Q&A: David Koechner, on “CHEAP THRILLS”
In a film bursting with stellar performance, it’s an achievement to stand out. The deservedly acclaimed CHEAP THRILLS of course boasts an amazing lead turn from Pat Healy, but just behind him is something sinister from ANCHORMAN’s David Koechner. By subverting his cinematically oafish persona, Koechner turns Colin into a confrontational, suggestive villain. What if the physically hilarious personality, one that’s regarded as kind of a douche, was cleverer than you might think? What if he wielded real power over you, your family, your future?
The sharpness of CHEAP THRILLS and director Evan Katz is that it all works in tandem with Koechner to take such heavy theme and inject it to a truly rowdy, dark, dark comedy. It’s one of the must see films of 2014, with one of the must see casts. FANGORIA spoke to standout Koechner about the film and all that’s going on underneath it.
FANGORIA: CHEAP THRILLS is a meaty movie. What spoke to you about taking on Colin?
DAVID KOECHNER: Just that when Evan and I first spoke, he talked about it in terms of—it’s not a preachy film, but those themes are there about corruption and the sinister nature of money and seduction and how we’re all capable of being seduced by money. The movie does a great job of pulling that along. You’re making these moral and ethical choices with the characters of the film and we were aware of that. They do a great job of just teasing it out, just enough every time. People go, “Yeah, well I guess… If I was in that spot. You got a kid, what would you do?”
FANG: Did you have conversations like that, while making the movie?
KOECHNER: Yes, at least two conversations before we made the film, thematically about that kind of stuff. And then, during the film process, Evan would have just little conversations before a scene. “Remember this is about where Colin is here…”
FANG: There’s an element in Colin and Violet (Sara Paxton) as if they’re watching reality TV. They like it because they’re feeling superior. Did you see that, at all? Do you watch reality TV?
KOECHNER: I don’t prefer reality television. Some of my kids do, so I end up watching it and I’m appalled by what happens on TODDLERS & TIARAS. I can’t believe it. CHEER MOMS, it’s criminal. What’s the other one, HONEY BOO BOO? It’s just disgusting, the whole thing. I don’t know what we’re celebrating. But see, my wife will watch that and say, “This is about the love of a family.” So she’s got a very positive outlook on it, for that particular show. But those TODDLERS & TIARIAS…
There’s a little bit of that element in this and the audience is kind of peering in, right?
FANG: What was it like for you making this film on a micro, low budget level?
KOECHNER: It was interesting. It was fourteen days, you’re not going to have alternate takes. You’re not going to have time for elaborate lighting set-ups. You just go do it. It felt like making a play, or doing a play.
FANG: And Evan Katz shoots it as such. Long takes with what feels like everyone crowding around Pat Healy.
KOECHNER: He did a great job. You never know, you just hope. I was talking to the guys the first day or two: “This feels uncommon. This feels really good.” They’re such great actors and it almost felt like you didn’t have to do anything; it was all right there. That doesn’t always happen, that you feel like you are honestly listening and responding, like you’re supposed to do as an actor, anyway. Everything felt real, very connected. That energy was really effective, and really affected me. You can feel it in the scenes. No one was just saying their lines. It really felt like they were wanting something, you wanted something and everyone’s gonna get their thing and make an agreement to go on in this dirty, little game.
FANG: There’s an element to your character that seems to be you consciously playing on the persona you’ve cultivated. There’s characters people associate with you that are oafish. Here it’s like, “what if that person was sinisterly smart and held power over you?”
KOECHNER: You mean, in terms of what I’ve done? That’s nothing I can control, so I certainly welcomed the opportunity to play something different. The first time I’d seen the film with an audience and I did not expect that many laughs. I was surprised there were that many laughs in the film. Obviously, making it, we weren’t making a comedy. So, we’re not trying to play the joke. You’re just playing the scene, so it was delightful to hear the response.
FANG: You mentioned it’s theatrical quality. Have you done a lot of stage work?
KOECHNER: Oh, I’ve done stage all my life. Tons of improve, sketch and stand-up. I’ve done some plays, not enough, but now it’s just a matter of time. My wife and I have five kids, so I can’t go off and do a play. It’s just not economically feasible.
FANG: Do you like the horror genre, at all?
KOECHNER: I’m not a big fan of horror, at all, because I’m a scared [laughs]. The supernatural really scares the shit out of me. Always has, as a kid. I think you are, or you’re not. I think you are. I don’t know why.
FANG: Well, it seems like your reaction is more pure. There are folks who look down on it, but you simply don’t want to be scared.
KOECHNER: It stays with me! I watch one episode of WALKING DEAD and I have nightmares. I thought, “Well this is fantastic. It’s so good.” But I had nightmares. I don’t think the horror genre has ever been more popular than it is right now and I wonder if that’s because we don’t see pictures of the war. There’s been a war going on for 13 years and it’s not part of the discussion at all.
FANG: Some of the most groundbreaking genre was a reaction to Vietnam.
KOECHNER: Yes, and this might be a subconscious.
FANG: And of course the financial climate, one of the reasons CHEAP THRILLS resonates so much. There’s a point in the film where you can’t fault them, and then you can. It’s great, because of the moment you and Violet go downstairs and when you both return, you’re wearing all black. You know it’s the point where everything is irredeemable.
KOECHNER: He did a wonderful job. It’s incredible what they were able to do on no budget in fourteen days.
FANG: Do you think there’s any redemption to be had for Craig?
KOECHNER: No, he murdered someone for money. There’s no redemption. If he’s found out, it’s ruined his wife’s life and his child’s life. And he was an adulterer, all in one night. Adultery and murder and self-mutilation. That’s a lesson. That’s a cautionary tale.
CHEAP THRILLS opens Friday, March 28 at New York City’s Cinema Village where star Pat Healy will be in attendance for Q&A’s throughout the weekend moderated by the likes of Michael Shannon and Kevin Corrigan. The film is also now playing in Los Angeles and Austin and available everywhere On Demand from Drafthouse Films. For more, see our glowing review of the film here.