a role like this and the film is well worth a watch.
Trammell, who also co-wrote the script, told me that everything about the process was such a “fulfilling experience artistically.” Especially because writing the screenplay helped him feel “total ownership over the character,” he said. “There’s nobody that knows the character in any way better than you do.”
I talked with him recently about the All Mistakes Buried, the challenges of playing an addict, the research he did, his theatre background and more!
I watched the movie last night. What a performance, man. Great job!
Sam Trammell: Thank you so much, thank you. Yeah, I’m really excited that this movie is getting a theatrical release.
Your director is Tim McCann. One of the first things I ever did on film was an episode of Homicide, which he directed.
Sam Trammell: No way, wow.
He was a really nice guy and I liked him a lot and obviously you do too because this is the second film that you’ve worked on together, right?
Sam Trammell: Yeah, yeah. The first movie we did was a movie called White Rabbit. That was the summer before we shot All Mistakes Buried. I was really kind of blown away with his cinematography and what he captured and how it looked. And we liked working together, he and I and Shaun Sanghani, the producer.
So, we just talked and said, “Let’s do something next summer and we can do it kind of cheap in Louisiana,” where Sean is from. My family actually happens to be from the small town where we shot as well, which is just kind of coincidental. But we knew we could do it cheaper there. We wrote a script together, the three of us, in four months and then went down and shot it for very, very little money. We just kind of made it happen.
Tim had directed a movie called, Zero in the System, for very little money with kind of the same idea, which is to cast people that are not actors, that are real people from the town. And I watched it and that was one of the things where I just said, “Oh my God, this guy is just amazing at what he can do.” Especially with little money and with this kind of very realistic, semi-improvisational style where you use people that are people you’ve never seen before. Which I love, that really gets me excited. I’m a big fan of Ken Loach. Mike Leigh does that a little bit. So that was one of the inspirations too, just having seen this other film that Tim had done.
So, we went down there and shot it quick and cheap and with a lot of the local people there. Who you saw and who were pretty amazing.
Yeah, you’re right. Especially the guy with the high voice. He was terrific.
Sam Trammell: Oh yeah, the hotel clerk [Jeff Rollins]? Yeah, he was fantastic. That was one of the first things he’d ever done. And GT, the guy who gives me the drugs, that guy is not an actor and he just blew me away. He was just improvising but hitting the right things that he needed to hit story wise. Sugarbush, the hooker.
She wasn’t an actress either?
Sam Trammell: No, no, no. She’s an exotic dancer.
But yeah, I love seeing people that you’ve never seen before. It just really brings you into the story.
What was the process of you guys writing? Were you all in a room together or just sending each other pages back and forth?
Sam Trammell: We pretty much were just sending each other stuff.
We basically knew the Sugarbush scene. We knew my character had a drug problem and was married. But that’s what we had and we just went from there.
Tim actually wrote out the first draft. We would make notes but we were never in the same room writing it. I was here, Tim is in North Carolina and Shaun was in Louisiana.
Had you ever wanted to write something before? Were you interested in doing it prior to this opportunity?
Sam Trammell: You know, I have, but it’s like everybody, it’s just hard to sit down and do it. It takes a certain kind of person to sit down and do it. Especially if it’s a completely spec script.
What made this so much easier is I knew it was going to be made and I knew I was starring in it, you know? I was kind of writing it in a way for myself. So, that is a real luxury and I didn’t need of a lot of encouragement.
When you write or I guess co-write a script, is it easier for you acting-wise?
Sam Trammell: Oh yeah, that’s a good question. Absolutely. Because you feel such an ownership. You feel total ownership over the character. There’s nobody that knows the character in any way better than you do.
An actor always has a certain knowledge of the character that the writer doesn’t have. And the writer will have one that the actor doesn’t have because they wrote it. In this case, since I was also one of the writers, you really feel an ownership and comfortability and you feel like you can change things. I was able to rewrite stuff on the day, which happened a lot. And I could help the other characters if certain people showed certain strengths on the day that we were shooting. You could kind of refashion things to their strengths.
It made me go deeper in a way. It was great. It was such a fulfilling experience artistically.
How did you prepare to play this guy, Sonny? We see him obviously, when he’s addicted, but you kind of see him in two separate periods of his life.
Sam Trammell: Yeah, that’s right. You have two almost completely different people.
It was also good because we cast Missy Yager, who is my life partner, to be my wife, so that was great. She sort of gave a little bit of input in the scenes that we had, as far as the writing of it. It was very helpful that she was doing the part, especially the therapy scenes because we just know each other so well. There’s an instant familiarity that you have by casting her as my wife.
Shaun had a really good friend who had been a crack addict and got out. He’s totally healthy now and has a family and is a great guy. He really helped me out with a lot of the drug stuff and paraphernalia.
And it’s one of those things where you’re watching as many videos as you can and reading as much as possible on addiction and really watching people and watching addicts to really figure out what’s gonna drive you physically and mentally.
Yeah, it was heavy. It was very intense work because we shot this thing and like 12 days. We had huge, huge days and it was all really intense stuff for me. Very, very heavy. Obviously. [laughs]
I didn’t know you guys shot it that quick.
Sam Trammell: Yeah, we shot it really quick. It’s a ridiculous amount of time to shoot a feature film. I don’t know how we did that, actually.
You’re shooting so quickly, how prepared are you when you get on set? Do you know every single line because you’re working 15 hour days you can’t go home and learn five pages of dialogue, you know what I mean?
Sam Trammell: Yeah, totally. I knew a lot of it. I worked on it a lot before we shot and also because I was one of the writers, I knew it in a different way. I either helped shape certain paragraphs, words or lines, or I’ve written whole scenes. A lot of it was improvised in the moment too. A lot of that is just because I know exactly who I am and what my intention is and what is going on with me in my head better than almost anybody.
There was a lot of stuff that, in my mind, was very clear but maybe not to other people. So again, it’s that feeling of ownership. And then I would just change things the very day, I’d just rewrite something.
I didn’t have every single line memorized but I did have a lot of the big things memorized. I knew that things could change. The other thing about it is that I knew that if I changed something a little it, didn’t matter. So there was less pressure in a way then if I was just doing someone else’s movie with somebody else’s script where I really wanted to be respectful. You’re gonna want to get everything exactly right, where with this was you felt a real freedom because it was your own stuff.
And because Tim and Shaun and I had already worked together and had generated this ourselves, I didn’t feel a lot of pressure just in that technical aspect of learning lines to get everything exactly right. When you don’t feel the pressure, you can usually do it easier, you know what I mean?
A couple of times I’ve accidentally changed a word in a scene and at the end, the script supervisor will come up to me and very nicely say, “Oh, you forgot this word” and I would feel like a huge jackass.
Sam Trammell: Yeah, and you never want to be in that place anyway as an actor. Where you’re thinking about the lines and you’re trying to get the lines right because then you’re not really in the scene as well as you could be. That’s the catch-22 with acting, you need to know the lines and then be able to forget them, I guess.
You’ve also done a lot of theater, both on Broadway and off-Broadway. It’s been a while since you last did a show, any interest in getting back on stage?
Sam Trammell: Yeah, definitely. This has been the longest I’ve ever gone without doing a play. I’ve actually looked at a couple plays in New York and my agents there are looking. I miss it, miss it a lot.
I lived in New York for about 12 years and that’s where I started. I started in the theater.
What was the reason you finally moved to LA? Was it a certain job?
Sam Trammell: It wasn’t. I kind of had been thinking about coming out and I’d been in New York for over a decade and I kind of felt like I’d done it. I just wanted to change, you know? I just wanted a change of pace. I had gotten sick of the city basically. [laughs] It beats you down after a while. I just wanted reprieve, a rest from it.
All Mistakes Buried opens in theaters and on VOD January 22nd. Check out the trailer below!