Dispatches from the Tribeca Film Festival: A look through the lens of films to see ourselves in the other, and the other in ourselves with Pablo Schreiber.
I am sitting on a stoop having a coffee and a croissant when a very tall Pablo Schreiber crosses the street in my direction. I’m here to interview him about his role in the new movie Thumper. When I say I’m waiting for the lights to be set up in the studio upstairs, without missing a beat he sits down beside me.
We start talking about LA weather–his new home–being immigrants–he is Canadian–him being a father and how through films we may be able to see the “other”. For a while we are two New Yorkers, coffee in hand having the easiest of conversations on a stoop in Chelsea.
On the way up the easiness takes a pause when the elevator door closes but it doesn’t move. Panic crosses his face. “Is something wrong?”
“It’s really hard being this tall in a very small space” he says.
Seconds later we start to move and we are back at ease again. Upstairs, coffee still in hand but now on comfortable chairs.
Camila Gibran: I saw Thumper last night it’s raw and heartbreaking. In your own words how would you define it?
Pablo Schreiber: It’s the journey of a young woman who gets involved in a meth ring, but swirling in all of it is this idea of an America that has been left behind; people who have to do things that they didn’t originally want to do, making choices that they didn’t necessarily need to. How do you make a life when you don’t have many opportunities? This is the lot that enveloped all of these young kids, and that’s the real tragedy of this movie.
CG: What compelled you to take this role?
PS: It was interesting to hear you say the ‘other’ downstairs, because that’s definitely something that I look for in my work. I’m really interested in the extremes, not just the extremes of society but also the extremes of human behavior. So Wyatt, to me, was a guy who was operating in the extremes of human behavior, in the sense of, you know, cooking meth and giving it to children to sell, not really behavior that I would condone or practice, and so whenever I see someone who’s doing something that’s so far from my experience, I want to know why they do it. There is a scene where he goes into some of the reasons why he does what he does and where this country is, in his opinion, and how immigrants and the workforce shrinking have made things so difficult for him. I was compelled by that really different voice.
CG: We are in a time in this country, and in the world in general, that’s very different to where we were a year ago. How do you feel Thumper to be relevant today?
PS: We shot it last year in March and April, long before the election, and long before this country, as some people say, s**t the bed, but now we’re sleeping in it. We’re rolling around in it, and it’s taken on a whole other weight, since the election, of that voice of the angry white man.
When we were making this movie, none of that was really around, there was some of it blowing in the air, but you couldn’t tell that this was coming. Living in New York, or living in LA, you couldn’t see that blowing in the wind, and the election was such a huge slap in the face for costal livers, and for anyone who was living in a major metropolitan area… So this movie has taken on a whole new significance in the after-math of the election, and only gone further to kind of humanizing in a way a lot of the sentiments that are in the air… that’s not to judge it as good or bad, it’s just trying to understand a little more about where a lot of these feelings are coming from.
How do you see the role of film, and visual storytelling in people’s lives?
PS: As an actor I deal with film and TV. I see it on all fronts. There’s just so much content, as consumers we are so lucky, especially in the market of television right now, but we are bombarded by choices. We are so spoiled, which brings up another problem: When do you watch it all?
I’m a bit embarrassed to say, but as a dad, I mostly watch movies on airplanes because I travel so much. The other day I was taking a flight and I finally just watched Moonlight, after however long it’s been.
So, once you find a little time to watch a story being told either in the form of television or film, what would you choose and why?
PS: You really have to choose something that’s going to make an impact on you. Art is here to influence us in some way or another, to make us re-evaluate or look at our life in new and interesting ways. So if you’re going to commit that amount of time to something you have to be sure that it’s something that’s going to affect you profoundly in some way.
So last question, as an artist and as a consumer of those art forms, do you think they can bridge the gap in understanding what creates ‘the other’?
PS: That’s the next thing, and I never want to take that leap, because to me, how to bridge the gap, I don’t know. The only thing we can do is start conversations. And we can also look into what makes other people tick and try to empathize with them. Through understanding, and looking deeply into circumstances and trying to understand how somebody feels about something is the only way to then … behave in a way that’s more empathetic towards them. So I guess that’s a form of bridging the gap – knowledge and information.
As we are hugging goodbye I am reminded of how tall he is. When the elevator door opens I smile as to assure him that it will go down just fine. The door closes and the easiness is still there.
Photography by Leslie Hassler