Leaning against the Elevator’s mahogany bar with drinks in hand, we watch the front of the restaurant with anticipation. As the sun begins its journey home, the last of the day’s light streaming through the stained-glass windows, our attention once again turns to the front. Though recognizable to us the moment they step through the door, their entrance is masked to most, because our guests are just as they appear to be – normal guys. Normal guys who just happen to be here by way of Hollywood.
This was the scene as we awaited the arrival of the cast and crew behind the independent film Dallas 362, which premiered in Columbus just a few short weeks ago.
With his fedora hat tipped, the writer, director and star of the film, Scott Caan, is easily the most recognizable. At his side are Shawn Hatosy and Val Lauren, two of the bright young actors with whom Caan happily shares the silver screen. Sauntering a bit behind is Dayton native Greg Sabatino, the owner of Sunlion Films, an independent production company breaking out with the release of Dallas 362. The final guy we spot is, in essence, the thread holding everything together—Nick Middlesworth, an Ohio State University grad and the Associate Producer for Dallas 362. If it weren’t for these last two cats, 362 would have dropped somewhere in Tinsel Town, rather than C Town.
The Dallas 362 cast and crew made for a kind blend of sharp-yet-approachable intelligence and rough yet comfortable humor. Each member seemed to own an overall appreciation for time and place. Just as any movement will lose locomotion upon any one major contributor failing, so, too, will a great conversation. Therefore, we provided each 362 personality his chance to reveal the mess and glamour of their mind over individual Q and A’s. For, as they’ve so aptly put it on several occasions, “Dallas 362 is a WHOLE THING…”
Sho No or Melro?
“I’d go with the Short North to tell you the truth,” laughs Nick Middlesworth. As we sit with the 28-year-old Detroit native it’s easy to see that in just a short amount of time he’s falling right back into sync with a city he considers a second home.
What was your major area of study during your time at Ohio State?
Nick: Middlesworth: Communication, but I spent most of my time at the Lennox Theater. (OSU) didn’t have a film or television program and that’s something I would have loved to do and that’s something I really want to get instituted at Ohio State. I was taking classes like Intrapersonal Communication and I didn’t even know what they were talking about. I took a lot of English, History and Political Science classes. I think you needed 185 credits to graduate and I graduated with 250. I had a little of everything.
What’s it like being back in Columbus with all this going on?
Middlesworth: It’s really fun to be right here right now. Watching the movie and being involved in the movie was always a dream of mine. I come back to Ohio State three, four or five times a season just to go to home football games. I’ve already booked my ticket to the Texas game. I love coming back, and I come back as often as possible. I’ve been coming to Ohio State since I was a little boy because both my parents and my brother and sister went to Ohio State. This is like my hometown as much as anywhere else.
Tell us about Sunlion Films and its future projects?
Middlesworth: Sunlion is an independent production company based out of Los Angeles that began in 1999. Dallas 362 was obviously our first project. We have quite a few other things in development now. I optioned a screenplay recently called Baggage. It’s a Romantic comedy. We want to get two to three movies a year.
How did you get involved with Sunlion?
Middlesworth: I was actually working for Greg’s advertising agency Sabatino and Day when Sunlion was formed. I was his first hire at Sunlion. Basically, I was just script and screenplay development and I was reading scripts and evaluating them. The first one that I came across that I thought could be made into a movie was Dallas and Rusty which obviously panned out to be Dallas 362. I had seen Scott Caan in Varsity Blues at the Lennox when I was at Ohio State and even back then I said this is a really charismatic actor. I was just sitting in my office one day and I was thinking I could make this movie and I think people in Ohio and the Midwest and the Southwest and the South could really go for this movie.
Three words to describe the cast
Middlesworth: Honest. Hard-working. That’s two words but it’s hyphenated, so it works. Charismatic. They really stand out.
What’s the one thing you’ve got to have when you come back to Columbus?
Middlesworth: La Bamba. Burritos as big as your head, man!
Biggie or Tupac?
“Depends on where I am,” laughs Caan. “But I’ve got to give you a long-winded answer.”
The question may seem obscure to those who only picture Scott Caan as the muscular, “man’s man” of films such as Ocean’s Eleven and Varsity Blues, but believe it or not, the 28-year-old actually released a rap song a few years back and has long been a fan of hip-hop. “Straight up, I’d say Tupac. But now can I give my explanation?” Caan asks as he prepares us for his detailed reasoning. “I’m from the West Coast and Tupac was the illest personality of all time. For personality and who I’d want to hang out with—Tupac. Who do I want to see in the afterlife? Tupac. But on the flip side, Ready To Die was one of the top five hip-hop albums of all time. I don’t think Tupac had a record as good as Ready To Die.”
The son of James Caan (The Godfather, Las Vegas), Scott Caan has been considered one of the most talented second-generation actors of our time. With his first major venture into screenwriting and directing, Caan will certainly draw even more validating attention. Dallas 362 is shot from the hip. It is an honest portrayal of true friendship and the necessary coexistence of right and wrong. The characters are believable and outrageous all at once, much like Caan.
You said that writing Dallas 362 was an endeavor that took 19 days?
Scott Caan: I actually just started writing. I had no idea what I was writing about. I just wanted to finish something quick. By page 10, it formed into this story about two guys, which are essentially my best friend and I growing up.
How hard was it to you to go into it directing it and having to cut scenes out that meant something to you but knew didn’t work?
Caan: Really tough. Last night, watching the movie, there were scenes that I missed that I wish were in there. Some I wish I would have cut differently. It’s hard to direct a movie and then spend the next five months figuring out the best way to put the movie together. Ultimately, the way I think the film should be directed or edited: you should shoot the film, then cut it, then leave it sit for a year and then come back to it. But we don’t have time to do that. That’s why people do director’s cuts, so you can go back and cut it your own way.
Clearly you have qualities that could easily bring certain names to mind—a little DeNiro, a little Pacino, maybe even Brando. Who is your favorite actor and why?
Caan: Bobby Duvall, just because he’s always honest. He’s always believable. Even when he’s in a bad movie, even when he’s bad in a movie and everyone else is bad, you still believe him. You’ll go, “What is he doing?” But you still are engaged and believe him. I think that honesty is, for the most part, gone from film today. Actors, for the most part, too. I love Brando, too, and my old man.
What is the best lesson your dad ever taught you?
Caan: There are many, but the one that sticks out most, is that if someone ever does something to you or your family, ask ‘em not to do it. If they do it again, stick a pen in ‘em.
Best Dinner Scene? Scarface or Godfather?
Dayton native Greg Sabatino ponders at the choices we’ve set before him and goes with his own. “The best dinner scene is actually the cocktail scene in Goodfellas.” He repositions himself and offers us a Pesci tribute. “Are you laughing at me? Do you think I’m funny?”
While it’s a bit premature to psychoanalyze our company, in the short time we’ve spoken with Sabatino, we can comfortably assess that if you give him two options, he’ll pick the third of his own choosing. After spending the majority of his career building the successful Sabatino and Day Advertising Agency, Sabatino found himself suddenly aware of the fact that he hadn’t even begun what he really wanted to do–make movies. Although he and his wife established a very well-to-do life in Dayton, they ended up selling everything to move to L.A. to make movies. They’ve been there now for seven years.
What were the pros and cons of releasing the movie in college towns?
Greg Sabatino: It’s really targeted right in this age group. That’s not to say that it doesn’t appeal to other age groups, but it’s really targeted to 18-30. Nick Middlesworth, the guy sitting here, it was really his strategy to say, “Why don’t we do college towns in capital cities like Ohio State and the University of Texas in Austin?”
How would you describe the cast in one sentence?
Sabatino: I think they are going to be the new generation of great actors in Hollywood. They not only have the talent, but their work ethic is incredible. It takes both of those things, and these guys are incredible in that category. I can’t say enough about them. Everyone asks that same question and I say the same thing—talent plus hard work. I love ‘em all.
Red Dawn or Rambo?
“Man, that’s tough. I’m gonna have to go with Red Dawn.” We purposely gave Shawn Hastosy this question, for he, too, is a top-shelf choice any way you take him.
Hatosy is one of those actors that everyone knows and remembers, regardless of how large or small the roles he’s played. His characters are accessible because he makes them so. Hatosy is an actor of the people. Rather than stepping out of himself and into the minds of others, he meets his characters head-on. In so doing, his individuality assuredly resonates on the minds of the viewer, because they’ve not only come to understand his subject; they’ve also come to understand him.
You’ve had some quirky roles prior to this and this one is a punch-in-the-nose, really cool role. You have an innate balance between intensity and sensitivity. So where did you learn your most valuable life lessons?
Shawn Hatosy: I’m still learning them. I would say it’s important, I know it sounds kind of hokey, but a good balance of family values and upbringing.
Would you consider yourself a character or method actor?
Shawn: I don’t know.
Next thing on the burner for you?
Shawn: I did a movie called Alpha Dog that was directed by Nick Cassavetes, which is based on this kid Jesse James Hollywood who was the youngest guy on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Actually they just caught him and brought him in. That’s what’s cool. It’s a good cast that includes Bruce Willis and Chad Stone, Justin Timberlake and Ben Foster.
Prozac or Ritalin?
This is a question we had to ask for Val Lauren to answer on behalf of his slightly-phobic-yet-exceedingly-comical character Christian. “Maybe a cocktail of both crushed up and sniffed,” Lauren states matter-of-factly.
Having planted his roots at Playhouse West under the strict direction of acting teacher Robert Carnegie, Val Lauren became increasingly involved with performing in the theater. After he starred in multiple plays with fellow Playhouse West member Scott Caan, Caan wrote the Dallas 362 role of Christian specifically for Lauren.
How much do you bring to this character? He’s clearly neurotic. There had to be a couple things you brought to the table, real or imagined?
Val Lauren: One of the things: when I was talking about improvisation earlier, I thought about desperation and how it can manifest itself. Physically how can it manifest itself? Emotionally how can it manifest itself? To me, every aspect of that character comes out of one bottom idea – desperate. Everything kind of came out of that. That being said, Ratzo Rizzo was a huge inspiration for me, and Christian was a tribute to him, because he was one of my favorite characters of all time.
Are you character or are you method?
Lauren: I heard you ask that question earlier. It can’t be one or the other. The method is an approach to the work. If you have to go out and live on the street and beg for change to see how people treat you and see what that feels like to have people look at you and not even want to make eye contact with you. If that’s the method, then I subscribe to that approach.
So you step out of what you step into.
Lauren: I don’t think you ever step out of yourself. Anyone who ever says they do, I think they are trying to impress you.
What about an actor like Jim Carrey?
Lauren: Then we are talking about character acting. What’s a character? That means you are playing a character of a person. You and I, we each have our own character. I think character acting means that you can look at someone else, study that person and take those personality traits and that person’s inner life and represent them. But it’s always your heart and your emotion; it’s your blood and your fire.
Caan: There is nothing worse than when someone tries to do something that they don’t find a piece of themselves in. It can never be good. It’s not believable.
Lauren: Whether people know it or not, I think that’s why we fall in love with actors. Everyone has a favorite actor. They say I’m a fan of that actor. Sure it’s because of their creativity, but it’s ultimately the fire and emotion that carries through that person into every single part he plays that you relate to and want to hold on to.