For newcomer Keith Poulson, acting has been more of a happy accident than a long torturous road of auditions, rejection and struggle. After “falling into” a couple of projects that his friends were working on, Poulson is now garnering a lot of attention for his work in Alex Ross Perry’s “Listen Up Philip” (out October 17) and Michael L. Bilandic’s “Hellaware” (currently playing in theaters), of which Poulson is the star. Both films ironically feature Poulson playing tortured, struggling “auteurs.” But, Poulson, who still works office jobs to make part of his living, doesn’t consider himself an artist — or even really an actor for that matter.
After finishing film school, Poulson started his career working in video stores in Texas and made a few good friends along the way and established a “nerd shorthand” as he calls it. His rapport with directors Perry, Bob Byington and Bilandic led to somewhat happenstance opportunities to act and star in some of their films. His transition to a leading actor is just starting to dawn on Poulson, who typically enjoys the freedoms of working on micro-indies.
For the most part, I’ve only ever worked on micro-budget films. They feel very comfortable for me and the easy thing for me is that it doesn’t feel like a huge amount of pressure from take to take because it just feels like friends hanging out and making a project together. The challenge for every movie, big or small, is not having enough money or time.
I am interested in working on projects to see what a big project is like and to see why it might be better to work on these small projects because of the freedom. I go out on auditions occasionally, not very regularly, for bigger things. It’s hard right now to make that mental transition into being able to picture myself in a big movie. I think that’s a weird concept. Everything I’ve done has been so organic.
I thought “Hellaware” was funny. The thing I like about Mike is that he uses the freedom of making a movie on your own. To me, this movie feels like something that could only come out of Mike. A lot of the movies that I like working on are when you watch the movie, even if it’s flawed, it’s flawed in a way that I know those people are flawed. I can specifically see a person who I know in my life being reflected in the script rather than them trying to be someone else.
What I loved about working on “Listen Up Philip” was that there was no divide between the actors. The actors that came into the project like Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss and Jonathan Price were just so good and inspiring, so I just hung out at set whenever I could because it was exciting to see that these homespun movies that we’ve been making for the last few years could turn into something that not only people would go see, but it was elevated.
There are a million people that I would want to work with. I’ve worked with a lot of people and I’ve learned something from everybody. I’m interested in working with people where I could enter the world that influenced me and got me interested in working in movies — the idea of working on something where it was a movie I would have grown up watching. I’m drawn toward that, but I don’t know if that could happen. I kind of blew my Woody Allen audition pretty hard.
If you met me in public, I would never introduce myself as an actor. I like acting but I definitely fell into it. Moving to New York and doing it more often and trying to get better at it has been the inspiring thing and realizing that I do enjoy doing it but also realizing what my strengths are.
One thing that I find admirable in my friends and other directors is their devotion to a concept, and their willingness to spend a couple of years of their life on an idea. I’m a little scatterbrained. So that’s what I’m trying to work on—committing to something. I’ve shot a short this past year that I’m editing and hopefully I’ll work on more long form stuff. I don’t live off of filmmaking or acting, so between working on friends’ projects and working 40 hours a week at non-film related jobs, hopefully I’ll figure out a way to balance it and I would like to make a feature in the next couple of years.
I wouldn’t call myself a tortured artist — I wouldn’t even consider myself an artist. I’m tortured but I don’t think that has anything to do with my art (laughs).
I don’t really know what’s next. I keep going on auditions and humiliating myself but I’m in a nice position of having to go through my head thinking about what is coming up. Having spent most of my 20’s with nothing to do, this is a better change of pace. Hopefully there will be more.