An Interview with Jason Dohring, by Sarah Brinks
It’s the age-old story of an under achiever who goes to his ten year high school reunion looking for validation and forgiveness which turns into a small-town murder mystery filled with old girlfriends, theater plays come to life, guns, tax fraud, and a man from the future. Ok, maybe it isn’t an age-old tale but it is the basic plot of Searching for Sonny, a hilarious comedy from first time feature director Andrew Disney.
The old adage “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” applies perfectly to Searching for Sonny. There aren’t a lot of new ideas in Searching for Sonny but it is still a very successful and entertaining comedy. Several movies came to mind while watching Searching for Sonny. Similar to The Lady Vanishes and The Big Lebowski’s plot lines, a character goes missing and a variety of things happen that make you question everything you’ve seen and heard. The Brothers Bloom shares the use of a narrator and the ‘long-con/grifter’ plot elements. Brick immediately came to mind as they are both freshman efforts by up and coming directors (Brick was directed by Rian Johnson), they both have a clear vision and direction, and they both center around a mystery.
Andrew Disney’s first feature shows a lot of promise for his future career. The film has a great look to it with a lot of clever editing, which helps the viewer keep up with the complicated plot. Cinematographer Jeffery Waldron and Editor Sam Parnell must have been essential in giving the film its distinct look and pace. The film is a successful comedy for a multitude of reasons: the pace is fast, you don’t have a second act lull that some comedies suffer from, the editing is crisp and moves the plot forward, and the actors know how to handle the jokes and their deliveries help them land.
Disney made his job a lot easier with smart casting. Nick Kocher (Calvin Knight) and Brian McElhaney (Gary Noble) both have a sketch-comedy background and have worked together for years. They skillfully handle both the subtle humor and the broad jokes. Jason Dohring (Elliot Knight) plays the straight man and provides a strong anchor for the film. Dohring probably has the most difficult role as the straight man. He does get some solid comedic moments (look for his straight-armed run around the three-minute mark), but he successfully keeps it the most real. Minka Kelly (Eden Mercer) is the femme fatale; she does a nice job of being alluring but also staying true to her character’s small-town-trophy-wife roots. All the actors do a nice job of playing up to the hyper-reality in which the film takes place but they don’t go so big that it takes you out of the movie.
I had the good fortune to be able to speak with the star of the film, Jason Dohring. Dohring will be a familiar face to many from his various television roles such as Logan Echolls (Veronica Mars), Josef Kostan (Moonlight) and Mr. Carpenter (Ringer). We talked about Searching for Sonny, his career, and movies.
What made you want to do Searching for Sonny?
I knew right from the beginning. I read the script and was laughing out loud. I totally saw the way it was going to be shot. The editing was almost directly in the script, like I could see exactly the cuts and it really made sense to me. I saw the humor and the quippy dialogue and the smash cuts, it was all there in the script when I first read it and I knew that this guy (Disney) had a real sense of what he was going for.
Did you have any input in the creating of your character Elliot Knight?
Obviously it is collaborative to the degree that the actor brings his own ideas to it. But Andrew was very giving in what he allowed you to do with it. He was very free with allowing us to do whatever we wanted. If you have time for a little aside, I thought this was kind of a cool thing he would do as a director… was he’d let us do a scene as normal and once he had everything he wanted he gave us a “freebie”. He’d say, “It’s a freebie, do what you want. You can do it the same, you can do it differently, you can do it on your head… whatever you want, it’s yours”. That was so cool, it would unlock you, particularly in the great comic moments in the movie. In one “freebie” Andrew gave to Nick Kocher, who plays my brother (Calvin), it was so funny I could not pull it together. It was so funny what he came up with.
In a lot of your past roles you play the “bad-boy trouble-maker”, I’m thinking specifically of Logan Echols (Veronica Mars), Josef (Moonlight) and Mr. Carpenter (Ringer). Elliot isn’t really like that. Are you intentionally making a move away from that image?
Not necessarily. I don’t really know why Andrew gave me the role unseen, because I didn’t know if he knew I could do this. I guess I played earlier in my career the kind of nerd-nice guy and I switched to where I was doing more things, like you said, that were more dramatic. But it was really fun to do a comedy and work with Nick (Calvin) & Brian (Gary) because they have a sketch comedy background so it was cool to be a part of that and then to keep the whole film grounded. As an audience member you want to be in the movie, not just looking at the movie. Hopefully the audience will like that.
In the past 5+ years you have primarily worked in TV. Are you making a move to film? Is that where you want focus your career?
Yeah I think so. I’m up for a couple things. I think I will tend to do more movies but TV is so good these days that it’s almost like in a season you can do a 22-hour film. You look at shows like Game of Thrones which I’m a big fan of and it’s like a huge, long movie and you can’t wait to see the next episode and that’s what’s available for actors on TV today.
Searching for Sonny starts at a ten-year reunion. Did you go to your high school reunion and was it what you expected?
I haven’t been to mine necessarily because my school was so small I think it would just be me and three dudes. But I went to my wife’s and I knew some people from that school and it was awesome. You just catch right back up with old friends. Our film has that mystery twist and the reunion is the catalyst for pushing us all on this fun ride as we find out our friend (Sonny) is missing.
I have to ask a Veronica Mars question. What is your favorite episode or specific scene of Veronica Mars that just pops out in your mind when you think back?
Well, I’m a big fan of the first season we did. It was funny, I guess, with the exception of Kristen Bell, who had done a couple films before and TV on Deadwood, we were all sort of up and coming. It was like we had our own show and they let us shoot in San Diego so we thought no one was even watching the thing. We just had no idea. So we were all down there doing our best acting and really bringing everything we had to it. The dynamic was something I had never experienced before as an actor and sharing it with that group of people… I’m still friends with almost every one of them. We see each other at least every year. So the overall experience with that tight-knit group especially for that first season was sort of the time that I really enjoyed not only as an actor but also a part of my life with these guys.
Battleship Pretension is a movie site and podcast so I have to ask if you have a “desert island” movie.
If I could take a TV show I would probably take Man vs. Wild. That would be smart. I guess as a movie… I want to give you a good answer. I’m trying to think what I wouldn’t get tired of. I’m going to say Dirty Dancing. I can’t think of another one right now, so that’s what I’ll go with.
What made you want to be an actor?
You know, I didn’t actually want to be an actor. I didn’t not want to be an actor, but I had identical sets of twin brothers and twin sisters who were both younger than me and my mom worked in the same building as an agency and the agent heard we had twins. He said to bring them in because they can always use twins a lot when they are younger due to work regulations. They like to use them to play the same part. I was sort of the tag-along of the bunch as the only one who wasn’t a twin and I’m the only actor in the family now so I guess that was sort of karma or whatever. I’ve got to thank my mom for getting me involved but along the way I certainly developed a love of acting and it has kept me going. I found the creative side of acting which I didn’t necessarily have as a kid doing commercials and whatnot, but that has certainly been a joy to experience and to still have around to this day.
It seems that fate wanted Dohring to be an actor. I can easily recommend Searching for Sonny. It is very funny and well plotted. I think Andrew Disney is a name to keep an eye out for and I am eager to see what he does in the future. Searching for Sonny will be available on VOD, DVD and Blu-Ray on August 28th and will simultaneously be in theaters via TUGG same day and date.
There will be live screenings with some of the cast present:
August 28, 2012 screenings:
Los Angeles: 7:30pm at Laemmle Monica 4-Plex
Cast Attending: Jason Dohring, Brian McElhaney, Nick Kocher
For Tickets: http://bit.ly/SonnyLAParty
New York: 7:30pm at Landmark Sunshine Cinemas
Cast Attending: Producer Greg Beauchamp, writer/director Andrew Disney
For Tickets: http://bit.ly/SonnyN
Nashville – September 6, 2012
Atlanta – September 12, 2012
Chicago – September 18, 2012
Phoenix – September 19, 2012
For Tickets: http://www.tugg.com/titles/searching-for-sonny
Such a great interview! Can’t wait to see this, if only to see the straight-arm running. I’m a huge sucker for that and who doesn’t love a good mystery?
Great interview! Solid questions and it sounds like you guys hit it off. The movie sounds like a hoot and definitely worth seeing. Thanks!
It’s always interesting to hear from Jason Dohring! I’ve seen this movie, and it’s a great, quirky comedy with a lot of “laugh out loud” moments. The ensemble cast meshes very well, and Dohring provides a great “everyman” center to the film. It would be impossible not to like his character–he’s just that earnest young man who wants to accomplish great things, and hasn’t yet figured out how.
Loved this review! I am definitely going out to see this movie. Thanks!