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September 29, 2017

Jason James helms sweet, funny look at one man’s quest to get a grip


Dana Gee /The Vancouver Sun

When it came time to cast the lead for the Vancouver-shot film Entanglement director Jason James had one name on the top of his list: Thomas Middleditch.

“I get sent a lot of scripts and materials and there are a lot of lists of ‘here are the actors we like,’ and you know the top of every single one of them as a Canadian is Ryan Gosling. It’s kind of a joke now. But the top of the list for this movie was Thomas Middleditch,” said James about the Nelson native. “He was just so perfect for this role.”

Most notably Middleditch plays Richard on Silicon Valley and is the guy in the ubiquitous Verizon TV ads.

Yes, Middleditch’s star is rising and one way to keep it on that upward trajectory is to build a resume that is wide and varied. Enter the Jason Filiatrault-penned feature Entanglement.

“Thomas was the first person we sent the script to,” said James who grew up in Deep Cove.

Thomas Middleditch and Burnaby’s Diana Bang star in the VIFF 2017 B.C. film Entanglement. SUBMITTED /PNG

Middleditch agreed to do the film that has already made festival stops in Brooklyn and Seattle before landing at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) for screenings on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.

“Getting name actors for Canadian films is difficult, but it all comes down to story,” said James. “It is just a unique, different, emotional and fragile story that he really responded to.”

Once on board Middleditch and James met a few times and during those meetings Middleditch offered some notes and a couple of re-write ideas.

“He became a collaborator,” said James whose resume includes the features That Burning Feeling and Fathers & Sons.

In Entanglement Middleditch plays Ben a guy who survives a suicide attempt and then falls in love with a very unlikely woman, played by Jess Weixler. The relationship opens up a bunch wounds for Ben and leads him to question what his life has been and what it will become. Questions he ponders as he literally maps out his own existence with the help of regrets, red thread and a waning grasp on reality.

James says Middleditch as Ben was truly cemented in his mind after he saw the actor in an interview for another film.

“The interviewer asked him what was his favourite song and he started talking about Neutral Milk Hotel’s The King of Carrot Flowers and he just started bawling,” said James.

“He just loved the song and it touched him and I was like wow, this is so much like Ben. This character in Entanglement, he’s just so fragile and he’s on the verge of breaking up and laughing or breaking down and crying. That’s kind of Thomas. He’s a very fragile, interesting, emotional dude. That’s what drew me to him. I think it’s a really cool interesting performance. One that we haven’t seen him do before.”

That untried ground it turns out was also interesting for Middleditch.

“He said ‘look I get a lot of dorky comedy rolls and this is something that is moving. It’s emotional, it’s fragile, it’s weird, it’s funny and I get to play the leading man.’ He had never shot a love scene before,” said James. “He’s a real actor. A talented actor and this film had a lot of emotional layers to it that he could play in and I think that is exciting for an actor.”

James says it is also exciting for him as a director to get an actor out of his or her comfort zone and help them add another character to their quiver.

“When you are sending stuff out to cast. I’m always thinking who hasn’t done this role,” said James who is busy right now developing a handful of TV series. “Not who has done this role but who hasn’t done this role? Who would want to do this role?”

Vancouver director Jason James on the set of the film Entanglement. SUBMITTED / PNG

Before finding his cast James of course had the script. That script came to him initially not as a job offer but just a request from a writer for a fresh set of eyes.

“He sent me a first draft of the script and was just asking for notes, it just spoke to me,” said James who had met Filiatrault on another project. “It was just so emotionally fragile and weird and funny. It was so visceral and visual.

“When I read a script I think about point of view, perspective and so much of this movie is from Ben’s point of view and because Ben has a certain psychosis you really have a huge license to play with the framing and the lens size and the look and feel of the film and that as a filmmaker got me really excited,” added James.

James got so excited about the script that his first move was to begin to amass a wish list of ideas.

“As soon as I read the script I created a Tumblr page of images and music and photographs and just how I wanted to make this film and how I wanted to execute it. I pitched the writer Jason really hard to let me be part of it which I have never done before,” said James who added he wanted the movie to feel like “vinyl,” to feel handmade.

Vancouver director Jason James with actors Jess Weixler and Thomas Middleditch on the set of the feature film Entanglement. SUBMITTED / PNG

It’s these types of movies that fit so perfectly into and depend on film festivals like VIFF to get noticed. Thunderbird Entertainment will be releasing this one in November. It’s also a chance for the people behind the film to see their work in action and to connect with an audience.

“In making films it is actually my favourite part of the process, going around to the film festivals. You get to travel but you also get an immediate reaction from an audience,” James.

The reaction to screenings so far has been positive and according to James they have been insightful as viewers have come forward to talk about the mental health aspect of the film.

“When you get that emotional hit and get that dialogue, well, that to me is what film festivals are about,” said James. “That’s what makes them so exciting and about the moment.”