Steve Zahn and Sasha Knight spoke to Solzy at the Movies in advance of Cowboys releasing in virtual cinemas and VOD on February 12.
Steve Zahn stars as Troy, a father who recently separated from wife Sally (Jillian Bell). Troy isn’t happy that Sally refuses to let their trans son Joe (Sasha Knight) live an authentic life so they run off into the wilderness. A police detective (Ann Dowd) tracks them down but her resolve is tested when she learns more about Joe’s family. Cowboys, written and directed by Anna Kerrigan, is a different type of Western than audiences are used to seeing but this film should win audiences over.
Steve, you don’t know this but I was there when you earned your honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts.
Steve Zahn: Oh, stop!
Steve Zahn: No, you weren’t—were you?!?
Steve Zahn: You’re kidding!
2007 graduate. I kid you not!
Steve Zahn: Yeah. Ken Jones—big friend of mine. Wow. That’s crazy! Northern Kentucky. Where are you from? Where you live?
I’m in Chicago right now because coming out as trans in a small religious community means having to move. I grew up in Louisville. I bleed Kentucky Blue.
Steve Zahn: Right on, right on. Go Cats. Well, go Cards, I guess.
Yeah, I know. It’s been a very down year.
Steve Zahn: Yeah, I know. My son’s up in Chicago right now.
What was it about the screenplay that attracted you to the role?
Sasha Knight: Definitely the fact that Joe is trans because I wasn’t fully out but I was in the process of coming out to my parents and stuff. I wasn’t allowed to do on camera stuff so my mom let me do that because the role was trans and let me audition for it because the role was trans. Also, just because the script was amazing and definitely because Steve and Jillian were also in it. We saw who was in the movie, and were like, Oh, my G-d, they’re amazing actors.
Steve Zahn: Oh, buddy. I was so moved when I read this the first time. I wept and you don’t do that when you read most scripts. I could visualize everything. The part was, I mean, I begged for this part. I really felt confident in playing it. And luckily, Anna Kerrigan trusted me with it. I just thought it was a really beautiful story and the message wasn’t hitting you over the head. It was delivered in a different way that was kind of wrapped around love. It was a great way to tell this story, I thought.
Steve, you’ve been in the industry for a while. What do you typically look for in a character?
Steve Zahn: The first thing is the story. I like being a part of stories—really good movies. Sometimes I’m in movies that I think are great and I play a tiny part but I just love being part of something that I’m really proud of watching. But then character—if I don’t feel something towards a character, I won’t do it. The people I usually look for are flawed, vulnerable, raw. I’m a character actor so those are the things and people that appeal to me.
Sasha, you play scenes that take place both before and after transitioning. How tough was it to film the pre-transition scenes?
Sasha Knight: It was a little tough because I wasn’t out as trans but I knew I was trans and I wore male clothing. But the thing is that in my head, I was like, It’s okay because it’s not like I was that and I could go back to the hotel, not with long hair and in my clothes. I didn’t really mind it because I’m like, this is awesome. I’m doing a movie. I don’t really care if I have to wear that because it’s not who I am.
Can you talk about your experience working with both Jillian Bell and Steve?
Sasha Knight: It was just amazing to work with them because A) they’re phenomenal actors, B) they’re super fun to hang out with and C) they’re hysterical. We hung out especially me and Steve hung out all the time. I feel like me, Steve, Jillian, and Ann Dowd hung out all the time. We were all on the same floor at the hotel so we were four rooms away. We would just hang out all the time.
Steve Zahn: Yeah, cowboy dorm.
Sasha Knight: Yep.
Steve Zahn: I got Sasha into a bar playing pool at eight o’clock at night. They didn’t even kick us out.
Steve, did earning an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Northern Kentucky University help or hurt the offers that came your way?
Steve Zahn: (Laughs) Oh, man, the doors have just flown open! I mean, yeah. No. That was an honor. I was really nervous about that. I really was—it’s crazy because I’m an actor. I get so nervous—I feel like I’m giving a speech at school. That was a real honor. I’m glad you were there.
I’m glad I was there too. When my brother graduated the next year, Joe Buck was the commencement speaker at St. Louis.
Steve Zahn: Ah, there you go.
He was glad to finally be able to operate on Mark Mulder’s psyche.
Steve Zahn: Yeah. (Laughs) Nice.
How have the two of you managed to keep yourself busy during the pandemic?
Sasha Knight: I’ve been doing a lot of voiceover. I go to record once a week.
Steve Zahn: I live on the farm in Kentucky as you know. I got a lot of stuff to do. I’ve got to feed goats and horses and fix stuff. I did a little work. I finally did some work—thank G-d. I was getting towards the end of my rope but I did a HBO series, a Mike White show called The White Lotus in Hawaii. Now I’m busy. I’m going back up to going up to Toronto next week to shoot a movie so I’m busy.
I hope it goes well.
Steve Zahn: Yeah, thanks.
Steve, is it hard to believe That Thing You Do! is celebrating 25 years in October?
Steve Zahn: I know. It’s insane, isn’t it? It’s just—I mean that just is frightening to me. I’m like, Wow, 25 years! Somebody said that Saving Silverman was the. 20 year anniversary.
What do you hope people take away from viewing the film?
Sasha Knight: I hope that people see that even if people are flawed and/or different, they’re still people, people have flaws, and nobody’s flawless. Somebody’s not going to accept you but somebody always will. There’s always one person that will. There’s always going to be one person that’s not going to. Look for the helpers.
Steve Zahn: Yeah, that’s good. That’s awesome. I just hope people watch it and go, Wow, what a beautiful father and son story about acceptance and love.
I wish there were more of these films when I was growing up.
Steve Zahn: Yeah.