Hello all! Welcome to another interview edition featuring the award-winning writer/director of the critically acclaimed Arbitrage Nicholas Jarecki. His sophomore film CRISIS has just been released in select theaters and VOD. Check out my review of the film if you haven’t already. It stars Gary Oldman, Greg Kinnear, Evangeline Lilly, Armie Hammer, Luke Evans and Michelle Rodriguez.
Synopsis: A drug trafficker arranges a multi-cartel Fentanyl smuggling operation. An architect recovering from an oxycodone addiction tracks down the truth behind her son’s disappearance. A university professor battles unexpected revelations about his employer, a pharmaceutical company bringing a new “non-addictive” painkiller to market.
Set against the backdrop of the opioid epidemic, their stories collide in this dramatic thriller from writer/director Nicholas Jarecki.
In his acclaimed feature debut, Arbitrage (starring Richard Gere, which I gave a high rating in my review), the NYU graduate Jarecki set a suspense-thriller about love and loyalty against a backdrop of fraud and murder in the world of high finance. With Crisis, the writer-director now turns his attention to the opioid epidemic.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Nicholas (Nick) Jarecki over Zoom to talk about his film, from the process of making CRISIS, casting, acting in his own film, and the personal crisis of Armie Hammer and how it affected his film’s release. Read on:
Q: Why did it take you so long from making Arbitrage (released in 2012) to this one? It’s almost a decade long.
A: Yeah, it was two years ago now. Because of the pandemic. We had to wait to bring it out. Yeah. I suppose, you know, making these films, these kinds of serious drama type films that ask questions, provocative questions, there isn’t as much support for that as you might expect.
But you know, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. So you’ve got to get it done. But it just requires a lot of tenacity.
Q: I learned that you had lost some people who are important to you, to this epidemic, to this opioid crisis. So is that the driving factor for you to make this, or was there any other inspiration for you to make this film?
A: Well, you know, I mean, look, you always want to make a good film that’s entertaining. First and foremost, it’s my job to entertain you. Write me your seven dollars and you want to have a good time to see something interesting, most dramatically interesting. But you know, what I would say is with this film, I had lost a friend many years ago to opioid abuse, gotten into pain pills and then went to heroin.
And we didn’t understand anything because he was such a nice, bright young man. Good family and all that. So I filed it away in the back of my mind. And then about five years ago, I think there were some reporters from the Los Angeles Times I teamed up with. And and they started to look into the role of opioid manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies in this issue.
What did they know or what didn’t they know? You know, was the product perhaps more dangerous? People had been led to believe, because now you see we’ve had this terrible epidemic in the country. You have these regular, normal people who are getting addicted in record numbers, hundreds of thousands dead. You know, they took a pain pill that was prescribed to them. But the way their body reacted, the way they developed independence, those are things I thought that was worth exploring.
Q: The way these big pharmaceutical companies were being portrayed in the film, it’s as if there’s so much at stake in terms of profit that they even didn’t care when they’re told their product were not ready to hit market. All they cared about was the bottom line. Is that based on your research?
A: I mean, I think we wanted to look at that. You know, this film is very based on real events, real and very heavily-researched. So that is how drugs are developed and tested on mice. And, you know, it’s a fascinating world. And obviously, you know, I don’t think anyone set out to make a harmful product. So that’s not the issue here. The issue is, you know, were these pills overprescribed? Were they over-marketed? Were questions about their safety ignored? And so I wanted to put that into a thriller context, really see what Gary Oldman’s [character] eventually did, Armie Hammer’s and the rest of the great supporting cast… Michelle Rodriguez, you know, all these people. How do these drugs interact with our society? And, you know, looking at it from these different perspectives of the user, the criminal criminal smuggler, and the manufacturer inside.
Q: So it was originally called Dreamland, is that correct? And then it was re titled to to Crisis. What was the significance of that first title?
A: It was a working title. There was another film called Dreamland, so we couldn’t use that one. But, you know, we don’t want it to be confusing. But I might I just kind of like the idea that, you know, we were all sort of living in a fantasy. I think that’s a very American thing. I actually like that title, but I do love CRISIS. I think it’s very strong. And I like these one word titles like. I believe there hasn’t been a film with that same title since Cary Grant’s crime thriller in 1950.
Q: Now, in terms of timeline… how long did it take from, when you were writing the script, like, how long did it take you to work on this film, as there was a lot of research that you had to do. So how long is that process?
A: I wrote this pretty quickly. I wrote it over the course of about six months in 2017. So about a little over three and a half years ago. And then, you know, I had met Gary Oldman and I took him the script and and he liked it right away. He said, OK, let me let me come on as a producer and help you put the film together.
And then the film came together pretty quickly and took, you know, maybe six months to to get the other actors together, and then we started shooting in 2019.
Q: And then so that was kind of that’s a good segue to talk about casting. Since you met Gary Oldman when you already finished with the script, are you one of those writers who have somebody in mind when you were writing the script? Because I feel like he’s so perfect in the role of Tyrone. So did you have someone in mind when you were writing this?
A: So I met Gary and then I was writing the script at the same time. This is kind of how this happened with Arbitrage. And so the character started to take shape a little bit in my mind. When I’m writing, it’s sort of like you only just see shapes, black, black box, you know, kind of shadow figures because you need the actors to bring it to life. So it’s kind of you know, it’s a strange process.
It’s a bit of an alchemical process, I would say. And but then, you know, once I have finished the draft and I gave it to him, then I really could see only him. And we worked together on this quite a bit, to tailor it. And I like to do that with all the actors. I like to rehearse for a few weeks, really get their perspectives on the character, get kind of deep into the research with them, go to labs, you know, with Veronica Ferres playing the [Pharma company] CEO, Armie and I also went with the undercover cop to go look at these pill mills, etc.
Q: OK, so how did the Evangeline Lily came about? Did you you know her before making this film?
A: No, I didn’t know her. I sent her the script. I had been a fan of hers since I had watched all of Lost. I was obsessed, just like everyone else, with that show. And what I saw in her was she was an actress with a great range. She had really showed so many different sides of the persona, and I think she gives a tremendous performance in this film though she hadn’t really done dramatic work in a while.
You know, she had done she had a little part in The Hurt Locker, but she then kind of got into this Marvel world. Yeah. And I think she said that she really wanted to stretch her dramatic muscles again. She really came came hard on the film, and she went very deep into the characters, kind of method and, you know, she had to go to some very dark places to give you that performance.
Q: I didn’t even know that was you who played Stanley the DEA agent (Armie Hammer’s partner) until I looked up my IMDb. So what makes you want to be involved in front of the camera? Because I’m not sure that’s hard to be directing and acting at the same time.
A: Well, you know, it’s all you have to blame. Lenny Kravitz, the musician. Four years ago, he was making a music video in California and he wanted to cast a director, a real life director, to play a director directing him and going crazy. Yeah. So he cast me and and then we did it. And I had such a great time. People were saying to me, like, hey, you were really good.
And and I thought, oh, my God, it’s like maybe that could be something fun to do. So we’re doing this film and I didn’t have anyone for that part. It’s kind of a comic relief type part. And so then somebody said like, well, how are we doing with that casting? And I said, you know what? And I thought, here’s my big moment. And, you know, I said, well, maybe I would do it. Well, there’s one less person to cast anyway, so you save some money. And then they were like, okay, great.
Q: I have to kind of bring up this elephant in the room. Surely you know about the personal crisis in regards to Armie Hammer. Did his involvement affect the reception of your film? How do you feel about the whole issue?
A: The thing is, you know, in terms of the audience, I think the film has been extremely well received. We’ve been number one rented movie in America when it was iTunes for two weeks. We opened up in 216 theaters. We were the number one independent film, the country, the number two per screen, second to Tom and Jerry. The number one film in limited release on less than a thousand screens. So audiences really sought out the film and continue to seek out the film that were opening around the world. We were doing, I think 900 theaters in the Middle East, we do a couple hundred in Australia this week, Canada. So, and audiences have rated the film very highly, we’ve had some very nice reviews, but we did take some heat from a lot of critics.
And it was, it was frustrating because I think you can look at something through lenses and you can say, okay, well, I appreciate where this is coming from. And you know, no film is perfect, it’s got its issues, whatever, but you can also really rip into something. And I think, unfortunately the timing of Armie’s personal problems, which I really know nothing about, I mean, he’s not my brother, he’s an actor that I hired to do a role and he did a great job. But you know, I think that [his involvement] may be colored some of the media. It’s frustrating, but I think, you know, all things have their moment. But I think people are starting to discover the film audiences are discovering the film and film writers are discovering the film and have been reacting more positively to the film.
That’s really the goal with this film. We just, we wanted to make an entertaining movie, uh, thrilling movie that you feel and captivate to with some great performances. And I think we did that, but then secondly, we really wanted to get this issue out to the public and get people talking about what are the responsibilities of these pharmaceutical manufacturers? How should law enforcement be done? How do we treat addicts? Do we treat addicts as the enemy, or do we treat them as our brother and sister our, you know, and understand that this is crossing all walks of life. It’s like a category five hurricane. And what we really need to do is to have some understanding, put some money towards treatment and to de-stigmatize and take away the, ‘oh, they’re bad people’ mindset.
Q: Now, in regards to the multiple narratives. I feel like all these different three different distinct story, but yet related could be its own film. What was the biggest challenge for you to try to tell their stories in just two hours and make sure the story is coherent?
A: And it was, uh, it was a very interesting question that, I mean, I asked myself all these questions, you know, two of the stories, me, one story doesn’t mean, but in a way it does, because you understand that Gary’s up here, you know, it’s like almost like he’s fighting with the gods on Mount Olympus and whatever decisions are made in that room, in that board room or in the lab, then they come down and they touch these other lives. So for me, you know, it was, it was valid to have a metaphorical connection or an allegorical connection as opposed to ‘Oh, they’re students in his class or whatever, something that would have felt totally unrealistic.’
I liked the idea, you know, that the characters are struggling and then they can all help each other in some way. Gary helped them by the fight that he gets into, they help each other. So, certainly editorially putting all that together, a lot of time and effort went into that because you need to see, well, how do these stories inform each other, how do they touch each other? You know, how do we make a connection? That’s both for image based, story-based, you know, we move scenes around and, you know, take the script and I take some scenes and montage them and use these kinds of pre-lab dialogue. Like Robert Altman used to do or later Steven Soderbergh, they’re kind of the masters. So, some of it is trial and error, some of it is your instinct… it’s a kind of dance. And then also what is the footage and what are the actors, what are they giving you? Sometimes they can do things you don’t expect that are very beautiful.
Q: My last question relates to the theme in your films. It seems your previous film deals with the wealthy, powerful people, and that’s also the case here both in the Pharma company and also the privileged school trying to maintain their place in society. I notice that power is kind of a running theme in your stories, so is that something that you like to explore more in your films? I was wondering maybe there is a third film that you’re doing, that its almost like a trilogy with these kind of similar theme going on.
A: Well, I think you pick up on that very well. Um, I mean, I think I’m interested in looking at, you know, there’s, there’s certain moral questions in here, right? And then there’s also like a balance of hearts. So Greg Kinnear, who’s been a friend of mine for many years, I asked him to play this role and he plays the dean of the university. And he’s obviously in conflict with Gary Oldman’s character, because he has discovered what he thinks is damaging information about this product and he wants to go public with it. But then he’s agreed not to do that. And this could really hurt the university because the pharmaceutical company provides the university endowment. So you can really see his point of view… and I said, we got to have Kinnear because he’s such a sympathetic person.
So to see the dean in this conflicted situation, you know, I like those moral gray areas. It’s a balance of and saying, okay, are you sure you’re right about this thing? You know, maybe it’s science who knows, maybe you’re not right. Uh, you know, maybe it’s that experiment translates here on the, on the animals, but it doesn’t work for the humans. I mean, these are all complicated questions, but what you are going to do is you’re going to endanger the university and the university is serving its community of students. And it’s got tens of thousands of students that I’m looking out for. And I have responsibility to those people. So in the balance of harms, this may not be the one to do. And by the way, I don’t think you can win. And then, you know, whether or not (Gary’s character) Tyrone does win or not in the end, we have to leave for, for your viewers.
I like exploring the corrupting role that capitalism plays in the American society because it has, it’s so great and it encourages innovation and all that, but you know, when we go too far away, when we get to free market and we do whatever you want, well sometimes that encourages bad behavior, you know, safeguards. It’s like, you know, you have a runaway train, right? You’re supposed to have some circuit breakers, make sure the train doesn’t go off the tracks. And I think that’s the role of us, the public. So that’s part of why we make the film is to say, Hey, take a look at what’s going on. You know, maybe you don’t want to do anything about it, but at least you should be aware of it.
Check out the trailer:
CRISIS is now available on Video On Demand.
It’ll be released on Blu-ray and DVD in the USA on Tuesday April 20th
Thanks Nicholas Jarecki for chatting with me!