Jack Plotnick has so many things going on right now. Space Station 76, the film he co-wrote and directed, is now available on VOD, he just acted in an episode of Major Crimes and is preparing his new musical, Disaster, for an upcoming Broadway run. On top of that, he’s also an acting coach!
Space Station 76, starring Patrick Wilson, Liv Tyler, Matt Bomer, Marisa Coughlin and Jerry O’Connell, is a comedic drama about a group of people living on a space station in a 1970’s-version of the future. Everything is seemingly fine until a new Assistant Captain arrives and she immediately stirs up tension among the crew as an asteroid heads directly for them.
I actually interviewed Jack (along with Wilson) at SXSW this past March about the film but jumped at the chance to chat with him again. In the interview, we talk about the film and how he assembled the great cast, his writing process and his upcoming Broadway musical. Also, take a listen to the audio interview above where he talks about one of the worst auditions he ever had!
For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes.
Space Station 76 is available now on VOD!
You directed other things, but this is your actual first feature?
Jack Plotnick: Yes. First feature to direct. But I’m so bossy on set that it’s not like I directed thousands of features. Give me that camera! You don’t know what you’re doing!
Why didn’t you give yourself a role in this?
Jack Plotnick: Hello? I ask myself the same question. Really, I have this terrible habit of when I write things, I forget to write myself a role. And then when I’m done… like with the old typewriters, I pull the piece of paper out and I go, “Wait a minute.” Yeah. It’s a problem I have. So I just gave myself a little Alfred Hitchcock cameo. I’m in the game room playing air hockey when the captain makes an announcement.
But you know what I did? I did take the role of the voice of the ship. Yeah, that was gonna be a female voice and then I decided that I would play it, so it was still a female voice. Seriously, people they’re like, “Who played that? What lady?” I’m like, “Yeah, it was me.” But the voice of the ship, she… he… she/he. I like that it’s androgynous. I don’t like that I’m androgynous, but no. Anyway, she’ll just announce everything. So she’ll be like, “Elevator doors opening.” And it’s just sort of like why? Why are you telling us everything that’s happening?
That was good though, that sounds excellent.
Jack Plotnick: Thank you. I played the role. I had to beat out many actresses for that role.
You’ve got this really, really great cast. Did you know most of them before hand? Were they mostly friends?
Jack Plotnick: What do you think my life is? God, no.
I just imagine these fabulous parties you go to.
Jack Plotnick: Yeah, keep imagining because I like that. I like that image. That’s fun. No, I… you know what? I did know Patrick because I’d met him through a friend. And we did go to the same school, but years apart. Matt, I’d met him before, but we weren’t friends. And Liv, I’d never met, but I was just a huge fan. Jerry O’Connell I had worked with and I just adored him.
I got lucky. You know what it is? I just got all the nicest, most talented actors and the reason why is because it was a small movie. So everybody who was on that set acting was there because they wanted to be. So, it’s just the loveliest atmosphere and everybody was just really kind and gracious and there to do good work.
When you cast these guys, they don’t have to audition, right?
Jack Plotnick: Oh, yeah. No, no. I mean, they didn’t have to audition because their work is their audition, what they’ve done in the past. And I was a huge fan of all of them. And, yeah, I mean, it was a dream come true that they agreed to do it.
But what I love is too, even though I was such a fan of their work I do feel like all of them were doing things they hadn’t necessarily done on film before. And especially Patrick, he never gets to do comedy. He had mentioned to me that when he does comedy it’s usually because a friend put him in the role. Because for some reason even though he’s the funniest guy in Hollywood, people… it’s not his reputation. But hopefully this will change that. And what I love too is that he’s so funny in the movie, but he’s so real and so filled with pain.
But I feel like everyone in the movie is playing that. They understand that it is a dark comedy, but it’s also very real. And so everybody’s giving these deep performances that are also just super funny the way life is so horribly funny in a tragic sense.
I guess it’s the way that careers flow. I started only doing comedy in LA and now for some reason I only do drama. But it comes back around. I would love if this role helps people to see him in a new light.
You told a story about how you wrote the script by you said you gathered some friends together at your house and improved for 3 months.
Jack Plotnick: Yeah.
So how does that work? Do you come up with scenes and say, “I want to think about a scene where it would go in this part of the script.”
Jack Plotnick: Yes, that is exactly how it worked is that I conceived this idea, I invited these incredible actors to my house. Jennifer Elise Cox, Sam Pancake, Kali Rocha, Mike Stoyanov and I explained the world of it and some of the characters that I envisioned, and I sort of directed them through improv.
So I’d say, you know, ok, how about if let’s get the wife and husband here in this scene. Let’s see sort of how they deal with each other when he’s horny and she isn’t. And then we would do the scene and I would record it and then I would type it out. I would type out the best bits, hand it back to them the next day, and then we would do the scene again improving around those lines that we knew we liked and that’s how scenes grew. Does that make sense?
Oh, yeah. It does.
Jack Plotnick: But each person really created these incredibly interesting and emotional characters and that had these rich backstories and we were all going for the same kind of humor, which was this humor that felt very real and where all the jokes were based in character or character driven comedy. You know? And then it just became a play organically that way. But the play wasn’t the movie, there was a lot of work that had to be done. That’s how it happened.
Now, do you prefer that way of crafting the story as opposed to sitting down by yourself?
Jack Plotnick: I’ve done both and I think they’re both great. It’s probably a little bit more fun to have more people involved. But I love writing with my comedy partner, Seth Rudetsky. It’s fun to have somebody else in the room to bounce things off of, for me. So I guess I would say any time I’m able to write with other people whether it’s through improv or just sitting together in a room at a keyboard, it’s probably a little bit more fun. I get lonely and writing is… it takes a long time. It’s a long process.
You’re directing and writing. Is acting still one of your main passions still? What do you prefer?
Jack Plotnick: I think I’m here to be just a joyful creator. I love creating things. And I think acting is a way to create things where it’s the most immediately satisfying because all you need to do is jump up in front of people and do something and, there, you’ve acted and you’ve created something. So it’s immediately satisfying.
But I love directing as well. It’s just it takes so long. It’s like the journey is satisfying as well. In directing you get to work with so many people of so many varied professions and you get to learn so much about set design and I’ve learned so much about the effects through Billy Brooks, my supervisor, and you learn about what a producer does. So it really, it just charges different sides of your brain, different parts of your brain, when you’re directing. So that’s also satisfying. But I guess acting is still my favorite, but they’re all fun as long as I’m creating.
You’re an acting coach too, right?
Jack Plotnick: Teaching actors is a hobby I started as a way to give back to people to feel good about who I am. And I don’t charge much and everything I teach, I’ve put on a free book that actors can read online. But I do love helping actors because they are, you know, they’re so abused. I do think that some of the biggest acting coaches in LA are some of the most abusive and it’s really heartbreaking. And I didn’t notice until I started coaching actors because they would come to me and tell me these horrible stories that were just unbelievable.
I teach an approach to acting that I use and it books work and it’s a loving, joyful, very easy approach to acting that reminds actors that, hey, it’s just playing pretend and there’s no right way to do it. And some of your favorite actors on your favorite TV shows never trained and if you ask them why not they’d say, “Well, why would I?”
Jack Plotnick: And I’m not saying I don’t believe in training, but you’ve got to hit a point where you’re done and as an artist your job is not to study but to act. And when you’re acting you grow as an actor. Anyway, I don’t mean to lecture.
No, no. Please do. And you have a really lovely website too. I especially like your new thoughts for actors section.
Jack Plotnick: Yeah, that’s that free book. There’s 40 short chapters on there that actors can read. It’s at JackPlotnick.com and you just click on New Thoughts for Actors and it’s all there. I also lecture once a month and all the money goes to charity. And I teach and it’s always free to watch, but it’s not very expensive to… I teach when I have time, but it’s been… I’ve just been very busy in the last year with the musical and the movie, so I haven’t had as much time to do that.
You’re in an upcoming show?
Jack Plotnick: Well, I’m bringing my musical to Broadway next summer and we’re raising funds now. Is that what you mean?
Jack Plotnick: Yeah, I co-wrote and directed a musical that we brought off-Broadway earlier this year. It got wonderful reviews, called Disaster.
Jack Plotnick: Yeah. It’s a 1970s disaster movie musical with all hits from the 70s. All hit songs from the 70s, yeah. So that’s something else I’m doing. I’ve also got a couple of other things that I’m working on. And I’m still auditioning and I just did an episode of Major Crimes. I’m never gonna stop acting. The dream would be to create a show or a film that I’m actually in. That’s kind of my next… that would be a lovely thing to do. And you started the interview, why don’t you write yourself a part?
Are you actually going to be in it or are you just the creator?
Jack Plotnick: I’m the creator but I do plan to be in it. I don’t know that I’d open the show because directing a Broadway musical is… it’s a huge feat and I think I’d like to just focus on directing for it. And then there is a role that I can play and I’m sure I’ll play it some day. I’ve played it off Broadway for about a month, but no. I won’t open the show in the role.
I go to New York a couple of times a year, so I’ll make sure when it opens that I will go see it when you’re in it.
Jack Plotnick: Ok, that’s awesome.