Interview | Ryan Orr | Faces in the Mirror

By: Casey Shafer

Still Image from Faces in the Mirror
As the star of Boyd Tinsley's debut feature film Faces in the Mirror, Ryan Orr delivers a brilliantly nuanced and layered performance that stays with the viewer long after the credits roll. The talented actor recently sat down with us to discuss the process behind shooting the film, his motivation for the project, and much more. Click here for more information about the film.

JamBase: You’ve been an actor for a while so this wasn’t a new thing for you.

Ryan Orr: I started with working with Boyd [Tinsley] as a personal assistant back in 2003, and I have always studied acting. It’s always been a passion of mine and I have done [film] projects on and off for the last several years. This project was something that [Boyd] has been talking about since I started working for him. He has always wanted to make a film - he wasn’t sure exactly what kind, but he knew he wanted music to be the main focus. It just kind of worked out - the right place at the right time.

Still Image from Faces in the Mirror
I took a look at some of the other projects you have done and it seems comedy was a big focus.

I started out in romantic comedy, and it was a great start. But when I moved to San Francisco to study acting, I had a teacher that I really connected with. I didn’t do any projects for three or four years because I was studying with her and part of the agreement was that I couldn’t do anything while I was studying under her. I kept getting a lot of comedy roles but I wanted to do something more deep. I am very into dramatic acting, and the line that you ride between dramatic roles and melodramatic stuff is very fine. I want to be able to take things that have happened in my life and apply that to the character. It’s hard to find really good quality, well-written stuff at the ground level.

Well, as far as a dramatic role goes, you definitely got your chance with this movie. I was curious, because this is mostly a silent film, was it difficult for you to convey the emotion that this role required without relying on dialog?

When I first decided to do the role, Boyd had a list of movies he wanted me to watch, from Alfred Hitchcock to Gus Van Zant. You can see a lot of those influences in the movie. As far as emoting without dialog, Boyd would play music from the scene that was going to be shot that day for us. We would play the music, stop the track and go right into shooting. It put all of us into this meditative state...

Still Image from Faces in the Mirror
So were you there when they recording the music?

I would be in the [control room] with the writer and we would just jot down ideas and thoughts. Then the writer would take [the notes] and turn them into a cohesive script. But yeah - there is really little to no dialog, and what there is is totally improvisational.

Wow, I didn’t realize it was improv. Everything except for the narration was off the cuff?

No, the narration was improv as well. We needed monologues, so Boyd called me and said, ‘You’re coming to Charlottesville. I’m putting you into Dave Matthews' vocal isolation booth. You are going in there, and while I have some visuals up, just talk.’ We did that for three days. Afterward, we just [dug into the recordings] and took all the best pieces.

Sounds like shooting a music video, where you have the music playing in the background through a PA and then band just plays along to it.

We didn’t do it that way because we needed the atmosphere: footsteps, doors closing, things like that. There was no music when we were actually shooting, but in between shots they would play the music. The cinematographer we worked with was just incredible with making the movie flow. He used a lot of dolly shots because Boyd really wanted the movie to dance. [It made for] a lot of weeping shots throughout the movie and, looking back on it, that was because of music being played beforehand.

Still Image from Faces in the Mirror
You’re a musician. Did you have some part in the making of the music?

I laid down some percussion tracks for the closing song. It was more just listening while [the soundtrack was being created] and writing down ideas for the shots.

Because of the way you are marketing this film and the way that it was made, it seems like there is much less of a focus on the bottom line than typical productions

There was no focus on that at all. Boyd didn’t want anyone to worry about the money. I guess that is a luxury that we had, but at the same time, everyone was deeply in that creative space. There was no one yelling at you for running out of time or taking too long to get something right. We took our time to make this beautiful piece of filmmaking that we all knew it could be.

It definitely doesn’t come off as some sort of pretentious indie art project. It is unbelievably well done. [JamBase hosted the San Francisco premiere on Oct. 11.]

Thank you, man. You touched on this a bit when you spoke with Boyd about how this was part of the grieving process for him after Leroi [Moore]’s passing. I lost my dad a couple of years before that, and I feel like this whole project was done because we needed to do it. Business had nothing to do with it.

Still Image from Faces in the Mirror
That makes sense, as the movie is about a young man dealing with his father’s death. Was this an idea you brought to the table?

I got a call from Boyd and he said, ‘We are doing a film. I don’t know if it’s going to be a short or a feature….but you know what it’s about.’ He knew that I would be able to draw very deeply from that experience. It had been a couple of years since my dad passed, but it’s your father - you don’t get over it that quick.

Did this bring a lot of those emotions you had right after his passing back to the surface?

It did. In a sense, it was very therapeutic - and now I have a body of work that is a nod to my father. It’s a dream come true. I have people coming up to me that can relate, who aren’t even big fans of dramatic movies. I think people can really connect and that makes me so proud to be a part of the project. When you are making a movie like this, it is such a gamble. You don’t know how people are going to react to it. We have been lucky, we’ve gotten nothing but great responses to it. I’ve asked myself why I want to be an actor a million times… It is for this exact reason.

JamBase | Ryan Orr
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[Published on: 10/29/12]

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