Interview: Robert Carlyle plays an ex-rocker with a past in ‘California Solo’
Writer/director Marshall Lewy’s thoughtful film was a labor of love for everyone involved
In “California Solo,” actor Robert Carlyle (“The Full Monty,” TV’s “Once Upon a Time”) plays Lachlan, a down-on-his-luck former rock star who is now an agricultural worker in California. Lachlan doesn’t like to talk about past glories, but following a DUI and a challenge to his immigration status, Lachlan finds that he must face his old demons once and for all. Writer/director Marshall Lewy (“Blue State”) had Carlyle in mind when he wrote this moving film and the talented Scottish actor gives a deeply heartfelt performance. I sat down with Robert Carlyle and Marshall Lewy in Los Angeles to talk about this indie gem.
MSN Movies: Marshall, how did you happen to create this character with Robert in mind? Was he committed to doing the film from the beginning?
Marshall Dewy: Oh, not at all, we didn’t even know each other! It just happened—when I started conceiving this character Robert just popped into my mind from the database of actors I admire.
So you wrote it without knowing if he’d end up playing the part?
Marshall: Absolutely. Of course I wanted him to say yes but I had no idea if that would happen. To be honest, it was the first time I ever wrote a script with a specific person in mind and it’s a trick I’ve used since then. I’m writing a character right now and I keep thinking of Kevin Kline but I have no idea if he’ll do it. For this film, I didn’t have many options if Robert had said no so I’m very grateful. And he really brought the character to life.
Robert Carlyle: When I first read the script there was such a believability and an honesty that I really liked. Lachlan reminded me of so many people I knew in the UK in the 90s.
You so nailed the “ex-rocker” vibe. Were you ever in a band yourself?
Robert: When I was much, much younger. But what was more relevant for me was that I know a lot of guys today who were in these very famous bands. It was interesting for me to reflect on what it might have been like for them if the whole thing had gone south like it did for Lachlan. A lot of the guys from that era came from hard working-class towns and had a real in-your-face quality.
There are people like that who seem fixated on their past success. I was intrigued that Lachlan was not like that at all.
Marshall: At the beginning of the film he’s not ecstatic about his life but he’s not that down on it either—he’s just in this sort of purgatory state before finding some kind of acceptance. Achieving that balance in this film and for this character was really interesting.
Robert, did you have to correct any of the Scottish elements of your character that Marshall had written into the script?
Robert: Not too much. I often have scripts sent to me with allegedly Scottish characters where I end up telling them, “You’re going to have to rethink this whole thing!” But Marshall is very talented as a writer so that wasn’t a problem at all.
Marshall: One thing Robert changed was the town where Lachlan was born—that was different in the original script.
Robert: Yeah. Cumnock is about 40 miles south of Glasgow. It has a lot of farmland but it’s also an industrial center, with lots of factories. I thought that was the kind of place Lachlan would have come from.
How did you come up with the farming part of the story?
Marshall: I was doing research on farms and farmers markets in southern California and I can’t tell you how many former musicians I met at those places! There’s this one guy from a famous punk band, another guy in Orange County who was in the 80s band Foghat—part of it is because L.A. is a city where people come to chase after their dreams and then when that goes away they have to re-invent themselves somehow.
I was happy to see Kathleen Wilhoite show up as Lachlan’s ex-wife. She’s an actress I really admire and was so perfect for that role.
Marshall: I was so thrilled to have her in the film. One of the joys of making a film like this is that beyond having Robert we didn’t have to play the game of trying to shoehorn big “name” actors into the parts—we could just cast the people we thought were the best for each role. I thought it was very important for Catherine, Lachlan’s ex-wife, to look ilike they’d had a life together. There’s a lot of past and history in this movie but no flashbacks or anything like that. The characters’ history has to be carried in the silences and on their faces. Kathleen was perfect for that!
Do you find it more of a struggle these days to get small films like this made?
Marshall: It’s odd because I think there are forces pushing in both directions. In some ways it’s never been easier to make a movie. We were at Sundance this year and a lot of people were walking around saying that $500,000 is the new $2,000,000 budget! Not that two million is really a big budget but a few years ago that’s what a lot of independent films cost to make. Now, because of technology, you can make movies for a lot less, if you know what you’re doing, and have them look really polished. There are so many different channels for movies these days but the ones we’re used to are in a state of flux. It’s very difficult to get people into theaters. And let's face it—the bigger budget films aren’t telling these kinds of stories so if you want to do that you basically have to do it for no money. That obviously brings its own challenges.
Robert: It seems like people are either making movies for a hundred million or less than one million—there’s doesn’t seem to be a lot in between anymore!
Marshall: I feel like actors do these movies the same way they do a play, to recharge their batteries. It would be nice if they could actually make a living doing this kind of work but very few actors actually make their normal rate on these films.
But every actor I’ve spoken with says they love doing this kind of work.
Robert: Of course! You don’t do it for the money, it’s for the love of it. I never thought of it that way, but it is a bit like doing theater, a place where you can really sharpen your skills.
Is it a very different experience making this kind of movie compared to a big-budget film?
Robert: It’s very, very different! I got really tired of all that big-budget stuff. I like to be working and moving—the worst thing you can do to me is stick me in a room all day while you’re lighting a shot. That just kills me. You spend all that time waiting and then you do one take. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like acting anymore, it should be called something else. But a movie like this? That's acting!
Do you like to rehearse a lot before you start shooting?
Robert: I never rehearse. Never! I think it’s a waste of time. You’re trying to be spontaneous in a very unspontaneous environment, so the only chance you have is to keep it inside of you for as long as you can so that when the moment finally comes it will hopefully seem like you’re saying it for the first time.
How does that work if your fellow actors really love rehearsing scenes?
Robert: I just have to tell them that I can’t work that way. And they're usually okay. I don’t remember anyone who really went crazy about that.
“California Solo” is playing in New York and Los Angeles and will be rolling out in select cities in the coming weeks.