Below writer/director Michael Cuesta (“L.I.E.”) shares a scene from his rock drama “Roadie” starring Ron Eldard (“Super 8”), Bobby Cannavale (“Win Win”) and Jill Hennessy (TV’s “Crossing Jordan”). It hits select theaters this Friday, January 6.
What it’s about: For over 20 years, Jimmy Testagross has lived his childhood dream: being a Roadie for his childhood heroes, Blue Oyster Cult. But the band’s Arena-Rock glory days are a distant memory. County fairs and club gigs pay the bills. And Jimmy has become a casualty of these leaner times. With no place to go, no job prospects, and no real skills outside of being a Roadie, Jimmy needs to regroup. So he returns to his childhood home in Queens, NY. There, he revisits old relationships: his ailing, widower mom, a high school crush, a former nemesis and, most importantly, his relationship with himself. Jimmy, the middle-aged man-child, has never grown up. He still carries the resentments and frustrations of his youth, and has allowed them to fester and define who and what he is. Confronted with his mother’s illness, Jimmy has a choice: let go of the past and take responsibility for both himself and the woman who raised and now needs him. Or continue to live a life of lies and frustration.
Behind the scene: I chose this scene because when I was behind the camera operating from the corner of a claustrophobic 12 x 12 hotel room, I finally witnessed what the movie was about, and why I made it. The moment when Ron Eldard gets up to sing the song ‘See you in Black”, the song he’s lied about writing, you begin to fully understand the depth of his character. He captures the love he has for the music with visceral passion. He’s totally lost in the moment. And he’s not lying. He sings it, no holds barred, and he doesn’t care what people think of him.
When I was filming that scene, the room was very hot. The viewfinder on the camera completely fogged up. When Ron got up to sing the song I just went for broke and pointed the camera in his direction, hoping that it was framed properly. I was completely blown away. We didn’t rehearse that particular moment, so when he jumped up to sing it, his level of performance was a complete surprise. At that moment I knew we had a movie. From the beginning of pre production, after we wrote the last draft of the script, I knew the movie depended on the actors. If I cast it well, I’m in good shape. After casting Ron, Jill, Bobby, and Lois, I knew I had a stellar NY cast. I couldn’t go wrong. The movie had to be about their faces. It had to be about their eyes. It had to be about the little things an actor does with his or her face. The See You In Black scene epitomizes what an actor does with their character. How they can surprise you, inspire you, and teach you.
People laugh when I tell them I find the story of Roadie, uplifting. For me, when I was writing the script with my brother, Gerald Cuesta, I was set on making a more accessible, relatable movie compared to last my three films. I wanted to make a film about nostalgia, dreams of success, family, and the love of music. All things that can be depressing to some, but knowing what the Roadie goes through, is difficult, in the end, there’s light. There’s closure. For me, it’s a happy ending that comes with melancholy and ambiguity. I like my characters tortured and brooding and always searching for light in the dark.