by Gregg Shapiro
Promising young actor Jesse Bradford delivers great performances in two of the summer’s best ensemble films, “Heights” and “Happy Endings.” In “Heights,” now playing at Royal Oak’s Main Art Theatre, he plays Alec, a gay actor/cater-waiter who catches the eye of both James Marsden and Glenn Close. In “Happy Endings,” which opens at the Main Art July 15, Bradford bumps it up a notch playing desperate film school student Nicky whose dark side lightens up on occasion in his scenes with Mamie (Lisa Kudrow) and Javier (Bobby Canavale) with whom he becomes embroiled in a blackmail situation. The exceedingly handsome and good-humored actor took time out of his schedule to speak with BTL about “Happy Endings.”
BTL: Your character Nicky in “Happy Endings” feels the need to carry a gun, which he flashes a couple of times in the movie. How do you feel about that aspect of Nicky?
JB: It’s a little incongruous with the rest of him. To me, he’s not like a pistol-whipping cold-hearted killer; nothing like that. He’s a guy who likes the idea of having a gun than I actually think he would feel comfortable using it.
BTL: Nicky seems to thrive on acts of desperation, including blackmailing Mamie for his film school tuition, and he is clearly without scruples as we see from his betrayal of Javier. How do you feel about people who do things like that to others?
JB: I think it’s kind of deplorable. That being said, whenever you play a character, if you’re operating from a position where you think he’s deplorable and you hate him, you’re not going to do a good job. You have to try and get inside their mind and like them in some way. I think Nicky’s desperation and the easiness with which he can feel trapped and his sort of idiocy are the kinds of things that allowed me to forgive that in him. And say, “He knows not what he does.”
BTL: Nicky’s scenes are almost exclusively with Lisa Kudrow’s Mamie and Bobby Canavale’s Javier. What was it like working with them?
JB: It was great! Lisa is so open and down-to-earth and real for a person who has had such notoriety. A lot of people that I have met who are at her level are very inaccessible. And I don’t even blame them for that. It’s tough. It’s got to be like everybody is trying to extract things from you. I did a lot of interviews with Lisa where we were coupled up and people are asking her questions about Brad and Jennifer. It’s like, “Shut the f–k up.” Like she’s going to tell you that, you scumbag. (Laughs) I just wanted to punch these people. Leave her alone or ask her something about her life. So, it’s got to be tough. But she’s a consummate hero about it, she’s so cool. And Bobby is really just a nice guy. I especially enjoyed improvising with him. He was really putting on a character, with an accent and a whole demeanor. He just stayed in it. The part where he takes my picture with the Polaroid and then tells me that my fly is down Ð that was more or less improvised (laughs).
BTL: Had you seen any of Don RoosÕs films before doing “Happy Endings?”
JB: I had seen “The Opposite of Sex.”
BTL: I thought that Nicky is sort of the male version of the Christina Ricci character in “The Opposite of Sex,” because of the manipulation.
JB: Yeah, there’s a little of that going on.
BTL: What was it that made you want to work with Don?
JB: The script, first and foremost. Even if I’d never seen “The Opposite of Sex,” I felt that this project really popped off the page. A lot of times you can read a project and really like it Ð and you should go with that instinct Ð but what will sometimes bolster that instinct is when three or four interesting actors are eager to be a part of the project, too, people who you respect. And then you go, “Yeah. I’m dead on with this one. Because they think so, too.”
BTL: “Happy Endings” deals with a series of risky subject matters, particularly in these increasingly conservative times: under-age sex, abortion, same-sex parenting, coming out.
JB: I just love that about it (laughs). It makes me proud to know that I’m in a movie that I really think George W. Bush would not like at all. Really, it does. I have literally thought that to myself. How great is that that this movie manages to deal with three or four issues that he would just abhor. To make matters even better, that’s really not what the movie is about. It’s a good movie is what it is. I love the idea that somebody like our commander in chief probably wouldn’t be able to see the forest for the trees and see what a great movie it is because they’re too busy thinking about the fact that somebody in it gets an abortion. Which is just retarded.
BTL: As disagreeable as Nicky is, your character Alec in “Heights” is imminently more likeable. Can you say something about playing a gay character?
JB: It was sort of a vindication for me. I had turned down the opportunity to play a gay character in another movie about two to three years prior; a movie called “The Rules of Attraction.” Roger Avery directed it. I loved the script. I met with Roger and I loved him. He’s so smart and so talented and I wanted to be in the project so badly, but he saw me very clearly for the gay character. There were two other roles in the movie that I liked better and I couldn’t imagine myself doing a movie, playing a character that I didn’t really like as much as somebody else, thinking the whole time, “Man, I wish I was playing him.” So, I turned it down and there was always this little voice in my head saying, did you turn this down because you were afraid to play a gay character? I always said, “I hope not. I hope thatÕs not why I did it.” And so to have a character come along, who is gay, and to finish the script and wholeheartedly be like, “Yeah, this is great. I want to do it,” was a good feeling. To me, it shouldn’t matter that much if you like the character and you like the project, then it’s just a new hurdle to tackle and it’s a new acting experience to try to believe in and do. It doesn’t mean that it was easy (laughs), because that’s not what I’m in to. It was a challenge and I look for that.