SXSW Interview: Shiloh Fernandez and Heath Freeman talk ‘Skateland’, auditions and getting left on the cutting room floor!

Skateland's Shiloh Fernandez and Heath Freeman talk candidly about their careers, acting and more! Check out this great interview!

When I talked to Shiloh Fernandez at last year’s SXSW for the film Skateland, I wrote that he had been one of my favorite actor’s to interview.

A full year, one starring role in a big budget studio film (Red Riding Hood) and tons of press later, he’s still one of my favorite actors to talk with. He loves acting, gives thoughtful, honest answers and is an all-around good guy.

I talked with Shiloh and the co-star/co-writer of Skateland, Heath Freeman (Raising the Bar, Bones), during this year’s SXSW where they were gearing up for the film’s release.

This is a really great interview where they both talk candidly about losing out on work and getting cut out of films, bad auditions and of course, Skateland!

The film – which I absolutely recommend – also stars Ashley Greene and opens on May 13th.

You’re also an actor what made you wanna write the script?

Heath Freeman: I got the lead, I was the lead in a TV series, and then… and I got replaced. A new head of the network came in two weeks before I was supposed to go shoot and replaced me for no reason. And so I was pretty upset about that. I called my brother, my brother Brandon, we’ve always wanted to do movies together and write together and we had some ideas floating around. He was like, “Well let’s do a movie. I mean what are you doing in LA? Why do you wanna do other people’s stuff, people’s material? Let’s start a project.” I was like, “Ah, ok, it’s that easy?”

I’ve always wanted to write about this roller rink, kinda center something around this roller rink that we all grew up in Longview, Texas, which is kinda this, I mean it’s a lot nicer in this film, but in all actuality it was a pretty run down place, pretty bad, pretty nasty. And so, that’s kinda how it started.

Did you write your part for yourself?

Heath Freeman: Yeah, I mean I did. I did and I didn’t. I mean it was like I knew I was gonna play the part but it wasn’t like, I separated myself during the writing process and then once, it’s a big shift that happens when I stop being the producer and writer and then going to being actor. I wear a lot of hats during the movie, but it was awesome, it was amazing.

What’s that call like? When they say “You’ve been replaced.” That’s gotta be the worst thing in the world?

Heath Freeman: Yeah, I mean that’s happened to me a lot, that’s the thing. I mean I’ve been out there since I was 21, and it’s happened to me several times on TV shows, I mean every actor goes through it, but yeah it’s terrible, it sucks, it emasculating.

I’ve been cut out of several things and I’ve never been told.

Heath Freeman: Yeah, I mean I lost it, I lost a couple of TV series like that, just like “Oh yeah, we’re not gonna have this character in the show.” Yeah, it’s terrible. You kinda have, like, “Oh this is it, this is it. This is a good chance for me to make some money and

work for a bit,” and then doesn’t happen.

Shiloh, have you lost anything like that?

Shiloh Fernandez: Yeah, I mean, I remember the first thing I casted was the Glass House 2, which is exciting. I mean who knows what the film will end up being, but it was awesome to get that phone call and say “You’ve been cast in your first film.” And I went to the table read and everything and then, basically got a call saying “Yeah, you’re character has been cut from the movie.”

And then, it’s happened to me more so I guess is, hearing from my agents and managers were gonna get the offer today, it’s your movie, and then it doesn’t happen. And to me, I’d rather not hear that.

Heath Freeman: Yeah, no doubt. I’ve been put through the ringer. That’s the thing as an actor, you get put through the ringer on so many things. Like, “They put a pin in you and you’re the number one.” And then nothing happens. That kinda happened this weekend for me. But you know that’s life, that’s life as an actor, whatever. We all go through it.

You guys have it on much higher level than I do but yeah, it’s awful. You’ve been telling your family and friends, “I’m gonna be on this show.” And then they see you in the background, “Well, I thought you had a couple of lines?” I’m like, “I did have lines. Why would I tell you to watch if I was an extra?”

Shiloh Fernandez: Yeah, that happened to me to. On Cadillac Records, I played Adrien Brody’s little brother, and I got cast in this movie and I was like more excited that I played this little brother than the part. I think I had probably had 4 scenes or something. And I guess what happened, they explained, I don’t know if I buy it or not [laughter] was that the relationship with the Chess brothers, their kind of founding that record company, both of the brothers were really involved, and when the little brother only had four scenes, people were kinda confused as to what happens. So, instead of having him in the movie at all they cut those scenes where it was explained that I was the little brother. And so, now I’m just some guy, who shows up randomly and has these weird little scenes.

But I mean, I feel like all that stuff is also good for fuel, you know what I mean? It’s good to have a laugh about all this stuff. If you take yourself too seriously, you’re probably gonna burn down. But I think Heath has the right idea and I think that was what’s so great about starting to be an actor for me and working with a lot of different people, is that you kinda watch how everybody has their own process. And for me it’s like I feel I might wanna direct, just because I’ve been doing this and I’ve been around people who  have been frustrated.  All those kind of things that happened to you, can inspire you.

Heath Freeman: Yeah, just pushes you harder. I think all the failures you have as an actor, it either breaks you or makes you stronger. I believe in that. And I’m fatalistic to certain extent in my career. I mean, I believe there’s certain things that would have gone to series or whatever, I wouldn’t be where I am today at all, not a bit, or be the person I am today. I probably would’ve been a brat. For me, that’s the process of an artist as well. I mean. If you’re a painter you keep painting, it doesn’t matter if you’re selling the paintings, but you evolve as a painter, as an artist. I think it’s the same with acting or filmmaking.

What’s some of your audition horror stories?

Shiloh Fernandez: Man, every single one of them. [laughs] From when I kind of started getting auditions and opportunities, I’ve always told everybody that I worked with, “Look, please just get me a meeting, let me talk to these people.” Auditioning is just difficult for me, it’s like I’m not as good at rehearsing. I feel like I’m kind of shy when it comes to all those things and I like to really kind of be on set before I kind of explore and let loose, and auditioning is the same thing. You’re in a kind of white tiny sterile room.

Heath: Yeah, it’s not natural.

Shiloh: Yeah, and the person that you’re reading with isn’t probably that into it. And there’s, did you do too much, did you do too little? I’ve gone in and I’ve really gone for it and that just that freaks people out. “We’re actually in this little room here. We just wanna hear you kind of say things.” You try to be subtle and they’re like, “Really didn’t see the character in him.”  It’s just horrifying to audition in general. I think for me what I’ve learned is just to say less, just to go and do it better.

Heath Freeman: Yeah, I mean Susan Sarandon said it best, she’s like “Listen, I can’t show up and do this in your living room. I need to be on set and I need to have all this around me to do it.” She was talking about the auditioning process, and I was like “That’s f—ing awesome.” She’s like, “Yeah, it’s the most unnatural thing in the world to go in to a room and start acting.” It’s not organic at all. It’s faking it and that’s what it is. You can really act in an audition. Organically.

Shiloh Fernandez: Yeah and I hope that, I guess the hope is that one day you don’t have to have that process. You hear about other actors, more established who basically don’t have that problem anymore and they don’t like to rehearse. Everybody has different process. Maria Bello really doesn’t like to rehearse and William Hurt is all about rehearsals and so they kind of clashed on that Yellow Handkerchief movie.

And I like rehearsal, I like talking about it but you never gonna get my performance in a rehearsal. I mean, there’s always gonna be something that I’m saving. Not saving, but holding back, ‘cause I’m not saving it.

Heath Freeman: You’re just not committing a hundred percent?

Shiloh Fernandez: Well I’m just, yeah ‘cause I wanna feel, I wanna feel the process, feel, put your feelers out and see how it’s gonna go before you’re committed to this way of doing it, do you know what I mean? And that, that’s kind of what’s strange about the audition process. How are you gonna do the performance that you’re gonna end up doing on film with everybody else around you, and the costume and the set. And so, auditioning is basically faking it and trying to put a piece of your performance out there for 5 minutes, it’s weird.

Heath Freeman: I had a cool audition experience with, to make it as real as possible, with Michael Mann. It was for his show, Luck. I went down to the wire on that one as well but it was like he had two cameras and we shot it like that. We felt like it was on set, it was crazy. Like all the actors came in and we did it, that was the test, and like we kept on doing takes and takes and he would be back behind the monitor, it’s like, “Ok, we got it.” We’re shooting it. We’re shooting auditions like you would shoot a film.

Shiloh: Wow, that’s cool.

Heath Freeman: That’s pretty bad a—. I mean it’s not like you’re just sitting there like, “You can sit or stand. Just go over there. Is this ok?”

Shiloh Fernandez: I thought of two stories. The other day, I had that sit or stand thing [laughter], where I literally moved the chair over, and I moved it back and I didn’t sit down and I just leaned on the back of the chair, and did my scene and I think they’re all like, “What the f—?”

And then the one time, I auditioned for Broadway. It was like go down under the theater into this waiting room with all these Broadway actors and they kind of bring you up on the stage, and there’s like a table with panel of people. And I was used, at this point I’m used to my chair, like give me my chair in the corner of my room and I’m good, like let me just sit down and be into that character. And I’m in the middle of this huge stage, and they’re like, “Ok, go ahead,” or whatever. And so I start reading, and I see that there’s a chair next to the piano all the way on the wall in the corner, nobody’s used at all. And somehow, I end up sitting in the chair in the side of the stage for like halfway through the scene, and I was sitting there and I’m just like “What the hell am I doing?” I’m sitting next

Set featured image

to the piano in the corner that they’ve obviously taken away. And so I finished and they’re like, “Yeah let’s try it again, this is a play can you stay on the stage?” I was like, gotcha! Yeah, gotcha! I was just kidding. [laughter] That was horrendous.

The movie closed the festival here last year and it had a great reaction. How is it just waiting for it to come out now? You know how good the film is. How has this year been?

Heath Freeman: I mean, I hope people have the opportunity to go see it, that’s the thing. I believe in the movie.

I’m just excited for this new crop of actors that I was able to chisel out. I cast it as an actor.  I’m gonna be working with these people, and so, I don’t give a s— what you’ve been in or whatever, I want to work with the best actors period. That’s how we went forward. Ashley was the best actor. I don’t really, I mean, I care about Twilight but she was the best actress. She’s amazing. Everyone was. I’m excited to see these people’s reactions to people’s performances, just from an acting point of view. I think that’s exciting.

Shiloh Fernandez: After Skateland, I didn’t do another movie till Red Riding Hood, simply because I felt like after making that movie and having that experience, nothing… it wouldn’t satisfy me just to kinda be offered a movie that, maybe I kind of liked and to go do it. I think what it did for me is gave me the opportunity to not need to work because I was kind of creatively satisfied. You want it to come out, but it’s also, it’s like, for me I’m able to kind of wait and not take any job because I know that it is coming out still. And then, when it’s out then I’m screwed because I have nothing else going on, until Heath’s next movie. I know that people wanna see it. You wonder if they’re kinda gonna forget, but the thing is this movie is kinda timeless, I think. And whether it’s last year or in ten years, that’s the great thing about it, ‘cause people will be able to relate to it.

Shiloh, is it easier to be an actor on a smaller film like Skateland, performance wise? How much pressure did you have on Red Riding Hood? You were everywhere. I even saw you on American Idol.

Shiloh Fernandez: I know, they cut me in the audition process. [laughter] Yeah, I wanna try and do another big movie at some point that isn’t kind of set in that, isn’t that kind of movie, you know? I enjoyed that process and I love Catherine Hardwicke, but I wanna do, I wanna try it again. I feel like the role that I played was a bit, there’s a bit of a formula to it and I feel like doing a studio movie, you kinda have to play into that a bit, which was new for me. I think that on a movie like Skateland the reason that I’m so happy with it and so kind of satisfied with it is because everybody cared and everybody wanted to be there and believed in it. Not that people don’t believe in the movie when we did a big studio movie, but there’s 300 people on set, 90% of them are there because they’re getting paid, that’s just their job now, they’re construction, they’re plugging electricity into [sockets]. You know it’s like, that doesn’t matter to them to walk on set and to not have that camaraderie. Definitely it’s difficult to be filming a scene when people are talking and you can’t kick them off the set.

Whereas on a small film it’s intimate and you have that opportunity to talk to your director and they’re not getting yelled at by the studio and saying you’re over budget hurry up, we don’t have the time. I think that it’s two things, is it easier to be formulaic in a studio movie? Can that be easy? Yeah.  Could it be really hard on a small movie to know that you have to do your best and believe in it so much and be so scared. Yeah.

I remember like halfway through Skateland, I felt really kind of, a little bit down on myself. I wasn’t sure that I was doing a good job, and I was at this party that we’re having and I was sitting in the back kind of drinking a bottle of alcohol, kinda drowning my sorrows. I don’t know if it was intentional but Tony Burns hadn’t really, there wasn’t a lot of like pat on the back right? And I think that it was, it ended up really working for my emotions, walking to the set and putting that character. And Heath actually came outside, he was like “What’s the matter?”, I was like “I don’t know if I’m doing a good job and I so wanted, this means so much to me.” And he was like, “Dude just f—ing buck up, if you don’t believe in yourself, you’re never gonna do anything good period.” And that was one of the best pieces of acting advice I’d ever, I’ve ever gotten and I hold it with me still. And it’s still a challenge to believe in myself, and to know that I was picked for a reason, and I’m there for a reason.

And so, hopefully as I do more projects and kind of get better all those things will, all that fear will disappear, and all the crew will disappear, and it will just be about being in the moment and the characters you’re with.

But I feel like both are extremely difficult and both can be rewarding and I think I’m gonna have to get back to you… [laughter] when, no, when I have another experience that wasn’t so kind of set up to be what it was, you know what I mean? Where there’s a little bit more freedom. And I think you also have to create your own freedom but there’s definitely restrictions on a big movie and not as much help maybe. There’s not just time, there’s just not the availability for that, but there’s perks too. I think Gary Oldman’s done, I think his last nine films before Red Riding Hood, he’s done a few different ones now were all Warner Brothers movies, so I wouldn’t have the opportunity to work with him on a small little independent movie, he’s just not doing that anymore. And Julie Christie, who does like one movie every five years. So those things obviously are perks of doing a big movie and make you better, and make it, yeah, more challenging but also easier at the same time because you’re looking at somebody that’s so good that it kinda of draws you in. That’s the most roundabout way of answering your question that’s ever happened. [laughter]

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