Hearts Beat Loud Interview with Brett Haley and Nick Offerman
I am a big fan of movies that make me smile and feel good. Hearts Beat Loud is not only a delightful feel-good film with great performances from Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons and but features an amazing soundtrack that will get stuck in your head for days after seeing it. Just like Haley’s previous two films, Hearts Beat Loud premiered at Sundance, which is where I saw the film, not just once but twice. Yep, I enjoyed this film so much that I actually saw it twice at the same festival which was a first for me. Normally, I rewatch films from Sundance at other festivals or at screenings closer to their release dates but Hearts Beat Loud really struck a chord with me so I made it a priority to see it twice when I was at Sundance. You can read my full review of the film here: Sundance 2018 Review: ‘Hearts Beat Loud’ is the Feel-Good Film of 2018
Flash forward to about a month and a half later, I was at SXSW and received an email about doing an interview for the film. I immediately responded and a few days later, I sat down with Director/Co-Writer Brett Haley and the man, the myth, the legend, Nick Offerman. We had a delightful little chat about the film, the importance of film festivals, and what it was like working with one another.
Scott Menzel: I am so happy to be sitting down and talking to both of you.
Brett Haley: Oh, thanks for having us.
Nick Offerman: Our pleasure.
Scott Menzel: I saw the film at Sundance as you know.
Brett Haley: Yeah. Thank you for the very kind tweets.
Scott Menzel: No problem at all. So, what made you want this man right here to be the leader of this film?
Brett Haley: Well, Nick to me, I think is a phenomenal human being, just like one of the better guys just to know and be around.
Nick Offerman: I don’t have to sit here and take this. Not in Texas.
Brett Haley: I will not stand for this shit. Nick’s just a lovely person in general, and one of the more genuine people in or out of the industry. He’s just great to be around. He’s also just an incredibly gifted actor that people, I think, forget. You said a bunch of nice stuff about me yesterday, so I’m returning the favor. It’s all true. People forget that Nick is the same guy from Parks and Recreation, who was in Fargo, and who was just recently in Will and Grace. I mean, you look at his career and actually follow the things that he’s done. People forget … Oh, that’s Nick in The Founder. People forget he’s in the movie because he disappears into roles. He can do anything in my book. He’s a really gifted character actor, but I was like, well he’s also a gifted leading man, and I wanted to see him. I’ve done this run of three movies of giving people who I think are beloved who are deserving of a leading role like hey, it’s time.
Scott Menzel: Yeah. Absolutely.
Brett Haley: Nick’s lucky that he got it before he hit 70.
Nick Offerman: I’m Brett’s ingénue.
Brett Haley: The youngest I’ve ever worked with. But I think for me it was like putting Nick at the center of something, and I knew I wanted a dad. I wanted to make this movie about a dad and to me when I work with Nick, Marc Basch, my co-writer, he was thinking, my producer, we all were thinking that the second he wrapped on The Hero, we were like, that’s our dad for Hearts Beat Loud.
Nick Offerman: That’s nice.
Scott Menzel: That is awesome. Nick, you won’t remember this, because a long time ago, we met here at SXSW after the Somebody Up There Likes Me premiere, and I remember talking to you briefly. We talked about Parks And Recreation and you were like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do when this show ends.” And apparently, you have not had a problem, considering you were in The Founder and plenty of other films.
Nick Offerman: Yeah.
Scott Menzel: You have this movie and you’ve had a lot of different roles and you went against type. So, has that diminished your fear that you are going to keep getting more and more work?
Nick Offerman: Sure. Yeah, I mean I’m lucky that I have a few different things I can do. I have been writing books and I still have my wood shop and I have become a touring humorist, which has been a healthy part of my career that I never expected. All of those things are very satisfying but they also take the pressure off of will Hollywood still think I’m cute?
Brett Haley: Did you mention your woodshop?
Scott Menzel: Yes, he did.
Brett Haley: Okay. I mean he’s done too many things. He writes books and it’s just crazy.
Nick Offerman: It’s interesting. In a way, it’s been detrimental to my career as an actor so far as I don’t feel like I need to take jobs ever and so I keep passing on everything that comes my way because it seems merely good. So for me to sign on a portion of my calendar to a script these days, it is required to be somehow inspiring or special or exciting or it has to speak to me of some sort of evolution. It is not “oh this would be a good movie to work on or a TV show” but I have to feel like, “Oh this is going to do us some good in some way.”
Scott Menzel: Yeah, that’s one of the things that I admire about you. I’m sure that you’ve been approached by studios to be in bigger movies.
Nick Offerman: Not much actually.
Scott Menzel: Really?
Nick Offerman: Yeah, for whatever reason.
Brett Haley: Just you wait.
Nick Offerman: Well, I’m not worried about it, but for whatever reason, I don’t get approached a lot by studio stuff.
Scott Menzel: I’m really surprised by this.
Brett Haley: The thing about Nick is that he puts everything in perspective, and it’s not all about just the next job.
Scott Menzel: Right. I totally get that.
Brett Haley: Nick is a lover of life and he takes time to be like, “I’m not working right now. I’m going to be with my wife, I’m going to take time. I’m going to go travel. My phone is off for a week.” And that’s really inspiring for me. Because I get really wrapped up in, “What am I going to do next and what’s the next thing?” It’s good to stay hungry, and it’s good to stay active and do what you love and stay really focused on it. At the same time, I’ve learned from Nick, like sometimes you just take a breather and enjoy life. Stop and smell the roses for a little bit and everything’s going to work out, you know? It’s not like, “Oh my God, I need some validation of some kind.”
We’ve gotten to make the types of things so far in our careers that I think we both wanted to do, so we’re both sitting here very happy. I’m so pleased that I’ve gotten to make four films in a row that were exactly in my heart. That’s a rare thing, and I don’t take that lightly, and I think Nick feels the same way about his career. I think he’s pretty much gotten to do what he really loves. You know? And the fact that he can go work in the wood shop or write an amazing novel, I mean a book and maybe a novel is on the table soon.
Nick Offerman: Who knows. Yeah.
Brett Haley: Yeah. So.
Nick Offerman: Or a symphony. We’ll see.
Brett Haley: Yes.
Nick Offerman: I’m still young.
Scott Menzel: You will figure it out. Going back to this movie, there’s been an interesting theme that I started talking to a lot of filmmakers over the last couple of weeks. There’s something about the independent market where you’re able to make character driven, light-hearted comedies that feel very reminiscent of something from the ’80s and the ’90s. This is something that is completely missing from big studio movies.
Brett Haley: Yeah.
Scott Menzel: Can you guys each talk a little bit about how you feel the direction of cinema is going? Also, I’m very curious about this, Nick how about the state of comedy?
Nick Offerman: Well, I honestly don’t feel I can speak with any authority on either of those subjects because I sort of willfully stay out of the mainstream of popular culture. I’m pretty unaware of a lot of things that are happening. My wife and I are furious every year at Oscar time because we always pick films that never get any love. This year our pick was The Florida Project and some earlier in the year releases. I mean, Moonlight was the exception where our pick actually won. It’s always some small risky and artistic film that has a lot more guts and vision to it than just some well-done studio feature.
My own subjective take on the state of comedy, I guess, is I’m excited by this sort of an explosion in the last couple of decades where comedy has become much less structured and the influx of improvisation and sketch performers. Sort of a goulash of those styles with standup, where everything goes, which has allowed for much more collaborative sensibility. I do feel like cynicism has ruled the day with a lot of popular comedy, but specifically, I learned from Mike Schur on Parks and Recreation and now, The Good Place that there is room, and it bleeds into this film.
There’s room for optimism and sincere emotion. My own personal journey while being accused of exceptional machismo and manliness at every turn. I find myself just constantly trumpeting the value of sensitivity and decency and plain old human rights, which is kind of the ultimate role of the artist. While I can’t speak to where comedy, in capital letters, is going, in my own small tributary I feel like it’s going to a sunnier place.
Scott Menzel: Great answer.
Brett Haley: In terms of the industry, we can always look back and say, “Weren’t those the days of X, Y, Z about it.” You know, anything. Because we’re in it now and we’re thinking, “Well, this is driving the marketplace.” I think that movies are always going to be something, at least in my lifetime. There’s rarely a thing where everyone is like, “This is a must-see thing.”
Scott Menzel: Right. I completely I agree.
Brett Haley: It’s like when Black Panther comes out everyone is like, “You have to go see this.” And everyone literally goes and sees it at some point. It’s a pretty amazing film.
Scott Menzel: Yes.
Nick Offerman: Get Out.
Brett Haley: Get Out, it’s rare that you have a movie that has that kind of cultural impact but it’s true in the sense that I love that movies still have that power to galvanize, to bring us together to say, “Look at this thing. Look at this piece of art.” And we can all have fun with it and dissect it and love it and argue about it. How amazing is that? In terms of what the industry is into right now, they’re into safe bets, they’re into things that people know, IPs. I don’t blame them, nobody wants to lose their jobs, they want to make money, this is a business. I understand that it’s a business and I understand that independent filmmaking is a really risky business right now. Look around, I think more movies now are being made than ever.
Scott Menzel: I think that there are too many.
Brett Haley: We all sit around going, “We can’t … this, or … what about this?” I’m like, “You’re getting to make movies people.”
Nick Offerman: Yeah, yeah.
Brett Haley: It’s unfortunate that some of the great ones don’t rise to the top like they get kind of lost in the shuffle.
Scott Menzel: That happens a lot nowadays.
Brett Haley: My movies don’t make $100 million, get 3,000 screens, or whatever. That’s okay, I’ve got my little place right now and hopefully, I can continue to work towards it. I think what’s most important right now, we’re seeing and across the board, you can see it with Hearts Beat Loud, is the representation is changing the way that we look at movies. Putting positivity into the world. I agree with Nick so much about cynicism, I think we just were like people right now. I hope they feel this when they watch Hearts Beat Loud. I hope they can feel a sense of hope and love and they can literally feel good. Right now, I think we all could use a little pill of happy or goodness for just a moment and I hope that this movie has that ability. To me, it’s you got to roll with it, the industry’s going to do what it’s going to do. As an artist, I just have to try to just navigate my way through it while being conscious and listening.
Nick Offerman: Yeah.
Scott Menzel: Right.
Brett Haley: I think it’s really important for people that look like me, to stop and listen.
Scott Menzel: Oh, absolutely.
Brett Haley: I’ve learned that from Nick. I think it’s really important right now. There’s not enough listening going on.
Scott Menzel: No, there’s not.
Brett Haley: There’s a lot of talking and yelling. If we just take a moment and hear people and listen to other the side and say, “What is it like for you to have that empathy?” And movies do that. This movie can put a message out to someone that maybe otherwise wouldn’t accept a same-sex relationship or something like that. Or interracial, bi-racial family, etcetera,
Nick Offerman: If it continues, even indirectly, it will continue to normalize that representation, you know? A parent that has watched this even if they still think they disagree with it because of their church, it’s there, it exists, and they have to get used to it whether they like it or not.
Brett Haley: Yeah. It’s non-offensive and it’s real.
Scott Menzel: Yeah. It’s very nice though.
Brett Haley: Every little bit helps. To me, it’s like movies are now culturally helping us evolve, they really are. We’re aware. It’s like Get Out is a great example of like, “Oh, that’s what it feels like.” I can’t understand what it is like to be in those shoes, I’m going to now show you through this amazingly smart, funny, scary way what it’s like to be me. I don’t know in terms of the greatest form of storytelling, which in my opinion is movies because it’s everything, it’s writing, it’s visual, it’s sound, it’s music, it’s acting. That’s amazing. I’m excited and hopeful. I’m not one of those guys that say, “Oh, everything’s on Netflix.” And, “Oh, they only make superhero movies.” I’m happy with all of it, let’s just keep, you know?
Nick Offerman: You specifically, there’s something to be said. I had this conversation last night with a couple of the founding members of The Church of the SubGenius. They were talking about how lucky they felt because they made a profit since they created this satire religion in the late ’80s. They’ve made a profit where they’re both homeowners now, they’re both happy. You make realistic character-driven movies that make a profit. They don’t make a blockbuster profit but I would argue that you would stand a much better chance of ruining something about your life or your journey, if you had a $100 million hit, it would really fuck up your trip.
Brett Haley: It would certainly, right now, would be a change.
Nick Offerman: You perhaps can’t have this perspective from within your journey but you may be experiencing the ultimate artistic victory that can be had in American cinema right now.
Brett Haley: Wow, yeah. I mean when you put it that way. I mean, it’s true though, there are so many independent movies that get made and then they end up somewhere. I’ve had this run of movies that not only get to go to Sundance and are pretty much well received that then people go and see. At least for independent movies, a movie making $8 million or $4 million or $5 million at the box office is a feat for independent cinema.
Nick Offerman: Your investors always get their money back.
Brett Haley: Yeah, they do.
Nick Offerman: You’re the Steve Wozniak of independent films.
Brett Haley: Let’s get that to all the studios out there.
Nick Offerman: That’s the club, yeah, yeah.
Brett Haley: Yeah, yeah, I like it, I like it.
Scott Menzel: I saw Hearts Beat Loud twice at Sundance. I went to the first press screening of it and then I went back to see it again at the premiere. There’s just something about this film that just resonated with me. I actually have six adopted brothers, four of which are black, so maybe something with that storyline and seeing that in this movie was powerful. I loved the chemistry between you (Nick Offerman) and Kiersey. What was that about her that made you guys want to work with her, and what was it like working with her? She just seems like a tour de force, just a powerful young lady.
Nick Offerman: She simply has it. I was simply informed by Brett that we could get Kiersey. I’d heard of her but wasn’t really familiar with her. From the moment she walked into the room on the first day she was clearly a cyclone of talent and goodness. That was before we even heard her sing. When she started singing we were like…
Brett Haley: Oh, my God. We were like, “Wow.”
Nick Offerman: We better not fuck this up.
Brett Haley: Yeah. It was a long path to casting that role and I tried a lot of different things and I always knew that the role was going to be a person of mixed-race. My wife is of mixed-race, I have nephews who are of mixed-race. I was investigating different ones and I didn’t want the movie to be about that or about the fact that she’s queer… Look, Keirsey once said, “I identify as queer.” It’s not about those things, the movie is not about those things but they’re there and they’re very important. People respond to them emotionally without really knowing why I think. I come from that kind of a family as well. I think that when we found her.
I’d been a fan of Keirsey since I saw her in Dope and I found out she was available and then I found out she was friends with Sasha. When I found out that she worked with Pharrell I was like, “She can sing?” Because they worked together on Dope and they did a couple of things together but I don’t think they will ever come to light, but the fact that he even took time to work with her … I’m like, “She’s got something, she’s got the thing.” When she came in I had a feeling, and I’ve always cast my movies that way. I’m just like, “I feel it now. I’m making the offer, let’s go. Everybody just get behind me, trust me, and let’s go.”
After a lot of, “Is it going to be this? Is it going to that? How are we going to do this?” I said, “It’s Kiersey and I’m going to let Kiersey inform this role.” That’s also really important for someone that looks like me is to let the people who have gone through this have control. Kiersey has a Caucasian parent and an African American parent, she identifies as queer. I made sure that her character Sam was informed by Keirsey’s experience, not my experience. I don’t have that experience.Marc and I sat down and said, “What do you want to say about this? How do you want to be represented in this?” It’s really important that she told me that or Sasha told me that because I don’t know that experience. Again, going back to listening, just listen and inform. I think Kiersey really helped the movie beyond her incredible talent as a singer, as an actor, and her chemistry with Nick. She helped with informing that character and that representation because I let her lead the way in that.
Nick Offerman: I haven’t said this but we’ve done a lot of press for this film, and I haven’t felt moved to reveal this before now, but I also come from mixed ancestry. A lot of Irish but also there is some Welsh in my family line.
Brett Haley: I was like so excited.
Scott Menzel: Me too. I was like what is he going to reveal to us?
Brett Haley: What’s going to come of his mouth, then he says Welsh.
Scott Menzel: He’s so freaking deadpan.
Brett Haley: Sometimes we’ll be talking and he’ll do that and I’ll be like, “Oh, you’re joking”
Scott Menzel: I was like, “Seriously.”
Nick Offerman: So I get it.
Brett Haley: Yeah, he really gets it.
Scott Menzel: Oh, yeah. He totally gets it.
Nick Offerman: This movie’s about all them …
Scott Menzel: I get how you know the struggle of the black man, Nick. You really do.
Brett Haley: The Welsh man.
Nick Offerman: Every family has its secrets.
Brett Haley: You got that 23 and me back and you were, “Wow.”
Nick Offerman: It’s time to bring this out into the light.
Brett Haley: Oh man. Yeah.
Nick Offerman: Let the healing, begin.
Scott Menzel: (Laughs) You guys are too much. So, Film festivals are the heart and soul of independent cinema. I mean, yes you have Black Panther that when comes out, breaks records. Then you have a film like Get Out but they’re so few and far between. You have so much other shit in-between.
Brett Haley: I watched the new Thor on the plane and I loved it.
Nick Offerman: Thor Ragnarok? Yeah, it’s great.
Brett Haley: Yes, it was fucking mad.
Nick Offerman: Did you know that’s him doing the voice?
Brett Haley: Yes I loved Taika, man, he’s so fucking good. Anyway, I loved that movie.
Scott Menzel: No, but it’s great, right? Seeing Independent filmmakers getting a chance to freaking direct huge projects?
Brett Haley: I mean Taika, you can see his stamp all over it, yes, so good. Anyway, sorry.
Scott Menzel: No, no it’s okay. No, I was just going to ask, like how important is it, not only for your careers but for filmmaking and storytelling as a whole for film festivals to exist and for each of you what is your favorite festival?
Brett Haley: It’s hugely important for film festivals to exist. I would not have a career without the Sundance Film Festival.
Nick Offerman: Me too, man. It’s been my bread and butter, with no planning.
Brett Haley: No, me neither. Yeah.
Nick Offerman: Organically where you end up.
Brett Haley: Totally. I say Sundance is by far my favorite film festival because it helped me put food on my table doing what I love. It’s incredible. I think that it’s the cream of the crop in terms of everything. Also, Nick is right, you don’t plan this stuff. You don’t go, “Well, I’m going to get my movies into Sundance and sell them there.” It just happens. You’re like without that outlet, how would any of my movies ever have come to light? No studio’s going to make them, you know? And yet film festivals are saying there is an audience for movies like this so come check them out. SXSW has now created its own identity. I think this is a great … Movies here are fucking great every year. They’re really showing what’s out there and I hope that distributors start getting more involved and taking more risk with independent cinema because there are some great ones out there. I mean, movies would be dead without film festivals, certainly.
Scott Menzel: I agree, I agree.
Brett Haley: I mean, they would be one type of thing over and over again, which is fine. But, the fact that I can go and raise a little bit of money and go and make what I want to make because we’re all going, “Well, we might get into South by, this might get into Sundance, this might get into whatever.” You know, let’s do it, let’s take the risk. Let’s jump off the building and just go for it.
Nick Offerman: This is my 20 year anniversary at SXSW, and in that time it’s grown so expediently, its taken both steroids, peyote and a great deal of soy extract. I feel like this festival makes me feel like the Chicago theater community in which I cut my teeth. Like you said, the distributors and the people in the business who pay attention will find the exceptional weirdness at this festival more than any other. Partly because the same can be said of Austin, you know. This is where the good mold can be found, but you have to be discerning.
Scott Menzel: Right. Well, thank you, guys.
Brett Haley: Yeah, Scott, thank you, man.
Nick Offerman: Thank you so much.
Keep an eye out for Hearts Beat Loud playing at various film festivals over the next few months. Hearts Beat Loud will be released into theaters by Gunpowder and Sky on June 8, 2018