Awards Daily talks to Brian Stepanek of the new film Green Book about his sick audition for Peter Farrelly, why kids sitcoms are like musical theater, and what you probably didn’t notice about that restaurant scene.
Brian Stepanek has only one scene in Peter Farrelly’s Green Book, but it’s a memorable one. Toward the end of the film, Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and Nick Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) enter a Birmingham, Alabama restaurant, where Shirley will be performing that night. It does not go as expected.
I had a chance to speak with Stepanek about filming this scene, and why it’s crucial to the film.
Awards Daily: How do you feel about the reception of the film so far? Are you surprised?
Brian Stepanek: I’m not surprised that it has been received well. When I first read the script, I absolutely loved it, and it jumped off the page at you that this was something special. And then as we were shooting and I got to work with Peter [Farrelly] and see these two in these roles [Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen] it confirmed it even more for me, on set and in person. To me, it felt pretty special, in my limited participation in it.
AD: You have an important scene, which I’m going to ask about in a second. But I also wanted to ask about your resume alone. You’ve been in a lot of kids show. What was it like doing a movie geared toward adults?
BS: Wonderful. (Laughs.) It’s funny, when I first moved to LA, I did a lot of dramatic stuff, like NYPD Blue and Six Feet Under. But I came from a musical theater background, and I got an audition for The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, as the janitor character, and I went in and took it in a different direction than they had intended and it put me in that world. And kids multi-cam shows are basically musical theater on television, like The Carol Burnett Show, all that same level of energy on camera, and I just love that stuff. So, yeah, I kinda lived in that world for a long time, so going back to doing adult fare has been a real treat. I’d love to do more of it.
AD: That’s great. So how did this part happen for you then?
BS: I got the audition, and I put myself on tape for it. When the callback came and I was supposed to go meet Peter, I had the flu. The first time that’s ever happened to me. I tried to get dressed, and I had to lay down, and I called and told them I couldn’t make it to this amazing thing I really want to do. Rick Montgomery the casting director was awesome and said, “Don’t come in. We’ll use your tapes. Don’t worry about it.” And I ended up booking it from the original tape.
AD: Wow. That’s so awesome. Such a happy ending. I’m glad it worked out. Your character has such a key scene in the film. What was it like filming that and how do you get into that frame of mind, to be a big villain?
BS: I will tell you what’s great about Peter. When I did the original audition, obviously it was good enough to get me the role, but I had made a couple of choices in there, and the choices I made were that this guy Graham Kindell knew he was a villain. But what Peter told me was, “Hey, he doesn’t know he’s a villain; he thinks he’s right,” and it all completely clicked for me. He doesn’t know he’s a bad guy. He has no idea, so that makes it even more sinister, that he’s doing all of this with a smile. Viggo’s character, at that moment in the film, looks at me and sees himself. By the way, the hole in the wall behind me, that was the first take—that was a real hole in the wall. The first take, Viggo put me right in the wall, so we had to hide it for the rest of the take.
AD: That’s amazing! I never noticed it. What was it like to work with Viggo and Mahershala?
BS: They were amazing. Viggo was so unbelievably dedicated to what he’s doing. He was very much a part of telling that story, very interested in the real person he was playing and constantly in touch with Peter about his role. Mahershala was wonderful as well. There was no ego, no diva, nothing. Just working hard.
AD: Was your character a real person or a fictional character, a hodgepodge of people?
BS: I think he was a hodgepodge of several people.
AD: I’m assuming you were familiar with Peter Farrelly’s work before this film. What was it like working with him? Were you wondering what kind of direction he was going to take?
BS: The first time I saw Peter was getting on the plane to go to New Orleans. I got on the plane, and I’m walking back to my seat, and I see him and we make eye contact, and I think, “I think that’s Peter.” Cause I have not met him, because I did an on-camera audition! And then Peter saw me on set, and he said, “I saw you on the plane [during the Rose Bowl]” and he thought I was a football coach because I was wearing a baseball cap. He was great, and I don’t know what I expected. He’s done all of these comedies with his brother. I knew there’d be a comedic sense. That’s what’s great about this movie; I don’t think people will realize how funny it is. Viggo plays such a great Jerry Lewis to Mahershala’s Dean Martin. They’re so good together, and that’s what Peter brings to this, a sense of humor. You’re laughing and laughing and all of the sudden you’re crying. I think that’s what’s Peter’s really good at.
AD: What do you hope people take away from the film?
BS: I think it not only speaks to different races but also to class. A lot of what Viggo talks about in this movie is class. [When it comes to race and class] we’re all human. If given a chance and put in a room together, we’re probably all alike. Or put in a car on a road trip.
Green Book is now playing in theaters.