Film actor discusses project on afterlife

By Bonnie Stiernberg

“Wristcutters: A Love Story,” a film by director Goran Dukic now in a limited release, including show times at the Savoy Theatre, follows its characters through an afterlife reserved for people who have committed suicide. The movie was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. The Daily Illini spoke with actor Shea Whigham, who portrays Eugene, in a college press conference call.

Q: I know that the film deals with a touchy subject, what are your feelings on that?

A: I think it does deal with a subject that’s close to a lot of people. We’ve sort of all been affected by suicide, but until you see it, I think (director Goran Dukic) handles this as well as you can basically handle it. It’s basically a ‘dramedy’: It’s very funny and at the same time, I don’t think at the end of the day it’s about suicide. At the end of the film, I think there’s a message: At the end of the day, there are other options out there, and sometimes what you’re looking for, if you just don’t try so hard and believe it’s in vain and don’t take the easy way out, I think that’s what you get out of it. Hopefully you get something like that out of it, but it is a touchy piece, and Goran knew that going in. That’s why it’s affecting people in different ways, depending on how you’ve been affected by suicide. I’m very sensitive to people who are affected by this, but I think sometimes you have to think outside the box in order to get people into a piece like this. I normally don’t get out in front of films like this, I normally let them speak for themselves, but this is one that I felt like I didn’t want it to go by the wayside. When people see it, I think they’ll spread the word.

Q: In “All The Real Girls” you played a very dramatic role, and now you’re playing a very outlandish character in Eugene. Do you feel that your experience with drama has helped you flesh out your comedic performances more or vice versa?

A: Goran took a shot with me. The way that I play comedy is to play it serious and real and let it land. I think that that’s the only way. When you see this film, it’s not all wink-wink into the camera and “let’s see how funny we can be.” We’re in this world that Goran’s created, this magical world that we’re just moving through. I think it helped me to play it real I guess. From the drama aspect of things because I think it’s a very funny film, but it’s not knee-slapping funny . … I think it rings true. And I love the drama, but I was very fortunate that Goran took a shot with me.

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Q: There’s the obvious influence of the singer Eugene Hutz on your character. How were you coached for the part, and what sort of technique did you use to get into the character of Eugene more fully?

A: I chose not to meet with Eugene or pick up on his mannerisms. I needed to make our Eugene stand on his own two feet. I didn’t want to mimic Eugene Hutz . … We went pretty intensive as far as the Russian. I started studying with the dialect coach who worked with Nicole Kidman for “Birthday Girl” and hanging out in Russian restaurants and Russian bathhouses and a woman from Moscow, just to get a center of what needs to be in that character. After that I came on pretty thick with it at the start of the piece, and we had to say, ‘Wait a minute, he’s been in the country for 15 years, so some of that has waned a bit,’ so I had to figure out what was him now compared to when he was back in Russia. It was pretty interesting staying with it, really trying to immerse yourself in the character so it’s real, you know.

Q: What was it like working with Patrick Fugit?

A: He’s a lovely guy. It was very easy to act with him, no matter what I threw at him. I think Patrick really had some heavy lifting to do in the film because he’s the straight man, and you know, Eugene is funny and is cynical, so I was very careful to watch out for that, because I think Patrick did just a great job as Zia. When you go into something like this, it’s like any relationship. You can’t push it, you can’t make something happen. With any of these actors, you don’t try to force a relationship, you have to let this come to you, so you hang out, and you get to know them and it’s all on an organic level.

Q: In the movie, the actors weren’t allowed to laugh or smile. How hard was that, and did it mean a lot of retakes for you guys?

A: It was very difficult. As an actor you’re expressing, and it’s kind of something that you do organically and automatically, whether you’re happy or whether you’re smiling through your teeth at someone. It was difficult. There were times where you almost couldn’t take it, but in the end it’s a part of that world. There are touches of Goran that aren’t in the novella, and that’s one of them.