Hello, I’m Jono Simpson and I’m joined today by the writer, director, and editor of Dinner in America, Adam Rehmeier. And joining him are the two leads of the film, Kyle Gallner and Emily Skeggs…
JONO SIMPSON: First of all, thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, and also let me congratulate you on the release of Dinner in America. I’m a massive fan of the film and it’s been on my radar since it premiered at Sundance last year. I’m really excited it’s finally available here in the UK courtesy of Arrow Video. So I want to say a massive thank you and congratulations to everyone involved.
ADAM REHMEIER: Arrow did a great job. It’s a great release and Arrow was top-notch to work with. So nothing but nice things to say.
Jono: The first question is for Adam. After shocking many critics with your extremely controversial feature-length debut, The Bunny Games, how does it feel to be at the opposite end of the spectrum and be receiving such a positive reception with Dinner in America?
Adam: Well, that’s a strange question because, despite the negativity of the BBFC and David Cook, there were so many reviews just like the one we got for this that was so in-depth and so personal. There were actually quite a few dissertations written about the film from different places in the UK that was crazy. It was a different film, but with that particular film I was working with an actress that had been abducted in real life, so it was like a cathartic process for her. It was an artistic statement and collaboration between the two of us and I don’t regret doing that. For me, it was a chance to work with her in a really creative and artistic way. This is a totally different experience but the approach I have with working with people is exactly the same. Dinner in America was definitely a more polarising film but the energy that went into it was the same.
Jono: On the Blu-ray’s Director’s Commentary you mentioned the script caught the eye of the late director Danny Leiner during its early stages, and he’s also credited as a producer. How instrumental was he in refining the screenplay and did he help shape your vision?
Adam: So, early on in the process, when I first optioned the material to Ross Puttman, David Hunter, and Danny Leiner, this was a few years before Danny got sick. He passed away right after we shot the film. He was not on set but he was there in spirit, and he was there in the early phase when we were trying to develop and put the film together. He was instrumental at the head of it and then he passed away right after we shot it.
Jono: Since you mentioned the early production stages, what challenges did you face getting the film made? Did the backing of Ben Stiller’s production company Red Hour help overcome several issues and help the project gain traction?
Adam: This film was a straight pain to put together for many, many years and it had many configurations before we ended on the film we ended up shooting. It had fallen apart a couple of times, it was a pain to make the whole time, and it was hard to get anybody to really help with it. We made it for what we did, we ended up just doing it for what we could, and I’m very happy with everything about it.
Jono: Kyle, your character Simon is such a multi-layered character and completely different from your previous roles, what was your initial reaction when you first read the script? Could you see a younger rebellious version of yourself within Simon?
KYLE GALLNER: [laughs] Yeah it’s kinda funny, I think back on a lot of the stuff I’ve played and Simon, in a lot of ways, is probably closer to me than a lot of things I’ve actually done. I was definitely a wild child and I definitely had a bit of a temper as a kid. I grew up listening to punk and hardcore and going to shows and things like that. Simon’s world is a world I’m not unfamiliar with but, at the same time, there are pretty significant differences. I was never as aggressive or as super in your face as Simon was.
There’s definitely things I understand and definitely things I had to figure out breaking down the script and creating the character [laughs]. I love Simon and he’s an incredibly interesting character. I don’t get sent characters like this that often where I get such a complete arc. He starts off one way and challenges the audience and, by the end, you really are along for the ride with Patty and Simon. He’s this aggressive punk rock guy that you really feel one way about at the beginning and then you start to realise he has a really strong moral compass. He’s got things he stands for, he’s got things he believes in and he sticks up for the people he loves and cares about. I think Simon would stick up for a stranger if he thought things weren’t right. I really enjoyed playing Simon, he’s really complex dude that was a one in a million opportunity.
Jono: I think the scene where he gets beaten up by the bullies truly encapsulates him as a person. He’s willing to stick up for Patty regardless of the consequences, and he’s willing to stick up for what’s right and what’s wrong.
Kyle: Yeah, 100% and I definitely don’t think that’s the first time that’s happened. [laughs]
Jono: He’s an interesting character but, Emily, Patty is such a unique character and not one that’s often positively represented in cinema. From being bullied on the bus to finding a cathartic outlet in music, she’s very relatable. When you received the script what initially attracted you to take on the role?
EMILY SKEGGS: I think it’s funny because when I first read the script I was confused. I was like “how would I ever do this?” Then I realised that so much of who Patty is was me growing up. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how do I conform to fit the better mould that society wants me to be in. While making this movie I was able to go back to who I was at that time and have a cathartic experience in the same way Adam had with The Bunny Games. I relived that part of my life and recognise that person who I was has a lot of value, like Patty learns and how Patty finds her value.
For me, it was really personal and I was scared shitless when the movie was coming out because this is me, at my core, times twenty. I was thinking “what are people going to think of who I am?” and “what is my dad going to think watching this?” But I think I’ve gained a lot of confidence and clarity, and also a lot of empathy for people because the core of the movie is that you just don’t know who someone is and there’s no point in making a prejudgment of somebody. People are really complex.
Jono: I think there’s a bit of Patty in everyone.
Adam: There is for me, definitely for me.
Kyle: Yeah, I definitely think people have a bit of Simon and a bit of Patty in themselves. I think there’s a combo and they lean one way or the other. That’s why a lot of people really attach themselves to these characters. A lot of people see a bit of themselves in one or both of them. Whether it’s that “fuck you” and push back against society. Everybody wishes they could walk into someplace and tell them to “get fucked”. Then at the same time, it was amazing how many times during screenings people would raise their hands and say “that was me on the bus. Every day getting shit on, every single day”. I think people really recognise a piece of themselves in these two characters and I think that’s why the movie has resonated so well with people.
Jono: The two characters are completely polar opposites, yet the chemistry between you both is palpable. The relationship feels so genuine. How did you both prepare for the role?[both laugh]
Emily: Well they booked our flights and we were sitting right next to each other from L.A to Detroit. That was great, we got to be in the airport together and we both started to really figure out how to embody these characters. We had the opportunity to test it out in real-life scenarios. Kyle and I went candle shopping, which is just such a weird thing to do with a co-star, but those kinds of experiences really brought us together.
Kyle: We were pretty inseparable for the first 10 days. Emily would come over and cook dinner and we would just sit and hang out and talk. Or we would all go out—me, Emily, and Adam—and get food. There were a lot of weird experiences like we went pumpkin picking and we rescued a beautiful dog. There were all these crazy bonding moments and it was such a wild time.
Emily: It was like summer camp, but it got set up by Adam. He picked us up from the airport and we went straight out for dinner to eat patty melts.
Adam: We all went out a couple of days after too. I’m not letting shit down. We all went out and we all ordered an appetiser of chicken wings. We were at a place with a lot of business professionals and we stood out. Let me tell you, I grew up in Nebraska, the rural environment and I clean my chicken bones until there’s nothing left on them, seemingly. Kyle says my bones are not clean enough for him. So he grabs my bones and starts gnawing off the cartilage and shit. He was already trying to emasculate me in front of Emily.
Emily: [laughs] He was sat there like in full Simon mode eating like an animal.
Jono: Adam, you mentioned integrating a DIY ethic of your musical experience into the film. As a small-budget production, how essential was this to the process of filmmaking?
Adam: For me maybe this production had too large of a footprint. While it was nimble it was also slower than I’m used to. I’m very immediate with things. But it’s still very much an independent film and it’s still small. It’s just more about being direct and knowing what you want and getting it because we didn’t have a lot of time. My background is in low-budget, micro-budget, and documentary, so I make decisions super fast. But I also come to the table with these things predetermined so I’m not sitting there wasting time trying to figure things out. I treated production like we have this amount of time and we just have to get it done and plough through.
I remember on the first day I wanted to show Kyle and Emily what it was going to be like working with me. We did our first scene in the alley where Simon and Patty meet. It was a stressful day, there was a situation with a crew member and his father had passed away but we all came together and made it happen. I think it was during the first take, they did a wide shot as they meet in the alley. I knew in my head I was never going go to use that shot, but they didn’t know that. We just did one take of it and I said “cut” let’s move on. They wanted to do it again but I said no we don’t have time we’re moving on.
Psychologically, you’re setting what it’s going to be like and that there may not be another chance. For actors it lets them know that I’m going to move quickly. They were so game and understanding all of the time. The only reason I would ever go back for anything was for technical reasons and not for performative because they would give me a couple of options with things and they were good options to have. They understood how to massage that for the edit and I never had to worry about either of them. Logistics is the shit that I don’t like. If I could I would just play with Kyle and Emily all day but most of the time when a film gets bogged down it’s due to logistics. Dinner in America had over 60 locations in a 25-day shoot and over 70 speaking roles.
Kyle: Which in an indie film is absolute bananas.
Adam: We were moving two or three locations a day. The only stable location was Patty’s house because we spent a week at the house. That was the only stable thing we had going on.
Jono: With the music serving as the beating heart of the story, I read in an interview with your DP, Jean-Phillipe, that he took Kyle to several punk shows. I’m curious who you saw live and if it helped shape your performance?
Kyle: Yeah, what happened was, this was how I ended up on the movie. Adam sent me the script for Dinner in America three years before I actually signed on to do it. I was in the middle of filming a TV show, I had a new baby, it was hectic. I read the first 10 pages and then something happened and I never ended up finishing it. Cut to years later, I’m making another movie and JP [Jean-Phillipe] is shooting it. He told me a project he had been working on had fallen through and that I would be good for the part. He then told me the name of it and it sounded super familiar. I typed the name of it into my email and I actually still had the original Dinner in America script.
I finally read the script and thought it was crazy, it was amazing. I set up the meeting with Adam, and luckily Adam still wanted me to do it, and we talked for a couple of hours. This was all before the movie me and JP had finished, and the Dead Kennedys were playing in Romania, so we went and saw the Dead Kennedys together while we were out there. That was super fun. We went and saw Disco Assault play, who wrote the Psyops music, we saw them play in Detroit.
Emily: And they invited Kyle up on stage. They introduced him saying “This is our friend Simon from Psyops” and Kyle fucking killed it. He was so great and it was so cool to be able to watch. It was in an old abandoned bank in Detroit that was powered by generators. It was so punk and so fucking cool. And afterwards, people were coming up to Kyle and saying “Psyops? Yeah I think I’ve heard of you guys”. It was so great.
Jono: As a fan of music that must have been a dream come true?
Kyle: Yeah man, I’ve always wanted to front a punk band. Get up on stage and scream down a microphone is something that I’ve always wanted to do. But to be able to actually do it was amazing.
Adam: I have to say he knocked it out of the park and it looked great when we finally got to the punk show. That’s the thing with this film, you can’t go all the way and get to the punk show and Simon is a poser. That’s going to suck. It had to be authentic and Disco Assault was a huge part of that and the singer Matt was fucking awesome. The music, we did that all in two sessions because Kyle blew his voice out in the first one. But it came together seamlessly, it sounded great.
Kyle: It also helped that JP is a total hardcore kid too. He spent a lot of time filming hardcore shows and punk shows, so he was able to capture that atmosphere. When we finally get into the pit he was able to get that feeling going.
Jono: Will the soundtrack be released on a music streaming platform or is there any information of a potential vinyl release?
Adam: Yeah, we’re working on it. The pandemic slowed everything down and fucked it all up, but yeah at some point. I want that more than everything and I can visualize it, so there’s something sexy for you lined up.
Jono: Both Patty and Simon learn something from each other; he learns to drop his guard and she learns of self-acceptance. I’m curious what did you all learn about yourself whilst working together?
Emily: Hmmm… I learned to love every little weird part of myself and everybody else’s weird part of themselves. To see value in everything even if society doesn’t agree.
Kyle: [distracted] My dog is going to kill this guy walking up the driveway. I’m going to have to talk to him real quick. It was nice to meet you, but I’ve got to handle this real bad.[Kyle, unfortunately, has to leave the call without answering the last question.]
Adam: I learned that I was pretty fucking jaded about things. I think Kyle and Emily, especially the relationship between Patty and Simon opened me up to a lot of things. I really believe Emily as Patty and Kyle as Simon, I don’t believe it’s just an act. To a degree, sure, but they put enough of themselves into it. I believe that that creation we all felt opened me up in a way that was super positive for myself. I want to stay on track and go deeper and deeper with everything that I do. The experience working with them was the point I realised just how far I could go. With the music and the way we connected with it all, it kept me on track emotionally with the kind of work I want to do.
Jono: Just to wrap things up, again let me say thank you for taking the time to answer my questions today and I’m eagerly looking forward to what the future holds for you all.