LOGO
,,

“LUCKY BASTARD”: Terror and Porn Clash in NC-17 Horror Show

LuckyBastardFeat

When a porn site holds a contest that promises wild, on camera sex with one of its stars, Ashley Saint, as the prize, you can only imagine the gaggle of characters that apply for such an honor. The offers pour in like lava erupting from the Kilauea volcano, filling their inbox with a wide assortment of sexed up applicants. In an attempt to play it safe, they go with a down on his luck guy named Dave. He just lost his brother to cancer, served his country in the military and seems as good-natured as Doctor Dolittle in a fur-filled forest. What could go wrong? When the porn producing team meets their winner in person on the day of the shoot, Dave seems a little off. Forging ahead they overlook his personal ticks and jump into the filming. Over excited, Dave blows the scene and begins to feel humiliated over the whole ‘jumping the gun’ incident. Thus begins his spiral down. Dave’s spiral will include blood. Not his, theirs.

That’s the set up for the found footage feature LUCKY BASTARD. There has been a plethora of found footage films over the past decade but not many hit their mark. Many filmmakers choose this sub-genre to produce a seemingly easily made movie. Tylenol has probably made a fortune off the viewers of the overly shaky camera gimmick. Luckily, this is not one of those. The actors, camera work and editing all work beautifully, showing exactly how this style can be executed when in the right hands. The script is multi-layered. The characters are complex. Not what you would expect from a movie using a porno set as its centerpiece. This is truly a unique and expert piece of cinema. When the opportunity to speak with the key players arose, I nabbed it like Mickey Mantle stealing third base. I wanted to know what drew this all-star team to subject matter that would potentially hinder them with an NC-17 rating.

Co-writer Lukas Kendall tells Fango, “ LUCKY BASTARD’S explicit content has a specific purpose: to make the audience uncomfortable and aware of their role as the viewers—and instigators—of the spectacle. They are watching a tragedy unfold for which they are responsible for having desired to watch it in the first place—not only the fictional Lucky Bastard website within the story (which is based on real-life porn sites), but the actual LUCKY BASTARD movie with its NC-17 content. The film is a mirror held up to reflect our worst impulses as viewers. To achieve this discomfort, we were somewhat gleeful in positioning the entire movie well outside the normal ‘space’ of acceptable movie content—to make the violence go on too long, the sex as un-erotic as possible, and eliminate the usual mediators, like music and whooshing film-editing ‘sizzle,’ that let the audience feel ‘safe.’ Personally, I wanted the movie to start somewhere in the orbit of Mars and get farther out from there, but this would only work if the characters were yoked to basic, relatable human needs and wants. That’s where Robert’s direction and the actors’ performances are so wonderful. The combination of the extreme content with those universal human needs—for respect, tenderness, success, security, the entire spectrum of human feeling—throws people for a loop. It’s truly strange. Some people hate it, and I think it’s because it short-circuits their emotional defense systems; they are repulsed by the content but empathetic with the humanity, and that makes them feel vulnerable.”

Director and Co-writer Robert Nathan (whose resume is filled with successful TV franchises like LAW & ORDER and ER) adds, “We wanted to take a certain subject matter and stand it on its head, which is one thing independent film making will let you do. You don’t have to make a movie for mainstream standards. We wanted to, if we could, reinvent the documentary found footage form. I think we managed to do that. I think the other thing that we talked about doing was to show the world of pornography as any other business. I think our goal was to have to audience experience something they were not expecting to see. I think we all need someone to feel superior to so we, without knowing it, tend to make morality judgments on people.”

The thoughtfulness and depth of their ideals in telling the story drew a very impressive cast to the table. It was ballsy, to say the least, for these acclaimed actors to take on this material; a testament to the integrity of the writing and to the filmmakers themselves. Heading up the cast is Don McManus who plays Mike, the director of the film. Don is an actor who is consistently working in Hollywood having a top tier line-up of films under his belt including MAGNOLIA, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and most recently, acclaimed Elijah Wood thriller, GRAND PIANO

“I think from the beginning I knew it was going to be touchy material,” McManus says. “I knew it was going to be challenging for the audience. I think the character was interesting because it’s not a shining character; it’s not a shiny story that we are telling. I hadn’t seen this type of story before. I liked that it was really about working class people. But I loved the fact that this character and story might polarize an audience. Will they accept my character, or even the story?”

LuckyBastardJayandDon

Paulson and McManus in “LUCKY BASTARD”

Jay Paulson, who plays lucky winner Dave, is a highly respected actor in Hollywood. “When I saw Jay Paulson’s name on the list I couldn’t believe it,” Nathan says. “He knocked me out in the first season of MAD MEN. If Jay Paulson decided to do the part the entire movie rises up in quality. When it was clear that Don and Jay were the two male leads we sort of knew we were home free. It would be impossible to not make these two actors look great because they are great.”

Paulson was immediately drawn to the role. “When I got the script and I began to read it, the writing just jumped off the page,” he says. “I was drawn in by the authenticity of it. As someone who sees a lot of garbage come across the desk—unfortunately, very formulaic, redundant derivative stuff—this script stood out from the pack.”

When asked about creating such a dark character he adds, “[Dave] had a desire to belong. I think the violent scenes were challenging because I am not a particularly violent person. The more violent rape scenes were difficult. I tip my hat to all of the actors who did full frontal, just being around them and how comfortable they were with it. They were very brave in that regard. I was specifically trying to be aloof on the outset. There was a double reason for it, it dovetailed nicely with the character work I was doing and also, there was a tremendous amount of material and it was a 10-day shoot, so I took every moment I had to collect myself and see what we were coming up on. We had to be ready for anything at any moment. When you are working at that pace, it’s very intense energy.”

McManus agrees, adding , “Seeing I was carrying so much dialogue I had the ability to carry the rhythm and there were times when, because of the way they were shooting, which was great, and because of the location, like in the restaurant scene, I just said OK let’s shoot all of these together let’s just keep going. Which is exactly what the character would do. Look we got to get this done, let’s shoot it, so the immediacy of the reality of shooting worked for the character as well. There was a line that was blurred between me keeping things moving as the actor and as the director within the movie.”

Add to the mix the breathtaking beauty Betsy Rue, who most Fango readers know from her sultry turns in MY BLOODY VALENTINE (2009), TRUE BLOOD and Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN II, as Ashley Saint, the Lucky Bastard site’s biggest star and who Dave has won an intimate scene with. Director Nathan was very impressed with Betsy right from the audition. “Betsy, who I had only known from one movie, nailed the role immediately. She was so funny and I didn’t even have to tell her what to do. She just knew, and when she did the scenes that were more ‘normal’ it became clear she could adjust herself to do the scenes anyway you wanted her to.”

LuckyBastardBetsyRue

Rue in “LUCKY BASTARD”

Describing the challenges she faced while creating her role, Rue says, “I have never done anything that has come close to porn, I am not a porn star, and I think that’s what was kind of intriguing to me. I think there are two kinds of porn stars, the type that do if for the money and who treat it like it’s just a job and there are the porn stars that think they are really cool just because they are a porn star. I think it’s so stereotypical that society has idolized the typical porn star. The language was awkward for me and I had to remember that this is just normal and the way people speak that do this. I didn’t want to go to the ‘character store’ and go way over the top and play this overly, sexually charged stereotype. So the most challenging was being able to play her when she was a porn star and when she wasn’t a porn star within the same character.”

When asked about the NC-17 rating, and what this means for an independent movie hitting theaters, the director and cast were mostly on the same page. “I think the rating is tremendously outdated. The truth is people can see pretty much anything they want at any age because of the Internet,” McManus says. “And whether that is healthy or not, it’s the case. I think unrated would be the way to go but it was very important to Lucas, and I think if we were to have a rating, then yes NC-17 is the correct rating. You don’t want a 12 year-old wandering into this. It’s just too upsetting.”

“When I was younger, NC-17 movies were the only movies we wanted to see. We are always excited to see the rawest stuff out there and the gnarliest stuff out there. I think it’s something that sets it apart,” says Paulson.

Rue pulls no punches however, adding, “I am sure it’s going to hurt it, but from the story’s viewpoint it had to be NC-17. The filmmakers, I don’t think, were thinking about getting people to the theaters as much as they were concerned with telling an honest story. We would all rather stay true to the story than sugarcoat it to try and get a rating.”

Nathan concludes: “There was no surprise. This rating cursed this movie because theatre owners are afraid of it. NC-17 was created to replace the X rating. LAST TANGO IN PARIS and MIDNIGHT COWBOY were both X. It’s a curse in every way except the blessing is that we don’t want children to see this movie it’s not appropriate. I am glad the rating is there for that reason.”

LUCKY BASTARD will have an in-store signing at Forbidden Planet NYC (832 Broadway, New York, NY) on Tuesday, Feb 11th from 4:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m. with actress Betsy Rue, director Robert Nathan and co-writer Lukas Kendall. They will be signing posters and will have ticket giveaways!

LUCKY BASTARD opens in NYC on Friday Feb. 14th at Cinema Village (22 East 12th St.)

LUCKY BASTARD will have an in-store signing at Dark Delicacies (3512 W. Magnolia, Burbank, CA) in L.A. on March 6th with select cast members signing posters and doing ticket giveaways.

LUCKY BASTARD opens in L.A. on March 7th at Laemmle’s NoHo 7 Theatre.

Related Articles
About the author
Debbie Rochon
Debbie Rochon was recently honored with the inaugural Ingrid Pitt Award for Excellence and Perseverance in Horror. She has been making films for over 25 years and currently has a column in FANGORIA magazine called DIARY OF THE DEB.
Back to Top