Many people will best know Eric Roberts from Hollywood movies like The Expendables and The Pope Of Greenwich Village, TV shows like Less Than Perfect and Heroes or music videos by the likes of The Killers, but the veteran actor also enjoys working on low budget independent films from time to time. Case in point: Jesse, a crime drama written and directed by Long Island filmmaker Fred Carpenter, which debuts next month at the second annual Soho International Film Festival.
While Roberts spent a day on the set of Jesse filming at KJ Farrell’s Bar and Grill in Bellmore on Long Island last September, I stopped by to snap some shots and chat with the star as he made his cameo appearance, which included a steamy love scene with star Stephanie Finochio that was fun to observe. The actors’ clothes remained on, but watching them nearly fall off a shaky bar stool as the camera swirled around them was priceless. (They merit credit for dedication and keeping a straight face in spite of that.) During a break from filming, Roberts chatted with me about various subjects, including his favorite movie of all time.
An official synopsis of Jesse: “A Nassau County, New York Police detective named Jesse Weinstein (Stephanie Finochio) turns vigilante as she investigates her brother’s murder and enters into a world of crime, corruption, and shocking deception.” On top of a brief appearance by Roberts as a bartender who offers a sympathetic ear (and body) to the titular character, veteran actors William Forsythe (The Rock), Armand Assante (The Mambo Kings) and Michael Wright (The Five Heartbeats) also emerge in the movie as well.
I notice that you vocally mimic a trumpet between takes. Did you used to play trumpet?
Yes, but I had a car accident and it knocked out some teeth, so it’s hard to hit high notes. So I imitate.
Does your “trumpet playing” keep you going during filming?
It’s a form of meditation. It just cools me out.
What was it like to go from The Expendables to Jesse?
I’ve shot stuff in between, but these [small films] are the fun ones.
They’re shooting this film in HD. That reportedly saves money for independent filmmakers…
But it’s also a myth. HD costs the exact same as 16mm, and 16mm is the most beautiful thing on the planet.
Personally, I’m still a big fan of film.
We all are. If you love movies, you have to love film.
So when you’re doing a movie like this and delving into the indie world, what is your motivation and how can your name recognition help?
If I talk about that, I’ll only sound pompous, so I can’t.
“We have a squirrel refuge in my house. We have about 90 squirrels all over my house who lost tails or feet or hands.”
Can you tell us about your character in Jesse? How extensive is your role in this?
I’m just a bartender. He’s a compassionate guy who gets hit on by a girl and takes her up on it. I have three very small scenes.
I notice that you call the director “boss” a lot. Why do you do that?
Because he is the boss, and I want everybody to know that’s what I think.
What other projects do you have coming up?
I have a wonderful independent film called A New York Heartbeat. [joking] I play something new and different for me: I play a gangster. It’s a coming-of-age story set in the 1950s in New York about some gangsters who get ripped off. I play a local don who gets pissed off and goes after the guys who ripped me off. And they’re kids.
What kind of role would you like to do that you haven’t done?
I would like to play an evangelist. I haven’t done that or played anything like it. I love that world. I’m narrating a book called A Thirst For Souls about Percy Crawford. He was an evangelist. He’s gone, but his two sons run and/or own almost all of the religious radio west of the Mississippi River, and I want to play somebody like that. His grandson is a wonderful artist named Shannon Crawford who has done paintings that have been bought by Jack Nicholson and Johnny Depp. He’s a very famous artist now and a friend of mine and not at all religious, but that’s how I got the book. I told him I want to play an evangelist, and he said, “You have to read about my grandfather!”
It sounds like a positive spin on evangelists, who often get the clichéd negative slant in Hollywood.
They come across as a cliché because you only perceive them while they’re doing their thing. You don’t know their lives. In our minds, they are a cliché, but they know how to move a crowd.
“I would like to play an evangelist. I haven’t done that or played anything like it. I love that world.”
You are involved with animal rescue. How long have you been doing that?
My whole life.
How much time do you spend doing that, and are they any places you are actively involved with?
Just everywhere. We have a squirrel refuge in my house. We have about 90 squirrels all over my house who lost tails or feet or hands. If I leave open my bathroom door while I shave, they’ll come in and hang out with me. But we also have cats, so I have to be careful for them.
You have done some high profile music videos in recent years, including “Mr. Brightside” with The Killers.
All my videos have gone to #1, too, so I’m like the lucky charm. And it gives me a new audience.
What do you think is your most underrated performance?
That’s a hard question. I’ve made a lot of movies. Probably an hour [television] short called Miss Lonelyhearts. I also made a feature length film called Miss Lonelyhearts, but it’s not the same story. The hour short is based on the book by Nathanael West. It is an incredible piece of work and is hard to find. That’s probably my favorite piece of work I’ve ever done besides Star 80, The Pope Of Greenwich Village and Runaway Train. I guess of my feature length movies, probably It’s My Party, which is a true story [about a man dying of AIDS] that is better than Philadelphia. It’s not an opinion, it’s a matter of fact.