Many actors aspire to direct; great directors like Ron Howard and Jon Favreau were actors first. That's the same career path that Derek Magyar is on. Still a working actor, he directed and produced the film Flying Lessons, which arrives in select theaters today.
The film has an intriguing cast - near-legend Hal Holbrook, Academy Award winner Christine Lahti, Cary Elwes (Glory, The Princess Bride, The X-Files), and Maggie Grace (Lost, Taken) at the top - that brings to life the story of Sophie (Grace)'s return home to the messy relationships of her past. As she tries to put the pieces back together, Sophie bonds with Harry (Holbrook), who suffers from Alzheimer's Disease and understands her difficulties looking back.
I recently sat down with Derek to discuss what it was like for him to shift gears from acting to directing and back again.
How did you decide that you wanted to direct this particular film?
I've been an actor since I was a kid. I did a show right when I graduated that a good friend of mine came and saw. He wanted me to read this script that he wrote called Flying Lessons.
I became very attached to the script and to the piece. I grew with it, and as the drafts continued to change, my connection to the project became that much deeper. It became "I'm going to help get this made." And I realized I would be a backseat director, because I had such a specific direction for how the movie should feel.
It seems a lot of actors try their hand at directing. What sparked your interest?
I've always had an interest in giving it a shot. My father's a filmmaker - he ran the film school at AFI [American Film Institute] for fourteen years. I've always been interested but scared at the same time. When I started, it just felt right and amazing.
That being said, it was a huge learning experience. There was so much for me to learn. I'm in pre-production for the next film that I'm going to be directing and I have a whole new vision and appreciation and attitude towards filmmaking.
How big of a transition is it from acting to directing and producing?
I approach directing from an actor's standpoint. This is a definite character drama; it's character-driven. Knowing how to talk to my actors, be with my actors, associate with my actors, made a huge difference in a project like this. I can't even describe it. It helped me a lot.
What was the biggest challenge?
I don't know where to begin. It was something I was passionate about and took three years to put together. I continued working as an actor and then we got into it and got it made.
It had its premiere at the Santa Barbara Film Festival and it got bought right after, which was incredible. It's hard for first-time filmmakers to get their films out there, and I just look forward to doing it again and doing it that much better.
Is there a scene or aspect of the film that you're particularly proud of?
I'm proud of a lot of things. I'm proud of the performances from all my cast, but particularly Hal Holbrook. He's someone I've developed a keen friendship with and he's become a mentor at the same time. His approach to the work and seeing him on a day-to-day basis, it's inspiring.
I've written a part in this next movie for him to play. I'm going to be directing a stage production of Romeo and Juliet in April or May, and I'm begging Hal to come in and play Friar Laurence.
That was my next question - what was it like working with such a fantastic cast?
Everybody was a pleasure to work with and a pleasure to be around. Hal and Christine Lahti give incredible performances - as does everybody else - but Christine and Hal, they really give wonderful performances.
I was blessed to work with such fantastic actors. I just finished a movie with Ed Harris, and he went to CalArts in the 1970's, right when it started. It was neat for us to have that mutual thing in common. Working with him was amazing. He's a brilliant man.
That makes three of us who graduated from the California Institute of the Arts. What was your favorite part of attending CalArts?
CalArts was incredible for me. It's a school that I rave about and constantly want to give back to.
The play I'm directing is partly going to be a CalArts production. It'll be students working alongside professional working actors and we're going to bring it to Los Angeles. It'll be exciting.
What comes next for you?
I finished shooting this film Phantom with David Duchovny and Ed Harris just recently. I was in Louisiana shooting a film called No One Lives. I go into directing my next film Rewind on January 9.
There's lots of incredible roles out there that I'd love to tackle, but there's a select group of actors I find myself gravitating towards, like Philip Seymour Hoffman or Sean Penn or Daniel Day-Lewis - real transformational actors. Filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson and Darren Aronofsky. Those are the people that really, really inspire me. It's always a learning experience and it makes you want to work that much harder.
Give a recommendation to our readers.
[The film] Like Crazy. I thought it was fantastic. I just read a book about Banksy, he's one of my favorite artists. I think he's incredible in what he's done. Oh, and The Descendants.
My thanks to Derek Magyar for this interview! Flying Lessons is now showing in select theaters; visit the film's official site for more information.
(c)2011 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. Appears at Starpulse with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.