Look what the rains washed in?? Just kidding of course, but Actor Josh Wiggins and Director Boaz Yakin visited St. Louis during their promotional tour for their new film – MAX – at a time when it seemed like we were in our very first MONSOON SEASON in the Midwest! Lucky for them, myself and the other film critics who got to chat with them – Blueberry Hill was the perfect place to keep dry and to have the opportunity to find out what it took to bring MAX to the BIG SCREEN:
Q: So we don’t get to meet MAX?
A: YAKIN: The dog just happens to be on his a publicity tour of his own and he is meeting us in Washington tomorrow.
Q: Since this is one of your early films…would you mind sharing with us the casting process that took place for Josh’s part in the film?
A: WIGGINS: When I got the script sent to me and one of the things that stood out for me was the fact that it was a family film that everyone could enjoy, yet it had more mature undertones and complex characters that would allowed me to flex my acting muscles. And being a part of a film focused on bomb dogs ~ you don’t see that too often in the media ~ and military elements of this film too. After my first reading, they took me out the farm where they were training the dogs and stuff, so I hoped that was a good sign.
YAKIN: We saw Josh in Hellion, and he was really good~ very natural and empathic but not fishing for sympathy to reach the audience. His audition was actually a formality. We made him do a few easy readings and that was that. We were actually hoping that he would want to do it!
Q: Why did you decide to shoot the film in NORTH CAROLINA?
A: YAKIN: Tax incentives of course, and it matched the area of Texas we wanted to portray in the film – the natural part of it – we didn’t want to shoot the dry arid version of Texas, we needed a place with lush green areas to film in, and North Carolina was the perfect place.
Q: What were some of the challenges working with animals?
A: WIGGINS: From an acting standpoint, the trainer has to work behind the scenes, so you learn to adjust to him in the background working with the animals. But on the flip side of that, you really have to focus on what your doing, and not be distracted by what is going on behind the scenes. Having to do this throughout this movie really helped me to focus on my work, and ignore what was happening around me ~ you know, block it out – so in the long run, working on this film has taught me more on how to focus in my craft, than ever before.
Q: Did you bond with the dog over the many months of filming?
A: WIGGINS: Yes, it is just like how we bond with one another. You grow fond of them, and that happened for me with the dogs I was working with too. I have three dogs of my own, so I wasn’t timid at all with dealing with the animals in the film, which probably made for an easier time for both of us.
Q: Besides bonding with the dogs, did you make friends on the set?
A: WIGGINS: We all became friends and bonded during the movie, and I think that it is conveyed really well on screen too.
Q: How close did you work with the MARINES On this film?
A: YAKIN: My co writer on the film and my old friend Sheldon, just happens to be a Vietnam Vet and Marine. So we went to Camp Pendleton and did research there. And we actually had real military personnel in the Afghanistan scenes, besides our lead actors, so we worked really close with them through the whole process.
Q: How did you decide to choose Trevor Rabin for the score of this film?
A: YAKIN: It was a natural choice – Trevor and I worked together on REMEMBER THE TITANS and I love him and his work – his scores are very emotional ~ and he loves dogs too ~ and even though he is asked to create BIG SCORES most often, I personally think that Trevor’s emotional scores are his best work – so he was the perfect choice, as the score means so much for this film.
Q: How were you able to pull off the FUNERAL SCENE?
A: YAKIN: It was a combination of the context of the story and the lead actors selling their acting for this scene. That, and us having Mark Forbes from BIRDS AND ANIMALS – he is fantastic. They study the script and ask you specifically what you want in a particular scene, so that by the time you actually shoot it, you know exactly how it is going to work, which is how this scene came to fruition.
WIGGINS: And if it was an emotional scene, they kept the animals away from the actors. So they knew exactly when and when not to approach the us, which made shooting it easier for everyone.
Q: Of your parents in the film – played by Lauren Graham and Thomas Hayden Church – were you more excited about working with one of them as opposed to the other?
A: WIGGINS: Well there was more of an emotional storyline with Thomas, but I bonded and enjoyed acting with Lauren too. Since I am relatively new to this process, having both Veteran actors to work with for months while filming was really helpful for me in this process.
Q: How many dogs did you actually use in the film?
YAKIN: For MAX just one real HERO dog, but there were 4 dogs in the film for particular parts for MAX, and we had Rottweiler’s in the film too, but they handled so that the fight scenes are actually them playing – even though it comes across as actual fighting between the dogs with a few special effects.
Q: You are riding throughout the film in deep forested areas…did you know how to ride like that before filming, and was it as treacherous as it looks?
A: WIGGINS: Of course, I had ridden a bike before, but never as extreme as was required for this film. I learned a lot shooting like we did for those scenes, and that is why I love taking on different roles – always learning something new!
Q: Where did you find the young actress in the film?
A: YAKIN: She came into an audition in LA. That was a very challenging part to cast. Once we had Josh in place, we needed to secure Mia and then John, to play opposite him, and we needed strong young actors to play opposite of Josh’s strong role. We had to make sure that everyone can step up and go toe-to-toe with Josh, and they both nailed it!
WIGGINS: Both Mia and John were great to play up against, and you really can’t tell at all that this is their first film, they are so good.
Q: As a family film, MAX definitely sticks with the kids. Brad shared that his daughter and nephew haven’t stop talking about it since they saw it last week? What are your thoughts on how it will impact the younger viewers?
A: YAKIN: That is so gratifying to hear. For me, if I am going to make a family film, which is about war, and loss and responsibility, I hope the viewers both young and old take something away from it. I mean, a genuine family movie is one that asks kids to respond, and maybe step up their game a little. If you can make a movie that teaches them respect and that doesn’t just affect the parents while viewing, but the children too, that is what you dream for. I think kids have a way of taking things in, like this movie, and understanding exactly what we want them to learn through this process. Kid’s are almost always ready to step up and learn from an experience ~ if your willing to teach them things about life that they haven’t experienced before~ they will definitely grow through this process…
Q: Josh, now that you have done MAX, what is your dream role?
A: WIGGINS: I think have about a hundred different dream roles ~ I definitely have directors I would love to work with – Tarantino stuff, and J. J. Abrahams, people that when you watch a film, you know it’s there’s, When you see a Tarantino film, you know it’s his. I love when a Director puts his stamp on a film, even though those type films aren’t usually my age demographic. I love directors that put their stamp on something. I don’t really have a particular genre, there are so many roles and genres I would like to act in…I mean you can make a film about a potato on a farm, if it’s executed right, written well, directed well, it can be a good movie…anything that is executed right, I love being a part of.
Q: What were the differences between directing this film as apposed to your previous films?
A: YAKIN: Anything that you think you expect going in, turns out to be different than what you thought. Sometimes you think a scene is going to be easy, and it turns out to take the most effort. And vice versa. Every movie has its own challenges. With this film, making a move with a protagonist – which is the dog –you don’t know how it’s going to play out with him and Josh as the main characters. I mean, like you hope that the ear twitch from CARLOS, a.k.a Max, plays out that he heard something, but in reality, you don’t really know till you see footage from the film…that was the most difficult part of making this film, and the most enjoyable