Ron Eldard has had many great performances but his most memorable role was John Reilly in the film “Sleepers”. His latest role is starring in the film “Roadie”, which was written and directed by brothers Michael and Gerald Cuesta. Last spring Ron, Michael and Gerald stopped by to talk about the film with Ron Bennington, just after its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film has been released recently, and is getting great reviews. Excerpts of the interview appear below.
Ron Bennington: How you guys doing? Congratulations.
Michael Cuesta: Thank you.
Ron Bennington: Here’s the way I saw the film right off the bat. This is the metaphor for what I think everybody of that age group is going through. Whether or not, you followed your dream or took the conservative job, everyone’s going to move back in with their mom. (guests laughs) So tell me a little bit about this film. What brought it all together?
Michael Cuesta: Gerald wrote a draft of the story about five, six years ago that was about a roadie that gets fired from a fictional hair band and returns to the town he grew up in. It becomes about him trying to get his life together by putting his own band together and he meets this young girl. I had finished a film about two years ago that, to be honest, I had a horrible experience on and it wasn’t a personal film. It was my third film. And I wanted to really just make another film. And Gerald and I talked about this script, this draft he wrote and I read one scene in the draft that I thought was the movie– which was him and his mother, and this one scene between them. Him going into the room that he grew up in. And I thought, I want to expand on that and make it about the first 24 hours home and make it more of a homecoming movie and more about him sort of starting his life over. On that first day home or the first day of the rest of his life kind of tale.
Gerald Cuesta: Yeah so when he called me, I was very happy to get the call, I was like freezing my balls off in Chicago. I had just moved there. So it was great, oh great, we’re going to get to do something together again.
Ron Bennington: It was interesting too that Queens is New York City, but it still had the same returning to a small town problem, right? I mean he’s still gonna see the old guys from the neighborhood and it’s still that..alright, let’s measure our life against each other right now. Isn’t that the worst possible thing you can do is go home?
Ron Eldard: And we shot this movie where I lived. I lived all around Queens. But we literally shot in places, that are within ten minutes walking from where I lived. And so, in doing the movie I had that feeling. I had that feeling over and over and over.
Michael Cuesta: Yeah and you mine all the stuff that you remember. I went to a funeral, a friend of mine I grew up with in Dix Hills, Long Island about six years ago, and there was a guy at the wake, not the wake, the Shiva, that I hadn’t seen since high school. And the first thing he said to me when I saw him, he looked at me and he goes “Hey Cuesta, what’s with that director shit you’re doing?” (guests laugh)
Ron Bennington: Right, right. Yeah, everyone will take whatever you’re doing as an insult to their life. (guests laugh)
Ron Eldard: Yes. And being in this business also, I go back, I lived all over but when I was in high school and junior high, I was in Ridgewood, Queens which is actually Brooklyn and Queens. But I worked at a place called Chicken Galore, you know “Cook No More, Call Chicken Galore”. And there’s dudes that still work there when I would go back who I was in junior high with. And lovely guys, really great. And they’re all very supportive. They come see my plays. But they speak to me the same way like everything’s happened. Like they’ll say,(New York accent) “Did you see The Godfather? It was great. You should have gotten a part in that. Why didn’t you do a part in that? Why didn’t you do that?” Or they’ll speak to you, I had a guy bring up an incident that happened in 8th grade as if it was yesterday. He got the part of Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” and I didn’t get any part and he was like “Hey hey, I was Tevye, right? You didn’t get that fucking part.” I was like “Dude, are you fucking kidding me?” Yeah, you were a great Tevye.
Ron Bennington: Well, I’m going to say this to you Ron, I watch a lot of films and very rarely do you see the perfect coke face that you perform in this. (Eldard laughs) And I’m talking about when your face turns into a fist. (guests laugh) And I’m looking over, I don’t know they had to do to prepare to this, but I’ve sat across the table from that fucking guy before.
Ron Eldard: I gotta tell you we felt that. First of all, the set is a hotel out near Whitestone, the Whitestone Bridge, and it is a hotel where while we were shooting there’s people coming in for 45 minute stays over and over and over. And you could hear people banging down the hall. While you guys were setting up, I would roam the hotel, the motel, and you’d hear some crazy shit. There was one, at the very far end of it, there’s one room that you go “Oh I get it. This is where people go because they can do weird shit because no one’s listening”, but I just stood by the door. I was fascinated. And that place, you felt sweaty. You felt cokey, the way they shot it. That absolutely, one of my agents, after he saw it, he was like, the first thing he said was like “Wow, I’m not doing that shit anymore man”. (guests laugh) He said “I’m not doing that shit anymore. That made me really, is that what I look like?” (guests laugh) I was like “yeah”.
Michael Cuesta: You were crammed in that room for two days. A room about the size of this room right here for two days. Covered in mirrors, so it was all about avoiding the mirrors too.
Ron Eldard: At one point, you were in the tub, weren’t you? You were in the tub shooting.
Ron Bennington: Why this music? Why was it Blue Oyster Cult that he was a roadie for?
Ron Eldard: Because these two guys, I say this lovingly, like Blue Oyster Cult. I saw them in concert. I mean how can you not like more cowbell? But these two guys are genuine, in the most beautiful way, you guys are BOC geeks to the tenth degree. They love this band. And you see, they treat them with great reverence and doing that, I think the whole movie’s this way, is by being so honest. You guys are really honest how you wrote this. That I think they didn’t even realize that they were writing this coming of middle age movie. I think this movie is really way bigger than that. I think you can be a teenager, 20, 40, 80 and people who’ve seen it, I think because it’s treated that way, I think if you’re just alive. If you’ve had a mother or a father, a dream, want to have a dream. And they do it so beautifully through BOC.
Gerald Cuesta: They were eclectic. They were always very eclectic. They never had a, what we did like about them was that they didn’t have a face. You know like Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, that’s the face of Aerosmith. KISS, obviously, you know the face of the band. What was Blue Oyster Cult? They were just fucking odd. In a way. And their music felt eclectic to us. There’s a scene where Ron gives this great soliloquy about, pretty much it’s like, were they swing? Were they pop? And all that.
Ron Eldard: In the movie, we actually, they let us, BOC was playing in Long Island and they let me come in as the roadie and help load in a show. I’m with the real head roadie with them. That’s us loading in their show in Long Island. It was very cool.
Ron Bennington: The funny thing is that was like a dream job. When you were a kid, you were thinking “If I could be a roadie..”. Chicks. On the road.
Ron Eldard: I got to hold the cowbell.
Ron Bennington: Oh you did?
Ron Eldard: He was like (whispers) “Here. This is the cowbell.”
Ron Bennington: Thee cowbell.
Ron Eldard: He says “He gets to play it”. He said sometimes, in concert “I’m the one playing it”. That’s fucking cool, man.
Ron Bennington: The funny thing though, and I mentioned this as you guys came in, I feel like everybody in the country is that close to being back with their mom now. You know what I mean? Whatever portfolio you ever had, whatever you thought was the equity in your house, all that shit that we worked so hard for and we thought about and got in bad conversations, now anyone who stumbles and you’re like “What the fuck do I do?”It doesn’t matter whether you followed your dreams or didn’t follow your dreams, you’re in the same exact position in this country. It’s astonishing.
Ron Eldard: I think that’s the first time I’ve heard someone say this who we’ve talked to about the movie. You’re dead on. I really think that you’re right. Many many people, not just working class people, many people are one breath away or are actually going back, I know people who are going back.
Ron Bennington: Yeah, so do I. And they normally have to do it under that thing of “You know, I’m worried about my mom” You know what I mean?
Ron Eldard: That’s right. That’s what my friend said.
Ron Bennington: So that’s what’s great with your character because he’s never honest.
Ron Eldard: Until the end. I think that another beautiful thing about the movie, is that without being preachy..I mean I just love this script. I love this movie. You know I have to sell stuff. I have to sell, that’s my job. But I’m not someone who can bullshit that way. I’d mostly just be quiet. I’ll show up and I’ll be quiet. I’m not gonna tell someone to go spend their money on something I don’t think is good. This one. This movie just really, if I wasn’t in this movie, I would want to see this movie and for these reasons you’re talking about. It really touches a lot of areas. It’s so honest and yet it’s still funny and sad. And it’s hard to be alive, man.
Ron Bennington: Yeah, it is.
Ron Eldard: It’s hard to be honest period. Life is a fucking struggle for everyone. And everyone compares their insides with other people’s outsides. And frankly, everyone is just trying to thread water. And I know people who are, as you do I’m sure, you meet them all the time, people who are successes and like big successes. It doesn’t take very long to hang around a human being to go, if you’re open, to go “Oh I get it. You’re just a dude, man.” You got a lot of money or you got this, but you’re a dude. I see. You’re struggling just like everybody else. And I think here again, often working class people, most often, are written down. They’re dumbed down. They’re written down to. People don’t give them dignity. And I’m from poor working class. I grew up, that’s how I grew up. And I’m offended by that sort of thing. And you guys, Gerald and Michael wrote something that has dignity. That has humanity and yet still isn’t precious. It’s like, you know these people are fucked man. And they’re also beautiful. And everyone’s got a dream and everyone’s struggling. This thing that people are almost ready to pack it in, I didn’t think about that, but you’re dead on.
Ron Bennington: And again, I think it doesn’t matter what choice we made. I remember seeing “Rocky” as a kid and I’m like “Yeah, that will feel great if you just take your shot.” No. Not always. Sometimes it’s hard. I took my shot and I didn’t get it. Or I had it for a while and couldn’t hold on to it. And it goes back to what you said. It’s not easy. I don’t know why we tell kids that it is.
Ron Eldard: Well in the end, there’s really nothing to hold on to. I mean in the end, that’s not how the world works. There is nothing really ever to hold on to. And you spend a whole life grabbing and having things slip through and grabbing something else and grabbing something else. And I love that this one does that, but just by moving people. The movie is almost in real-time. Just by moving people from place to place to place to place, honestly. And also, I think there’s beautiful performances in this and you wrote something really that I would want to see. So it’s entertaining, but in just the simplicity of step by step by step, you go “Oh wow. There’s nothing solid in this world”. (laughs)
Michael Cuesta: Also for us, when we were doing it, it was also Gerald and I had the conversation a lot about finding the dignity in what you do and where you are. And being good at that. I think that’s something that’s been lost too, is craftsmanship. Being good at, you know being the best roadie you can be. And Ron says it in the beginning of the film, he says “I’m the best roadie you ever had, dude.” And you know he is. And he’s great at that, but we get caught up in trying to be how people perceive us. Rather than just being yourself. And that was something we kept mining in our own lives and our own careers obviously. And everyone can relate to that.
Ron Bennington: But that is a really great point because that used to be like somebody who did shoe repair would feel like I’m part of this community. I belong here. And I’m giving back.
Ron Eldard: To other people. That’s right.
Ron Bennington: Well the other thing is, you have to be entertaining in this country. (guests laugh) Like if a scientist does this show, right? He also better be funny or else I’m going to get rid of him. (guests laugh) He just explained ten fucking dimensions to you people, but he umms and uhhs so you’re like he blows.
Michael Cuesta: I had a conversation at the dinner right before the premiere. There was a couple there and the guy’s daughter is in film school and he kept saying “Well she wants to be a cameraman, I want her to be a director. The cameraman’s not the job. She has to be a director.” (guests laugh) And I kept telling him a cameraman’s a good job. “But she’s gonna end up in some cherry picker and be up there all night and she’s not telling people what to do.” And I’m like there’s nothing wrong with that and it’s a great craft and maybe from there she can build a foundation and become a director. So anyway, it was very much in the spirit of what we were talking about, about the unsung hero, the people behind the scenes like Ron’s character.
Gerald Cuesta: There’s a scene in the movie that’s one of my favorite scenes and it’s one of the simplest things which is him restringing Jill Hennessy’s guitar. Because then you see in that moment and the way he cuts the string that this guy was good. Like there is craft there. And it’s the first time you see him doing it. And I always found it so touching, especially since he’s doing it for her considering the backstory between them.
Ron Eldard: You know what? As an actor thing, I’m really glad you said that because that to me was also a really important moment.
Ron Bennington: I love that scene too.
Ron Eldard: First of all, he’s high as a kite. He’s sweaty and coked up, but he could do that in his sleep. And he does it elegantly.
Ron Bennington: And it feels good.
Ron Eldard: And it’s right. Exactly right. This is what he does. It’s sacred. Stringing the guitar, making it right, tuning it, that is not just for anyone. He’s busted his ass. He’s put a life into that. And he can do it. And great guitarists, one of the great guitarists hands him his guitar that someone would pay a hundred grand for, because he trusts him and in his sleep he would handle that. And do it that way. Like a baby. Oh I’m so glad you said that Gerald because that is to me is a beautiful moment, in the middle of all that shit.
Michael Cuesta: And we play it out in real-time. In terms of filmmaking like that we to just observe that moment because that was your roadie moment. It’s the only real roadie moment in the film.
Ron Bennington: So when you take a film like this and you know it’s the exact opposite of what Hollywood is doing now. (guests laugh) You’re not going to have some Burger King tie in and all that kind of stuff. You’re proud of it. Now how do you guys go about rolling this thing out and getting seen by people?
Michael Cuesta: Well we have premieres here at the festival and a distributor buys it and then gives it a big release. That’s usually the plan. I think the film, all my films have come out so I would think it’ll be the fourth one to come out. Funny enough, I think it’s the most commercial movie I’ve made.
Ron Eldard: Little gems like this slip in all the time. And I think and again I wouldn’t say this, I just wouldn’t bullshit. I think this is a beautiful film. And it’s funny. And it’s touching. And people of a wide range are really responding to this in a beautiful way. And I’m a fan of your movies, but I think this one has a chance to be heard. And to be seen and not just in two art houses which that’s fine too. I go to those movies. I think this one has a shot and even as I speak to more people, like you’ve brought up things today that I was like “Oh wow”. I hadn’t seen that. And I thought I was really clever. (guests laugh) I think this one has such a big heart.
Ron Bennington: I think that we’re still looking for that human connection and the fact that you identify, at least I did with more than just your character. When I saw the way your mother in the film had kept your room. I kind of said yeah, I know what it feels like to be on that other side of can’t we slow time down.
Ron Eldard: Oh, that’s a nice way to say that. Can we slow time down? Yeah.
Ron Bennington: For your Ron, what is the scene that most people bring up to you out of your whole life?
Ron Eldard: Well you know it depends on where I am in the country. I’ve done television, theatre and movies. So it really depends on where they know me from. People who know you from TV, they’ve watched you in their underwear. So if someone’s a big TV person, they still remember “ER” or they’ll bring that up. Movie-wise, there’s one scene particularly in the movie “Sleepers”.
Ron Bennington: The revenge scene.
Ron Eldard: Yeah and I gotta tell you, that struck a chord in people, of many different varieties of people. They’ll come up, but I look different in that. And I look different from thing to thing. But that, often they will, “Sleepers” is one they jump up there. It’s usually these bigger movies. It depends on where in the country, but certainly “Sleepers” they do. “Black Hawk Down”.
Ron Bennington: The revenge scene in “Sleepers”, I’ve been in so many discussions with people over the years of loving that scene. I think it’s one of the finest scenes ever.
Ron Eldard: That’s very kind. I think that that scene, I think that’s a run like the coke run in this movie which I think is gonna have real legs.
Ron Bennington: I agree.
Ron Eldard: That coke run is something real special guys. You did something really special there. But that run in “Sleepers”, Barry Levinson, he treated that, it opens the second half of the film, and he treated it like a little movie. And I’ll tell you something, if you have a moment?
Ron Bennington: Yeah, I got plenty of time.
Ron Eldard: So when we were going to do that movie, Barry Levinson, there’s a lot of big stars in that movie. You know, it’s got Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Brad Pitt, blah, blah, blah. So when I met him, I was going to be one of two. Either the part I played or the part Billy Crudup played. But I said “I want to play John”. I want my part. He said “Well, it depends on the kid”. We got to get a kid that matches you. But then he gave me that part and we met about two months before shooting to talk about it. And he was trying to explain to me how he wanted it to go and we weren’t quite figuring it out and he said to me “Tell you what, I’m gonna play you some music. There’s a piece of music I’m gonna play. It’s the music that’s going to be in the movie. Let me just play and see what it does”. He started to play it in his office. 30 seconds in, I said “We don’t need to talk anymore. I get it, bro.” Bring that music though the day of the shoot. Will you bring it for me? Because there’s a part in that scene where I walk to the bathroom and I just look in the bathroom mirror before I go out and we kill him. And just by the music, it set up that whole run for me. And then two months later, we never talked about it. And the day that we go to shoot that, he’s got five speakers, he’s got the music and it’s playing for me while I’m doing it and it set everything. But that run, he treated like, and he treated it just so beautifully and he allowed us to really find our way. And Kevin Bacon is just great in that. And it is a great murder, man. That is a beautiful, that’s a short story in itself.
Ron Bennington: It’s up there with the “True Romance”. The scene, you know?
Ron Eldard: With Gandolfini? Oof.
Ron Bennington: Yeah. On the same level as that. But for you, what I love about that scene too is right as you recognize him, you get the little kid face.
Ron Eldard: Yeah, he scared the shit out of me.
Ron Bennington: So here’s the toughest guy in the world, but that fear, that little kid fear is still inside.
Ron Eldard: Thank you so much. I love that. Two years ago I did, a year and a half, two years ago, I did an episode of “Law & Order”. And the driver picks me up. And we’re driving out to Jersey and he’s looking at me a certain way and I don’t know quite what it is. And finally, he says “You were in ‘Sleepers’ right?” I said “Yeah”. He says “You know, that was my brother you played”. Four of the drivers, union guys, on “Law & Order” are from that gang. They’re Westies. And I can say it. Everyone knows these are great guys. They’re not bad guys anymore. But they were right in it. He gave me the best compliment. He actually gave me a hug and said “You did it right, man. You did it right”. And my dad used to hang around those guys. My real dad used to hang around those guys. But the real guys were like, and I met all of them. The real guys were like “What do you think? That fucking writer, that was bullshit. He was not in the neighborhood, you know. That mother fucker made that shit up ’cause we didn’t know him. But you did it right.” I was like “Thanks man”. (guests laugh) “Don’t shoot me”. (guests laugh)
Ron Bennington: “Roadie” is the film. Just debuted at Tribeca. It’s so great having you guys come in here, man.
Ron Eldard: Oh thank you for having us.
Michael Cuesta: Thank you Ron for having us, so much.
Ron Bennington: I hope people will find this film, seek it out and I’ll make sure that when you guys go rolling out, I keep plugging it on the air.
Ron Eldard: Oh thank you brother.
This interview can be heard in its entirety exclusively on SiriusXM satellite radio. Not yet a subscriber? Click here for a free trial subscription.
For more information on Roadie, including the trailer and how to see the film, click here for the film’s official website.