Love it or hate it, Mark Pellington’s tale of men doing very bad things, “I Melt With You,” made an impact at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Those who hated it, really hated it (there were reportedly 46 walkouts at the film’s first press screening), but the film landed the enviable feat of snagging distribution with Magnolia Pictures and did score some praise (Todd McCarthy was a fan).
The film concerns four 44-year-old college friends (Jeremy Piven, Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe and Christian McKay) who reunite for a weekend bender to reminisce and let loose. For these boys, that involves doing mounds of cocaine, pill popping and bedding local girls (including Sasha Grey). Things take a turn for the dark side when the narcotics trigger one of the guys to do something he can’t take back.
We caught up with one of the film’s stars, Piven, to discuss the press’s divise reaction to the film and what attracted him to the project.
I saw the film at Sundance where it generated, to put it mildly, a pretty divisive reaction. Were you surprised by the response at the world premiere?
Well I knew that if you’re true to this movie, it’s not going to be for everyone and that’s one of the things I loved about it. Sundance came so fast for us. I think Mark [Pellington] was about three weeks into the editing process and had threw up about three hours on screen. I don’t think any film should necessarily be shown like that, but it’s interesting that he showed it. It was pretty polarizing. And it still is, even in its very lean form. I’m really proud of it. It shows men relating to each other [in a way] that I’ve never seen on film before, and addressing some issues about facing yourself and who you are in this life. And it raises questions that I think are very important. And so I’m very proud to be a part of it.
And about that world premiere, I read that your mother was in the audience. Was that your own doing or did she insist on seeing it?
She insisted on seeing it. I don’t have free will. I don’t have any original thoughts of my own. My mother still grounds me. I didn’t make my bed yesterday so I’m not even allowed to… No, I brought her. My mother’s been my acting teacher since I was eight years old. She’s coming out with a book on acting. Joyce Piven is her name. She’s amazing. I bring her to the Golden Globes and Emmys and all that kind of stuff, cause she kinda got me into all this. So I love her. And the movie was very heavy. It affected her more than anything I’ve ever done. I think when a mother sees her son do certain things like that, it’s pretty devastating. So she was literally frozen at one point.
Was anybody attached when you first came aboard? You have quite the cast in this movie.
Thomas Jane was attached. I signed on and then Rob Lowe came on. Then Carla Gugino and Sasha Grey and everyone else came after. So it’s a pretty amazing cast.
What were the first things that struck you when you read it?
I was kind of shocked at how raw it was. Just totally unflinching. My character has a moment with Thomas Jane that’s pretty heavy and emotional. And I got emotional reading it, and that’s a very rare thing. So I remember just putting it down and knowing that I had to do it.
How would you characterize the vibe on set for a film like this? It’d be curious to have been a fly on the wall just to distill exactly what went down. Was it as chaotic as the film suggests?
No, I mean you can’t have chaos and act. You have to have a concise, laser sharp kind of focus to then create the madness. That being said, Mark played music that would always get us in the mood and we were shooting on these Canon 5Ds. So we got momentum cause we could do 10, 11 minute takes. As an actor you’re always looking for momentum and that’s what we got with this movie.
Did you guys shoot chronologically and then descend into hell?
We definitely shot it chronologically. For an actor that’s like gold to be able to shoot in order like that.
For a film like this, do you think you could have done it had it not been shot that way?
You certainly can. That’s usually the case. That’s what film acting is about. [Like if] you have to be killed at the end of a movie, that can be the scene you’re going to shoot first. And you better get used to it. But in this particular case, Mark was incredibly generous with the actors and let us shoot it in order.
How did you get yourselves in that drug-addled state that you all find yourselves in especially during the middle portion of the film? What did you do to bring yourselves to that level?
I had someone that actually came up to me who saw the movie and was very shaken and said, “Was that acting?” And the reality is that’s your job. It’s to enter into the moment and to jump in and not kind of halfway do it. Just fully commit to it. And that’s what you do as an actor. Rob Lowe’s been sober for 20 years. We were all stone cold sober shooting it. Yet it’s your job to portray a certain level of being medicated while shooting. And then to track it and be that way during most of the movie was a challenge. But that’s what kind of made it interesting, one of the many things.
Did Mark have you guys meet up and bond prior to shooting or did you just meet everybody on the first day?
We definitely met and bonded and we all got along. It was really great casting. The chemistry was kind of perfect for us. I had never really met any of them and yet I feel like I’ve known them forever. [Also] everyone was kind of hungry at this point in their careers for various reasons. And we all wanted to do it for the love of the game because we really loved the script. So we were all in it for the same reasons.
Have you guys remained close since wrapping? Have you formed a brotherhood of sorts like in the movie?
Yeah definitely. We’re all still friends to this day. It’s like we’ve been through it. We’ve been through the wars together.
On another note, do you think women will gravitate towards a film like this? It seems pretty male-centric given the premise though it doesn’t really portray men in a positive light.
We don’t show them in a positive light but it’s a very real light. And it’s revealing in terms of how men are incapable of relating to each other at times and how they ultimately do [relate] – and what they’re really thinking and what’s going on. I think in that way it’ll be fascinating for them to see it. I did “The View” the other day and the women just couldn’t stop talking about it. They were blown away. I think it’s going to raise a lot of questions and that’s the great thing.
What was their response?
They were blown away by it. They loved it. They wanted to know, “Do men really behave like that?” and “Is this the way they think?” and let’s talk about this and let’s get into that. My character has a similar story arc to Bernie Madoff so that is existing as we speak. So this is not far fetched stuff.
It’s kind of funny to note that this is kind of an all-guys affair like “Entourage,” but is this just happenstance or are you drawn more to this kind of fare?
I’m just drawn to whatever speaks to me. And in a way this character and this piece is the antithesis of “Entourage.” Because there’s nothing Hollywood about the story, the arc, the way it ends, the way we shot it. It’s bare bones. Everyone [was] doing it for the love of the game. It was a complete departure from that. And that wasn’t premeditated. I just gravitated towards it and read it and loved it.