Andrew Van Baal’s Short Film “Wonder Valley” (+ Q&A w/ star Tom Brosseau) appeared in Filter Magazine December 27th, 2012.
How did the filmmakers sell you on this role?
“Wonder Valley” was to be shot all over LA: subway stations, laundry mats; the concrete hills of Echo Park; the venue Echo Country Outpost; a pool in Woodland Hills; Koreatown, and of course the California desert communities 29 Palms and Wonder Valley. I love Los Angeles, and California. The opportunity would provide me new views of the city, the state. Plus, I’d be working with Andrew again, who shot me and others in the film “Largo“, and Patrick Strange, whose contributions to FILTER I had become familiar with.
What was your acting experience prior to this role?
Formal acting, or whatever you want to call it- very little. I had only been in one play my senior year of high school. I was Herman in Jabberwock. That was a very rewarding experience. Dan Borgen, a Red River alum, directed the play. He gave me the role, and I appreciated it. But Jabberwock isn’t all there is to my acting career. In fact, I might say the roles have been plentiful, they keep coming in. Every day I put on a costume.
How similar or dissimilar is acting to singing onstage and being a songwriter/musician?
I am a performer, audience or none at all. I try things out when I’m walking, when I’m on the bus, the subway. Sometimes I copy the quirks of my fellow commuters. I affect a limp, or skip like a little kid, tilt my head in a new way, change my speech pattern. I pretend I’m someone else. Performers who paid close attention to Woody Guthrie when he was still living used to copy his mannerisms. What they didn’t know was that his sudden body jolts were a result of the disease that eventually took his life, Huntington’s. Monitoring society is what I do in order write songs. I’m an observer; my ears are always pricked to catch those golden phrases that exist in the ranks.
Did you receive any advice from any actor friends, or words of encouragement?
Andrew was a big help. So was my friend Samantha Shelton, a great actress, songwriter, performer. Mercedes Manning, who played my love interest in the film, was both kind and patient with me. I appreciated that. Jolene Andersen, Jamieson Rhyme, Kate Flannery, and Justin Kane, the man who shot Wonder Valley, and the grips, the sound men, lighting, Monica in makeup, Helen the producer- I received support from the cast and crew.
Do you have plans to continue acting?
Has the experience of acting in this short influenced your music in any way?
What were some things Andrew did as a director during filming that helped you in this role?
Much of the film called for me to be walking around in my underpants, which I wasn’t nervous about, because who really cares, but I was a little unnerved to show my lanky body. In my head people were going to be laughing at me, like in junior high, at the sight of my shoulder blades, rib cage, nipples, my spidery hands.
Some of the scenes Andrew and I walked through together, which further informed me how to play. We blocked, too. This freed me up to make decisions, and ultimately I became confident about everything else.
What was it about Patrick’s script that made you want to play this role?
The idea was first presented to me by Andrew, when he called to see if I would be interested in playing myself in a movie that was based on a song of mine entitled “Unfamiliar Places”. Once the script came around the character I was to play maybe bore a likeness to me, but it’s not like it was a spittin’ image. That wasn’t the aim, anyway. It’s just I remember someone asking me not long after “Wonder Valley” was completed, Wasn’t it awkward to play yourself? I was driven to the role by a notion, a notion I have found best put by Buckaroo Banzai: “Hey, hey, hey. Don’t be mean. We don’t have to be mean. Because remember. No matter where you go, there you are.”
What is your take on the story of “Wonder Valley”, or your character’s reality in the film?
He suffers an emotional breakdown, and is dislocated, migrates to the desert, but underneath it all, I get the feeling changing environs when the going gets tough is typical to his behavior, so yeah, I’d say his reality is shaky.
How would you describe the plot to someone who has not seen it?
I have described Wonder Valley to others as a story about a guy who moves to the desert in order to get away from a bad breakup. There is no plot.
What are you working on in 2013, musical or otherwise?
I have recorded an album of original music with Sean Watkins (Nickel Creek/ Watkins Family Hour/ Sara Watkins/ Fiction Family), and I need to search for a record label, and I’m going to record another solo album, but I’m not sure when or who with.
I’m in a band with John Reilly, and we’re going to be recording an album, and tour. April 2013 we’ll be at the United Methodist Church for San Diego Unplugged, and the Stagecoach Festival.
I used to perform in old-folks homes growing up, through choir, school, and lately I’ve been thinking how much fun it would be to do that again. That’s also my audience, the many beautiful senior citizens of America.