Patti Rocks was a sequel to an earlier film, Loose Ends. How was the script created for Patti Rocks?
JOHN: It started with some general conversations about what we might do, and then we started to improv a little bit. David (director David Burton Morris) then took that and began to craft a plotline for this.
Then after we had that in place, we got back together again and we spent some more time improvising the script. And so the script really came out of those improvisations that Chris and Karen and I did. Then David would edit that and cut and paste and re-arrange that. He might add some other dialogue on top of that, but most of it came out of those improvs.
How did your relationship with actor Chris Mulkey help shape the on-screen relationship?
JOHN: Chris and I had worked together for a long time and we were best friends. We'd worked at the Children's Theater Company in Minneapolis and we were in a lot of shows together. When we rehearsed together we were really in the habit of really playing and improvising. That was a habit, a way of working. And our friendship -- and male friendship in general -- sort of became, in my mind, one of the major themes of the movie. The investigation of that.
What drew you to this project?
JOHN: I liked working with these guys. I liked small, art projects. I liked the fact that it was really being done by a small group of people, that it was handmade. I found all those things attractive.
I had come up through a number of small theater companies, and that self-made, home-grown, small operation had been a part of my history and it was attractive to me. And it allowed you to be very creative and to have a large say in what the script was going be and how you were going to do things. The creative freedom of that was very attractive.
JOHN: It was difficult to do. I'm doing a love scene with my best friend's wife -- my real best friend's wife. It was potentially explosive. The manners of all that needs to be very, very careful. I thought we did handle that part of that well. We got to the point where both Karen and I felt comfortable to do the scene. I thought we were able to finesse it all right.
I think with a stranger there's more latitude. You don't necessarily have the same consequences if suddenly this begins to stray into something you shouldn't be doing.
We needed to make sure that this had to be business-like, we had to commit to it, but we had to be really, really sensitive to each other about it.
JOHN: I didn't think it would be controversial. It wasn't violent, there wasn't any hard porn. It's odd about it now, but we got in trouble for the language. You listen to HBO, and you listen to something like Deadwood, and it seems odd to me. But 20 years ago that was a vastly different time, in terms of what kind of language you could use in a film.
That was just the way we talked, but in an exaggerated way. It seemed appropriate to these two guys and the way they would talk. It felt true to us.
What was it like to improvise scenes for the scripting process and then have to go back, weeks later, and re-perform those improvisations?
JOHN: It's an interesting problem, to use improv to create a script, and then to go back and play it. It's a funny thing. When you're improvising the thing, you're so involved in the problem and the words just flow out. But when you go back to do it again, you've forgotten a lot of that structure or the dynamic that allowed those words to flow. So you're left with a script and you know it's yours, but it's hollowed out. You've forgotten the context a little bit.
It's almost easier to take somebody else's words and to slip on your imagination and work with that, then to go back and do your won stuff. I found that to be a little difficult.
Then I had to do all the actorly stuff and fill it out, sensory work and subtext to try to get back to that improv state that had been so easy. It was just odd. You would think that it would just be a piece of cake, the easiest thing to do, and I found it perplexingly difficult.
JOHN: Chris and I were always up for playing. Sometimes David would keep the camera running and we would just continue to play. And I think some of that ended up in the movie. When we could we would continue to improv, when we felt we had the opportunity.
A major character in the movie was the weather. What was it like shooting in Minnesota in the dead of winter (and the dead of night)?
JOHN: The weather was unbelievable, especially when we were shooting the sequence where they get out of the car. It must have been thirty below when we were shooting that scene.
We were in this trailer and we would come out; we could only shoot this stuff for four or five minutes at a time before the fear of frostbite or hypothermia would come up. Chris was in great shape and even at that it was brutal. When it came to looking cold, no sensory work was required.
JOHN: Work with people that you know and trust. I know that's hard to do. A lot of this work is going to be like blind dates with strangers to put these things together. I was fortunate to be able to work with people I loved and trusted. If possible, for your first steps out, to do it in a way that you were protected in that way would be great. Look for that.
JOHN: I always wondered if we were going to get together again and do a final sequel. Maybe these two characters in retirement.