On April 16, byteclay.com was on the red carpet for the Tribeca Film Festival world premiere of “The Fixer” at SVA Theater. The film stars Dominic Rains, Melissa Leo, James Franco, Rachel Brosnahan and Tim Kniffin. It was co-written and directed by Ian Olds, whose previous credits include: “Occupation: Dreamland,” “Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi” and the experimental narrative “Francophrenia.” In the film Osman (Rains), leaves behind his life as a fixer for Western journalists reporting on the war in Afghanistan. He lands in a small bohemian town in Northern California and takes on a local crime reporting gig. When one of his friends disappears, he gets drawn into the backwoods of the town in order to find him. A fun after-party followed at Tao Downtown.
Shaina Moskowitz: Tell me a little bit about your character in this film.
Dominic Rains: Osman, he’s from Afghanistan. He’s a journalist. He’s known as a fixer back in Afghanistan, which is a guy who gets you from place to place, takes care of your travel if you’re a western journalist coming into a foreign country. He finds himself in a northern California town, where he meets a group of bohemian individuals that take him on a journey that ultimately has him questioning his purpose, where he stands with himself and finds himself full circle with those things that he hadn’t come to terms with back home.
SM: Speak about your preparation for this. Did you speak with people who were fixers or just read up on it?
DR: No. I actually, I received the role three days before the principal photography started so, for me, my process was just, outside of you know, dialect and what not was just being very present to what was happening in and around me because I didn’t have time to do the actor preparation. I was just kind of thrown into it, so I just looked for what paralleled what I was going through at that time, which was you know, the character was new in this town. I was new to this film, so I just kind of took that and ran with it. The whole thing was a new experience for me and so was the experience for the character and so that kind of just guided me throughout the film.
SM: Ian’s a co-writer and a director. Can you speak about collaborating with him in both those capacities? What do you love about his writing and his directing style?
DR: As far as his directing style goes, he’s a rare, rare specimen in terms of a director. The thing about Ian is, is that he knows what he wants but he still allows himself to be open to what needs to be spontaneous, what could be variables that he hasn’t thought of that ultimately may change what he has come into a day or the week with you know, having planned and willing to switch the whole thing up based on how organic and spontaneous with what we have going on at that time.
SM: Speak about working with James Franco.
DR: James was a joy to work with. It was a fluid relationship. It was a dance, if I can use that word and it had a beautiful melody and I followed his lead and we worked together in a harmonious way. It was very melodic.
SM: Where did you shoot?
DR: We shot in northern California. We shot in Santa Rosa in a place called Sebastopol. Yeah.
SM: Can you speak about that attention to detail that Ian has?
DR: Oh yeah. He’s very detail oriented but then again, like, I mean he goes in having planned everything, but he’s also open to seeing where things you know, shift and how things go from there. He’s not closed off and just focused on what he has to do. He’s open to being affected by the elements and variables around him.
SM: Speak about what attracted you to the project.
Rachel Brosnahan: The script. I read the script in the middle of shooting another job. I was overwhelmed. I picked it up and I couldn’t put it down. It was one of the best scripts I’ve read in the last couple of years. Truly, it’s beautiful. It covers themes and topics that I think are currently very politically charged, but really it’s such a humanist film. I found that perspective on it really beautiful. Again, I loved the script.
SM: Speak about working with Dominic.
RB: It was a dream. He’s incredibly talented. I’ve not seen the film yet, can’t wait to see his performance. I know it’s amazing.
SM: What do you love about Ian’s directing style?
RB: It’s loose. Loose in a great way. He wants the story to be told clearly, and he has a very clear sense of what he wants the story to look like, but really lets us play and experiment. I enjoyed it immensely, I wish I’d worked with him longer.
SM: What did you love about your character?
RB: She’s so free spirited, which is something I don’t really often get the opportunity to do. I play a lot of very dark and dramatic characters. This was a nice change for me.
SM: Ian’s obviously a long time collaborator of yours. Can you speak about collaborating with him on this particular project and what you admire about him as a writer and director?
James Franco: Ian’s great. I’ve done a lot of movies with him. This is probably our tenth project together, but the first feature film that he’s directed. He’s got a great mind. He’s almost like a hip intellectual kind of film maker, editor. He’s taken a lot of the projects that I’ve done and enabled us to pull off some fairly heady concepts. When he said he wanted to do this as his first directorial venture, I was all for it in any way that I could help him.
SM: It seems like this character is a little bit reminiscent of your life growing up in a bohemian California town. Is there anything you have in common with him?
JF: There are a lot of similarities and a lot of differences. I’m from northern California, like this character. Yeah. I grew up in a fairly artistic environment. My family’s pretty supportive of the arts and you can imagine that this character is one that is sort of the star of things when he was younger, a great creative force that at some point, somewhere, made a wrong turn and just fell off and is now suffering and holding on to the glory days.
SM: Speak about what inspired you to write about this particular subject. You directed a documentary with some similar topics.
Ian Olds: Yeah. I directed documentaries in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I worked with Afghan fixers. One of our fixers who worked there was killed, tragically, and one of them is getting asylum in the West. I was really struck by his story, the idea that we don’t hear stories about Afghans outside the context of war or war drama. So I wanted to create a character who was this complex human being and in the West striving to adapt to this new life. For me, it was really about … there’s so limited stories about Afghans in that part of the world. In talking to my friends there and my own experience, I felt like there was an important story to be told.
SM: Speak about Dominic. He said he came into it about three days before?
IO: I had been tracking him for awhile. He came in three days before and he just gave everything. I think his performance is just beautiful, raw, understated. He just came in and gave everything. As a director, you can never ask for more from an actor, to come in with that much passion and that much openness. To me, it was really a dream come true.
SM: Did you write this for James, specifically?
IO: It wasn’t originally for him. I didn’t have someone in mind, but after I’d seen, especially “Spring Breakers.” I’ve worked with him since 2010. So I knew the range he was capable of. Once I saw “Spring Breakers” I was like, Okay I think this guy can do this role.
SM: Speak a little bit about the setting and why you chose that place.
IO: That’s where I grew up. It’s this strange contradiction of incredible beauty and also something darker under the surface. I think that’s what I was interested in exploring and bringing my own experience of that place. My own personal experience and also my experience coming back from the war. That was sort of how that came together.
Dominic Rains won Best Actor in a U.S. Narrative Feature Film for his work in the film. The award was given by Chris Nashawaty. The jury commented he won “For his deeply emotional and empathic portrayal of a man who’s a stranger in a strange land.”