Written By: Lucas Nochez
Toronto–Aaron Abrams has built up a very successful career playing the jerk in film and television, and this is by no means a reflection of my second interview with the multi-talented actor, producer and writer.
Interesting fact: Aaron Abrams was the first actor I had ever professionally interviewed for his TIFF 2007 selected film, his first written feature film Young People F*cking. The film went on to sell out every single screening at TIFF 2007; become one of the highest grossing Canadian films of all time; and is also credited with being the film that single-handedly responsible for bill C-10, a Canadian bill that allow the Federal Heritage Department the power to deny funding for films and TV shows it considers offensive. The bill C-10 was eventually rescinded and the film went on to play in Canadian theatres for a record-setting fifteen weeks.
Thirteen years later, Abrams and I caught up and sat down to discuss his newest film, Nose To Tail and the juicy role of Daniel, the main character he plays in the film.
Unfortunately for Abrams, Abrams was running a tad late looking for a jacket nearby to battle the chill of the mostly unpredictable Toronto climate, especially since you don’t really need a jacket in LA, unless its for fashion. Luckily, Aaron showed up without hardly being late, and the man never skips a beat. Welcoming me with a warm smile and cheerful hug, we reminisced a bit before getting into it about his newest Canadian micro-budget film.
When asked how and why he found himself acting in the film, especially since his newest project, The Lovebirds, a huge studio backed romantic comedy starring Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani, and directed by the director of The Big Sick was on the horizon, Abrams smiled. “Films like these remind you why you do what you do; why you go to acting school and exercising all these different acting muscles. Scenes get added on the fly, which is a thing you can do on micro-budgets. The push/pull is that you can’t make mistakes; you have to throw a perfect game, you have to come ready. The greatest part really is that there is so much passion and there’s magic that can’t be recreated on set. You can do a whole season of television and the directors and producers are for hire. I mean, somewhere in there, it was someone’s passion, but you may never get to meet that person” indicates Abrams.
Funny enough, Abrams found himself attaching himself to the project after a lengthy conversation about John Cassavetes with director Jesse Zigelstein. “We started speaking about Cassavetes and about the project and how, in Cassavetes’ films, the narrative is centred around toxic, masculine men. We knew our guy was going to be one of these characters so our initial concerns were, when you’re in every scene, most of the time, audiences get annoyed by you. So what we tried to do with the film was keep the theme consistent. Passion is the driving force of all the characters in the film. With a Cassavetes film, even though you don’t agree with these male characters, they’re watchable because they have animalistic qualities due to their passion. Daniel is pretty reprehensible and I knew after reading this script that I was going to be in every scene, practically monologuing throughout, so we needed to establish a character who was passionate, but most importantly, tolerable” stated Abrams. “Plus, any excuses to come back to Toronto is always a good reason”, he charmingly adds with a slight smirk on his face.
What struck me the most, even in our second encounter, was how hard it was for me to believe that Abrams gets typecast as the “jerk”; the man oozes with charm and kind-heartedness. Throughout the interview, he was being so courteous asking me if I needed a beverage, tending to my needs and allowing me to take upon as much time as I needed to make sure I got the content I wanted, even if we did deviate from conversations about the film and used it as an opportunity to catch up.
As we continued talking, something dawned on me; after over a decade of pursuing careers in our professions, I was amazed to realized how much our dreams and ambitions mean to us as well as how little we both have uncompromised our goals. Our pursuit of pure cinematic integrity, at any cost, as well as the places we have gone since 2007, has both matured us as artists, and people, no doubt.
As the interview went on, my emotions began to be in check, and an emotional chord, that I felt was reciprocated, the more we discussed our common passion of film. We really chopped up and unravelled the reasons and goals we both had within the industry and how we were actualizing those goals, brining up how our families and films recently have helped ignite so many of these goals.
Aaron’s goal with Nose To Tail was to reignite and remind him of the strong love he has for film and cinema, really submerging and tenderizing his characters, no matter how small or large the production is. “In an ideal world, I would have learned to be a chef as best as I could. Sadly, my only restaurant job and only personal experience I had before signing on to this film was cleaning toilets, but even doing that, was very helpful for me as a person and as an actor. This discipline then transferred over to my ability to focus on capturing body language and tone. When I was shadowing a chef, I noticed that chefs portray a weird mix of exhaustion and resiliency, hence why, if you watch the film and really watch my character, you see that he is never not leaning onto something or someone” Abrams points out.
To be honest, we aren’t exactly sure why films about chefs are so juicy and full of opportunities to display such large narrative arcs, but the poetic undertow of Nose To Tail is immeasurable. “Part of what appealed to me about the film was even the grime of it felt glamorous. The film felt very nuts and bolts. We are trained as moviegoers to understand that there is a certain rhythmic flow; we are either waiting for Daniel to either fully combust or his big redemptive moment. Many times throughout, my character experiences brinks of going full chaos, almost as if there is one more level of self-destruction still in him” says Abrams. “What I appreciated most about the film is that it certainly does not forgive him for his actions. Instead, it constantly punishes him for it. He cowers! Our guy constantly regrets his lack of interpersonal skills and lack of relationships” explains Abrams.
Abrams, very aware of the delicacy of the role but also relishing in the role’s meatiness, approaches Daniel with such tenacity and understanding, that it becomes clear, quite quickly, that there aren’t many actors who are able to carve into a character like Daniel, in a time that is so sensitive, delicate and with so much to say. “In order to connect with an audience, you sort of need to awaken them from their sleep. I think the film is a very harsh but a true reflection of the world. The film shows a male boss figure who has power over others, male and female, and abuses his power to both. He is so admirably hard-headed from start to finish, and this passionate quality is the symbolic analogy of the film, both in front and behind the camera. Without showing these hard scenes, the film wouldn’t feel real or true” denotes Abrams. “The film is a package of emotions. Anything that subverts what you are expecting, that subversion becomes important and allows films to connect with its audience” exclaims Abrams.
Nose To Tail is a film not for the faint of heart; narratively speaking and figuratively speaking. There is a scene in the film, where Daniel hauls and then begins to carve up a dead pig in the back of the kitchen. While the scene is not included for spectacle or shock-factor by any means, the scene remains as a symbolic representation of the direction of our character, and the narrative as a whole. Within the conversation, we even brought it back to Toronto and discussed the instance in 2018 of chef Michael Hunter from Antler Kitchen and Bar, when he carved up a large animal leg at the restaurant’s front window where vegan protestors gathered. The chef also later returned after grilling the meat and began eating it in front of the protestors. “That certainly feels like a move that my character would do”, chuckles Abrams after remembering reading the article online. “I remember they wanted to tweet or post a picture of me carrying that dead pig and I said ‘I don’t think you can do that’, I don’t think its a very ‘Instagram-able’ thing to do. You can’t post a picture of a dead animal, that’s not winning you any fans” recalls Abrams. Luckily for him and for us, he made the right choice.
As the interview was winding down, despite Aaron’s constant suggestion to keep going, I didn’t want to hog him into giving me more time because of our extended personal history, especially since the interview was early in the morning and Abrams had quite the heavy press schedule.
Which shouldn’t come as a surprise for the multi-talented artist. Next on Abrams schedule will be his newest writing/producing endeavour, The Lovebirds, which is releasing in April 2020 but will have its world premiere at South by Southwest sometime in March. Yet, whether it be an American, studio backed romantic-comedy film, or a micro-budget Canadian film, even after more than a decade after first meeting, the bare-bones of Abram’s goals remain clear and unwavering. “Studio stuff is cool and fun and you get to reach a huge audience. Sadly, with studio work, the bottom line is the bottom line; every second the clock’s ticking, its cash, it costs money. Not to say with a micro-budget it doesn’t cost money, it costs money too, but the bottom line of a micro-budget film, it costs our soul. Once we find a way to blend the two, I’ll be happy” concludes Abrams.
As we shook hands for the last time in maybe another decade, that really stuck with me. Knowing that true, passionate and pure artists are there, writing our mainstream romantic comedies now, and still being cast in micro-budget and independent cinema, really gives hope to the future of the medium. Regardless of independent or commercial success, there is no denying that Aaron Abrams has a strong passion for his craft.
Despite popular belief, and even Abrams briefly admitting to it at the beginning of the interview, “I play a lot of jerks”. Funny enough though, the man couldn’t be farer from the truth. To prove my point, at about halfway through the interview, a gentleman approached Abrams, smiling and shaking his hand. They exchanged some kind words and chuckles, catching up at lightning speed, probably because the gentleman didn’t realize we were in the middle of an interview, seeing that we looked like two friends at a local Second Cup catching up ourselves. Abrams, who didn’t want to be rude to me and keep me any longer, concluded the conversation with the gentleman and said their goodbyes. Upon coming back to my eye-line, the look of perplexity and confusion was real for Aaron. He then looks me dead in my eyes and says, “I would introduce you but..”, he then looks down, disappointed, and he then continues and nervously admits to me that “Man, I try to be better, but I guess I just don’t have it with names and faces”. We then begin to laugh hysterically until our bellies ache.
Go see Nose To Tail, if your stomach can handle it!