In most films that have a bully character, they're usually some sort of mean-spirited jock who picks on anyone who doesn't run in his same circles. While Contest certainly does borrow a few of these same traits, Kenton Duty's Matt Prylek is much different. Matt, a star on the local swim team, gets busted for a cruel prank on his frequent target Tommy Dolan (Daniel Flaherty). However, Matt is essentially forced to befriend Tommy or he'll lose his spot on the swim team. They team up for a local TV channel's cooking contest, where the winner gets his own reality show. I recently had the chance to speak with Kenton Duty over the phone about taking on a unique kind of cinematic bully, his experiences on the set, and much more. Here's what he had to say.
I got a chance to see this the other day, and it's a intriguing take on this bullying epidemic. It was quite refreshing, actually.
Kenton Duty: I'm glad to hear that. Thanks. That means a lot.
I talked to Katherine (McNamara) the other day, and she said that herself and other cast members were involved in anti-bullying campaigns before being cast. Were you involved with these programs before signing on?
Kenton Duty: I've been working really closely with My Life My Power (MyLifeMyPower.org) recently. We just did a thing with the Dallas Mavericks with like 2,000 kids. It was really cool. I would consider it a rally, if you will. I went and sang the Star-Spangled Banner, I said a few words to promote the get-together. We had different leaders from the area of Dallas and that region of Texas, come and give the kids some tips, because they're all high-school level children. They were all really into it, they asked a lot of questions, they got the inspiration they wanted. We had different political leaders, financial leaders. It was cool to see how into it the kids were. It was nice to see them want to get involved. They were happy to be there, which is awesome.
Your character Matt is not your typical bully. There's a lot of layers to him, and reasons for his behavior. Was that one of the big draws for you?
Kenton Duty: Definitely. That was definitely what helped solidify my need to do this film. I'm really glad that I did, because it was amazing to work with the cast and the crew, and I really enjoyed my time with everybody. Just the thought of being able to do something that will help open the talking points between parents or counselors or teachers at school and the kids, just the thought of being able to do that, got me excited.
Katherine said that she had been bullied in school. Did you have any experiences with yourself or siblings or friends of yours?
Kenton Duty: For me, I was always really, really short (Laughs). Then, my body decided, 'You know what? Let's be taller than what we should probably be. Let's be above average now! We've been below average for so long, let's try the other route.' I went from like 4'10 when I was 12, and now I'm 18 and 6'3" and I'm from Texas so sports is nearly everything there. So, being short, I got picked on all the time for that, whether it be emotional or whatever, the whole nine yards. I don't hold grudges. I moved on a long time ago, but I have food allergies as well. That can get scary. I've heard horror stories from kids who are in second grade, who are highly allergic to a certain food, and a kid will purposefully put it in their food, or spread it across the nape of their neck as they're walking by in the cafeteria. You could have died, but you had to run to the bathroom, wash your neck, wash your hands, epi-ed yourself, call the nurse, have the nurse call 911... and these are kids in second grade. I got picked on a lot verbally for my food allergies, when I was a little bit younger. I never get that upset, but I get more upset when I see it happening to someone else. With me, it's like, whatever, I can take the high road, but if I see someone else, I want to get up and defend them. I don't care if it's like a waiter at a restaurant that's 65 or somebody my age doing it to somebody.
Can you talk a bit about working with Danny (Flaherty)? Did you have a lot of time before shooting to get to know each other?
Kenton Duty: I met him his first day. I had already been working for a little bit. We had the scenes with Kyle (Dean Massey) and I, the first day, and Danny came in the next day. I met him and we just started working and hit it off from the get-go. We both play guitar, so we'd bring our guitars to the set, jam out during lunch. We got an immediate chemistry going, which was good, because we had various scenes where we'd either have to be really mad at each other, or extremely close and friendly, all in the same day. It was good that we were able to have a good chemistry and be able to roll. Sometimes there would be a few words of improv, and you would be able to quickly respond, and it always worked.
This is (writer-director) Anthony (Joseph Giunta)'s feature debut. Can you talk about the kind of style he brought to the set?
Kenton Duty: What's awesome about Anthony is he came with such a humble heart, and such a humble mind to it. I know a lot of people who tell stories about how they were never allowed to bring what they want to a role. Anthony would sit the actors down, pull them aside while lights were getting set up, and talk about the scene and ask what you feel your character feels and where they're coming from. If you were really off base, he'd be really honest with you and say, 'Well here's why that wouldn't work.' But if he saw that you were really bringing another dimension, he really encouraged you to add that in, which was nice, because we had some artistic freedom and it allowed us to be real with each other, so it wasn't really acting anymore, it was just us being this person. That's where you get those really driven performances and those really breathtaking performances. That's what you see in Oscar movies, because the director takes the time to allow you to be that way. I think that's something really special that Anthony already has, and it's his first film. I can't wait to see where he goes from here, because he already has that quality, rather than to have to develop it later.
I read that you shot in this small town in upstate New York. It had a really unique look to the town, especially with the exteriors in town. Can you talk about shooting there?
Kenton Duty: In Liberty (New York), everybody there was extremely welcoming. We were there for a month and a half, two months, living with these people. We have all of our little hangouts that we would frequent, and they knew us by name and what our favorite order was. They'd ask how the film was going, where we were shooting that week. It was nice because, I've actually been to places where they're very pompous about it, and they don't want to be involved in any way. Then you come to places like this, and everybody is wide open. It was nice. I really enjoyed it. I've actually been trying to get the rest of my family up there. I took my dad up to film with me and hang out with me, and now I'm trying to get my mom and sisters to come up, because it's so beautiful up there. It's just breathtaking. I want to take them to upstate New York and say, 'This is where we filmed the movie.'
Is there anything that you're working on now that you can talk about?
Kenton Duty: I'm developing my album, and I just got off a project with Kat called Little Savages. I actually just finished filming a project which I helped produce called The Adventures of Mickey Matson and the Pirates Code. That one is still in post-production as well.
What would you like to say to anyone who might be on the fence about Contest, about why they should give it a shot?
Kenton Duty: It has a great message. It's a good family film. It has many familiar faces, from various markets, and it has a little something for everybody.
Great. That's all I have. Thanks so much, Kenton.
Kenton Duty: Thank you very much.