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‘I Had Sh*t All Over Me’: A Conversation with the Cast of ‘Cheap Thrills’

By 03.05.14

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CHEAP THRILLS, from Drafthouse Films, is available on VOD now ahead of its March 21 theatrical release. You should definitely see it, because Ethan Embry plays a guy in a plaid shirt named Vince, and Pat Healy gave me a ride home one night at Fantastic Fest. I sent Evan to interview David Koechner and the rest of the cast, and he asked them all about pooping their pants. -Vince

It’s easier to talk about unemployment when you have a job. The storm’s passed and, since you did okay, you can look back and discern a couple lessons and maybe even some fun in your hardship. Without that job, it’s hard to dwell on the past but the future is intimidating. You’re anxious, desperate, embarrassed. Maybe you’ll get to stop worrying tomorrow, man. Maybe it’ll take a few more months. Life becomes defined by payments and negative numbers and you come back to the pathetic fantasy of “What I wouldn’t do for a few thousand dollars.”

That’s the premise of Cheap Thrills, E. L. Katz’ first film from the director’s chair. Colin and Violet (David Koechner and Sara Paxton) are obscenely rich psychopaths who pay the recently fired and eviction-facing Craig (Pat Healy) and his friend Vince (Ethan Embry) a bunch of money for increasingly depraved dares.  The dares get dark, shit gets real, and the movie pulls you along by your own questionable morality. How much money would you need to slap a stranger? Eat a pet? Betray your partner? Take a life? Risk your own? It’s easy to pretend you don’t have an answer, but the movie knows that everyone has a price under the right circumstances.

In late February, I was lucky enough to talk to the cast of Cheap Thrillsavailable in theaters and Digital On Demand March 21st, — at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. Sara Paxton told an amazing first date story, which turned into David Koechner hijacking the interview, asking her about being a woman and celebrity. And who am I to stop him? He’s commanding, just under 19 feet tall if I’m not mistaken, and as personable as you can be before it gets abrasive. Surprisingly, his response to “What’s the weirdest place you’ve shit?” was the shortest. All the others answered the question in detail.

David Koechner and Sara Paxton

David Koechner: Film drunk. And are you?

Evan Harold: No, I’m not. I was thinking about bring a flask and keeping the mood casual, but—

DK: But “filmdrunk” means you’re drunk on film.

EH: Yeah. But my editor says it’s hard to get some eyeballs because of the “drunk” part. He meant it as like “punchdrunk” but I think sometimes it sounds like watching movies while drunk.

DK: Ooohh

Sara Paxton: I see.

DK: Where the truth is that you’re fascinated! Love to “drink in” what is film.

EH: Yeah, “imbibe cinema.”

SP: That’s good because I don’t know what’s happening when I drink and I watch movies.

[Laughs]

EH: So, I liked the movie. Have you ever felt like you’re entitled to any money from the absurdly wealthy? Watching the movie it was easy to buy into the “drop in the bucket” idea, like “Why doesn’t someone just give me $20,000 if it means nothing to them?”

DK: Well there’s plenty of money for everybody at all times. I think we’re all entitled to a great life. There are machinations designed to keep some with it and some without it. So, in that regard, yes. But do I personally think that one person should have great wealth? No. Does that answer your question?

EH: Yeah I think—

DK: I don’t identify with moguls, with accruing great wealth. I’d love to have a great life. I’d love everyone to have a great life. I think poverty is ridiculous; famine is obscene. Pain, suffering, awful and curable. That’s a tragedy.

EH: That’s what brought a lot of the darkness to the movie. Not necessarily the gore and the interpersonal tension, but a lot of—

DK: The sinister manipulation of other human beings for their own personal recreation, the coin of exchanges, you get money.

EH: It’s really bizarre and it’s sort of a mockery of what it is to make money. You do have to sacrifice. What’s the difference between working a job you hate for a decade and losing your pinky for a few grand?

SP: Yeah. Everyone has a price, what’s yours?

DK: Karl Marx. Right?

EH: [Laughs] Yeah.

DK: It’s trading your flesh for money.

EH: Would you guys cut off your pinky? For any amount of money?

DK: No.

SP: I don’t know! I think that’s what I liked so much about the script was that, “What if I was Craig? What if I was about to be evicted and I had a baby and a family, and someone was offering me this money to do this?” You say, “you don’t need your pinky!”

EH: Is your pinky the least valuable part of your body?

SP: I don’t know.

DK: I’d say your small toes.

SP: Small toes, I guess, yeah.

EH: I’d try to negotiate for small toes.

SP: Yeah, but I mean, that’s what I liked so much about it. I was like, “Eughhggh” there’s like this anxiety for me throughout the whole movie like, “Would I do that? Oh my god, maybe I would for $35,000.” I don’t know! Not now, I wouldn’t. [Laughs]

EH: You don’t have to. I considered it. Certainly.

SP: It does make you think.

DK: That’s the trick of the movie, though. I don’t mean to say “trick” but that’s the thing that involves the audience. They are making that decision with the characters the whole way through. And you know what, right now we’re in a situation in this country where a lot of people are struggling. I mean the number of people in poverty keeps going up. There’s been a recovery for the very wealthy but there hasn’t necessarily been a recovery for the middle class and there doesn’t seem like there’s going to be one any time soon. So for somebody to get a $20,000 gain is such a huge f*cking thing.

EH: I saw a set that you did at Bar Lubitsch. Your closer was really dark, and I guess a lot of people are going to be asking about what it’s like to switch to this darker role—

DK: Oh I remember that, I got preachy because the comics in the back were talking. And I shushed them because I’m an old man. So yes, I think I went on a bit of a pedantic, didactic, self-aggrandizing rant about something.

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EH: There’s a question I want to ask everybody, because they shit in someone’s house in the movie—

SP: That was my shit. [Laughs]

EH: I could tell. What’s the weirdest place you’ve shat?

DK: In an alleyway in college. I was drunk.

EH: I’ve done that as well.

DK: It’s awful.

EH: It’s not even in my top three.

DK: That’s terrible.

SP: Can I tell you my worst date story ever? It involves shitting somewhere very bad.

EH + DK: Yes.

SP: So my friend set me up on a blind date a couple years ago, and I was like, “That’s weird, I don’t do blind dates, I don’t know, why don’t we meet for like, lunch or something like that, so it’s not weird.” So, he’s like, “Come over for breakfast. I’ll make you breakfast, and there’s a hike behind my house. We’ll go on a hike.” And I’m like, great. Okay. Whatever. He invites me over for breakfast, and I’m nervous and I’m eating and I don’t drink coffee, but he’s serving me coffee. I’m so nervous. Coffee after coffee after coffee. Finally, we go up this back hike. And you know the point in the hike where you can’t turn back? You’re too far?

DK: Yeah.

SP: We were there. So, all the sudden my stomach rumbles, and I’m in pain.

DK: Ohh no.

SP: I’m sweating profusely and I’m like, “Just gimme one second, gimme one second.” So there’s a bush, and in my panicked mind the bush was like really far away, but it was just like, right here. [Laughs] So I go in the bush. I frantically dig a hole, like a f*cking mongoose.

EH: With your hands??

SP: Yeah! I dig a hole, I pull down my pants, I rip off my underwear like the hulk, just HYEUUUUHGH! I shit. I bury it. As I pop up to be like, “HEY! Everything’s cool.” I realize that I wiped my hands all over me—

DK: Oh my God.

SP: Like I had shit all over me. And then we had to finish the hike. Like that. Pretending like I wasn’t covered in my shit.

EH: Like it was dirt?

DK: So you didn’t talk about it?

SP: No. He didn’t talk to me at all.

EH: Were you just like, “Oh hmm look at all this dirt!”

SP: We finished the hike and I never saw him again.

EH: Weird there wasn’t a second date.

DK: Why were you nervous. Because you wanted it to go well for your friend? You either knew right away whether you had chemistry with this guy. Just like, “You’re a nice person.”

SP: I don’t remember why I was nervous. Maybe he was very handsome. He might have been very handsome and I was just like hrrrrmmmph. You know what I mean?

DK: You don’t consider your looks?

SP: No.

DK: Do you realize you’re pretty or not?

SP: I think I’m pretty, yeah.

DK: But you don’t think, like—

SP: I don’t go into a situation like, “It’s cool, I’m pretty.”

DK: Now growing up you were pretty? I’m guessing.

SP: I got pretty later. I was a cute kid, and then I went through an awkward thing, and then later—

DK: The reason I ask is that my daughter, Margot, who I don’t think you’ve met, is beautiful. I’m just asking for that. When you’re walking through the world, and you’re beautiful, you don’t think of that. But you’re getting all this attention that’s that not necessarily wanted. Or just, shit just starts coming to you. People are always watching you. It’s this added different psychological impact.

SP: I think you’re right. I don’t know how that manifested in me, but I’m sure. Especially because I started acting so young. People started looking at me. Anyway, I don’t like, think about those things. I’m not like, “Oh I’m going to a party I don’t know anybody. Wait a minute! I’m really good looking! Whew!” [Laughs]

DK: [Laughs] “Which makes me immediately interesting, and fascinating for all around.”

SP: “Everyone cares about what I have to say because I’m pretty good looking.”

DK: But it is tough for women, they get unwanted attention anyway from guys, especially at a party or a bar. And it’s tough for a woman to go, “I’m not interested,” because then the guy walks away going, “F*ckin’ bitch!” It’s so unfair. I’ve devised a wand for my daughters, so when a guy comes up that a girl’s not interested in you just go Vvwommm, and he goes, “Huh??” Vvwommm. “Oh, never?” Vvwommm. “Ooohhh!” And they can walk away and say thank you.

SP: Yeah. What is—is that it? [Laughs]

DK: It’s just a bit. [Laughs]

EH: Well if you need investors, I’ll cut off my pinky.

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Pat Healy and Ethan Embry
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Evan Harold: So you’re from Chicago?

Pat Healy: Yeah. I started at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago. I was an intern there and then I became, you know, I acted in like five plays there. We used to go to this bar down on Wells and, um, where Pipers Alley is, where Second City is, called Old Town Ale House.

EH: Yeah with all the f*cked up paintings on the walls.

PH: Yes!

EH: They have Sarah Palin naked and Blago and stuff.

PH: Right. So myself and all the people that were in theater, doing theater at that time—Mike [Michael] Shannon, Nick Offerman, all those guys, we used to all just hang out and drink there. I was just there for the festival in October. We went to the Ale House, Mike and I.

EH: So I want to start off by asking: what’s the weirdest place you guys have ever taken a shit? (Since you take the shit in the house in the movie).

PH: Probably there. [Laughs] No, we didn’t actually shit there.

Ethan Embry: China. [Laughs] Yeah. That’s the first one that comes to mind.

EH: Because you have to squat?

PH: You’ve got to have some good ones.

EE: I shat my pants while filming That Thing You Do! on stage at one of the performances, because I had dysentery. So I’m up there playing bass—

PH: Dysentery from where?!

EE: From a pet duck that I had. I shat my pants on set. It was a full-blown, bowel cleansing, down the leg shit. That would be the weirdest place I’ve taken a shit.

PH: Yeah, along those lines, when I was doing Compliance, I shot all my stuff on a stage, but the first part of the movie they shot at this KFC in Jersey, overnight. I decided on the first night out of solidarity to my fellow actors that I would go and stay up all night with them and help work on it, and I’m not good with staying up all night. The meal was sausage and peppers, and the second meal was Taco Bell. Then at nine in the morning we wrapped, and we were driving back in traffic. New York rush hour traffic. 9AM. My body was just… I was just like squirming all over the seat. I actually contemplated, at one point, jumping out of the van and just jumping off this bridge we were on. I figured I’d land somewhere and find a bathroom. Like, that’s the kind of logic.

EH: Yeah.

PH: They finally dropped me off like half a block away from my apartment, and like, it was in the winter, I had this heavy coat on and I had my bag. Literally two doors down from where I lived I just shit my pants.

EH: It gets harder the closer you get, too.

PH: Yeah.

EE: How do they know that? How does the body know that? As soon as you get close—

PH: I think you’re starting to relax, because you’re feeling like, “It’s closer, it’s closer,” and you wanna release the pain a little. You think it’s gonna be just enough and it’s just too much.

EH: There’s no greater conflict, than approaching a bathroom trying not to shit and thinking, “I’m gonna shit.”

EE: Your internal GPS.

EH: Yeah, it knows it’s ready.

PH: Then I found myself actually getting rid of the rest of it on the toilet, but I still had my winter coat on, and my bag around me, and I’m sweating and all that stuff.

EE: Can we change the subject? [Laughs]

EH: [Laughs] Sorry. Watching the movie I felt incredibly aware of my own lack of wealth. Do you think it’s reasonable to find yourself struggling and feel like you’re entitled to someone’s money, if they’re absurdly wealthy?

PH: I don’t feel that way. That movie Pain and Gain was sort of about that, that those guys felt that they deserved the money because they were more muscular than the guy who was rich. I don’t feel entitled that way. We’ve been talking about—neither of us are wealthy so it’s like, there are certain things we’d do for money—but I don’t ever feel like somebody’s money should be mine.

EE: Yeah, I don’t feel the entitlement, but there is a resentment. If you’re wealthy, I immediately can’t identify with you. That’s been, always, you know, I grew up in a trailer park, and I just can’t identify at all. There’s resentment towards them.

PH: I grew up pretty lower-middle class. I had all the knock-off versions of the clothes the kids had at school, and I got made fun of for it. Then we became somewhat upwardly mobile, by the time I entered high school. But we lived in one of these like, prefab mcmansion kind of areas, and I just never fit in there. We never really like, related to that. I’d certainly like to be wealthy, but I feel much better about having earned it. I’m starting to do things now and people are starting to take notice, and hopefully that leads to monetary gain. But not for any sense of power, it’s just freedom. And I feel because it’s coming now, and I’ve been doing this forever—we’ve both been doing this for twenty years or more—that would feel like I’ve earned it. If I would have gotten that in my twenties, I would have become a monster, because I wouldn’t have figured myself out. But now I feel like I don’t want something unless I deserve it. If I don’t feel like I deserved it, I’d probably subconsciously do something to disrupt that, or sabotage it.

EE: The large majority of people can identify with that, because, I mean let’s face it, they’re the One Percent for a reason—there’s only one percent of them. I think that’s why this film works the way that it does, because the vast majority of people that see this film are going to identify with economic struggle.

PH: I mean it is a fact that it’s worse now than it’s ever been.

EE: And it’s going to get worse again.

PH: The equality in this country, the disparity between the wealthy and the not wealthy. There’s almost virtually no middle class anymore, so. We’ve talked about this before. We’re not trying to act out those themes when we’re making the movie, we’re just telling the story. But it’s there because it’s happening right now, you can’t help but think about it. We have our own financial struggles too. We’re not sitting around counting money.

EH: Like Koechner’s character.

PH: Yeah I mean we look at the fake money on the set and we’re like, “… if that were real.”

EH: Is it distracting?

PH: A little bit. If you’re in that situation, like we are, and you really believe what you’re doing, then you think of it as real money. I don’t realistically think about grabbing that bag of fake money and taking off, but the wheels start turning, about like, what you might do for that or how you might get it.


Evan Harold is a writer living in Los Angeles. 

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