‘STARRING AUSTIN PENDLETON’ filmmakers expose truths of character actors
Preston Barta // Editor
The best way to nail down the film industry is by comparing it to a sports team. Both businesses are fueled by those big-name stars that make millions and millions of dollars. Talents such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Will Smith drive revenues, get their faces on posters that dangle down from the sides of buildings and require police escorts as they move about the real world.
However, you can’t get that Super Bowl ring without a reliable and competent bench, and you can’t make an impressive feature without a few character actors who can be relied upon to steal scenes and go toe-to-toe with some of Hollywood’s A-listers.
Austin Pendleton is very much one of those guys.
Austin who, you ask? Well, maybe you don’t always recognize character actors’ names on a computer screen, but as soon as their picture shows up, you may go, “Yes, I’ve seen them in something before!”
Perhaps you remember the stuttering lawyer from MY COUSIN VINNY, or recognize the voice of the royal gramma fish named Gurgle in both FINDING NEMO and FINDING DORY.
Whatever the film or television show is, you’ve probably seen Pendleton in something that gave you a smile and a laugh worthy of cherishing.
The film is holding its regional premiere at the Oak Cliff Film Festival today as part of the documentary shorts category. It simply chronicles the career of Pendleton, but also focuses on the philosophical approach to the life of a character actor.
“[Pendleton] was kind of like this mythic teacher,” said Holmes. “You feel like you knew him upon first glance and and then you’d realize he passed over your brain and eyeballs at one point. He’s such an intelligent guy and I wanted to capture the information he gave me.”
Holmes went on to share how his own career resembled that of Pendleton’s. Like Pendleton, Holmes spent his fair share of time being cast in films without character names such as “Male Customer,” “Stagehand” or “Hipster #1.,” but now he and Gallerano are making a stamp of their own.
“You deal with a profound amount of rejection in this business and it can get you down,” said Holmes. “[Pendleton] taught me that you really have to rise above it, and the way you do it is you dive into the work. You work on as many different projects as you can and keep yourself mentally stimulated.”
One thing that will come to mind when watching STARRING AUSTIN PENDLETON is the fact that it is a 19-minute short. It flies by so quick and you find yourself wanting to spend more time with Pendleton. Whether he’s comically shooting down a 1993 Time magazine headline that reads “Jeff Bridges, Hollywood’s most underrated actor” or sitting at a bar, exposing us to hard truths, you want the feature length film.
“We have something batting around and we have enough material,” said the Dallas-raised Gallerano. “It just depends on how this film does. It’s a real costly endeavor in terms of time and money. We needed a very specific result to prove before we could take on the challenge of completing and bringing all to life. But we’ve had a really nice run so far.”
Gallerano said this is a comment that has come up a time or two on the film festival circuit, but to him the moral of that is it’s better to have people wanting more than less.
“The short was a great way to get the story out there and exercise a bit of storytelling,” said Holmes. “It’s certainly not lost on us.”
For a film with such a run-time, it’s really quite surprising the amount of talent Gallerano and Holmes were able to accumulate. Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Ethan Hawke, Natalie Portman and Meryl Streep are a few of the many faces who speak of their admiration for Pendleton in the film.
Each of the actors go into great depth about their relationship with Pendleton and how he strengthened and informed their careers. But one wonders how Gallerano and Holmes were able to maintain their composure in the company throughout the process of filming, without much experience behind the camera.
Gallerano recalled his interview with Philip Seymour Hoffman, who also appears in the film. The two directors were allotted 15 minutes to speak with the late actor, but got 18 instead.
“The thing [Hoffman] said when he described his time before meeting [Pendleton], and it’s in the film as well, was ‘I went into this room, scared and vulnerable, and [Pendleton] gave me comfort.’ It was such a simple idea, but we applied it to the interviews we were conducting with all these celebrities,” said Gallerano. “We were two guys who didn’t know how to shoot a film, especially not a documentary. We were making the biggest mistakes filming the biggest celebrities in the world.”
Gallerano and Holmes came in unassuming, not really sure what they really wanted from each of the talents they spoke with for their film.
“I just had to think these are peers of mine that also worked with [Pendleton], because [Gallerano] and I both worked with [Pendleton] in an Off-Broadway play,” said Holmes. “In those situations, it was a conversation between people who knew the same person. So we just kept the dialogue as honest and open as possible.”
You can teach timing and give infrastructure that allows people to take risks, but it’s not often you can teach people to get in touch with their own spirit. Through Pendleton’s honesty and perseverance, Gallerano, Holmes and all the talents who they interviewed learned to uncoil the passion that’s struggling to get out. And when it does, the set, the stage… it ignites.
Feature Photo: Gene Gallerano, Austin Pendleton and David H. Holmes pose at the Tribeca Film Festival at Getty Images Studio in New York City. Photo courtesy of Larry Busacca/Getty Images.