Director Brian Petsos.
When suicidal writer Samuel Liston (Emory Cohen) gets hit by the car of the enigmatic Floyd Deveraux (Andy Garcia), their lives change forever. To make up for the accident, Floyd hires Sam to write his biography, leading the duo down a path of astonishing chaos.
Alongside Cohen and Garcia, Big Gold Brick features Megan Fox, Lucy Hale, Leonidas Castrounis and Oscar Isaac. Ahead of its premiere, LA Confidential spoke with writer-director Brian Petsos about making his directorial debut with an intriguing dark comedy.
What was your inciting idea for what became Big Gold Brick?
The inciting idea was actually from something quite startling and scary and sad. Someone pretty close to me suffered a traumatic brain injury. His climbing back to normalcy from that was just the most arduous, crazy, crazy couple of years. Watching that happen, I was like, this is a good opportunity for some dark comedy. But that was the initial thing.
How did the fantasy elements of the movie come into play?
Prior to this, I’d done a short film called Lightning Face starring Mr. Oscar Isaac. And I started playing around with— I don't want to say I hate superhero movies because that's not accurate because there are some superhero movies that I absolutely love, but generically, I probably don't like them as much as maybe other people do. But I'm so interested by a lot of what they do, the function that they serve, and so I brought some of that into play with Lightning Face and I really wanted to bring it into play with this film as well. Obviously, it only pops up until it really pops up.
Emory Cohen and Andy Garcia as Samuel ("Sam," not Sammy) Liston and Floyd Deveraux.
Was it to balance out the darkness of the story?
I consider my stuff more comedy than anything else. People have asked and I know we're sort of calling it a genre-bending thing, other people have also called it that. People have asked, “Did you try to just mix all these genres into one movie?” That is not the case at all. I'm simply writing something that seems very logical to me. The movie is commanding me to have it finished the way it does and come play out the way it does. So it's not like I'm trying to have a comedy turn into a fantasy, it's not that at all. Something I've said in the past is not that I'm an opera expert, but I do go to the opera and I really love opera and I love how much change happens in the course of a single opera, especially some of the comic operas that get super melodramatic, very funny. Sometimes there are some fantastical elements and I guess the realization of that is something that has been a thing for me as well.
Megan Fox as attorney Jacqueline Deveraux.
How did your time at Second City in Chicago inform your approach to comedy?
The day of my last conservatory show, I packed up a truck and moved to New York City. And with the goal of making movies quote, unquote. It's funny, a lot of my ensemble mates, everyone wants to, at the time everyone at the time just wanted to be on SNL. I remember we all were at a bar after and I said, “I just want to make movies.”
My training as an improviser has hugely influenced the way I write. I don't really improvise as a director. Oddly enough, I don't like my actors to improvise that much, I should say. But for me, in terms of generating my script, it's a huge thing. I'm kind of constantly performing in my own mind, this whole kind of pantheon of characters talking to each other. It's been a huge, huge thing, a huge motivator, a huge help. Totally invaluable.
Do you have a favorite scene in the movie?
It's like saying do I have a favorite child, even though I don't have any children. Honestly, you stumped me here. I can't say I have a favorite scene, but for the sake of legacy and my history with Oscar Isaac, I think the big villainous castle scene is a heck of a lot of fun. I'm really excited for people to see that, but I don't want to discount how incredible Andy Garcia and Emory Cohen are. There's so many pearls that those guys have just thrown down and their work together in this film and truly blessed to have both those guys really turn up, and obviously I don't want to discount Megan Fox and Lucy Hale. I'm very fortunate to have the cast.
Oscar Issac as Anselm.
You've worked with Oscar Isaac a number of times. Why do you two collaborate so well together?
It's funny. When Oscar and I met, it just sort of felt like we knew each other forever. And there are other people in my life that I've met and that has been the case, but it was one of those things where we just sort of instantly vibed. Obviously we have a personal friendship. I'm just very lucky that we've met and we get along so well, and I think we make some kind of goofy stuff together.
What sort of experience do you hope audiences have from watching this movie?
I think as an individual watch by the same person could come away with a different result over the course of several different instances watching the film. It's very important to me that the film is an experience. I really want people to go in and in approximately two hours, feel like something has happened to them. And so whether that is, “This was really funny” or “Wow, that really sort of touched me” or “I'm kind of mystified by that.” I'll take any of those things as long as it's something, so I really hope that people can be prickled by it in some way.
Samuel’s intensity is pretty well-balanced by Floyd’s charm, but did you ever have concerns he might not be likable?
He is. Absolutely, that's part of his circumstance. But it's funny because likability is a thing that doesn't make sense to me. The need to make someone likable, I just don't really subscribe to it. Even though I personally find both of those guys very likable in the film. I'm very interested in shades of gray with people as opposed to having to put a box around a character and have them occupy a certain individual kind of space. I'm very interested in the complexity of someone maybe doing something that one person thinks is bad and another person maybe doesn't, so our own sort of moral codes reflecting that upon these characters, withholding judgment on these characters and letting the characters just be what they have to be. So that's the way I look at it. That may not be satisfactory to everyone, but that's my take.
I sincerely hope people see it and I really do hope people like it. I'm not ashamed to say I do want people to dig this.
I just saw it in this theater last night here in Chicago and for a private screening. It's the first time I saw it in theaters since I was finishing post in Toronto during the pandemic, which was not easy. I made this movie for a theater shot in 266. There's 40 pieces of music. There's a ton of VFX. It is a theater movie. That being said, I realized a lot of people won't have access and ability or wherewithal, and so it is available digitally and I just hope they see it.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Big Gold Brick is now in theaters and available to rent.
Photography by: Alisha Wetherill; Courtesy Samuel Goldwyn Films