4 actors, 1 room unfold the aftereffects of a shoot in ‘Mass’

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Jason Isaacs was in a Starbucks when he sat down to read the script for “Mass “for the first time. It was a decision he had come to regret, if only because at some point he had started to” cry sobs “and couldn’t stop. strangers in the store were looking at him as if they were wondering if they should call a professional to help them.

But he was too wrapped up in the story to really notice. When he got to the end, he put the script down and caught his breath.

“I felt like I had experienced something huge,” Isaacs said. “I remember thinking it was crazy. But that’s also the reason why I became an actor.

“Mass,” which is now playing in theaters, has a simple setup: four adults gather in some church boardroom six years after a high school shootout. A group of parents had a son who was killed. The others are the parents of the abuser. And for almost 100 minutes, they talk.

The Starbucks outage was just the beginning of what would change the lives of Isaacs and his co-stars Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd and Reed Birney. The resulting film is no less significant: it is one of the most heartbreaking of the year. And it comes from a first-time writer and director, actor Fran Kranz.

Kranz wrote the screenplay after filming for Parkland High School. He was a new dad at the time and tried to make sense of things – trauma, violence, heartache, tragedy, forgiveness – and read up on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission before putting words on the page. And it’s no surprise that it started out as a play, before Kranz and his producer realized they would have a better chance of making it as a movie.

Kranz had written the tough part of the emotionally guarded shooter’s father with just one actor in mind: Tony winner Reed Birney.

“I’ve seen people say ‘I’m making a movie and I want you to be in it’ all my life and it never happened once,” Birney said. “So it was amazing that like two months later he called and said ‘we’re going to do this in November. “”

Dowd agreed to play the shooter’s mother, Linda, but it was not without hesitation. And Isaacs and Plimpton would sign up to play Jay and Gail, the parents of one of the victims.

The only two who somehow knew each other were Plimpton and Birney. Otherwise, they were coming in like strangers and they would only have two days of rehearsals before shooting.

“What happened in that room reached a level of trust between the four of us and it was amazing and fast,” said Dowd. “Actors have a knack for trusting privacy quickly.”

They could tell right away that they were on the same page.

“We all worked the same way,” Birney said. “None of us were crazy like ‘you have to call me by my character’s name off camera’ or ‘I need a minute to get ready.’ We were all laughing out loud before the cameras rolled around and as soon as the action kicked in we sobbed.

Kranz made the decision to film the beginning and the end first, which happens “outside the room”. And then for two weeks they went “to the room” where the conversation was filmed chronologically.

“It’s like we’ve all got on the train and haven’t got off until it’s time to get off,” Plimpton said. “The movie kind of has that feeling about that too. He has that kind of momentum that seems very cinematic to me. And it kind of takes you and gets you where you need to go. “

“Mass” was a very stripped-down production. There were no changing rooms or caravans, just a green room where they would all meet. Each day they would start at 9 a.m. and go until 5 p.m. as they relied on natural light. In the evening, they returned to the hotel where they were all staying, had a cocktail, had dinner, sat in the other’s room and looked through the pages of the next day.

While the school shoot is the reason this conversation takes place, that’s not really the subject of the film.

“It’s not about violence. It’s not about politics, ”Plimpton said. “It’s about what happens to people who have to keep going. How do they continue? And do they forgive? How to get out of bed in the morning? And how do we come to terms with ourselves, with our guilt or our ignorance? “

She thinks it’s also a movie for our shared moment.

“It’s coming at a very good time in our culture,” she said. “Maybe this film is one way to approach this problem. Maybe the way we think about forgiveness is impossible because we think it’s a finished thing that we decide and then it’s done. But it’s not like that. It’s a start, it’s not an end.

The four actors also came out of the experience as close friends, but it was a shocking exit from the bubble of filming “Mass.” On the closing night, they all gave moving speeches. Isaacs, who is British, had been speaking with an American accent for two weeks in a row and found he could return to his normal accent. Then he looked outside and saw a look on Plimpton and Dowd’s face.

“They were furious with me. It was like I was a mole that had crept in and they didn’t know me. And just a few minutes ago, we felt like we knew each other better than anyone in the world. I had broken the seal of this strange little bubble. I went back to my American accent until I got on the plane, ”Isaacs said with a laugh.

“But it doesn’t matter what people go through when they make a movie. What makes me happy is that audiences are getting what we hoped for from the film. They have powerful experiences.


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