Interview: Leland Orser Talks ‘Faults’, Finding Character Inspiration and Booking His First Commercial

"There’s no tricks. It’s very open, it’s very stripped down, it’s playing with the truth and without emotional truth no scene works" - Leland Orser

Leland Orser Interview

Leland Orser stars alongside Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Faults, about a woman named Claire (Winstead) who is under the spell of a mysterious cult. When her parents recruit Ansel Roth (Orser), a down-on-his-luck expert on cults and mind control, to help them deprogram Claire, the events of the next couple of days don’t go as he had planned.

Written and directed by Riley Stearns, the film is a great and interesting mash-up of black comedy, suspense and terror. I highly recommend checking it out.

I talked to Leland (and Mary) at last year’s SXSW Festival (check out the interview here), and it was definitely fun catching up. In the interview, we talk about his role in Faults and how he added a dash of Chaplin in some scenes, shooting in a confined space for most of the film and what was his first professional job as actor.  Also, be sure to check him out in the upcoming season of Showtime’s Ray Donovan!

Check out Faults here or stream it on Amazon | Follow Leland on Twitter

I finally actually got a chance to see the film.

Leland Orser: And?

I thought it was great.

Leland Orser: Oh, I’m so glad.

You know, it’s kind of strange. It goes from this black comedy and morphs into this drama by the end of the film.

Leland Orser: I think it starts as a black comedy, goes into a drama, then I think it dabbles in horror and ultimately ends up being a thriller.

Right, yeah. Absolutely. Was that hard to play for you? To find that tone throughout the film?

Leland Orser: I think that finding the humor was a very, very fine line to walk because you don’t want to be poking fun or sending up the character. The root of all of it is truth and finding the emotional truth, the core, and then holding on to it and respecting it to give the character and the story integrity.

But I had in the back of my mind while shooting, I kept an image of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, just sort of for a drop. Just a little flavor of the Little Tramp. You know? And not that I would ever pretend or aspire to anything… their cinematic idols of mine, but the idea of them. Obviously neither of them were ever in a situation that Ansel Roth was in, but I kept that sort of just out there.

I can actually see sort of that, especially in the first part, because you have some of these moments early on in the film that are really funny but just so cringe-worthy.

Leland Orser: You know, I went through… back when there was a big writers, actors, directors strike however many years ago that was, we went to a lot of meetings with the unions and I went to a big gathering of Screen Actors Guild union members and it was all very civil and it was somewhere in Hollywood. And I was sitting in the back and listening and then a very well-known actor whose name I will not say came in the back of this space, it was like a big theatre space. He came in and he disagreed with the proceedings that were happening on stage and he’d obviously had a lot to drink, and he was very vocal on what would be… thought of as an inappropriate way. And had to be dragged out and thrown out of his own union meeting. And that is another example of inspiration. I could never tell you who that person was, it was so incredibly sad. But he had no idea that he was being inappropriate. He was in no way going to feel responsible for his actions being inappropriate. He was speaking his truth and by God it didn’t matter where he was or what people thought of him.

I would think that if you didn’t sort of get that tone right throughout the whole film, it would almost be kind of like your character is in a different movie.

Leland Orser: I think once I established that humor of the first scene I think from there you can… you play the truth of it and you’re fine. I don’t think there are any other really particular laugh out loud moments through the rest of the film. There are amusing moments, but then you’re really able to play the truth of it.

Most of the film, or a lot of the film, takes place in one room. It’s one hotel room. When you’re acting in that confined space for so long, is that difficult? There’s not a lot of blocking, you just kind of have to rely on… there’s no tricks. You know what I mean?

Leland Orser: There’s no tricks. It’s very open, it’s very stripped down, it’s playing with the truth and without emotional truth no scene works. A scene in Star Wars doesn’t work, a scene in Seven doesn’t work, a scene in Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t work if there’s not a core of truth. And we found the truth, we found the truth of these characters, and enwrapped it in that on a very stripped down, open, bare, vulnerable stage, which in fact that was a sound stage. That was a motel room built on a soundstage so we could shoot the hell out of it, remove walls. And a big portion of the script, 12 pages of script, took place in the bathroom, as you know. And that scene in the end of the film with the two of us in the bathroom kind of loomed over our heads until we shot it. It was basically the last… one of the last things that we shot and I was so nervous and scared about doing that and worried that I wouldn’t be able to deliver what it needed. But we eventually found it.

When we talked last you said that you guys didn’t even want to rehearse it.

Leland Orser: No, we didn’t. We talked about it a lot, we talked about the beats. We were both, Mary and I, came from a place of “ if we rehearse it we may lose it.” Meaning lose the freshness of it. And we wanted to keep it fresh. We wanted it to happen in front of a camera. You just never know what’s gonna happen the first time you do it. And so the very first words that we uttered together and across from each other were being filmed. And some of that is actually in the movie. Spontaneity and freshness, you know, are very, very important in the medium of film.

At one point there’s a shift to where he’s not in charge anymore. Do you think he even realizes that?

Leland Orser: I think he does but I think he’s not able to control it because he’s being operated upon by his manager and his manager’s henchman and there’s people who want things from him and are demanding things from him and threatening his life. And all of a sudden he’s not eating and he’s not sleeping and he starts to lose total control. And I think his intention is strong to finish this job and to make this girl well, but the conflict keeps increasing. The lack of sleep, the lack of eating, the bad guys pounding on the door, people coming after him, and then the more that he realizes the challenge of this young girl’s parents and the conflict of the father, who is a physically threatening, dangerous, volatile person. His nightmare just gets darker and darker.

When you do press like this, for a film almost a year later, do you have to go back and re-watch the film to even remember what you did? I can barely remember what I did last week.

Leland Orser: Yeah. I think so, yes. And we’ve been doing it now for a couple of weeks and I went to New York and presented it at Lincoln Center to the film society there. And I sat through it there, I deliberately sat through it. I went back and looked at some of my notes and the script, but Riley and I and Mary have been sitting together and talking to people about it. So it comes back and it sort of recrystallizes. It’s like riding a bike. The muscle memory is all there.

What’s the first professional job you had as an actor?

Leland Orser: I think the first professional job I had as an actor was Folger’s coffee commercial.

Oh, really?

Leland Orser: Yeah. Which I got cut out of. The best part of waking up… yeah. They had me playing a guy waking up in a denim shirt unbuttoned. It was sort of Richard Gere from American Gigolo inspired, so you can imagine why I got cut out. I ain’t no Richard Gere. They needed Richard Gere.

Was that after months of auditioning or did you get pretty lucky and…?

Leland Orser: I was the first of all of our friends that we came out of drama school and I was the first one to get a job and it was like I got cast in a Folger’s coffee commercial. It was like we had all won the lottery and we all went out to dinner that night before I even filmed it and we ate and we drank and I paid the check. It’s like you have arrived, you’ve hit it. And how many years later are we now? And then when it came and the commercial came out and I wasn’t even in it, you know. I did a couple of commercials back then.

So after you booked that first commercial, how long was it until you booked your second thing?

Leland Orser: Pretty soon after that I started doing theatre back east and I traveled a lot around the eastern seaboard and I did a lot of regional theatre. And that’s an extraordinary experience. It’s almost like a second acting school. And it’s acting for, you know, for America and going out to the communities that don’t have what Los Angeles or New York have and bringing it to them. And these extraordinary actors and directors that do that and do that to this day and fill the subscription theatre houses around the country, it’s just such a beautiful thing. It’s the greatest education I ever had, some of the greatest experiences I ever had was doing regional theatre.

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