Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Interview: Meet Parrish Hurley, Part One

A few months back, some online friends made the trek to Vermont to see Eric Sheffer Stevens in the Vermont Shakespeare Company production of Much Ado About Nothing. I couldn't go, but lived vicariously through them as they posted about the show, the after-show meet-and-greet, and the people they'd met there.

One of those people was Parrish Hurley, an actor from New York they couldn't stop raving about. I "met" Parrish through Facebook, and got a chance to see his short film/TV pilot the (718), which I featured Monday on the blog. (Haven't seen it yet? What are you waiting for? Go watch!)

Since the creative process fascinates me, I invited Parrish to answer a few interview questions about how the (718) came to be, and where he hopes it's going from here. The first part of the interview follows; I'll post the second half tomorrow. I hope you enjoy getting to know Parrish as much as I did!

1. Tell me a little about the (718). What was the inspiration behind it? How did you go about putting it together?

‘the (718)’ is the story of me and my two best pals, Darren and Patrick, living and playing in Brooklyn. I was having a modest amount of success doing stand-up comedy at the time, and would always end my act telling the story that eventually became the Paul the Hot Irishman scenes in ‘the (718).’ I’d be standing there at Caroline’s on Broadway telling 300 strangers intimate details about my dating life, and just when I had them thinking things couldn’t possibly get any more absurd or pathetic, I’d hit them with “Have you ever tried to give a blow job after you’ve taken a bong hit?” When that one hit, it really REALLY hit, and I said to Darren, who had given up acting to focus on filmmaking, that we should make a short film based on that story, but he thought it would be stronger as a part of a larger television pilot.

Darren had just moved out—we had been roommates for eight-and-a-half years until he got engaged—and Patrick had moved to the Bronx with his wife a couple of years earlier. I had lulled myself into the ridiculous belief that the three of us would be living together and going to the pub to watch football until we were 80 years old. I figured that would make a great backdrop for a series—my two best pals moving on, forcing me to go out and try and find a mate, despite my lack of connection with the gay community. It set up all sorts of situations, first and foremost my having to seek my identity while losing my support system. We wanted the humor to be dry and deadpan, and we added a touch of magical realism by adding the rhyming and scheming F Train Messiah—in my scenes with him, I’m literally wrestling with my conscience and struggling to stop apologizing for my appearance and sexuality each time he calls me ‘Too Tall Nancy.’ Those scenes are fun, and exploit my limitations—I’ve got those internal rhythms, but outwardly, I’m so awkward and unsure, and my journey through the series lies in learning to accept and become comfortable with myself to the point where I’m fine without my pals and the counsel of The F Train Messiah.

Anyway, Darren was working as associate producer on ‘Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane’ and he and his crew, who were hungry to work on an actual narrative project, were coming to New York for a weekend and all graciously volunteered their time and talent. So we shot it.

2. How long did filming take? How about everything else connected to it - writing, editing, post-production, etc?

We filmed in two half days—that was about as long as the crew was going to be in town, and also about as long as we were going to get away with using ‘borrowed’ equipment. We were able to do no more than three takes of any given shot, which didn’t make for a best-case scenario, but everyone stepped up, and the frenetic nature of the shooting added a character to the show that’s kind of charming. Post-production was rather short, and after seeing it with a few different festival audiences, I was able to sit down with the editor a couple more times to streamline what people were responding to, so what’s online right now is a pretty definitive cut.
3. Did you know everyone involved in the show prior to filming, or did the show bring you guys together?

Stas May (who plays Darren) and I (as well as Aurelia Lavizzo, who plays the bartender) performed together in a play called ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ at The Flea here in New York; when Darren and I decided that Darren should focus on directing and that we should cast an actor to play Darren, Stas was the one guy I knew that could capture both Darren’s charm and goofball edge (and is as boyishly handsome as Darren). Annie Scott (Cassandra) is another friend from The Flea. I wrote the part of Mark for another Flea actor, Ben Beckley, but he was unavailable to film because he was touring with a show in France, so I asked Tom Onushco, with whom I performed in Allentown, to play the part, and he was wonderful.

I have to credit Patrick for casting the rest of the roles—He had just finished a production of ‘The Lieutenant of Inishmore’ at Syracuse Stage with Christian Conn (Paul the Hot Irishman) and Sean Tarrant (Jim). We were looking for a particularly strong actor to play Paul, and Patrick told me to consider both those guys, and I went with Christian, because Paul needs to look younger than I, and Sean and I kind of read the same age, but I loved Sean so much that I beefed up the role of Jim, which was originally a much smaller role, because I knew I was sitting on a goldmine with him. And as for Christian, we asked him to do a lot, and that was a wonderfully fearless performance he gave.

As for The F Train Messiah, I envisioned that role as a black character, and wrote it with another Flea actor in mind who wound up doing the August Wilson cycle at the Kennedy Center and couldn’t commit. Another black pal of mine was ready to step in, but wound up getting ‘Shrek’ on Broadway. When it came time to do a reading in order to settle on a final shooting script, Patrick asked Brian Dykstra, with whom he crossed paths when they were both working at the Barrow Street Theatre here in New York, to step in as kind of a ‘placeholder’ until we found someone. The second Brian opened his mouth, I knew he had to be The F Train Messiah, and I now couldn’t imagine doing those scenes with anyone else.

4. I noticed that the (718) has received a great response, including awards, from multiple film festivals. Are you continuing to enter it in competitions? Where do you see it going from here?

I’m thrilled to death with the festival run we’ve had for the past year-and-half; we wrap up in South Africa next month (November), and I see little or no reason to continue with festivals. It’s been considered—whether it was accepted or not—by every festival in which I would have liked it to have screened. So now I’m trying to create an online buzz to draw attention to both the pilot itself as well as the awards we’ve won.

5. It's been referred to as a pilot for a cable channel, which makes sense, based on the NSFW subject matter and language. (Both of which I loved, by the way.) Are you currently shopping it to different channels? Are there more episodes already in the can, or is the pilot the only one currently completed?

Thanks for saying so! That cottonmouth scene has cost us acceptance into more than one festival in which we would have liked to have screened. I mean, COME ON. I’m not quite sure we could have done it any more tastefully then we did without eliminating it altogether, which would be a mistake, because it really helps define Stephen’s plight. At one point a producer from Sony Television was interested in us, and wanted to target FX, which is great, because at the core of ‘the (718)’ you’ve got the story of three Irish-American best pals and drinking buddies and a slam poet conscience. But would the suggestion of all-male fellatio fly on FX? Not sure. I’m trying to target IFC, Sundance Channel, BBC America and Starz.

There are three more episodes written, but the pilot presentation is all that we filmed. When we wrote the pilot, Darren kept telling me to write something that could be shot quick and dirty for no money, which is what we did, so we kept the locations and technical needs to a minimum. In the second episode, we develop the magical realism started with The F Train Messiah by having me fall for a barback who may or may not be an incarnation of the Christian martyr St. Stephen, who will be a recurring character (played by Ben Beckley, who co-wrote the episode) who acts as both my guardian angel and spiritual guide. We’d need to film in (what at least appears to be) a Catholic church, and the subplot involves Patrick getting bullied by a street mime, so we’d need a mime, as well as mime training for Patrick and Stas. Oh, and we’d also need the rights to use the song ‘Renegade’ by Styx. Clearly this episode has it all, and I’m not quite sure we could do it on our own.

The other two scripts aren’t necessarily the third and fourth episodes, because you’d have to kind of know our characters better for them to really fly, but I am really proud of them, and they fit somewhere in the first season. In one, modeled after a ‘Frasier’-like farce, we send up gay stereotypes, or at least how television likes to portray gay men, by having Patrick blow an audition for a gay soap opera character by pretty much doing an imitation of me, which confuses the casting director, to say the least. Later, Patrick and I are at a bar and I spot Paul the Hot Irishman and Perfect Jim, two of my botched dates from the pilot episode, together and happily smitten with each other. In an attempt to not look pathetic, I ask Patrick to pose as my boyfriend, and a depressed Patrick sees it as an opportunity to redeem himself and prove that he is a good actor (or can at least be a good ‘television gay’), so he takes it up a notch and starts acting ‘gay in stereo,’ much to my horror.

The other one, which I co-wrote with Brian Dykstra, is called ‘Seamus Coyle, the Kneeling Tosser of Ballina.’ After I catch Darren masturbating on his knees (and Patrick and I dispense with a proper ribbing), Darren tells us the story of his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather and how he (quite accidentally) saved his village from the English and Protestantism by pleasuring himself in the same way during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. It’s told via flashback, of course, and Stas would play Seamus and Patrick and I would play his two best pals. It’s not all zany, but actually often quite dark and moving, and best exemplifies our friendship by moving us to a different time and extreme place while keeping the relationships and dynamics the same. And tossing is the great unifier, isn’t it—with all this talk of heterosexuals and homosexuals, at the end of the day, aren’t we all monosexuals? Yes, we sure are.

LOL! And on that note, we'll take a quick breather. Be sure to come back tomorrow for part two!
ETA: Hallo AfterElton readers! Thanks for stopping by. The second half of the interview is in the link above; for a peek at "the (718)", go here. Enjoy!


Colleen said...

Hey Kate,

Thanks for doing this. Great to hear from Parrish who is a terrific guy (and a character. Can't wait to see the rest!

traci said...

I was also unable to go up to Vermont to see the still upsets me. Let's not go there. Anyway...

The premise of this show is hilarious. I have watched the entire pilot episode and I was laughing so hard I had tears rolling down my face! I'm REALLY hoping it gets picked up by someone, anyone!

Thanks for doing this, Kate. I'm looking forward to reading tomorrow's installmenet! <3