Actor/writer/producer Kevin Pollak discusses his thriller Columbus Circle, which debuts on Blu-ray and DVD March 6.
Every movie has a unique story about how it was made, but the story of Columbus Circle's inception is rather amazing. Actor Kevin Pollak was there every step of the way as a co-star, playing the meek concierge Klandermann, and he also co-wrote the script with director George Gallo and produced. Columbus Circle revolves around Abigail (Selma Blair), an agoraphobic heiress who never leaves her posh penthouse apartment, and whose bizarre way of life is turned upside down when a new couple (Amy Smart and Jason Lee) moves in next door. I recently had the chance to speak over the phone with Kevin Pollak about this fantastic thriller, which will hit the shelves on Blu-ray or DVD March 6, and you can take a look at what he had to say below.
I noticed there were several people involved with this who were involved with Middle Men, which I really loved. Was this story birthed during the development of Middle Men, or did it come before?
Kevin Pollak: That's an excellent connection, and there is one, the timing of which you will not believe. (Producer) Chris (Mallick) financed Middle Men, and then he flew us over to the Cannes Film Festival. While we were there being feted and celebrating Middle Men, Chris got a terrible phone call that a movie he was about to start as a producer and financier, had fallen apart. A day before we were about to fly home to Los Angeles from Cannes in the south of France, he tells us about this remake of a Korean film, where he had built two sets at a soundstage in Los Angeles, to the tune of $1 million, and he was supposed to start shooting in three weeks, and now he has no movie. I said, 'Don't worry, Chris, I'll come up with an idea tonight, for a movie that takes place in two apartments, because he told us what the sets were, and on the plane ride home, we'll have 11 hours to write the script. He said, 'I have to start shooting in three weeks,' and I said, 'It's not that hard. Don't worry about it.' He insisted that I was very kind to offer, and that he wouldn't have any expectations getting on the plane. I stayed up most of the night, breaking the story, characters and concept. It was actually kind of liberating to have the constraints and confines of the two apartments. The irony there is interesting, being locked down into these two sets, actually created a sense of freedom for me. So I came up with the heiress and she's been in hiding for many years. She hasn't come out of her apartment, she's agoraphobic, and this couple moves in across the hall. I pitched everybody on the plane, and we continued to beat out various nuances and story points on the flight home. We landed, and 19 days later, we started shooting.
Kevin Pollak: Yeah. They don't really do it this way, and I understand now the reason. It was insane, and the fact that we pulled it off, to any degree, is a bit of a miracle, and certainly a tribute to everyone's effort. All the actors came together and was working on the cheap, and we just pulled this thing off. It's kind of miraculous. Also, George Gallo, the writer-director of Middle Men, hadn't flown in 35 years and had to be completely knocked out on the flight and on the flight back. So he wasn't conscious on the plane, and it was me Giovanni (Ribisi), Chris Mallick, and the composer for Middle Men as well as Columbus Circle, Brian Tyler, were pitching ideas.
Yeah, I noticed that Brian Tyler is an executive producer on this. I love his work as a composer, and I was curious how he became an executive producer on this, but I guess that makes sense now.
Kevin Pollak: Yeah, it really does, because he contributed wonderfully. When we landed, we were exhausted and we said to meet up the next morning and look at the actual apartments, because I had never even seen them. They were completely built. They were really going to start shooting in three weeks before the movie got yanked out from under Chris. So, Giovanni was on board to play the detective, and he's been lifelong friends with Jason Lee and suggested him. I thought he was exceptional. Selma Blair I believe was attached to the original movie that was supposed to shoot for Chris, so she got one of those, 'I've got good news and bad news' phone calls. Then we were very lucky to get Amy Smart and Amy Smart and Jason Antoon. I was thrilled that the cast came together so quickly.
Since this happened so fast, were you doing everything all at once? Were you thinking of who you wanted to play these guys, as you were writing it?
Kevin Pollak: There's usually weeks and weeks, sometimes months and months, of prep time, and everyone has a script. Every department head has a script for months, so it helped tremendously that the sets were built. The set designers had basically done all of their work based on the other movie, so that was done. When we went after the actors, there was no script to send them. We landed and shot 19 days later, but we didn't land with the script. The script itself got written over the next two weeks, so we didn't really have a script for anyone to read until about five or six days before we started shooting, but everyone really got what we were going after, and why they couldn't have a script. Everyone kind of took a flier, and, of course, with the agreement that, 'Look, when the script is done, and you want to back out, no hard feelings.' Chris Mallick, to his credit, sort of went, 'Look, I'm already out the money it cost to build these sets anyway. If we end up not being able to shoot in 19 days, I'm still out this money, and I'm no worse off than I was.' The whole pressure thing about shooting in three weeks, you only have a certain amount of time with these soundstages before the next people came in. There was the prep time then there was the shooting time, and he only had four or five or six weeks to shoot, and then he was going to lose these sets to the next picture.
One of the things I really loved about this is almost everyone in the cast is playing characters that we haven't seen them play before. We don't see Jason Lee as the abusive husband, or Selma Blair as an unhinged recluse, or even you as this timid concierge. Was everyone on board because they were playing people that they normally don't play?
Kevin Pollak: I think you've touched on it, I really do. For me, my character was a last-second decision on how to play him. It was decided almost instantly that I would play him, but I just put it on the back burner about what Klandermann's personality and speech pattern was going to be. He was just the concierge, and I said, 'Well, I'll just figure out his personality later,' because I had too much to work on. I do think the other actors were intrigued by a character they hadn't played before, especially Jason Lee. Yeah, I think you touched on the major factor.
We have several of these little flashback scenes of what really happened to Abigail, but we don't really get a clear explanation of what happened in her past. Did you guys actually develop that, even though it wasn't used in the movie? Did you develop that as a reference for you to use?
Kevin Pollak: Absolutely, yeah. I had always been sort of fascinated by the heiress gone missing. That was some sort of story that was in the back of my creative thoughts for a long time, and mistaken identity and that sort of thing. Fleshing that out was a lot of fun, and then the con artist, I've been working and writing in that milieu for a long time as well. Whether you use it or not, I hate plot holes, so I like to fill them, logic holes especially, and the best way to do that, for me, is to have back stories on everyone.
I really loved this, and I was kind of surprised it didn't get a theatrical release. Was this always earmarked as straight to DVD, or did you have plans for a theatrical release? Just hearing the story about how this all came together, it sounds like it was a miracle it was even made, let alone how wonderful it is. Were you aiming for a theatrical release at all?
Kevin Pollak: You know, that business side of it is not something I'm involved in. A lot of the business, of course, is driven by marketing, and has been for a number of years. You know, people in marketing clearly felt differently than people in creative. It was a tough one for me, but, at the same time, as you said, the whole thing was such a miracle, that there is a sense of, 'I can't believe this movie got made. I can't believe this movie is going to be seen.' As devastating as it is not to be in theaters, it's still a miracle. I've spent the last couple of days talking to foreign press. I guess we're getting a theatrical release around the world, which is nice. You're going to have to go to Paris to see the film (in a theater), is what I'm telling you.
Columbus Circle is an actual area in New York, so was that an area you were always intrigued by? When did that location sink in for you when you were breaking the story?
Kevin Pollak: That was last-minute, actually, the title and the location. The pinpoint location was very last-minute. It was not a priority where these two apartments were, within New York, and then it just sort of evolved through the process of George and I writing the script, almost near the end.
I'm not really familiar with that area, but it seemed to be the perfect setting for it, this really affluent, secluded neighborhood. I thought it was a wonderful touch.
Kevin Pollak: Yeah. I thought that the film celebrated Columbus Circle almost in a way that the neighbors of Columbus Circle may not be aware of (Laughs). They might have made it a bit more mysterious and intriguing than it is, which is always nice. That's what movies are for. It's not a documentary.
Is there anything you're currently working on, writing-wise, either by yourself or with George?
Kevin Pollak: Not with George. I have a script that I wrote that's in the same genre, sort of a twisty turny whodunit, contemporary noir, that I'm going to direct. I'm really excited about it. Billy Bob Thornton and Virginia Madsen are on board. We're out to a younger female ingenue, and when we find her, we'll start shooting. I just launched a comedy podcast called Talkin Walkin, with me doing Christopher Walken for an hour, and talking with somebody else in a conversation.
That's awesome, because I was actually telling a colleague of mine that I was going to talk to you, and he actually mentioned the Christopher Walken, the whole thing from The Tonight Show. I thought it was brilliant and hilarious, so I wasn't sure if I'd have time to bring that up.
Kevin Pollak: You have to tell your friend about this podcast. It's called Talkin Walkin and it's on iTunes and TalkinWalkin.com. Yeah, I literally put it up about five or six days ago, and it already cracked the top 10 of comedy podcasts, so I'm pretty thrilled about that. I've just been talking about it on Twitter, so I'm amazed it's doing so well, so quickly. It's become a new project. I'm going to record another one today, actually.
Is there a regular schedule for it? Is it coming out once a week on a certain day?
Kevin Pollak: I'm shooting for every week, sure. I recorded one in New York that I'm editing now, so hopefully it will be up Monday. I've also been doing this long-form conversation talk show on the Internet on KevinPollackChatShow.com.
Oh yeah. I ran into Samm Levine last year and he was talking about that show. It was also great to see him in the movie. That was a fun little role.
You can never go wrong with Samm as a smarmy guy.
Kevin Pollak: No, you can't lose. I'll tell him you said that.
Excellent. So, just to wrap up, what would you like to say to fans of yours about why they should check out Columbus Circle on Blu-ray or DVD this week?
Kevin Pollak: Well, listen, if you like that Hitchcockian psychological cat-and-mouse thriller, there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours, I guarantee it.
Excellent. That's my time. Thanks so much. It was great talking to you.
Kevin Pollak: Thank you very much for your interest. Thanks Brian.
You can check out the fantastic thriller Columbus Circle, which hits the shelves on Blu-ray and DVD March 6.