David Hyde Pierce discusses his intriguing role in The Perfect Host, shooting on such a tight schedule, and much more.
David Hyde Pierce is an actor I always wish we'd see more of. After starring on the hit TV series Frasier for 11 years, the actor continued to work, but mostly in voice roles. We finally get to see him on the silver screen once again like we've never seen him before in the upcoming indie The Perfect Host, which will be available in both theaters and video-on-demand platforms July 1.
David Hyde Pierce plays Warwick Wilson, who has been meticulously planning a swank dinner party. Things start to go awry when a criminal named John Taylor (Clayne Crawford) crashes the party under an assumed identity, looking for refuge after just robbing a bank. However, as the evening unfolds, we learn the mild-mannered Warwick Wilson is much different than he appears to be. I recently had the privilege of speaking with David Hyde Pierce over the phone about his role in The Perfect Host. Here's what he had to say.
I was curious what first drew you to this character and what you thought you could get out of this role?
David Hyde Pierce: Well, first of all, I thought the script was incredibly well-written. There are a lot of really interesting, multi-dimensional characters. The charcter of Warrick, I think any actor would want to play this part. It's full of weirdness and very different levels, it was just a great opportunity.
I read the production schedule was fairly short. I believe you only shot this in 17 days.
David Hyde Pierce: That's right. It was a very fast shoot, yeah.
Was it written in a way where you could do it that quickly?
David Hyde Pierce: I don't think it was written to be done quickly, necessarily, but what happened was (director) Nick (Tomnay) very wisely gave us a week of rehearsals, just Clayne Crawford and I, who plays opposite me, because the core of the movie is really the two of us in my house. That rehearsal process allowed us to really explore the characters, explore the arc of the story and where we were at any given moment in the script, emotionally, and it also was a chance for me and Nick and Clayne to get used to each other, to get to know each other and get to the point where we could work well together and trust each other. Especially on a fast shoot, and especially on a movie which is as extreme as this one, that was really important.
Nick also edited this as well, and I know there are a number of directors out there that edit their own films. Did you think that aspect helped, with a schedule like this? Was he basically editing on the set?
David Hyde Pierce: I don't think he would have actually had time to be editing on the set, but because he had written the script and had knew it and lived with it for so many years, he really knew what he wanted. Therefore, we didn't have a lot of time or a lot of money to shoot extra footage anyway, but he knew exactly how every moment would play. We had worked out, in the rehearsal, from an acting standpoint, how things would play. That really allowed him to fly with very little resistance, in terms of knowing what he wanted, knowing when he got it, and moving on.
Can you talk about your experience on the set and in rehearsals with Clayne? Was there a quick connection between you two?
David Hyde Pierce: Yeah, I think there was. We didn't know each other before. We come from very different worlds, acting-wise and style-wise, all of which played very well for our respective characters. I would say, within the first day of rehearsal, we found we could really work together, and I think we both respected each other a lot as actors. Ultimately, even though the characters are antagonistic in the movie, I think why the movie works is the chemistry between us. Even though we were playing people who are hostile to each other, we were really having a great time doing it.
Can you talk a bit about Nick's style of directing and filmmaking, and how you might compare him to other directors you've worked with?
David Hyde Pierce: I would compare him to Steven Soderbergh, literally because the film I did with Steven, Full Frontal, even though he had a lot of stars in it, relatively speaking, it was shot on a very low budget. It was a digital camera and, therefore, minimal re-lighting and stuff like that. It was shot with an emphasis on getting the scenes done as quickly as possible, interrupting the actors as little as possible. I really enjoyed that when I did it with Steven, and Nick as well. It worked great for this project.
Did you have behind-the-scenes guys documenting the shoot as well? I know a DVD release is a ways off, but I'm always interesting in taking a look at these quick productions.
David Hyde Pierce: Oh, I shouldn't even answer that because I don't know. I don't know what they'll put on there, but I think we had an EPK crew. I'm not sure though.
Was there a particular scene or a day of shooting that will really stand out for you, when you look back on this project?
David Hyde Pierce: I think the thing that stands out is we were shooting a big party scene and the digital camera broke. It's the RED camera, a very sophisticated piece of equipment, and you can't fix it. You have to get another one. We were on such a tight schedule, and I think it was three hours that we lost, that we didn't have to lose. Watching Nick, a first-time director, handle that situation, staying cool, that one moment is really emblematic, for me, of the whole shoot. No matter what the pressures were on him to get this done, he kept the feeling on the set as creative and supportive as I've ever experienced.
With bigger movies, three hours would be just a drop in the bucket. I can see how three hours, on a movie like this, might be catastrophic.
David Hyde Pierce: Yeah, exactly. Part of the pleasure of shooting this way, one of the things I don't love about making movies is that three-hour delays or three-hour waits, are generally not that big a deal. It's a big deal to me. I didn't become an actor to sit in a trailer. I love this kind of filmmaking, where the burden is really on you as an actor. You have to be ready because they're not stopping. The nice thing about this particular script is there are a lot of long scenes, particularly in that middle section with myself and Clayne. I think it helped, for me at least, to be rooted in the theater and just going up there. You don't get retakes, you just do the part.
The whole 'hurry up and wait' aspect doesn't sit with you then?
David Hyde Pierce: That's not why I got into it.
Does an experience like this make you want to seek out more projects like this? With possibly first-time directors or with this same mentality?
David Hyde Pierce: It's funny, because this year is the 10th anniversary of Wet Hot American Summer, another film that I did. I had a similar experience there too. It couldn't be more different, in terms of tone, but I believe it was David Wain and Michael Showalter's first feature. I wouldn't necessarily seek out first-time directors, because just because it's your first time, doesn't mean you're going to be any good, but when you have instincts that these people really have something to say and they know what they're doing, I think it's definitely worth the risk.
What would you like to say to anyone who is curious about The Perfect Host, about why they should check it out on July 1?
David Hyde Pierce: I guess I'd say it's really dark and very funny. It will surprise you from the beginning to the end and it gets even better on the second viewing. You don't necessarily miss things the first time through, but you go through it the first time, discovering what's going on. After the second time, you know what they're thinking, especially with my character. It's fun to track through it again to see what I knew when.
Excellent. Well, that's about all I have for you. Thanks so much for your time and best of luck with the film and anything else you have coming up.
David Hyde Pierce: I appreciate it. Thank you for taking the time, and have a good day.