Ashley Tabatabai’s latest short film, The Interview, puts a corporate opportunist face-to-face with a naïve interviewee. What ensues is a completely one-sided battle of wits that climaxes with an act of capitalist ruthlessness.
Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge spoke to Ashley about The Interview, his thinking behind the Joseph Green character, working on a feature film, and more.
Q: ‘The Interview’ is a darkly fun take on corporations treatment of the vulnerable individual. What led you to write this story?
A: I think we live in a time full of opportunity, more so than perhaps ever before. There seems to be this amalgam of old ways of thinking and doing things with new ones. For me, The Interview was a way of sitting in that grey area and exploring two characters who come from those different worlds.
The Robert character (played by Scott Michael Wagstaff) is very much about the old way. He only knows a world in which you get a job, receive a pay check and rely on a company fully. Everything from his suit to his phone is a reflection of this mindset.
Joseph Green, on the other hand, is more of an opportunist who does his own thing and has been able to create something for himself, leveraging the power of the Internet. How he goes about things is questionable, but his approach is much more self-assured than that of Robert.
Q: Your character, Joesph Green, is a manipulator who might suit the company of Patrick Bateman or Gordon Gekko. Can you tell us about Joesph and your experience playing him?
A: The interesting thing is that everyone calls him a psychopath and a manipulator. And I can see why.
However, those labels aren’t helpful when playing him, so I don’t perceive him in that way. I actually think he’s an opportunist, he’s very aware of who he is and what he wants. For me, he’s got a lot of great qualities. He’s seen opportunities and he’s taking chances to make things happen for himself. All of that was great to tap in to.
Obviously, what is questionable is how he goes about doing things and where his moral compass lies, if he even has one. In that sense, I think he has no filter. He’s definitely an extreme reflection of the viral video/internet celebrity culture that we now live in. He wants attention and to get his content seen. The thing is…he doesn’t have a message or a vision to help anyone else. It’s simply to line his pockets.
Q: You have a degree in Management. How much of yourself and your own experiences went into the character?
A: In my final year dissertation I wrote about MNC’s, regulation and corporate social responsibility. A lot of that was fuelled by the Joel Bakan book The Corporation. One of the lines in the film is actually inspired by that. I had a flashback to the book when writing the short and pulled out the line: “Do you know that most corporations are inherently psychopathic?”. That stems from a checklist in the book that lists the behavioural qualities of a corporation and how they are the same as what is clinical used to diagnose a psychotic person.
Beyond that, my degree didn’t go into the character of film too much. More of it came from my experience working in digital marketing. A lot of the lingo came from there, including Joseph’s ability to say things that sound good, but don’t really mean anything.
Q: Scott Michael Wagstaff does a wonderful job opposite you. How much fun did you have working with him?
A: The great thing about this project is that the entire cast and crew are friends and people I have worked with before. That makes the process so much more enjoyable.
Scott and I have know each other since studying together at AMAW London (Anthony Meindl’s Actor Workshop). We worked together on a pilot in 2015 called Color Me Grey and so The Interview was a great chance to explore some new characters together.
Scott was great at bringing in that nervous and desperate energy of Robert. It was so important that Robert and Joseph were clear extremes of one another and Scott put in a wonderful performance to help us achieve that.
Q: If you could sit opposite anyone (past or present/ fictional or non-fictional) and pick their brain for an hour, who would it be and why?
A: This is easily the hardest question I’ve had in a long time. I drew blanks thinking of just one…and not one person leaped out either. But, I’ll give you some kind of answer!
I’m going to say George Clooney. And the reason is because I believe in looking at people who have been successful in what you are doing and learning from their approach and mindset. From the outside in, he clearly seems like someone who is authentic and self-aware. And, he makes a lot of his own work.
He’s gone on the record saying he’ll do studio movies and then take time to develop his own projects. That balance of the two is something I can definitely resonate with. On top of that, I agree with his ethos of wanting to work in an environment where people are happy and can do their best work. So, he’d definitely be an interesting person to chat with given how his career has played out.
Q: I believe you are currently writing the feature version of your short film ‘Falsified’, a drama inspired by Spain’s stolen babies scandal. Tell us about the story and why you feel it is right for a future?
A: Yes, I am going through the interesting challenge of writing my first feature film.
One of the most common things I heard when the short version of Falsified was on the festival circuit was “we had no idea this happened?” and “We want to know more”. Having grown up in Spain, I wrongly assumed everyone knew about this stolen babies scandal. Turns out, not so much.
Also, I left a lot of things out of the short that give more context to the scandal, but that didn’t serve the narrative. Having a feature will allow us to explore that in much more depth. The plan was never to create the short as a springboard to a feature, it just seems like the next logical step given the feedback we have had.
The film will be based on what the short already explored. We’re focusing on the journey of Henry, whose son was stolen at birth and now after over 30 years is convinced that he has finally found his long lost child.
Q: What are your ambitions and hopes for the future?
I’m big on creating my own projects and getting them made and seen by as many people as possible. In ways not too dissimilar to Joseph Green, I realise the opportunities that are available to everyone to do that in the internet era we live in. For me the short term focus is to get the Falsified feature written and then pitch that for funding.
At the same time, I’m in pre-production on a short film called A New Way, which is a political thriller. And I’m also about to start looking for funding for another short called Hamdardi. That one is inspired by the travel ban and follows a bereaved immigration officer who struggles with the system as he tries to get his daughter back from child services and risks losing it all when he meets a young Iranian girl detained during the ban.
That’s definitely a passion project as the ban is something that has directly impacted members of my family, on top of the countless others across the world who have been affected by it (or similar policies used by other countries).