Actor in the Spotlight: An interview with Kevin Dary
Kevin Dary is an award-winning actor with a recent win at the Actors Awards for his performance in Pandora's Box. The lead judge Roy Zafrani described Dary's performance as "realistic and believable", awarding him with Best Actor in an Indie Film award.
In Pandora's Box, Dary (who also wrote the script) plays Alex, a rock star who must reconsider his life choices when his addiction drives him away from his girlfriend and his music.
Kevin, congratulations on your recent win at the Actors Awards! Let's roll back to the beginning... how did this journey start? Tell us about your early days, and when did you first become interested in story-telling?
Thank you! Wow, how did it start... Well I have always been attracted to the Arts as a whole. I believe my first love was through dance. I grew up trying to dance like Michael Jackson (and I still can, believe it or not!) by pausing VHS tapes and practicing in front of a mirror. I believed that this was a way to express yourself.
Later on, this need to express myself shined through fashion. I was a bullied child in elementary and middle-school because I was a geeky kid. I loved movies, music, video games...rather than sports and going out. I grew up trying to own and be proud of my differences, and films made me relate to many characters who I felt were going through the same thing. Forrest Gump, Dragon - the Bruce Lee Story, Rocky, to name a few,were all about people that were not fitting in society or were somehow rejected for who they were but had greatness in them. Boy have I cried with those stories!
It's only around the age of 20 that I shared my secret desire to be an actor with the rest of my family. My father, being a politician, was really against the idea at first, and it took a few years of me working small jobs to save for an acting school to show him that I really was serious about this passion of mine.
Who are some of your role models?
I have tremendous admiration for Steven Tyler, lead singer of Aerosmith, because he started his career being called a copycat of Mick Jagger, and yet now he is one of the biggest rock stars on this planet and he never stopped being himself. He is one of my idols for that specific reason.
Regarding actors...For the US, Michael Douglas. He is beyond the concept of “my favorite actor”. I just find him impeccably charismatic and he has an aura that leaves me in awe, both when he is acting and as a person.
French actors Jean Reno and François Cluzet. The former for his humility and his father-like image, on top on his acting skills. I do care a lot about the person, not just the artist. The latter for his dedication to the craft and his overall...Frenchness. I think he is the best example of what the US would expect from a French stereotype, but he embraces it so well.
Another artist that I admire for his dedication, to the point that he put his health on the line for it, is the Japanese rocker Yoshiki, drummer and leader of the band X Japan. He is known for giving all that he has on stage, and is notorious for collapsing on his drum set at the end of concerts. He also damaged his spine and his neck from years of “headbanging” and intense drumming. He is a perfectionist and has stated several times that working more than 24 hours without resting is worth it if it helps you touch perfection.
And, perhaps conversely to what one might expect after what I said earlier: my father. His values and his honesty have always driven me to one day be at least half the man he is.
Kevin Dary in CHOP SHOP
For training, you attended the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles, after completing your bachelor's degree in English at Universite de Provence. What made you take English major and w hat were the best parts of taking classes in both institutions?
To be honest, the very first thing I started studying after high school was Law. But it clearly was not for me. After that first year, I was looking for something else to study, but I couldn't see myself tell my family my dreams of being an actor. I took English language for two reasons.
The first was that I was already good at it from years of movie-watching and playing video games! Back in my time, having video games fully translated to French was not common practice yet, and this was a fun way to learn. The second was because it was also a means for me to study Japanese as a minor in this program. I always was a fan of Japanese culture and I thought that perhaps I could something with it. I ended up spending over 2 years of my life in Japan, so I guess that worked out alright!
The best part about that University and this course was that it's very dynamic. You have auditorium classes and then your own smaller, chosen by yourself classes. You basically build your degree and that gives a lot of options to fit everyone's needs.
Regarding the New York Film Academy, needless to say that I just felt so alive during those classes. I came knowing nothing about the craft and just had my passion with me. I got to be with people who shared that, and I was blessed to have amazing teachers during my program. I felt like I was discovering so much about this, and myself, and moreover I felt like finally I was in the right place.
Kevin Dary in Pandora's Box
How did you feel about leaving France and coming to the US? How do you like Los Angeles now?
As I said, I had already left France to go live in Japan. So leaving the country was not heartbreaking. It was also unbelievable to see all the support I now had from my family and friends. I knew I'd miss them and I knew they'd miss me, but it was bittersweet, rather than just sad.
Coming to the US though, was something. I had the luck to see some US cities during holidays but I was much younger and it was not an “American dream” scenario. The hugeness of this city took some getting used to. Everyone looks like they are a big shot and are worth a million bucks, and this can be intimidating at times. But the amount of artists in this town is just so big, that I rarely felt so much at home. I do not feel ashamed of being myself here, and the art mentality seems to be everywhere, meaning that a lot of people relate to your experience and vice versa.
Besides, for a movie and music fan like me, being in LA is a dream. There are moments when I am in my car and I think to myself “I am driving on Sunset Blvd right now...I am right next to the Whisky A Go Go where rock legends played....What the hell is going on?! How did I end up here?”. A french guy driving in Los Angeles. Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke!
Last year, you appeared on the famous TV series, Criminal Minds, which is very impressive! What was the most exciting thing about this experience?
I think that it probably was the idea of being on set with people that I would think “They are ACTUAL actors”. The concept of being on set with people that I would see on TV, watching the show, and recognized right away without knowing them was surreal. Another amazing, intimate moment, was with Joe Mantegna. He was also the director of the episode, but at some point we talked and I told him “it's an honor to work with you.”. He looked surprised and said “Oh...really?”. I replied “of course...You're Fat Tony in The Simpsons!'. We shared a laugh and from there, he would always talk to me doing Fat Tony's voice between takes.
The whole cast on this show was ridiculously warm and nice. They made me want to work even harder, and to stay grounded and humble no matter what.
Kevin Dary in Prego
What are some of the most memorable roles you've played in your career so far? Was there a certain character that remained with you long after the shoot was completed?
I believe that the character of Marty, for an AFI short called “The Motions” is the one that stuck to my chest the most, even after the end of the shoot. He is an heroin addict, married to a wife who doesn't love him anymore, and with a kid he didn't want to have. He just really wants to die and his overdoses are not because he was seeking pleasure and it went wrong, but really because he wants to leave this world he doesn't feel he belongs to.
I lost my aunt 4 years ago pretty much the same way. She didn't feel like she belonged and she felt unworthy of our love, and wished to leave this world through her addiction for alcohol. This part obviously resonated with me and ended up becoming far more demanding and exhausting than I thought it would be. It also took me a whole week to forget Marty's vision of our world and his place in it.
However, as grim as this may sound, this is a part for which I felt so invested that if I had to go through it again, I would say yes in an instant.
In the case of Alex for Pandora's Box, it's a character that I wanted to be for while now, and if anything I'd say he was with me long before that project came to be. And he stays with me everywhere I go. He just got to be fully out for that specific moment.
Pandora's Box is the second screenplay you've written, and the first one you produced. Congratulations on these important milestones! What made you wanna tell this story of Alex, a rock star and a bandleader who must reconsider his life choices when facing addiction?
Thank you very much! Well, Alex's story, and the addiction part are a mix of all the things that have affected me in my life.
First, Alex's story is inspired by a chapter of Steven Tyler's life. He says in his memoir and in several interviews that it's when he met his daughter Liv for the first time, when she was 9 years old and didn't know he was her real father, that he felt it was time for him to go to rehab. In Pandora's Box, Alex's girlfriend, Selina, tells him that she is pregnant before leaving him, because he is not ready to face his addiction yet.
The second part is actually related to my personal life experience. I was going to follow a career that wasn't going to make me happy, or fulfill me, because I was told it was better for me. Though it is the opposite for Alex, the core message is the same: Only you can face your decisions and reflect upon your choices. The more you hear it from others, the less you believe it. It's always up to you to take the decision, for better or worse. The drugs, in this film, are a mean to convey this message rather than the actual core of the film.
Last, and not least, it is also an homage to my aunt and an homage to all the rock star that have inspired me. They all left their print on me, but not because of their flaws and weaknesses, but because of who they are/were beyond that. This story is about self-improvement, and relationships between human beings.
Kevin Dary in Pandora's Box
It's easy to relate to Alex's character because we're all struggling with addictions. When you wrote Alex's character, did you feel it was reflecting anything that happened to you in real life?
Yes and no. Like I said, I lost someone very dear and close to me because of their addiction. So while I never struggled with drugs or alcohol, this specific topic was a key component in my life. Where I do relate more directly, is that I had my own problems and demons, my own fears. But I am glad you feel it's easy to relate to him, because I agree, I believe everyone has a fight of their own. Like Alex, I had to one day be the one to decide where I wanted to go, and that unless I spoke up or did something about these fears that I had, nothing would change. It wasn't going to come from an outside force. Perhaps I could have been “fine” going with it, but I wanted to be happy instead, so I chose the harder path, the one that's worth it.
How did you prepare for your role as Alex?
It was a two part process. The very first thing that I wanted to understand was why most people with addictions to substance have them. Not just big stars, but people in general. So I read books and memoirs from rock stars of course, but also had interviews with family members or friends that either have or had such addictions, or who deal/dealt with people that have them. This whole process took about a month.
Then, once I felt I had enough material, it was all about merging my new knowledge with my own fears and experiences that would hypothetically lead me to such addictions. Because it's not a piece about drugs but about a broken soul, I wanted to shift the audience's attention towards Alex's inner struggle rather than the “physical” one.
Kevin Dary in Pandora's Box
As mentioned, Pandora's Box is the first film you produce. What did you learn from this experience? Can you talk about the challenges of writing, acting and producing a film like this... How did you take the project from conception to completion?
Definitely that it will take some time before I try being producer and actor at the same time again! Because of the tight budget and schedule that my team and I had, it was hard for me to stay absolutely focused on my acting when I would hear the AD say that we were running late on a few shots, or when my DP and Director would discuss lighting problems and different angles. I knew it was now time to just act and focus on that, but I guess the producer hat was still on my head somehow. Probably even more so because it is a project I created from scratch. Which brings me to the writing part of your question. I love writing, and I still do, but the one challenge that I have is always the same. Putting those ideas that seem oh-so-clear in my head on paper, and have them make sense to others while doing justice to my original mental image. I'm so visual that I can go over and over and over again trying to write a sentence just to feel that it is perhaps a little bit clearer this way, or that way. As for taking the project from conception to completion, I must say that it would have not been possible without all my project backers who gave so generously when we crowdfunded the project, and then my amazing crew and cast, who all cared about a project that maybe didn't mean as much to them as it did to me, but treated it just as if it was theirs. Perhaps the hardest for me was that I had to cut a lot from the script, even in its final form, because of budget and scheduling. Some locations were scrapped, the introduction of Alex and the whole band was to be done differently as well... The pace of the story still is too fast for my taste, compared (again!) to what I had in mind originally... But that's filmmaking for you!
Is this your first collaboration with director Hiroki Ohsawa? How did you meet each other? Can you describe your creative process together?
Pandora's Box was actually my second collaboration with Hiroki Ohsawa. We previously worked together on a small project while he attended the New York Film Academy, studying for his Master of Fine Arts in Filmmaking. We met through the lead actor on this project, who recommended me for a supporting role. Since Hiroki is Japanese and I speak the language and lived in the country, we had a very unique and interesting connection. His project was a comedy inspired by Japanese culture and humor, but applied to the west audience. I was on board right away because I love Japanese humor, so a lot of the shots or situations seemed extremely familiar and spoke to me, while most of the crew and cast were wondering where all of that came from! I wanted him to direct Pandora's Box because I knew that he would understand my vision, bring his ideas as well, and work thoroughly with me without claiming the film to be his own. We always talked about everything, and his directions for all of the actors were always brought as options, asking opinions, rather than just a “do it this way”. I love Hiroki as a person and a friend, but I am still amazed to this day by his work ethics. Right now, he is spending every single day in the editing room for about 10 to 12 hours a day editing and adding VFX to his last movie. He has been doing so for three or four months! He said he will not stop until he is satisfied and feels his movie is worthy to be sent in festivals, according to his standards.
How did you get the rest of the team on board?
It was a mix of different circumstances, and this team is really diverse. Hiroki brought along the Director of Photography and the Assistant Camera because he worked with them before and told me that he trusted them , which was enough for me. The rest of the team came through referrals from people in the industry, or were former collaborators from the New York Film Academy days, and friends who just offered their skills to help. For casting, I held audition for the part of Selina, but the band members were played by actual members of the LA based hard rock band “The Kings Of Jade”. I got to meet them through a friend of the guitarist and then I attended some of their shows at the Whisky A Go Go and the Viper Room. They did that as a favor, and the band break up scene is something that they all know all too well!
How was Pandora's Box received so far in the festival circuit?
I was honestly surprised at the few awards that it won! It meant a lot to me. LA Shorts Awards gave it a Diamond Award for Best Drama, The Accolade Global Film Competition an Award of Merit, Special Mention, for my performance as Alex, and it was screened as Official Selection at the Alternative Film Festival in Toronto, and the LogCinema Art Films Festival in the Los Angeles area. I suppose that I was so focused on what I wanted and expected from the beginning that I could not fathom the idea of my small story getting any sort of recognition. It truly is incredible.
Kevin, where do you see yourself in ten years? If you could choose a filmmaker you wish to work with, in the future, who would that be, and why?
Two things. First, I WILL be doing some work in Japan. Whether it is wacky commercials or be in Japanese TV Series (or Dramas as they call it), I'm going to be there somehow. I love their approach to acting and it actually is something that I would to study hands-on. Second, I will be one of those actors that you don't necessarily remember the name of, but you remember the characters they were. “Oh you're xxx from that show!” would be fantastic to me. Because I believe that if people remember your characters, then you've done a good job with your performance. They didn't see you, they saw a full-on, fleshed out character.
As for the filmmaker I would love to work with, it is the French director Michel Hazanavicius. He is known in the US for being the director of The Artist, which won 5 Academy Awards in 2012, including Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture . The reason why is very simple. He has also directed the French comedy O.S.S. 117 and its sequel. They happen to be two of my favorite films and are, to me, the pinnacle of French humor. His sense of humor is the exact same as mine, and I just feel it would be a blast to work with him, being serious about making a spoof comedy. A man who can make an Oscar winning movie, but also make such projects? I call that genius!
Can you tell us a bit about your next project?
Well I can't talk about the plot yet, but I can tell you it is going to be a drama, partially in French, though the story will take place in the US. It is a collaboration project and I just co-wrote this time, to really focus on acting. We have found a producer and are currently discussing when to start production according to everyone's availability.
Is there anything you wish to add?
Yes. Alejandro Iñárritu, when accepting his Oscar for The Revenant, said that our generation can “make sure for once and forever that the color of skin becomes as irrelevant as the length of our hair.”. While I absolutely agree, I have seen and still see too many people being shunned, mocked, ridiculed for the way they dress, the length or color of their hair.
Somehow, when you're famous or an artist, these things are okay. But if you're not, it gets you a “Who do you think you are?”. When really this is one of the stupidest questions that one can ask, because these people are being themselves. And such comments can, and most often will make them insecure and force them to become something they are not, to please others, to avoid conflict. Perhaps so many amazing artists out there are keeping all of their creativity trapped because of the judgments of others.
We are lucky to live in an era of change, and if we can change the terrible practices that have been happening in Hollywood, then I sure hope that we can all work in changing those prejudices and stereotypes so that Mr. Iñárritu's quote can become real.