Writer-director Colin West spoke with Solzy at the Movies about his new film, Linoleum, opening in theaters this weekend.
The sci-fi dramedy stars Jim Gaffigan, Rhea Seehorn, Katelyn Nacon, Gabriel Rush, Amy Hargreaves, Roger Hendricks Simon, Elisabeth Henry, West Duchovny, with Michael Ian Black and Tony Shalhoub.
The film is about Cameron Edwin (Jim Gaffigan), the host of a failing children’s science TV show called Above & Beyond. Cameron has always had dreams of becoming an astronaut. After a space-race era satellite lands in his backyard, he spins into a midlife crisis and plans to rebuild the fallen satelite into his dream rocket. His midlife crisis strains his relationship with both his wife (Rhea Seehorn) and daughter (Katelyn Nacon). Meanwhile, a doppelganger–played by Gaffigan–moves into the house next door. All sorts of things begin to transpire as layers start getting pulled back.
The following interview contains spoilers for Linoleum, which is now playing in theaters.
What was the genesis behind Linoleum?
Colin West: Well, Linoleum was inspired by my grandparents, actually. The initial script started when I looked at their relationship. They met when they were in high school and were sort of high school sweethearts, and then were together all the way until they passed away just a few years ago in their early 80s. I was kind of looking at what it’s like to see a relationship through a lifetime. It took a while to kind of figure out what the structure of the movie was but really, when it comes down to it, it’s sort of this intergenerational love story. That was my go-to place where I would go to sort of look for inspiration was them.
What was it like to direct both Jim Gaffigan and Rhea Seehorn?
Colin West: The best. Yeah. I mean, they were such a good team together. They really had a great dynamic on set. I mean, Jim obviously is known for his stand-up comedy but is an incredible dramatic actor and is actually very, very passionate about it. I think it even surprised me, even when we were having our first phone call—Jim and I. He just came in with such great ideas and such sort of a fresh take on the character. I didn’t even almost realize how incredible of an actor he was and so I felt very lucky to have him on set. And then, of course, Rhea Seehorn, who is just a godsend on earth. She is really a powerhouse and has so much talent and experience in the industry that she came on and really had such great ideas for her character and the development in the arc of that character. So yeah, that was a real joy. She especially—I learned a lot from throughout the process.
It’s been really fascinating watching Jim’s career in these last few years alone, especially when I’m from the comedy world and start seeing all these movies where he’s expanding his range.
Colin West: Absolutely! I agree. I think it’s really exciting because I think he has the chops to do it. I think that talent that he has in comedy really translates to the dramatic screen and I’m glad that people are seeing that. I’m glad that we’re a part of that. I think that film was a real showcase for his talent.
What about the rest of the cast?
Colin West: We packed it out with some other amazing actors, including Katelyn Nacon and Gabriel Rush, who played the two teenagers in the film. They had a really great dynamic on set. They became really good friends and was nice to watch that develop. Of course, West Duchovny was a part of that group as well. They were really fun to work with and very sort of open, too.
One of the big scenes in the movie is what we call the train scene where they’re wandering around the train and falling for each other in a lot of ways and being open and vulnerable. That was a really delicate scene that we were shooting. I remember as we did that, we had 50 people around, our crew, and it was all lit. We shot it and it just felt a little contrived, the way that we were doing it. I remember looking at the dailies and the footage the next day, and being a little like, ah, man, we didn’t quite get the spark there. I really want it to be way more organic and fluid. I actually asked them if they’d be willing to go out on the weekend with just a skeleton crew, me, a DP, and the producer, and if they’d be willing to do that and just go shoot the scene again, but much more fluidly. We ended up doing that. We went out and shot around that parking lot area. We ended up intercutting these two scenes together and I was like, Oh, yes, that’s the movie and that’s that kind of exploration that I really needed.
The rest of the actors were incredible. Tony Shalhoub was so fun to work with as the Dr. Alvin character and Michael Ian Black coming on to do his piece. It was a really great team, a really great ensemble. I felt really lucky to have them.
Were there any films that inspired the look of the film?
Colin West: Yeah, there were. The film is set in three different time periods all at once without telling the audience until the end and so we kind of took inspiration from a few different time periods. I think some of the early Jacques Demy films—that extreme Technicolor, widescreen purity—I think we took that oversaturation, we kind of took from some of those films. Looking at that Spielbergian 80s kind of things—his 80s films are lights flaring the camera and things like that—there was some looks like that we really took from him. Story wise, taking from a lot of Charlie Kaufman vibes, Richard Kelly or Donnie Darko—that kind of stuff was really kind of embedded into my own cinematic fabric. I think I kind of can’t get away from those inspirations. But yeah, that’s kind of where a few of the films that I think inspired along the way.
Pandemic aside, what was the most challenging aspect of the production?
Colin West: The pandemic. No, I’m kidding. I think it actually helped more than it hurt in a great way because we did shoot in October 2020, which was intense. We got everybody together and we sequestered in this hotel that we basically got full run of. We’d all hang out there at night because nobody could go anywhere. Everybody really got to know each other in a great way, which was really helpful and added to this summer camp vibe that we all had on set. It was a really positive atmosphere. I think we all really enjoyed ourselves. Tto be honest, as far as really hard stuff, there were some logistically hard things. One day, it rained when we really didn’t want it to rain, and we were shooting outside. There were some of those things, but everybody powered through them. To be honest, for me, some of the more really intense acting sides were just not hard, but just sort of challenging. So, yeah, I hope that answers a little bit.
Well, I mean, my next question was going to be What were some of the challenges because of the pandemic?
Colin West: Oh, okay. Gotcha. (Laughs)Well, I think the challenge, as far as the pandemic goes, it slowed us down maybe a little bit because we had to do some testing. We had to keep people separate and things like that. We’re pretty adaptable as humans and I think that we were able to find a pattern of work that really made the project possible over time. It was certainly a struggle and obviously, we were all nervous about getting it. We had no positive cases so that was great. We were able to just shoot through, but there was always this edge of uncertainty—is this even going to happen? If we have to shut down, it’s an indie—we don’t have the means to start this back up. We were always a little on edge, but we made it work.
How great was it to be able to premiere the film at South by Southwest (SXSW)?
Colin West: Oh, it was awesome. It was a real joy. I’ve been wanting to screen SXSW for a long time. As a filmmaker, you sort of dream about some of these bigger festivals and SXSW has a great reputation for films that are a bit different. We premiered alongside Everything Everywhere All At Once, a film that I thought it was like the best of the year. To be in that realm with that caliber of films playing alongside of us was—I felt really supported in that community. Austin’s great—they really love South by Southwest in Austin. I was nervous as heck going into that first screening because it’s like, Oh, my G-d, the public is gonna see this thing, and we’ll see what they think. They did end up enjoying it and so I had a really good time there.
Yeah. Had I been at SXSW last year, I probably would have been at the premiere because Jim Gaffigan cannot escape me. We kept running into each other in 2019 between Sundance, the Chicago Critics Film Festival, and the Critics Choice Documentary Awards.
Colin West: Yeah. It’s funny. I mean, 2019 was a huge year for him. I think he had three films at Sundance.
He had three films at Sundance!
Colin West: That’s crazy, really crazy! I’m riding his coattails as much as I possibly can.
What do you hope people take away from watching the movie?
Colin West: Well, I think everybody kind of has their own takeaways. I say that because the film follows a lot of different characters. It’s sort of an ensemble piece. I think everybody kind of connects to different parts of it. It’s funny talking to people of different age groups and who they connect with more. Often people are connecting with people around their same age so pretty interesting to hear about that stuff. I don’t know. I think there’s like a pretty strong message of hope in the movie and that maybe not all is lost when things are feeling distraught. I like that. I like these themes of identity, growing up, and exploration, but also that idea of life fulfillment, dreams, and following your dreams, I think. I don’t know. I guess, again, I kind of take my own things away from it. I think everybody kind of does via those different characters.
Thank you so much and it was so nice to meet you.
Colin West: You too, Danielle. Thanks so much for your time.
Shout! Studios releases Linoleum in theaters on February 24, 2023.
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