ALEX BEH isn't afraid of a challenge. In his first feature-length film, Warren, he wrote the script, he directed it, and he stars in it as the title character.
A coming-of-age story of a twenty-something aspiring comedian in Chicago on the cusp of either following his dreams or forgetting them, the film blends comedy with poignancy—both in the unrequited love story at its core as well as Warren’s struggle to come to terms with his divorcing middle-aged parents (expertly and delightfully played by screen stalwarts Jean Smart of Designing Women fame, and John Heard from Home Alone and The Sopranos).
We spoke to the multi-talented Beh last week.
Let’s start with the obvious question: Your character’s an improv comedian. So were a lot of the scenes improvised?
Alex Beh: Anything I direct I start by sticking to the script and go from there, and have fun with later takes. I love working with comedic actors and I do have an improv background, so there's always room for movement there. I'd say in the end there's a good amount that's probably improvised.
The boy/girl love story is one thing, but you seem just as fascinated with the dynamics of a father/son relationship.
Alex Beh: My dad's an interesting character, a really funny guy. There are lots of similarities between him and Jack. Also I enjoy exploring the father/son relationship. I modeled this after a lot of fathers where I grew up who had a lot of success in these sort of lifetime lifelong careers. Like Jack, my dad was actually a trader in the city.
They get deep into the career and often lose sight of how to handle a family. There’s a lot of pressure on fathers to be successful. There’s a lot of pain in these people, and I tried to draw from that experience with some of what I’ve observed.
Some of my favorites stories are about characters who have a real lack of a core relationship with their fathers. Like Cameron from
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for example. Or The Breakfast Club, there’s a lot of that conversation in there.
Seems like a lot of this is coming from your own life, with your own divorced parents. Safe to say there’s a therapeutic element in your script?
Alex Beh: I think with any kind of artist there's always an element of therapy. So personally I would say yes—anything I write is coming from something derived or inspired by something that happened to me.
I was still in college, I guess dealing with a lot of that stuff, driving back and forth from Chicago and having some perspective. It’s something I’ve always wanted to write about and I almost still feel haven’t fleshed it out.
You really bit off a lot—scriptwriter, director, lead actor. Were you ever at a point where you were like, no way I can handle actually starring in this thing too?
Alex Beh: There was a little bit of conversation there along the lines that if we'd gotten enough money, and if for some reason some big star wanted to play Warren, we'd be okay with that. Mostly where I was at in pre-pro and developing the project, I was on board to star, and our team was down with that.
Jean Smart and John Heard are pitch-perfect. How did you get them on board?
Alex Beh: I always loved Jean and always saw her as that character. She's the cool mom! She's got her stuff together. John Heard I obviously grew up watching as well, and always respected his work.
We sent the script to John and his manager got it to him, and he called me. He said, “Alex, John Heard. I loved your script, it was awesome.” When Jean called, she said, “Why’d you make me cry?”
It’s very flattering , very cool to be able to work with actors like that. These are seasoned veterans, and sometimes you don’t have the experience to handle what they bring to table. But I felt personally I’d been directing a while and I knew this movie and this vision inside and out. They were really professional actors, and professional actors look to the director for direction. They gave me that, and I gave them respect of their seasoned history.
Jean knew everything and was totally prepared. John was hilarious and quirky. He’s totally this character in real life as well.