Interview: Elias Koteas talks "Jake Squared" and the "Ninja Turtles"

Photo Credit: Beckett Films
August 21st, 2014

Elias Koteas has been one of my favorite actors every since Mar 30, 1990, the day the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” came to the screen. I’ll always remember him as Casey Jones, the cool tough guy in a hockey mask. Elias has gone on to have a wonderful career in Hollywood with films including: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, “The Thin Red Line”, and Scorsese’s “Shutter Island”. He is also a part of some of the biggest shows right now like “The Killing” and “Chicago P.D”. His latest film “Jake Squared” is a one-of-a-kind film that captures the imagination and insanity of people struggling with aging and love. Elias was gracious enough to talk with The Movie Network and tell us about this new film.

Nick Leyland from The Movie Network: I really appreciate you calling in, I had a chance to watch your film, "Jake Squared". It’s out now right?

Elias Koteas: Yes, in selected theaters and then Video on Demand and all the rest of it, yeah. So, what did you think, man?

TMN: I liked it, it was very, very unique in the way that the plot worked.

Elias Koteas: Yeah, isn't it? Oh my God.

TMN: I've never seen anything like it.

Elias Koteas: Yeah.

TMN: Because it's not exactly time travel, it's not schizophrenia. [chuckle] You know? And I was wondering if you could kind of give your thoughts on what the film's about.

Elias Koteas: God, man, it's a good question. So many things... I mean to me, I don't know what pops into my brain two years after the fact, haven't seen the movie in close to two years. It really comes down to just being honest with yourself, about who you are, and what you really want in your life, or what your soul wants, instead of some precondition of what you're raised as, or to believe in. Like, "Oh you gotta find the one true love and you'll find happiness in that." Sometimes a relationship lasts like three days, sometimes it's a week, and some relationships last five years. I mean, it's a miracle that they last long enough, I mean when you see a marriage that lasts 20 years or 17 years, or whatever it is.This is my opinion, that they really don't necessarily do the work on themselves and then it's a miracle that they grow together through the years. So, I think it comes down to being honest about what you're capable of, who you really are, what your likes are, what your desires are.

I don't know, I don't want to generalize, but it's really just, you can live in this kind of brewing unhappiness, you don't really know why. I don't know, I mean it's a lot of things. It's like coming at middle age like Howard Goldberg says, coming at middle age, where you really figure out, "Oh, finally at 53, I'm comfortable in my skin. I'm okay with who I am and what my likes are and dislikes." I don't know, that's just one aspect of it. I'm sure it's a lot of things for a lot of different people.

TMN: Well, it's different in the way that you play yourself as three different versions of yourself and there's a younger version of yourself played by another actor. The unique thing about it is that they all interact with each other. It's not like something where you're interacting with one at a time, but they're all interacting with the people in your life at the same time.

Elias Koteas: That was unique, I loved that about the script and how Howard filmed that, it's great, man, isn't it? It's like so unique like you said. Yeah.

TMN: Tell me about playing three different roles of the same person at different ages? Was that fun to do, or did that get frustrating?

Elias Koteas: Not at all, man, it wasn't frustrating at all, that's the strange thing about it. It felt so freeing and natural, that I know it's hard to relate. It wasn't anything unlike acting with someone else in the scene. You just have to sort of put on a different suit and talk to someone else. You know, how they're gonna do the special effects. So, it was really the same sort of issue, it wasn't a problem, it was a blast, I didn't really sit down and really analyze it. I mean, I'm thinking, "Here I am, talking to myself. And here I am, I'm gonna manifest myself at 30 and I'm gonna talk to myself at 30 from a 52-year-old guy's point of view. And then I'm gonna talk myself as a 30-year-old, thinking, 'Oh s$%#, so this what I've become at 52, I look like this guy.'" So, I didn't really over-analyze the whole thing, to me it was just like, you dive in head first. You think about certain music, or certain things in your life at that time when you're in your 30's, what your life was like, and you sort of jump off. I mean, you carry all your memories in your cells anyway, you know what I mean? So, to me, it was just a matter of just throwing caution to the wind and having fun talking to yourself. 'Cause we do, we talk to ourselves everyday, right? I mean, you talk to yourself as you walk down the street. Different parts of yourself.

TMN: Oh yeah.

Elias Koteas: It's just that question of just manifesting yourself, you know?

TMN: And that's another big part of the film too, is the narrative in the film.

Elias Koteas: I think Howard did a great job. I think he's so existential. How wonderful it would be to go talk to your mom when she's a 32-year-old woman. And to like try to figure it out, how did you guys make it work or not work? You're not often presented with that kind of experience. So, Howard did a great job. I couldn't put the script down when I read it. I thought, "S%$^, man, this is really, really different and funny."

TMN: Now, did you learn to play the guitar for the film?

Elias Koteas: You try to learn as much as you can to kinda get away with it. I'm definitely not musically-inclined. So, you try to do the best you can with it. It's on an illusion anyway, so, do the best you can to strum and to hold the chords.

TMN: You've done a lot of pretty serious films in your career. Did the comedy aspect of this one kinda draw you more towards it?

Elias Koteas: You know what, I think I'm a hilarious guy.


Elias Koteas: Anyone who knows me thinks I'm a hoot.


Elias Koteas: Sort of like the parts that I play instead, like kinda on the dark side. But I think I'm funny as hell.


Elias Koteas: So, it's always like, you're in the script that kinda allows you to, explore that part of yourself. My challenge was to have to not get heavy handed with it 'cause I tend to, being Greek heritage, everything's gotta be a drama. And my ancestry is like really, just Medea. So, the challenge for me was, okay, how can you be real and personal and sort of go about it with a light sort of touch, you know, instead of being really heavy handed? So, that was the challenge. And the fact that it was shot in 18 days maybe, the pace didn't allow me to get all heavy. So it wouldn't work if it was, so it needed to just be kind of a frolic, sort of a, easy sort of going things. So, I'm glad I had the chance to explore my hilarity.

TMN: [laughter] Well, I thought you're funny in the film.

Elias Koteas: I think I'm funny, man.


TMN: One thing I liked too, is I liked seeing Jane Seymour in the role. She looks the same for the past 20 years, I feel like.

Elias Koteas: Yeah. She's ageless. She's wonderful. She's just lovely. I worked with her years, years ago. I mean, I didn't actually work with her. We were in the same movie together back in 1988. She looks exactly the same. It is I who has weathered the storm. I was like just been ravaged by the ages.

Nick Leyland: You've matured.

Elias Koteas: You know what, there's a part of me that does not mind. You know Chet Baker? Remember how beautiful he was when he was a youngster? And then like sort of, through the years of his hard living, the roads and the valleys were just etched on his face. There's something about that that I like and I don't have an issue with it. You know what I mean, I'll wear my experiences on my face, yeah, I don't have a problem with that.

TMN: Yeah. Nor should you have an issue with it.

Elias Koteas: Not in any way. I kind of wear it with a badge of honor, so yup. But Jane Seymour was spectacular. She's just gorgeous. She's got the right genes.

TMN: Alright. Now, you've done shows that I've seen like "The Killing" which is a great show, you were in a season with that, and "Chicago PD"... You did dozens of episodes on each of these. Do you enjoy playing the same character for a while and let it kind of develop, or is it more enjoyable to be handed a new role in each film and have a new challenge like that?

Elias Koteas: Well, you know what? I mean, I like all of it. I mean, you hit it on. There are times in my life where I just wanna go from one thing to the next. And at this time in my life, the challenges being on the show, each week there's a different texture to your role, and the challenge is how to remain serious and motivated. I feel very grateful that I'm in this thing and that I've got something, and I'm working with a bunch of great people. So, it's a different animal and it's a different challenge. Spiritually, it requires something completely different. But I'm welcoming it. It's something that I've wanted to do. So, it's like even doing a play for a long time, for a long run...

I never really had an opportunity to do something for, say, six months where you start off in one place in the play and then you go through the first couple of months of just trying to find it and getting comfortable, and there's some point where you're kinda going through the drudgery of like, you don't really know why you're doing this play anymore. And then suddenly, you find different discoveries and then you end up somewhere else, where you have like some sort of epiphany or some sort of breakthrough. So, I'm approaching the TV show in that way, where it's like I started off here, and as long as I remain challenged and motivated and curious, I wonder where I'm gonna end up? I wonder where I will be a year from now or two years for now if we're lucky or three or four, who knows?

So, I approach it that way. So, it kinda unfolds over a long period of time. Sometimes, I've said this before, but sometimes you're asked to play the doorknob. Sometimes, you're the hinge in the doorknob. Sometimes, you're the door. Sometimes you're the mat. As long as you have some service to the story.

TMN: That’s a positive way to think of it.

Elias Koteas: I'm just living in gratitude, man, every day, to be able to be a working actor for 30 years. I have no leg of complaint to stand on. Here's a movie, my very first movie, that I'm able to produce, that I was part of, that I'm able to have a good, substantial role in and be surrounded by incredible, talented people, and at the same time, it's being released at the same time as the remake of "Ninja Turtles". So, I'm like... It's got to be a hoot. There's worse things in the world.

TMN: Right.

Elias Koteas: 24 years ago, I was like a Ninja Turtle guy.

TMN: I know. That was my next question towards you, too, because growing up, that was probably in my top three favorite movies. I probably watched it a 100 times.

Elias Koteas: Yeah, and that makes me smile, man.

TMN: I can't believe I’m talking to Casey Jones today.

Elias Koteas: Yeah, right? It really turns me on. The energy that's coming through the phone is what's exciting to me, not necessarily talking about it. I want to hear what you feel. I've kinda forgotten the experience, to be honest with you. I haven't really forgotten about it, but I'm just saying, I'm more turned on by people's reactions than like actually talking about what it was like to work with Turtles, you know?

TMN: I haven't seen the new "Ninja Turtles" movie, but with the comic movies of the 80‘s and 90‘s I really enjoyed how it wasn't as violent, and it had a lot humor in them. Those movies will never be beaten by anybody else.

Elias Koteas: It weathered the test of time, didn't it? It stands on it's own, still. It feels like there's an endlessness to them, you know?

TMN: Were you a fan of them when you took the role or was it kinda new to you?

Elias Koteas: It was new to me. I had no idea. I was just turned on by playing kinda a tree-swinging, superhero guy, you know? I was turned on by that. I got a chance to suddenly go into the gym and stretch, and try to learn some martial arts and grow out my hair. It was fun, man. At the time, I was 28 years old. That's what it came down to, it landed on my lap, so I was like, "Sure." I feel the universe provides. There was a reason why I was going to play Casey Jones. I had a blast. I had a blast, but it's hard to believe that, it's a blink of an eye, but it's 24 years ago, man.

TMN: I know. I remember seeing it in the theater and being blown away.

Elias Koteas: Yeah, I just saw it recently with my cast mates just before Christmas. They took me to see the movie in a midnight showing. I found joy watching everybody else's enthusiasm about it, you can't be an ass about it. You can't begrudge it, you know? It's really a lot of fun. It makes me smile.

TMN: Have you seen the new one?

Elias Koteas: I have not, no. I mean, I've seen commercials. It looks pretty intense.

TMN: Yeah, I haven't seen the new one either. I was hoping they'd bring you back as Casey Jones a little bit.


Elias Koteas: Oh, man, unless they find him as 52-year-old. Do you know what I mean? What would he have become? What would he have grown into?

TMN: I don't know. You look a lot more ripped these days.

Elias Koteas: I feel pretty good, but what would be the story for me? First of all, I don't really think any studio is gonna approach me and say, "Hey, would you like to be Casey Jones again?" That's not gonna happen, but it existed for me in another time, another era. It's very much a product of the '80s, for me. I look back, and I have the pleasure of looking back on it, and sort of smiling, saying, "Oh wow, look at what I looked like. Look what I was doing with my life at that time." But to go down that road right now, it doesn't seem likely. It's not something that my soul is screaming out for, but who knows?

TMN: Did you think that the film was going to be as big as it was, after it came out?

Elias Koteas: I didn't have any expectation about it. By the time the movie came out, I was onto something else. I have a tendency to drop it once it's over. It no longer has anything to do with me anymore. It's really about what people feel when they see it. Acting to me, at the pure from, is giving. It's like, here, you give something, and it's got nothing to do with me anymore. It's what you get out of it. So, sometimes I have a hard time with talking about something that I've been in, because what I feel about it is really irrelevant, and that's where the dichotomy for me is, the conflict, it's like, I'm more interested in how you felt about "Jake Squared" than what resonated from me in it. It's what you got out of it, is what's important, not really how I got myself to put on a different costume or play different roles of myself. But I get it, I get the interest. But for me, it's really all about what the viewer gets, and how he feels or she feels. Does that make sense?

TMN: Yes. I don't know if our audience would be interested in hearing what I have to say.


Elias Koteas: No, no. I get it. I get it. But for me, I feel like it's more the fact that you're interested in the movie, and it resonated for you, that makes me smile. It makes me happy, 'cause you want to tell a good story and we did, and that it resonates it's great. The fact that we're sitting here two years later, a little tiny movie that we did in 18 days, that captured something. That's a real great thing. You know how rare that is? You know how many independent movies get made that don't see the light of day? And here we are, having this conversation, it's a blessing. You can't help but... Do you know what I mean?

TMN: Yeah. I know what you mean.

Elias Koteas: Yeah. That you're interested to call me, and find out what I think about it, and all this kind of thing. That you liked "Ninja Turtles" years ago. It's all a beautiful thing.

TMN: I'm really excited to watch the third season of "The Killing". I binged on the first two seasons. You just can't stop. It's one of those shows you just can't stop watching.

Elias Koteas: Aren't they beautiful? I mean, Joel and Mireille, they're just tremendous together.

TMN: Yeah. And I'm really excited to see what your character is, or who your character is in it.

Elias Koteas: Yeah. I had a blast, man. It was just a good bunch of people. Veena Sud, she did a great job with it.

TMN: Did you have that same feeling making “Jake Squared”?

Elias Koteas: To me it felt like a good home meal, going to work every day. You're around people who wanted to be there. There was just so much love involved in the material, in telling the story. And Howard Goldberg was just... I couldn't have asked for a better person to navigate this thing. It was just great.

TMN: I thought the film was fantastic. Like I said, it was a film I was not expecting what I saw and that blew me away, the way that it was done. It's one of those films when you go into it, I didn't know much about it, and then I started watching it. I said, "Wait, now. There's all these characters, and they can intertwine with each other?" I was like, "This is amazing!"


Elias Koteas: Amazing man, you throw a party, and suddenly your past starts catching up with you. What a metaphor! "Wow!" You know that moment where he's like, "Oh, man, my s^%&, my f&^$%^* past is catching up with me! Ah!" You know, you gotta deal with your [email protected]$# eventually. It'll catch up with you, you know? You build something on a house of cards, it's gonna eventually sort of tumble down. So, yeah, he captured something, man, in that script. And you know what? Usually, most of the time, what's on the page doesn't really necessarily get translated on screen, and he did that, man. It's what's on that page. We captured something, and I'm very proud of that.

TMN: Well, it's been a pleasure talking with you. I'm really excited about your release, and hopefully, I'll get to talk to you in the future about some of your other projects.

Elias Koteas: Anytime, man, just reach out.

TMN: All right. Thank you so much, Elias.

Elias Koteas: God bless you, bro. God bless.