Interview With 'Get the Gringo' Star Tom Schanley

Photo Credit: Tom Schanley
May 24th, 2012

Recently, Movie Room Reviews had a chance to sit down and talk to Tom Schanley who stars in the new Mel Gibson flick Get the Gringo.  Tom tells me a lot about life as an actor and what it takes to make it in Hollywood.

Nick-  Hey Tom how are you doing today?  Thanks for talking with us here at movie room reviews.  You have been acting in movies and on television since 1985 doing shows like The Closer, Jag, Murder She Wrote, you were John Rawlings on Melrose Place and recently you’ve been on NCIS and CSI.  You have been in big movies like Conspiracy Theory, Courage Under Fire, and recently you played a hit man alongside Mel Gibson in Get the Gringo.

Tom-  That’s correct.

Nick- It came out on May 1st right?

Tom-  Yeah it was released video on demand in this country on Direct TV only.  Then it actually goes dark for a month then it goes VOD world wide for anybody to order it.

Nick-  I’ve seen a lot of movies that come up that say VOD but I don’t know if that means cable or the Internet.

Tom-  Everybody makes their individual deals and I don’t really understand the structure of this one but I do know that they made a deal with Direct TV exclusively and maybe a lot of people do that and maybe these VOD companies pick up these movies exclusively.  In this case I am not really sure but I do know that part of the reason was is that it’s kind of the new thing.  Screens at home are getting bigger, sounds systems are getting better and a lot of people just want to be able to turn it on instead of driving, parking, and paying for food. They just want to turn it on at home in their slippers.  This is an attempt to see how this is gonna work.

Nick-  I think it’s cool because I live in Toledo and we have a couple theaters that only show the same 12 movies and there is a lot of films I don’t access to.  Which is what’s cool about this whole thing because I have seen tons of movies that I never would have been able to see before right when they come out.

Tom-  Yeah I think it’s great for the access.

Nick-  Let’s talk a little bit about your role as a hit man and the movie Get the Gringo.

Tom-  Sure! Mel Gibson plays a bad guy who stole money from another bad guy and ends up crashing over the Mexican border and when the corrupt federales realize he has a couple million dollars in his car, they decide to take him in and take the money.  It’s everybody basically going after this money and Mel tries to get out of this really bad Mexican prison and get his money.  We’re after Mel and we’re after the money.  Everybody's after the money!

Nick-  Playing a hit man would be a little strange for me, killing people and stuff.  Do you like those kind of bad boy roles? I read somewhere that you do.

Tom-  Yeah I do.  I love bad guys and I’ll tell you why for two reasons.  For one there back story as an actor tends to be more interesting and you can do more with it. And the second reason is if you think about it bad guys, if they’re well written, basically have all the control off the movie until the end when they go down in a hail of bullets, or they’re arrested, or something bad happens.  Until then they are the top dog because the hero is struggling against them.  That’s the conflict that makes the movie.

Nick- You’re right it would be so fun to play the bad guy.  I’ve seen tons of movies like that and you are right, they do have total control of the movie until they go down. 

Nick-  You’ve worked with so many great actors.  You’ve obviously worked with Mel Gibson on Get the Gringo and Conspiracy Theory. You’ve also worked with Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts.  When your doing movies like this, I have always wondered, are you always learning more about your craft?

Tom-  Yeah, I ‘ll be honest with you Nick, I don’t think you ever stop because there is always different situations.  You’re running against different personalities and you always have to find a new obstacle to overcome.  You get better at it and adapt easier but you are always learning.

Nick-  That’s what I wondered.  Do you ever find something out about acting and say wow I wish I knew that last week?

Tom-  Yeah and I’ll give you a perfect example.  When I was doing Courage Under Fire with Denzel Washinton, who’s as far as I’m concerned one of the best, there was a scene where I was interrogating him and they had this wide dolly shot where they moved past the table where he and I were sitting and you could see not just above the table but below the table too.  I was watching the scene afterwards and Mel Gibson and I were both in the military.  Mel Gibson was in the military from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet, and I was in the military from the top of my head to the table.  I was sitting like I was eating lunch, my legs were tucked back and I’m mister casual.  Mel was sitting there with his legs and feet pointed forward being totally in the moment.   Me, I didn’t think they could see down there so I didn’t care.  It was a great lesson and it sounds weird unless you were there.

Nick-  Do you think of that when you see that scene?

Tom-  That scene never actually made the movie.  I don’t think it was because of my legs but I think about it all the time now.  It’s funny, it’s something that flashes in my head.  It’s something I should have known because I had been doing it for ten years by then but it’s one of those lessons that you never think of.  You think you’re a good actor, and you are, but then all the sudden something little comes along like that and you say “Damn, that’s the way to do it.” 

Nick-  What important aspects should an actor focus on? What are the things you focus on in doing the roles?  Do you focus more on your physical appearance? 

Tom-   It really depends.  If you’re talking about individual roles everything changes and it’s role to role.  There might be a guy that you are playing who is all about his outward appearance.  Obviously everything has to do with what’s inside but finding that right look is important for what character your playing.  It’s all about the “why’s” if you’re working on a part.  Why are you doing this?  What’s your attitude about it? What are you after? Why does it not bother me to cut off a couple of guys toes because we need to get this money?  Where does a guys mentality come from that he can do that and it’s no problem to go have lunch?  So it’s all about the “why’s” I think. Why do you do what you do?  In terms of young actors it’s just getting out there and acting.  You’ve taken your classes and all that but you got to get in front of whatever you can whether it be in front of the audience on the stage, or the camera.  Now with You Tube it’s great because any young actor can get in front of the camera and I didn’t get in front of the camera until I got my first job and then you are getting paid professionally and you have to learn on the fly.  It’s a totally different thing when you get in front of the camera. You can be as prepared as you want but once you get in front of the camera there is a whole different thing that affects you.

Nick-  I can only imagine and now that you say that it does make sense that the only way to learn is to act the character that you need to learn.  As soon as you get in front of the camera the lights are on and I’m sure it’s a pretty tough situation.

Tom-  You have to learn to be able to do it with 27 people behind the the camera starring at you and you can see all of them but you’re not supposed to be seeing them and you’re supposed to be in the moment.  That’s the challenge that probably a lot of young actors have, at least that’s the way it was when I first started.  Now it’s a lot easier to get that kind of training before you hit the big time.

Nick-  Do you consider yourself an actor who is willing to go over and beyond to get a part?  I see a lot of people that gain or lose a bunch of weight to get the part.  Do you see yourself doing anything like that to get the role that you want?

Tom-  Sure, if it was something I was really going after.  In terms of gaining or losing weight, that’s tough to do.  A lot of things in this business happen really quickly.  Unless they’re making you a straight offer and you got three or four months to do it, you’ve got to go in and make the call.  I suppose if there was a film that I really wanted that I thought I had a good shot at, would I shave my head? It would have to be pretty intense for me to do that but yeah I would do that.  But it’s not like that.  You get the call two days before and you’re in auditioning, so the only prep you can do is to work with what you have.  In terms of doing the role, hell yeah, It would be great to try to gain fifty pounds or lose fifty pounds or train for it. That is if you have the luxury of a couple of months of prep, normally you don’t.

Nick-  That makes sense because they probably see you and say “Hey, he would be prefect for this part” and they call you in.  Is that how it works?

Tom-  It is but it’s also about their scheduling too.  I’m at the point where I audition in maybe two or three weeks and that’s when they have to have the cast in full force. It’s tough to get cast in something and they say “Ok now we need you in three months.” It’s tough to be able to commit to that because what if you get a better job? So it happens fairly quickly.  There’s a lot of directors that are a lot smarter than that.  You work on a James Cameron movie and he decides he is going to cast earlier because he needs his entire cast to train and learn something, then you are going to have that luxury on a bigger movie.  For the most part you are basically out there shooting and working fairly quickly with in the next couple of weeks.

Nick-  Besides acting I saw that you are a writer right? You wrote the film The Hard Easy with some great actors in it.

Tom-  Yeah, I wrote that with my writing partner Jon Lindstrom.

Nick-  I’ve always wondered what’s it like since you’ve been the actor and now as the writer, what’s it like to put the words on the paper instead of the other way around?  When you write a film do you let the actors and the director do their own interpretation of your characters or do you kind of give them insights?  How does that all work?

Tom-  It depends.  It’s all about where you are in the pecking order. Jon and I wrote this script and it got sold but we’re first time writers so basically as first time writers you pretty much give up all your power and if you’re lucky and we were on this, we had a terrific director who was one of the producers as well, you get consulted about the script.  I would be lying if we thought everything went the way it was supposed to.  I’m going out on a limb here by saying that they took the script and tried to change it in such a way that we think it lost a lot of what made it special.  What sold it in the first place, in our opinion, is not what really ended up on the screen. Now, that’s a matter of interpretation. For any kind of artist to let their “baby” go is hard.  Who am I to say our script was better than the final movie.  Especially since, and I give them a lot of credit, this was a fairly low budget movie about a million or two and they had a very short time to shoot it in and they were dealing with some terrific actors that are also established.  It’s tough for a first time director, Ari Ryan, to direct actors that have been doing this for thirty years. Everybody puts their opinions in so it’s like the old phrase “too many cooks in the kitchen.”  But you learn, and the truth is at that stage you should be thankful because there are so many talented writers in this town and so many people that don’t get a chance to have their stuff made.  The fact that we got to have our movie made professionally on someone else’s dime so to speak and get it done and out there is great and you have to be thankful that that got done.  In the future you learn lessons and in the future you will be like “Unless you’re gonna pay us a lot of money, here’s what we need from you or we’re not really interested in doing it.” In a perfect world you want a totally collaborative process with a writer and the director, but that’s rare.  You have to be a really powerful writer to have input because the truth is even at the upper levels people are saying this scene isn’t working and they give the writer the task to go back and fix the scene telling them what they want,  as opposed to what the writer wants.

Nick-  Now that you’ve been doing this and you see that side of movie making, in your opinion what do you think is the toughest job on the movie set? Is it the actors? The director? The writer? Is there one that you think is a lot harder than any of them?

Tom-   I think it depends.  I would think the director would have one of the hardest jobs.  I also think that one of the hardest jobs is the first assistant director because his job is to make sure that everything is happening and he has a lot of staff underneath him. He’s got to deal with the producer and the director and make sure everything’s happening on time on the set.  In terms of the toughest part I would say the director has the toughest job on set.  The actor has a tough job mainly because there is so much time that you are not doing anything and if you have a lot of intensity going on you gotta keep that because you may have an intense scene and then it’s time to break for lunch and you have to come right back and get right where you were before.  There’s a lot of tough jobs but I would have to say from morning to night with all the responsibility, the director probably.

Nick-  Is the director the first one there and last one to leave kind of guy?

Tom-  Well close.  It depends on the director.  The crew members are always the first ones there and last ones to leave.  So lets give some nods to the crew because they got tough jobs too.  They get there at 6am and they’re out of there at 10pm. 

Nick-  It sounds like such a production.

Tom-  Oh yeah.  It’s amazing actually.  That’s one of things when I was a kid that amazed me.  How much there is to knock down on these two pages and you do three pages in the morning and two pages at night and that’s moving quick.  If you knock down four or more pages in a day that’s impressive. 

Nick-  Besides acting and going to all these auditions, what do you find yourself doing in your free time?  I saw you’re involved in a lot of charities and things like that, what do you get to do for fun? 

Tom-  I live in Southern California so there’s a lot to do.  I’m pretty active.  I work out and hit the bike path, rollerblading, skiing, pretty much the same stuff that everybody else does. A lot of times it’s really getting ready for the next thing and not really work.  What’s the next thing you have to do to get the next job? There’s a lot of down time and you can find yourself not doing anything for a day and that’s kind of part of the discipline you’ve got to keep yourself doing because if not, you can find yourself just waiting around for the phone to ring and that’s never  healthy. 

Nick-  I think that the fact that your doing writing is a good way to use your time if you’re not busy for a day you can just sit down and write for awhile.

Tom-  Yeah you do.  It’s funny but that’s again a self-motivation thing.  I call myself a writer and I have sold a screenplay and have a couple other projects that are being worked on right now but that’s another self-discipline thing. There’s not a time you have to sit down and write so it’s one of the biggest procrastination in answers that there is.  You sometimes find anything else to do besides sitting down in front of that computer and write.  Even if you know you’re gonna procrastinate and you shouldn’t do it, you end up doing it.

Nick-  You do need to be in the mood to write though.

Tom-  Yeah you do but a lot of times you just got to do it.  Sometimes a couple of days will go by and you just got to do it.  Sometimes you will just stare at that blinking cursor and write nothing.  Some days you will get an idea and write for four straight hours and get ten pages.  You really can never tell because sometimes that doesn’t even come out from being in the mood.  You tell yourself “I’m going to sit down today and do it,”  and then something comes.

Nick-  I was reading about how deadlines are a musicians best friend because it forces you to do it and get it done.  I feel that that would help me get the writing done if someone gives me a deadline when I have to have it done.

Tom-  Exactly.  That would certainly help.  Of course if something is coming up then the pressure builds. I think a deadline helps everybody no matter what they’re doing.

Nick-  You talked about a few solo projects in the works so what are those?

Tom-  I’ve got a just a couple of films and one I’m in a third draft on.  It’s kind of a film about everybody whose had that one relationship in their life where they think he or she is the greatest thing on the planet and their friends know that this is one of the worst people they have ever met.  You just can’t see the forest for the trees.  It’s about learning that lesson that everybody else knows and in the end you shake your head and you go, “ You know they were right,” but you got to go though it.  Then there’s another one that’s more of an action comedy.  I’m kind of on both sides of the aisle so to speak.

Nick-  Cool.  So that’s what are readers can look forward to seeing from you this year and the next coming years?

Tom-   We’re in the stage right now getting the last draft done for the dating one and it’s the one I am most focused on.  The next step is to shop it around a little bit to see about the money.  The thing these days is that you can get stuff done for less money because of all the consumer based equipment that you can buy that essentially is as good as any professional equipment was five years ago.  It’s all a process man.

Nick-   Well thanks a lot for talking to us today Tom and we really appreciate it.  I’m sure are readers will go watch you in your new movie Get the Gringo on VOD and I’ll see you on the big screen.

Tom-  Hey thanks a lot Nick.  Have a great day.