Although you may know him from television’s “The Vampire Diaries” or “Saving Hope” or a handful of other mainstream motion pictures (“Spider-Man 2”)–Daniel Gillies’ restless talent ventures beyond dedicated, capable acting turns (see 2006’s “The Sensation of Sight” with David Strathairn). He is a passionate cinema connoisseur who dared to make an indie film (his first, hopefully not his last, 2010’s “Broken Kingdom”).
From the genesis of the idea to the physical and mental realities of actual locations and filming (in the case of “Broken Kingdom,” the varied landscape of Bogota, Colombia)–writing and directing a movie independent of studio static takes a will of granite. It demands a specific anarchic determination, a capacity for humility that both strengthens and levels the human spirit, and immeasurable hubris.
Gillies and I spoke at length on the phone (he in the Valley, sans trousers due to the heat and me in my apartment in Hollywood, sitting Indian style on my floor scribbling notes). We spoke of John Cassavetes, Wong Kar Wei, P. T. Anderson (both of us agreed we should be at a theater watching Anderson’s “The Master”) and a handful of other auteurs (Terrence Malick and Gus Van Sant) that influenced “Broken Kingdom.”
Gillies struck me as an emotional man of precise convictions with a playful intellect–sincere, passionate, a bit unconventional, and willing to accept compliments (he’s a fine actor) or criticism (of which I really had none to offer) with graciousness. There was a total absence of pretension.
Perhaps the most fun for me was finding out Gillies knows his film history. We both ADORE films–and the streaks of lightning that dart around each other when two film nuts start talking about their favorites (for Gillies, John Cassavetes’ “Opening Night,” from 1977, and for me Cassavetes’ “Love Streams” from 1984), the lightning shots energize and invigorate like ice bullets to the cerebellum.
On making “Broken Kingdom,” Gillies said he, “…rehearsed the shit out of his actors. I believe in heavy rehearsals.” He mentioned not forcing his performers to hit given marks (a Cassavetes-ism) in order to free up their instincts. Gillies saw some 150 girls before (correctly) casting a disarming and natural Jeraldin Chapeton Estacio as a 14 year-old prostitute in the film. The movie (made for “well under half a million”) was a labor of love from inception to martini time for Gillies (who plays the aloof writer in the film).
“Broken Kingdom” is about a guy “wearing lots of masks–be they facial hair or glasses” who is in Bogota playing the tortured writer (what he’s writing eludes everyone in the film including himself). He meets a young prostitute (Estacio) and befriends her. There’s another plotline that takes place in L.A. involving a teacher (Gillies’ wife, Rachel Leigh Cook) and a mystery waiting to be uncovered (the less said about the story, the better). I suggest you see the film.
An added pleasure is Paiman Kalayeh’s feature film debut–a documentary about the making of “Broken Kingdom” called “Kingdom Come.” With commentary and interviews with Tim Roth, Kevin Smith, David Strathairn, Don Cheadle, Mark Ruffalo and many others, the doc is as enjoyable as “Broken Kingdom.” We see the blood, sweat and tears that go into the making of an indie. “Kingdom Come” is an effective companion piece to Gillies’ directing debut. It’s inspiring and reassuring in all the best possible ways (to young filmmakers especially).
Duane Manwiller and Keiko Nakahara photographed “Broken Kingdom.” The always-welcome presence of Seymour Cassel adds gravity to the proceedings and Estacio’s debut performance elevates the film considerably. John Lyons Murphy deserves mention as an instrumental production presence on the film–and of course, Gillies.
He is an actor/filmmaker to keep your eye on. His freshness of perspective and informed understanding of what makes cinema powerful is something to nurture and ally with in today’s troubled/hungry entertainment climate. One hopes the film industry takes a turn for the best, employing the “gamblers” we need at the production levels to green light daring and original cinema. The kind of cinema Daniel Gillies convinced me he is dedicated to making.