The 2011 Tribeca Film Festival isn’t over yet, but I suspect when all is said and done, I’ll look back most fondly on this. The following interview centers on the film Puncture, the story of a real life lawyer with an eccentric personality. Mike Weiss (Chris Evans) battles drug addiction while taking on a major case against corruption amongst the medical industry. Hospitals once refused to adopt single-use safety needles, ignoring the most prolific source of workplace injury in favor of subtle bribery.
I was able to sit down for a chat with Chris Evans, Vinessa Shaw, who portrayed a strong, centered mother and nurse infected by aids after being pricked by a needle and co-directors Adam Kassen and Mark Kassen, who also portrayed Mike’s legal partner Paul Danziger in the film.
There’s only one image of Puncture available to me at this time, so to keep things interesting beyond the wall of text, I’ll use pictures from the Chris Evans films I’ve seen while ranking them from worst to best.
How did this story get to you?
Mark Kassen: Paul Danziger sent it to us in a cold submission. We had done this movie called Bernard and Doris it was a true story about someone that was kind of a complicated issue and that had done really well, we sold it really independently. Adam and I wanted to spend whatever currency we on something we both thought we could own both from a production and creative standpoint. The character was amazing and it was a window into a great issue that we care about.
Chris, how did it feel working on something with an important social message?
(Most of the time Chris is friendly compassionate Chris, but whenever I ask a direct question he looks at me like he’ll rip my heart out if it isn’t a smart one.)
Chris Evans: Well, the social message behind it that’s obviously a big thing but with me it’s been a more selfish motivation. Working on smaller films feels real. Big films you spend a lot of time in your trailer. You know what I mean? It’s a snail’s pace. You do, like, a page a day. It’s just a different feeling when you get that page per day. This, we weren’t doing giant scenes per day and you’re not going back and sitting in your trailer, you go home and say “I made a movie today.” I was an actor, I was paid to act and do what I love and I got my hands dirty it just feels satisfying, it’s addicting really so I signed on more for that reason. If there’s a social message then yeah, great.
The production notes say you gave some great suggestions, what sort did you make?
Chris: Just suggestions. You don’t want to change too much because it’s a real guy. If we wanna change some of the dialogue or where the story goes… you have to walk a fine line because this person existed we can’t take too many liberties.
Mark: I think you’re getting that from the fact that we were really excited that Chris asked a lot of questions and basically just said why, or how come, or why not and just in doing that we were forced to just say that was a good idea in our head but now what you’re saying is just more true and if we can’t answer the question, even if we don’t agree, if we can’t answer the question then that’s probably a better way to go.
Do you know anyone who lives this reckless lifestyle and actually does phenomenal at their job?
(Chris nods yes)
Well you live in LA…
Chris: Oh God, I didn’t let you finish, no way!
(When this guy is excited to answer a question it feels like he’s about to leap out of his chair.)
Adam Kassen: There are these brilliant, amazing, talented people ya know and there’s different variations. This is one of those characters that took it too far.
How did you know not to take it even further though? Puncture doesn’t play to that more than it needs to.
Chris: That’s these guys (the directors) you know what I mean? But it comes down to doing “drug” films I mean.. you can say “should I dance” and stuff and it’s just the directors. I’ve seen great scripts that end up pretty lousy because of directors, I’ve watched and worked with actors and seen them give amazing performances that maybe aren’t working because of bad directing. These guys have to stream-feed this story to the audience with a camera and they create the pace and the tempo and talent.. they get you in sync with what’s going on, they push you as far as they wanna push you and bring you back. Acting is one very, very small piece in a movie puzzle. At the end of the day, the directors can take your performance and they can make it great and they can make it terrible from the beginning and that’s really the way they kind of walk this line.
Mark: I remember one specific was the withdrawal scene in the ambulance and Adam and I had a different idea of what that would be like, and Chris was like “i called a bunch of people who have been through opiate withdrawals” and he read us off a list of what people’s experiences were and did that scene in a much more interesting level than we had imagined it
Adam: Based on what he thought was real.
Mark: based on reality, so that’s kind of the main reason, but also just with the drug world itself. We did a lot of talking about that beforehand, all of us, and movies I’m a big fan of like Requiem for a Dream or these other interesting movies that are kind of like drug porn, they do it in a really stylistic and beautiful way, but we didn’t want to do that. We were like, it’s there, it’s in his life, it’s just part of his life it kind of creeps up how much it’s actually affecting him, rather than showcase the drug.
(in a few minutes Chris Evans will stop bouncing his knee rapidly and straightening a gum wrapper to perfect flatness, but for now I take pleasure in the irony.)
In the movie London the drugs were dealt with very differently and you’re…
Chris: Yeah! That was pretty much what they just said. That was drug porn. We didn’t even really show drugs much in this movie, did we? Do you actually ever see the needle going in or…
Adam: We see it make contact but never the needle actually going in.
Chris: It was done more tastefully. You don’t want it to be gratuitous, in your face. I think the less you show the more it’s interesting.
but just focusing on that specific character in London, it seemed like you dealt with that performance of being on the same drug entirely differently, in a way that made sense to Cyd as opposed to Mike Weiss.
Chris: Well this guy’s a functioning drug addict, that’s just it. He’s a drug addict but he can still crush what he does, ya know? He’s still an amazingly dynamic and charismatic person. He can be hopped up on an 8-ball and you might not even know it. That guy in London was unraveling. He was falling apart before your eyes so (laughs) yeah he was not handling his drugs very well. With this guy, from what I heard was that a lot of people didn’t know that Mike Weiss *was* such a heavy drug addict, ya know? This guy was obviously having withdrawal symptoms and some people didn’t even know it. That’s how well this guy could navigate.
Mark: We gave the script to one of the highest federal judges who Mike worked for and she said the first time she really knew was when she read the story. She just thought (the rumors were) crap until she read the script and it was hard for her to believe that was the same person.
Adam: Except he dressed exactly like that.
Chris: (laughs) That’s what everybody said! That was the one universal thing. We heard from every single person we talked to that this guy dressed. like. a maniac. He thought he was fashion forward, lookin really good and rocked that in a court room.
You talked to a lot of people to get an idea of what Mike was like. Obviously Paul was one of them but can you talk about who else you talked to.
Chris: I talked to Daryl King, I talked to his brother, his father, and it’s so funny we were talking about this earlier you get a different story from everybody.
Which one did you primarily go with in terms of the story?
Chris: Probably Paul, I like Paul’s stuff. There were a couple common denominators. Obviously this guy was really intelligent, could be crass at times and have a bit of an ego but it was relative.
Mark: He was very scattershot, he affected each person a different way.
Part 2 of 3: An afternoon with Chris Evans, Vinessa Shaw, Adam Kassen and Mark Kassen has been posted. My job is the pants.