08th Jun2018

Interview: Actor/writer/director Harley Wallen – Part 1

by Philip Rogers

Harley Wallen is an extremely versatile actor-writer- director who is looking to make a big impact in 2018 with several projects which he is releasing through his production company Painted Creek Productions. I got a chance to talk with Harley about some of his exciting new projects including Moving Parts, Bennett’s Song, Into a Dark Mind, Artificial Loyalty and Agramon’s Gate.

harley-wallen

How did you first get involved in film?

Originally in Sweden I was involved in martial arts, music and dance. The music and dance eventually led to a part in a tv show called Solstollarna (1987). It was a really cool cabaret show and we had fantastic guests; Samantha Fox was out there and some other pretty big musical acts at the time. Instead of bringing in actors for some of the smaller pieces, they had us dancers do some of acting and I really got bit by the acting bug at that time. I did some independent film work and some music videos in Sweden, but then I wanted a bigger audience and a bigger market. I ended up getting really lucky and I won the American visa lottery and that gave me an opportunity to move here and continue perusing it.

So that was your first acting role?

Yeah, my first true acting role was Solstollarna and then I had a youth against violence movie in Sweden as well. When I first moved here I ended up doing some commercials and a few independent films, very artsy, black and white, and one of them was a silent film. It was very interesting stuff and for some reason I get to play a lot of villains. I have to admit I love to play the villain I really do. It’s hard for me to play the good guy because its too close to me and I really enjoy venturing into something which is very unlike me. I find a weird happy place there, I can’t figure it out and I have kind of given up trying.

I speak to a lot of actors that say that. Playing a bad guy, the opposite to what they are is more challenge themselves and play something different to what they normally are?

For instance, in Bennett’s Song I play Cole Bennett, a guy who has five kids. Well I have a big family, so the lines get blurred between me and Cole. In Artificial Loyalty I play a Russian mobster and the lines don’t get blurred. I know exactly who Mikhail is, and I know exactly who Harley is. But with Cole and Harley the lines get blurred sometimes. That what I like about playing the villain, its very unlike me.

You mentioned Bennett’s Song there which is your new comedy drama, what originally attracted you to that film?

My partner wrote the script and the it is absolutely fantastic. It’s a really current story about what it feels like to look and be different. To have a different family, different circumstances and still finds ways to be relatable. It is just about the difficulties to be a family now period. I was so scared, I have done thrillers, action and that style of film, then here comes this family-romance-comedy. I am like oh my god, how am I going to direct this thing? We are going to have over 20 children in this movie, I was just like really afraid and I really wanted to go to Nancy and go you are going to have to find somebody else. But every single time I felt that way I was worried that whoever was going to direct the film would not give it justice, they would make a cheesy kids film. They wouldn’t really cater to the entire audience. This is the type of film that I think a lot of mums are gonna grab and watch it with the family night type of movie. They are gonna sit on the couch and the dad is probably not going to be that interested, but by the end he is going to say, “You know what honey, that was a damn good movie”. It is just that type of movie it has a humongous audience.

We had a friends and family local screening for this film and we sold out over a thousand tickets for this thing, it was unbelievable. We have had three or four of the biggest premiers in the city and this one just blew everything away. We couldn’t get enough theatres, we couldn’t get enough anything. We had people on the way out saying if you are making a sequel for this I want to invest. Usually you have to go chase down investors, but people were just blown away by it. It has a really different film from what we normally do, where we are making a thriller, an action movie or a psychological thriller like Into a Dark Mind. There people walk out, and they are like Wow! They can’t believe what they just saw. But Bennett’s Song even now we have already had two festivals nominate us. We won Best Romance in Amsterdam and Best Feature Film in Berlin already, it has started right out of the gate. This film is brand new onto the festival circuit and is already winning, it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens. We originally took aim at some really big festivals which are Oscar qualifying, but when you do those festivals you essentially have to give up your distribution, because you need to have an unreleased film. So, we kicked around the idea, we entered into some of those festivals and then we made a decision to release the film. Because we want to release it before the summers over so families can sit down and watch the movie. Vision (Films) will have it out there in August this year, so it will be available everywhere. We are looking at some cable stations, especially for a film like this we are looking at Lifetime, Hallmark and some other channels out there that I think would be a fantastic fit. We’ll see what happens but that is the plan.

You mentioned there that you had over 20 kids in the film and actress Tara Reid, what was it like on the set making the film?

It was the most complicated directing job I’ve ever have done for sure, but we took out time. Our casting was really selective, they had to jump through hoops three times to be a part of the cast. We had two table reads, two rehearsals, so by the time we came to the set we had the absolute best kids. We really got them to understand and coached them through the acting and growth pains. We took a lot of time to get through production and it was absolutely worth it.

As for the cast with Tara Reid and Dennis Haskins from Saved by the Bell (1989-1982), they were super easy to work with. I have worked with Dennis now three times and I guarantee I will bring him back again. Tara was very easy to work with, I wasn’t sure how thrilled she was to be the villain, but she was a good sport and she delivered what we wanted from the character. I could see her getting some nice notes in the media circles for her job, she was really solid.

As well as directing the film you are also play one of the leads Cole Bennet. Were you always planning to both direct and act in the film?

No actually. Nancy my business partner wrote that role for me, so she had me in mind all along, but it was the biggest role that I directed along side acting. I was in over 30 scenes which made it a different challenge for me, but I have such an established team behind the camera for me now that allows me to direct through the rehearsals and my crew really follows direction incredibly well. I would have been really scared to take on that big of a role without having such an established team behind the camera. It was a challenge I am not going to lie. The biggest challenge for me was not the amount of scenes, it was playing a role so similar to myself. To draw the line between Cole Bennett and Harley Wallen when both have so many similarities. She kind of wrote the role a little bit based on my life, so a lot of my personal the traits were in Cole, which she didn’t realise from an acting perspective can make it more challenging. Her daughter Calhoun Koenig is also one of the leads and she wrote a role also for her that had some strong similarities. We both talked about the challenge of playing somebody who is a lot like you, but not you. It’s been almost like going to a psychiatrist for a couple of months because you get to make decisions as somebody else who is incredibly like yourself. So, you almost get to second guess some of the things which you have done in your life. That was really interesting, and I loved it. And we are making a sequel this Christmas, so a sequel is being made this year.

And do you have a completed script for the sequel?

We are probably half way through the first draft. I am excited to see where we are taking this story. I can’t reveal it now, but the story leaves us at the touch of a cliff-hanger and we are continuing that in the second story. It is going to be really interesting to see. I said to Nancy, don’t tell me too much about what you are writing just yet. We just finished shooting the horror film Agramon’s Gate and we are right now in pre-production for Abeyance which is a sci-fi action thriller that we are shooting next summer. One of my tricks is I can compartmentalize my brain and I can only have one story in my head at one time, so I said, “Nancy, just go with it, I trust you, you wrote a great script the first time just go”. The only thing she said was “I have some really fun stuff that’s going to happen to your character” and I just said, “Oh my god!” we will see what that means. I just said, you can’t add any more kids, we had 20 or so in the first one, we can’t be adding kids, that was the promise she had to give me.

Was it always planned for your to do a sequel or has this come from the feedback which you received?

It’s from the feedback and from how many people have loved the message. Nancy wrote the story with a deaf girl and we took a big chance. Instead of casting somebody playing deaf we cast a deaf girl, so we had to have an interpreter on set. She plays my daughter, so we had a fair amount of scenes and we added some layers of difficulties with this, but it is such a beautiful story people just cant get enough.

You have another film coming out, a thriller called Into A Dark Mind which you mentioned…

Yes, Into A Dark Mind is making its way through the festival circuit and it stars Tom Sizemore and Dennis Haskins. If you like psychological thrillers, this movie is going to be something special. First off, we didn’t have enough money in the budget to have a big name like Tom Sizemore. I ended up talking to one of his social media handlers, he then got hold of a script and after that we started emailing back and forth. Because he fell in love with the script and with the character. The character he fell in love with, we had no intensions of bringing in from out of town because he was in too many scenes and to many locations. So, I knew that to even shoot that from somebody out of town would be virtually impossible. He made some real concessions to be a part of it because of how much he loved the role. We flew him in and first of all that guy is incredibly talented and he is a work horse. It’s special to watch someone like that to prepare and step on screen because, whatever that ‘It factor’ is, it’s still there, he has still got it. If he loves the role he can still deliver Saving Private Ryan (1998) type of performance. Into A Dark Mind right now we have distributed to 26 festivals, something like that and right now we have 16 or 17 official selections with 8 wins. It’s absolutely amazing. I am heading to Vero Beach for the Vero Beach Wine and Film Festival which is hosted by a notable film critic with Oscar winning judges on the panel. They have invited me down there to stay at their beach house and to screen the film. People are just absolutely loving it. This film is probably going to be hitting the market in September of this year coming out right in time for the cold weather films to be hitting the horror and thriller time of the year. I think that one is going to shock a lot of people, it is a fantastic story and incredibly well acted. I am so happy with everyone’s performance and a lot of people took less because we didn’t quite have the budget to do what we did. So, a lot of people made concessions just to be apart and I think that shows through in the end result.
______

Come back on Monday for part two of this extensive interview. In the meantime you can keep up to date with Harley Wallen and Pained Creek Productions on social media:

Harley Wallen
Twitter: @HarleyTheSwede
Instagram: harleywallen

Painted Creek Productions
Twitter: @paintedcreekpro
Facebook: PaintedCreekProductions
Instagram: paintedcreekproductions

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