Magazine article Metro Magazine

The Comedy of Life: Making Manny Lewis

Magazine article Metro Magazine

The Comedy of Life: Making Manny Lewis

Article excerpt

Comedian Carl Barron's big-screen debut is perhaps different from what his devoted audience might have expected, considering his previous work. He and Manny Lewis (2015) co-writer Anthony Mir, who directed the film, began their careers as stand-up comedians, yet the film is not a laugh-out-loud comedy, nor is it as wacky and colourful as Mir's 2003 You Can't Stop the Murders. It's a gentle, bittersweet narrative that tackles some dark, personal material--akin to Being There (Hal Ashby, 1979) or even Limelight (Charlie Chaplin, 1952), both highly reflective comedy-dramas starring two brilliant comedians, Peter Sellers and Chaplin, respectively. Indeed, there's a sense of melancholy that lingers throughout the entirety of Manny Lewis.

I spoke to Mir and lead actress Leeanna Walsman about these and other aspects of the film.

Tim Bosanquet: How did the project come about?

Anthony Mir: About ten years ago, I'd been suggesting to Carl that he do something beyond stand-up--that he do a television show, or act, or just something outside of his stand-up--because I thought there was a lot of talent that he wasn't tapping into. We kind of sat on that idea for many years, then, two or three years ago, he came to me and said, 'Alright, let's do it.' We tossed around high concepts [and] silly ideas, but in the end he just wanted something that was about where he was at that point in his life. So we concentrated on a fictitious character [Manny, played by Carl Barron] who is grappling at the crossroads of stand-up so we could find an emotional story being so close to Carl's actual life. We went with that. I remember him telling me a story once about having a conversation with a sex worker, and it sounded really sweet and tender and a bit sad. Sad in the sense that here is a guy who has access to scores of women most nights of the week, but here he is in a hotel room ringing a phone-sex worker and then ultimately just having a conversation with her. I really love that idea of him ringing a fantasy hotline and talking to a fantasy girl, whereas the real reason he's doing it is because he wants to avoid being a fantasy to other girls who he meets at gigs. I thought that was a really nice paradox to tap into.

What other aspects of the film were based on Carl's real life?

AM: It's not [based on] a true event as a whole, but there are aspects in the film. In fact, all the incidents with the father [played by Roy Billing] actually happened. Carl did suffer certain things as a child, which [we depict] in the film, and it was very raw during the writing. I remember during the rehearsal period with Roy [that] it was quite moving, and then, when we filmed, it was quite moving. Even now, when I look at it on screen, I know it's true for Carl--he's crying on screen and he genuinely was crying on the day of filming because he really was in the moment.

I'd love to talk about the writing process because you've written scripts and made movies before, but Carl hasn't. How did the two of you create the script together?

AM: I just kind of mapped it out like a road trip for us, saying, This is going to take us to the end of the first act, and then we're going into Act 2, and then we'll take it up there.' Once I explained it to him fairly simply like that, saying, 'Here, we'll need to consider things you need to do with your love interest,' and I would give him ideas--'Maybe you could go to the park, or let's go back into our lives and see what you did or I did'--structurally it was fine. I could map that out for him, and then I got him to give me stories that I needed--stories about, for instance, a dog. There was a neighbourhood dog that he really loved, and I thought it was a beautiful story because the dog represented his childhood, in a way; it was unloved and mistreated. It was a really nice way of showing a child without showing a child. We'd just have conversations. And, more often than not, he'd tell me stories that made me laugh--like the time he and his father sat around watching a porno video. …

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