Giancarlo Esposito And Josh Duhamel On Media, Bloodlust, And Their New Movie ‘This Is Your Death’

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After a violent mishap goes down during the otherwise routine finale of a reality show, host Adam Rogers (played by Josh Duhamel) has a vision: to create a new kind of reality show where contestants kill themselves for the chance of giving others a better life. A skewering of today’s media consumption, This Is Your Death is also a personal story for director Giancarlo Esposito, who co-stars as everyman Mason Washington, and credits the script, written by Noah Pink and Kenny Yakkel, with saving his life. After the film’s world premiere at SXSW last week, we got the chance to sit down with both Giancarlo Esposito and Josh Duhamel to talk about the film’s exploration of the relationship between media and human nature.

When you read the description of this movie, a game show where participants kill themselves live on TV, it was easy to assume it would’ve taken place in a near-future. Instead, it’s set in the present. How far away do you think we are from this being our evening entertainment?

Giancarlo Esposito: I don’t think we’re very far away at all. I think we’re looking for more and more jolts of adrenaline in our lives. I remember the first time I went to see boxing live. I was a real boxing fanatic, [but] when I went there I almost got sick, because I was ringside. I was watching these two guys beat the crap out of each other, and what really got me what was happening around me. The “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” It was like the Roman Colosseum, and it really affected me deeply. I’d never been to a boxing match up close and personal, but I really got that sense of what turns people on about it.

Josh Duhamel: Yeah, I’m the same way with MMA. Its hard for me to watch but I can’t keep myself from watching. As brutal as the fight is, I have to watch it. What is that? There’s something really primal about that.

Esposito: Really primal.

Duhamel: It goes back to the gladiators and Roman Colosseum and all that. We love to watch.

It is something that comes deep from our lizard brains.

Esposito: And I don’t think that its far away. I think we’re only going to get so much juice from that cell phone. We can watch whatever we want whenever we want. We’re going to keep looking for that adrenaline rush, so you never know what could happen. I’m hoping that this doesn’t happen, but this film is a way to sort of allow people to see where some of us are, where we could be going, and maybe side step that.

Is that what drew you to this script as a director?

Esposito: I was living beyond my means and just had a fourth child [in] 2007 to 2008, the downturn of the economy. The character actor was out the window and it was only the guys who could put butts in the seats like Josh Duhamel who were getting the movies. I didn’t quite know what to do.

You know, I remember having my office in the living room because that’s how close I wanted to be to my family. I didn’t want to have my office out in the carriage house because I wanted to be there and have them see me do what I do. So I had it in a corner of the living room but I remember when things really started crashing down and that moment in our film where Mason’s getting the phone call, the phone’s ringing, and if you noticed the phone gets louder and louder and louder during this conversation with his wife.

That was my house: Afraid to answer the phone, afraid to own up to the fact that I was drowning and it was my responsibility not to drown. Its a hard place to be. The truth of the matter is that I was just insured really well. My father-in-law was a State Farm agent, my former wife, lovely Joy, the mother of our children, was also a State Farm agent. I was insured really well.

Duhamel: Oh, they had you really well insured.

Esposito: Really well insured. It was the only way out. I lost my faith, I lost my hope, I lost my vision. And this script came to me. And I sat there and cried because I was really amazed — I saw the correlations.

Duhamel: That’s your higher power stepping in right there.

Esposito: Really is. Really is my higher power. The attention span that we have. What we’re told to do by our media and advertising and television. And reality television, we’re watching the train wreck happen in a dysfunctional family. I come from that dysfunctional family, but yet I could sit there and watch another dysfunctional family and get a kick out of it. So we look outside ourselves and I wanted to start looking inside of myself.

But I really related to the journey of Mason Washington, because that was my journey. I had come to that space. This movie saved my life, and it allowed me to sort of get back on the horse. It didn’t give me any bread because I had to raise the money to make it, [which] took seven or eight years, but it healed my consciousness.

It was a gift from that day until now because it helped heal my personality, realize my faith and realize that we’re human and we sometimes forget to trust in ourselves and trust in the universe that is going to carry us. If we have doubt, that doubt grows. If we have hope and we’re positive, that’s what comes to you. So it’s a circle. Part of the reason I made this movie is because we have the power to change our lives. What we think does grow. This movie is an example of that.

How did you end up casting Josh as Adam Rogers?

When I first got this script, I thought of somebody who was just another actor, who kinda became this guy. I also thought “You know, I’ll just get Ryan Seacrest, this guy is kind of like that.” But he’s not like that. He has to be more human. We’ve got to follow his journey. I started to look and look and look and look and Joy, my lovely Joy, my former wife, said to me, “Have you thought of Josh Duhamel? You know you met him.” I said, “Yeah, that guy is good!” She said, “Yeah, he’s very tall.” [Laughs.]

Duhamel: And you’re very short.

Esposito: I said, “It doesn’t matter.” And I thought, “Would he ever do this?” There’s a depth to him that we haven’t seen before that I would love to exploit. I’d love for him to have the opportunity to play this guy.

Duhamel: Problem is I’ve done it, just no one else has seen those movies.

Esposito: Josh’s performance in this movie is, to me, the brilliant and perfect performance of a man who’s vulnerable, who keeps some of that vulnerability. He wants to change things for people. And then he just gets caught up in it. And that’s where we sometimes get to when we lose sight of who we really are.

That’s a central aspect to the character of Adam’s character. He’s convinced himself he’s doing the right thing by setting up crowdfunding for these suicides.

Duhamel: I mean, that’s really what drew me to this, was the pathology behind what happens to somebody who gets power, gets fame, gets money, and how do you deal with that? And is that what makes you feel whole? This guy was sort of on the fence. He’d had that, he made good money doing this other show. And then had that sort of life changing cold bucket of water poured on him.

From that moment he thought that he was going to do something different, and had every intention to. Those intentions weren’t false, those were real. And what drew him back, it was the fame, it was the money, it was the power, all those things. But its still fascinating to me how its almost like an addict’s personality. Its almost like, as much as he needed to separate himself from that previous thing and do the right thing, he still got sucked back into that addiction to the fame and the money and the power.

Also, your hair seems to get taller the more your character becomes immersed in this world of his own making.

Duhamel: At first I was like, “Oh God, that’s a little much.” But you know, I just thought about it. We talked about all this too, early on when he didn’t care as much. We wanted to let the grey go. I wanted to gradually get more and more polished as you became more and more consumed by all the fame and the celebrity and the power.

And it was just a visual sort of thing that I thought would be interesting because it reflects his sort of moral deficiency. What did you call it? Moral…


Duhamel: Bankruptcy that he’s going through. And its this narcissism kept growing and growing, even though in his mind he was doing the right thing, and he was so wrapped up in that, that he didn’t even recognize what he was doing to his own sister. That is somebody who is completely self-consumed, and it takes something like that unfortunately to come crashing down and bring reality back.

And I bought into that same thing. [I thought], “Well if we’re doing this for the right reason, if we’re doing this to actually save people, then its okay.” But what was really happening was what he set out to do, but then ultimately the more popular the show became, the more money and power and fame he got, he got sucked into that same thing that he was speaking out against. What he was really trying to do was, for himself, feel some kind of value. And he fell way short, man.

Esposito: That’s right.

Duhamel: Why didn’t I know this while we shot it?

Esposito: [Laughs.]

You can always save it for the sequel.

Esposito: “Save it for the sequel.” [Laughs.] That’s right. That’s exactly right.