John Magaro talks 18½, First Cow

John Magaro (Paul) and Willa Fitzgerald (Connie) star in Dan Mirvish's film 18½. Photo credit: Elle Schneider. © 2021 Waterbug Eater Films, LLC.

John Magaro spoke with Solzy at the Movies about his new film, 18½, and touched on First Cow opening right as theaters shut down.

The Watergate thriller/comedy, directed by Dan Mirvish, opens in theaters this weekend from Adventure Entertainment.


There have been so many films and TV series that touch on Watergate. What was it about the script that drew to the role of Paul in 18½?

John Magaro: I think this script was a very unique take on Watergate and something that I have never seen before. That was intriguing to me. I think as an actor, someone who makes film, it’s fun to be part of something new. I think that’s refreshing. As soon as I read it, it kept me guessing and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

Going into the film, did you have a favorite movie or series about Watergate?

John Magaro: I think All the President’s Men is probabl—that’s kind of the benchmark for Watergate stories, right?

Yeah. Although Dick is a fun one.

John Magaro: Dick is fun. This is fun. This sort of lives in between those, I guess, right?

Was there anything in particular that you did to prep for the role?

John Magaro: For this, it was really a revisiting a lot of those old films. Maybe I should have watched Dick, too, but I was watching All the President’s Men, obviously. Three Days of the Condor, The French Connection, The Conversation, and kind of studying those male heroes of those films—Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, or Gene Hackman—kind of studying their approach to it. I think there’s a theatricality in those films that we sort of find in this film. Obviously, we take it to a twisted place of comedy and zaniness but a lot of that came from the writing and just the situations.

Did you require much direction from Dan Mirvish?

John Magaro: He really let Willa and I sort of take the reins. We sort of were just playing off of each other. He would give us the circumstances and set it up. He set that world up and we’ve sort of collaborated, sketched out the scenes in a rehearsal. He sort of let us take the wheels off and just sort of go with it, have fun and play, and discover what we needed to find.

What do you typically look for in a character when you’re reading a script?

John Magaro: It’s different, obviously. Genre kind of dictates a lot of that. Style, tone, that dictates certain things. But at the heart of it is I look for honesty and something that I can relate to being able to find access to their shoes in a way. If I can’t find that, then it’s just really difficult for me to continue or just mine anything out of it.

About 80% of the film was shot in March 2020 before a six-month production pause. Was there a point during production that you started to get concerned before things officially shut down?

John Magaro: Yeah. I mean, how could we not? I think we all live through it. I remember we were away in February 2020 and we were out on the North Fork of Long Island shooting in this really isolated area. We were all staying on this compound. It was like summer camp almost and we’re living there.

I’m constantly reading and checking the news. I remember reading reports. There’s a case here. There was a case in Westchester—there was a kind of an outbreak in Westchester, and sensing it was going to get there. I also remember getting calls from the city—that all my friends who would go out to bars or clubs, they all were getting sick at the time. There was a sense it was coming but we were sort of on the homestretch of the shoot and we felt very isolated so we thought maybe we could get across the finish line. But then there was a report that there was a huge outbreak where we were staying in the North Fork of Long Island. We knew we had to shut down. We certainly sensed that was happening and everything changed from that point.

It was really rewarding we finally got to come back to work because that was, for most of us, our first time back on set and stepping into that world again and getting to play again was just nice.

When production resumed, how quickly were you able to get back into character?

John Magaro: I think pretty quick. You kind of have to. You kind of just got to go for it. We had the base. We had the foundation by that point. Willa and I had developed a trust for each other so it made it a lot easier.

First Cow
Orion Lee (left) as “King-Lu” and John Magaro (right) as “Cookie” in director Kelly Reichardt’s FIRST COW, released by A24 Films. Credit: Allyson Riggs/A24 Films.

Around the time that filming was going on, First Cow was opening in theaters if I recall.

John Magaro: Yeah, we opened. We played a week and then it was done and then everything ended. It was pulled from theaters only to find its place on video on demand several months later.

You ended up getting nominated for a Gotham Award.

John Magaro: I did. That’s a nice thing but I wish it would have been able to be seen in the cinema by more people.

As an actor in the film, did you fear that it might not find an audience with the whole switch from theaters closing to eventually making its way to VOD?

John Magaro: Yeah, of course. I certainly was worried about that. I mean, it’s hard to gauge how if would have been different or if maybe more people found it because it was on VOD. I really have no idea what would have happened if it stayed in the theaters longer.

I saw it in press screening days after we read the 10 Commandments in shul so the whole “Thou shall not steal” was still on my mind.

John Magaro: (Laughs) They do it for—G-d can forgive that.

With Cookie’s name being Figowitz, I kept thinking is he Jewish.

John Magaro: I don’t think he was supposed to be Jewish but because I am Jewish, I think people might have thought—Figowitz could, I guess, potentially be Jewish. He’s based on a character from a book that John Raymond wrote, The Half Life, and I don’t think his intention when he wrote that was necessarily he was Jewish.

Yeah. Were you active in any of the youth groups growing up in Akron?

John Magaro: No, not really. I went to Hebrew school, I was Bar Mitzvahed. What I did do was what so many young Jewish kids do is I went to summer Jewish summer camp A place called Camp Wise every summer and that was fun. That was a good time.

I’ve got a lot of friends through BBYO that grew up in Bexley and then I’ve got another friend from BBYO that grew up in Akron.

John Magaro: Yeah, I wouldn’t know them. It was sort of a mix because my father was Italian American. Not that we were religious as far as Catholicism went, my mother certainly took the reins on religion. Maybe having that division in the household sort of watered it down a little bit. I’m not quite sure.

(I threw out a name given Jewish geography but that was a negative.)

Thank you again and congrats on the film. Hopefully, this one has a better chance with getting an audience!

John Magaro: We’ll see. Please go to the cinema and see it! We also got to support our local art house cinemas. They need butts in the seats so get your butt in the seats!

Adventure Entertainment releases 18½ in theaters on May 27, 2022.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.