When Coldwater premiered at SXSW in March, everyone wanted to know who its leading man was. Who is PJ Boudousque? Playing the brooding 17-yr-old Brad Lunders who’s sent to a reform facility in the woods, he gave a debut performance that was both grounded and intricate.
When the film was accepted into the Little Rock Film Festival, I knew I had to snag a few words with the leading man. After interviewing Coldwater writer/director Vincent Grashaw at SXSW, I met PJ back in LA last week. I was eager to get his side of the story, knowing the script evolved greatly during the shoot and that this was his first big feature film experience.
We met at The Darkroom in West Hollywood and dished about his last minute audition, re-writing the shot list in the camp cafeteria and his love for Paul Newman. Before the interview began, though, we shared some of our SXSW stories. Pretty sure PJ had no idea I was taping this segment, but I pressed record when I realized his Brie Larson [Short Term 12, 21 Jump Street] story was priceless [sorry, PJ, but it was too good.]
ATW: I think one my favorite moments at SXSW was meeting Brie Larson at the awards wrap party.
B: I’m a fan of hers as well. Vince had been talking to her at the wrap party, and he said I should go say hello! I’m like what do I say? It’s very uncharacteristic of me, but I walked up and mustered up the courage. I’m in no mans land, hanging out watching her have a conversation with this other guy. I was like ‘My name’s PJ, and I just wanted to say I think you’re great! She was like ‘It’s BJ? No jobs are better than blowjobs am I, right? She was joking, but I was like great I walked over and got made fun of. I literally turned red.
ATW: Classic. But speaking of Vince, he tells me he cast you off two reads because you moved to NYC right after the Coldwater audition?
B: I ended my lease and the Coldwater audition was my last audition in LA. I was going to pass on it, but it was literally on my street in Venice. I had nothing left in my apartment. It was my last hurrah. I got it the night before and there were like 20 pages. I didn’t want to go in there on a wing and prayer and feel insecure, so I picked two specific scenes and just worked the hell out of them. I read with them and met with Vince the next day for lunch, but I still didn’t get the part and I left. I was in New York and got a phone call that I booked it.
ATW: Not only was the role mentally challenging, but physically I kept thinking How did you stay hydrated? [If you haven’t seen the film, I’ll add that there are a number of scenes of the boys running in the desert].
B: It was grueling. All of us actually lived on location at the camp in Malibu. It was exhausting. There was a lot of bonding and the thing that really afforded us, I didn’t really know what I’m doing on my first film to be honest, but I could reach out for help. I could have conversations about issues I’m having with the material or the script.
ATW: Vince was very passionate about working with you on the script and seeing it evolve.
B: That was the best, and to Vince’s credit as a writer and director I think it worked to his advantage that he had the script for so long. Because he went through so many revisions and there was so much adversity for him to overcome, when I had my own creative ideas, we could talk about it. We could re-write it in the moment. He wrote it when he was 18, and now he’s an adult, so he was tapping into that perspective too.
ATW: How would you actually approach Vince if you wanted to make a script change?
B: There was an advantage to living together in this camp like setting. We had a giant cafeteria connected to a kitchen. Jason and Vince would go over the shot list for the next day in the cafeteria, and I would walk in and just talk it over with them. We could throw an idea out there and workshop it at night before we shot the next day. They were editing shot lists, so they could just slip it in there.
ATW: I thought a lot about Jamie Fox in Djano Unchained when watching your character Brad. He doesn’t have a lot of words, but he has so much to do.
B: That was the challenge. As a protagonist, I don’t really talk a lot, [Brad’s] very repressed. I didn’t know how to exactly prepare for it, but the cast helped me out. They provide a lot of the color in the film. A lot of the preparation I did was knowing how I felt about these people and being open enough to be affected by them. Ultimately, it’s their actions that change his course.
ATW: Why doesn’t Brad feel the need to speak?
B: Well I thought about when I was that age ; I’m 24 now. I think we hear a lot of time from adults when children make poor decisions: Why didn’t he just talk to someone? Why didn’t he go to his parents, school counselors or people who cared about him? As it relates to Brad, it’s not so much that he doesn’t want to reach out; he just doesn’t’ know how to communicate these feelings. He’s dealing with very adult emotions and doesn’t know how to talk about that loss or confusion.
ATW: Was it difficult to play someone younger?
B: That was a huge challenge for me. I lost a lot of weight and was shaving twice a day as well, running up and down hills and carrying people, getting thrown out of trucks. Again, Brad doesn’t talk a lot, and I had to justify why that is. Why is he a bystander? The only answer I had was that he can’t, and it coincides with being a teenager. The confidence that comes maturity, I don’t think Brad has that. He wants to portray an image of being a grown ass man without the actual experience. In a sick, twisted way Coldwater is a bit of a coming of age story in that sense.
ATW: Brad’s sort of the hero of the story. Where does Brad find that strength to continue on?
B: I think a lot of it has to do with redemption. There’s a responsibility more than anything. He’s a young man who’s trying to find out if he’s a good or bad person. He’s grappling with whether or not he deserves to be where he is. Is this the suffering that I must endure because I did this and I’m a terrible person?
ATW: What ultimately do you want to pursue? Your debut performance in Coldwater is very stoic and dramatic, would you be satisfied with continuing to get cast in those sorts of roles?
B: I think right now, at this place in my career, type casting could even benefit me. I went from I can do this trust me. No, seriously, no I know I give a good audition but this other guy has a crazy resume, but trust me I can do it. Coldwater helped me go from that to here’s a body of work. A type cast is an advantage in that way. But what I really want…have you seen Road to Perdition? There’s a moment where Paul Newman talks to Tom Hanks and he’s telling him not to kill his own son. They’re in this basement. Newman is this very powerful man, and he has this moment where it’s very tight on his face, and he’s so still. In that moment, you get everything; you get the whole movie. At the end of the day, I don’t know what my career will hold for me, but it could really just have that moment. That’d be incredible.