Young adults often feel as though they have their lives planned out, and know which direction they want to take, both in their personal relationships and in their careers. But those plans can quickly change after just one dramatic experience, making them question if anything in their life really has any substantial substance and meaning. That’s certainly the case with the title character in the new action romance comedy, ‘Charlie Countryman,’ which marks the feature film directorial debut of Fredrik Bond, and is now playing in select theaters and on VOD. While mourning the loss of one important relationship, Charlie becomes surreal in his reflection on his life choices, and becomes courageous in pursuing another important love, despite the emotional and physical changes.
‘Charlie Countryman’ follows the struggling title character (Shia LaBeouf), who’s contending with witnessing the recent death of his mother, Katie (Melissa Leo) with his father, Bill (Vincent D’Onofrio). Shortly after her passing in the hospital, he sees her in a vision and asks her for guidance, and she tells him to go visit Bucharest to encounter new experiences. Without any other tangible life plan, Charlie leaves Chicago to travel to Romania. During his flight, Charlie begins talking to the passenger sitting next to him, Victor (Ion Caramitru), a Romanian taxi driver on his way home to visit his daughter.
While Charlie’s forms a casual new friendship with Victor, their acquaintance is cut short when Victor also passes away, in his sleep. Charlie then experiences another vision, in which Victor urges him to deliver a gift that he had on the plane to his daughter, Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood). Charlie agrees, and subsequently finds Gabi at the airport. He offers her consolation while dealing with her grief.
Charlie later tracks Gabi down at the orchestra where she plays the cello, and meets her ominous ex-husband, Nigel (Mads Mikkelsen). The gangster has unfinished business with Victor over a missing video, and plans to settle that debt with Gabi. Charlie then decides to follow Gabi around Bucharest, but she refuses to divulge anything about her relationship with Nigel.
Later that night, when Charlie arrives at his hostel, he meets fellow travelers Luc (James Buckley) and Karl (Rupert Grint), and the three run into trouble at a local nightclub. There they meet Darko (Til Schweiger), another gangster and associate of Nigel’s, who is also looking for the video. Darko promises to settle Charlie and his friends’ debt if he can retrieve the video. The search leaves the American in a standoff between Gabi and the two gangsters who are looking to not only retrieve the video, but also settle the score between them.
Bond generously took the time recently to sit down at the Soho Grand Hotel in New York City to talk about filming ‘Charlie Countryman.’ Among other things, the director discussed how he was drawn to Matt Drake’s script, particularly the explosive emotions Charlie felt throughout the story, from the loss of his mother to the love he felt for Gabi; how LaBeouf’s dedication to his role was both challenging and helpful to Bond as a first-time filmmaker, and how the actor’s performance truly helped in telling the story overall; and how he had as much rehearsal as he could with the cast, without exhausting the text and their passion for their scenes.
Question (Q): You directed the new action romance comedy, ‘Charlie Countryman.’ How did you become involved in the project? What was it about the script and the overall story that convinced you to take on helming the film?
Fredrik Bond (FB): I loved the explosiveness and the big emotion that was there. I liked the love story, to the grief Charlie goes through in losing his mom, to the scary impact of meeting the very violent gangsters for the first time. I liked the mix of all those elements-they were great and unusual.
Q: What was the process of mixing the growing romance between Charlie and Gabi with the violence he witnesses?
FB: The process of mixing the two was always trying to find a transition that could easily flow from one thing to the other, without making it too abrupt. We also had to make sure it was calibrated the right way.
The original script was maybe a tad darker. I felt that in the process, it was important to be a little careful with some of that darkness. I wanted to lift it up, and make it a little more romantic.
Q: Speaking of the script, Matt Drake scribed the screenplay for the movie. What was the overall process of working with Matt on the film? Did you collaborate with him at all on the story?
FB: Yeah. Matt’s a couple years older than me, but we share a lot of the same references, in terms of culture and films we love. We also share the same sense of humor; I love his sense of humor. He’s one of the funniest guys I know.
Q: Shia LaBeouf played the title character in the action comedy. What was the casting process like for Shia in the film?
FB: Well, Shia wanted to make the film several years ago. When we couldn’t get it together, he called me up and said, “I want to meet you. I can’t stop thinking about this script. I’m so passionate about this. I want to do this now.” I just loved his passion.
He said to me very early on, “I want to make this movie like I’ve never done before. I want to me all in; I want to have a gun against my head.” He really went into it, which for me, as a first-time filmmaker, was challenging on one hand, because he’s method to some degree. But it’s also extremely beautiful to see somebody who’s that committed. What I realized is what an incredible artist he is, and what a gift he actually gave me for my first film.
Q: Like you mentioned, Shia is a method actor. What was your experience of working with such an actor so dedicated to his role?
FB: Well, sometimes we would have a two-hour conversation before we started shooting. It’s all passion-driven. On certain days, you just saw that he was ready. If I spoke too much with him, it would destroy the moment for him.
Maybe that’s a little bit of my style; I have to feel when it’s time to direct and have a conversation, and when it’s time to stand back. All the actors I work with work differently. So I think my style of directing actors is probably that.
Evan is very technical; she just needs short directions of adding more and doing less, or being louder or quieter. She’s very crafted, in a very precise way. Mads is more collaborative. He’s like a dancer, as he moves around with his ideas. As a first-time filmmaker, it was incredible to be working with artists like that.
Q: Speaking of Evan and Mads, what was the casting process like for the supporting actors in the action romance comedy?
FB: A lot of the time, for me, there were a lot of challenges for the different characters. With Evan’s character, for instance, we needed an American actress who could play Romanian incredibly. Evan is incredible, and has such richness in her. She can play quite tough characters. She can remove herself a bit more from her feminine side, and can show her masculine side. That’s what I needed in that female character. She was the first name on our list, and though, she has to do this.
To me, what was important for the gangsters was that even if they’re thugs and criminals and violent, I needed them to have heart. Mads’ character is very broken-hearted, and has endless love for Gabi. So I needed to see his vulnerability, and make him more of a sexy, violent criminal.
Til Schweiger had some of the same things, but wasn’t in that many scenes. So that’s what I placed his son in the office, playing on his iPod. I wanted to give a little bit of a backstory of him being a dad. This is his job, and his kid is on his iPad, listening to video game, and he isn’t partaking of what’s going on in the room. But it gives Til a bit more about his character’s personality.
Q: Much of the action in the film is driven by Charlie’s instant love for, and attraction towards, Gabi, and his willingness to sacrifice himself for her? Did you have any rehearsals with the actors before you began shooting, to help build their relationships?
FB: Yeah, Shia and I spoke for a long time, because we really needed to get to know each other, because he’s the spine of the film; he’s in every scene. His character really grinds the movie. I tried to spend as much time with him as possible. We would walk, talk and rehearse together. We would be playing out love scenes on the street. We got a weird audience, wondering what I was doing with Shia LaBeouf on the street. (laughs)
Then when we were in Bucharest, the actors came, and we did as much rehearsal as we could, without exhausting the text. I think there’s a moment where you can make it a little bitter tighter. That’s also something I learned in the process of working with these amazing actors; we had to be careful, so we wouldn’t exhaust their passion for the scene, and getting too comfortable with it.
Q: Like you mentioned, the film is mainly set in Bucharest, and you shot it in Romania. What was the experience of filming the action comedy there overall?
FB: It was wonderful. The people there have big hearts. We got close to the crew; most of the crew was Romanian. So we would go out to restaurants together, and hang out in music clubs. We became engrossed with the culture and the people. One of the most important things of the movie for me was for us all to live in the center of Bucharest, and embrace the city. A lot of the actors in the movie are also people we started hanging out with.
Like the little guy with the dog in the film was one of the most successful pimps in the ’90s. He had an incredibly rich life, but he ended up under a bridge. He became our unofficial guide of nighttime Bucharest, because he only showed up at night.
Q: ‘Charlie Countryman’ marks your feature film directorial debut, after helming commercials and short films, including ‘The Mood.’ Are there any lessons you learned from the action comedy that you’ll bring to your next films?
FB: I think every movie needs to be an exploration of something new. So I think my next movie won’t be exactly the same; I think it’s important to explore a new world and setting. So it will probably will be different (laughs), but hopefully with some signature of myself.
Q: ‘Charlie Countryman’ is playing in theaters and On Demand. Are you personally a fan of watching films on VOD?
FB: Sometimes I am, and I do watch films On Demand. I think this film works brilliantly on that, because it’s a very rich experience. I can watch movies on anything, basically. But I prefer the big screen; you sit in a room with unknown people, so your senses are much more heightened. So your perception is much stronger. I think to make the most of your home viewing experience would be to rent an unknown person who sits with you, so you can have a heightened sensory experience while watching.