Peter Krause talks about paranoia in regards to his new Post-911 flick
Many of you may remember Peter Krause from his 63 episode run as Nate Fisher on the popular HBO series Six Feet Under. On May 4th, you will be able to catch Peter in the limited release thriller Civic Duty, which he also produced.
Civic Duty explores the paranoia and suspicions that have arisen in many US citizens since the World Trade Center attacks on 911. Krause plays a man that suspects his Islamic neighbor may be a terrorist. The film has generated generous praise since premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival last year.
Peter recently got on the phone with me to talk about his role in front of and behind the camera (he even took a picture to prove it)...
Hello, Peter. I hear audiences have really connected with Civic Duty. That must be pretty exciting.
Peter: Yeah. I'm very happy about that. We made the film with the intention to be provocative. And we leave it to interpretation. It's sort of a Rorschach test for anyone who sees it. You have to see where you're at with the world we live in. You have to explore the fuzzy line between justifiable suspicion and racial profiling. Also between justifiable fear and paranoia. Also the Media's effect on people, whether they fairly reflect the fear of people and responsibly inform them with accurate information. Or if at times they serve to...Um, I'm sorry...I think I broke something over here.
Peter: I think this was already broken. I didn't knock this over, did I? I'm sorry. I'll just leave that there...What was I saying?
You were talking about audiences identifying with the film.
Peter: Right. You know, the media starts to amplify and magnify fear into a type of paranoia. I think the media serves at a certain point in trying to make the public paranoid. But we also have to ask the question, "Is it justifiable fear or paranoia?" I have to go back to that. Because, it's like the situation with the shootings at Virginia Tech. Somebody might have seen Cho and thought, "I think that guy's going to snap." Somebody might have thought that and done something about it, to prevent the situation. It would have looked like paranoid vigilantism. But of course, if we had a window into the future, we would know that it wasn't paranoid vigilantism. It would have been justifiable suspicion and heroism. They are tough questions to answer, but we wanted to dump these questions into the laps of the audience.
How easy was it for you to relate to this character?
Peter: It was easy for me to relate, though I'm not Terry Allen or anything like him. In terms of it being relatable, that's my job. I have to relate to all manners of human expression. I didn't find it that difficult. I think that we all have had similar thoughts and feelings just like Terry's. He's obviously using his actions in extreme thoughts and feelings that many of us have had.
Did you ever find it hard to leave the character behind and not become a little paranoid in your own life?
Peter: Nah, I was alright. We were up there in Canada for a month and a half. A lot of that time was spent rehearsing and getting to know the character. Once I was doing it, I didn't really have much time to do anything else. So I was always on set working or back in the hotel room asleep. The director helped me a great deal with sustaining my energy levels, and sustaining the levels of paranoia that the character required. Director Jeff Renfroe was a giant help with achieving that.
How did you find a balance between full blown hysteria and keeping an air of credibility to Terry?
Peter: (laughs) I don't know. That was my aim, so...I'm glad I achieved it. If that was your experience. Did you find him to be credible, or no?
Yes, sir. I did. It was a great balancing act on your part.
Peter: I think we wanted Terry to seem like he could have been paranoid and losing his mind, but at the same time we wanted audiences to know he wasn't mad. Maybe the rest of the world was crazy for not feeling the way he did. We didn't want it to be clear cut. We wanted all of those elements to be working at the same time.
What drew you to the film as a producer?
Peter: When I originally read the script, a few of the elements were a bit different. For instance, Terry was a very conservative minded character. And I thought that could lead to dismissal in the minds of certain conservative audience members. Because they would feel ridiculed. And the liberal mined audience members might have completely dismissed the film because it had nothing to do with them. They would just laugh and think that Terry Allen is this crazy, paranoid conservative guy. I wanted Terry to represent all of America in a way. The best thing to do was put him in the middle and be a member of the silent majority. So, that's what I wanted to bring to the character. How I got involved as a producer is that I wanted to make sure I was involved creatively.
Writer Andrew Joiner says that "The Media is the Devil on Terry Allen's shoulder." Do you consider the TV Media to be a Devil on the shoulder of America?
Peter: I won't go as far as to say that. I simply want to ask the important question: At what point do people in the Media need to take a gut check and say, "Is this good, accurate information or is the delivery of this information going to make people paranoid?" It's tough. Take the shootings at Virginia Tech. I go back to that. Would it have been paranoid? You know? Would it have been vigilantism to have done something in advance? No, not if you could have seen into the future. It would have been well founded suspicion. In terms of the Media for me, it's all questions. I have to look at things more clearly. I can't necessarily go along with Andrew on that in terms of a blanketed statement. What Andrew is saying is that in the film, the media serves to fuel Terry's intensions. You know? It reflects and echoes every thing he is thinking and feeling. Everything he is suspicious about is justified in some way by the media around him.
Do you think audiences would have had a harder time sympathizing with Gabe had the film came out just two or three years ago? Do you think the movie could have even existed just that short while ago?
Peter: Well, we made the film two years ago. If it had come out right away, would audiences have been ready? I'm not sure. I think that they are ready now. They should be. They should be able to take a good, hard look at the world they live in and themselves. God, I hope you don't give away the ending. But we tried to make the character of Gabe ambiguous enough that the audience would have to reflect on his guilt or innocence themselves. You know?
It was your idea to keep Gabe's intentions ambiguous. You wanted to let the audience decide if he was guilty or innocent. Why do you think that was important for the film; and for the two characters specifically?
Peter: It was both mine and Jeff Renfroe, the director's idea. Andrew Joiner very graciously rewrote the script with us. And he came up with some amazing stuff along the way. I think it would have been irresponsible to say unequivocally that Gabe is a terrorist. Or that he is not. Either way it's irresponsible, because we live in a world where this exists. There was a report out yesterday, I believe, that stated terrorism had claimed more lives than it had the year before. It was on Yahoo, yesterday. I would have to check it, but I think that is right. If we said he was a terrorist, we would have been making a right wing propaganda film. Telling people to be suspicious of their neighbors. Again, clearly, people do sometimes live in a psychologically unhealthy way. By the same token, if we had of said that he is not a terrorist, we would have made a good film, but it would have ultimately boiled down to a film where the moral was: Don't profile people by race. While I'm certainly not a supporter of racial profiling, if we had of made that movie, we would have been ignoring the fact that we do live in a world where terrorist attacks do happen. I think it was more responsible on an artistic level to dump all of these questions in the audience's lap. I think it's a more accurate reflection of the world we live in. Because both sides are true. We do live in a world where people are judged by their race even though they are completely innocent. Other people have gone unnoticed and have committed horrible acts of terrorism.
The film received a lot of praise when it played the Tribeca Film Festival last year. Do you think New York audiences identify with the story more than the rest of America?
Peter: I don't know. I think they are more sensitive to the questions that the film asks then audience members who probably live elsewhere.
The press material describes you as being an "everyman." Do you like being described as an "everyman"?
Peter: For Terry?
No, for yourself...
Peter: Uh, I don't know. I don't describe myself that way. (Laughs) Its fine for the people that write press notes, I guess.
What's the one thing you hope audiences take from watching this film?
Peter: Well, hopefully underneath all the questions there's a very simple question. And that is, "Do you really want to live in a world like this?" And I think it is a pretty accurate description of the world we live in. I know Terry is an extreme expression of the American psyche. But I don't think we want to continue living in a world where that kind of fear and suspicion are a part of everyday life.
What's next for you?
Peter: I did a TV pilot called Dirty Sexy Money with Donald Sutherland and Jill Clayburgh, and William Baldwin. We'll know in a couple of weeks if that gets picked up.
That sounds pretty cool. Can you tell me what that's about?
Peter: It's about a very wealthy East Coast family. Donald Sutherland is the patriarch of the family. I play the family's attorney, so I have to deal with the hi-jinks and the problems of the Darling family.
I've got one last question that's not about the movie, if that's okay?
It's for all our cross-over television enthusiasts. I noticed on IMDB that you've played a character named Tim on Seinfeld, Ellen, The Drew Carey Show, and a feature film called Lovelife. Is this the same character? Which would put all of those shows in the same universe...Or do you just enjoy playing characters named Tim?
Peter: No. That just happened to be the name of the various characters. I believe. I don't know. I don't think so. I think they are all different people. I wasn't aware that I'd played characters named Tim that frequently. Interesting. I had no idea. Now I will never play someone named Tim ever again.
Okay, that raps it up. I really enjoyed your film, and I hope it's very successful for you.
Peter: Thank you.
We'll see you later.
Peter: Okay. Bye-bye.
Civic Duty opens this Friday, May 4th. If you can't get into Spider-Man 3 I'd suggest checking this out. Its well worth the price of admission and far more suspenseful than the recent Disturbia, which shared similar themes. What more can I say then, "Get your donkeys unhinged from the gate and go see it."