Sometimes the most unexpected and initially undesirable situations can leave the most enduring and lasting impressions on even the most unsuspecting bystanders. As people struggle to uncover their true meaning in life, and contend with the route their careers and personal relationships has taken, they can at times inadvertently pull bystanders who they have no connection with into their journey. That’s certainly the case with the two lead characters in the new independent comedy, ‘Awful Nice,’ from co-writer and director Todd Sklar, which is now available on VOD and iTunes, and is also playing in select theaters. The two brothers are the polar opposite of each other, with one being a responsible family man and the other being an impulsive free spirit, as they embark on a spontaneous journey to reconnect with each other after a family crisis. As they try to rebuild their estranged relationship, they disastrously pull an unsuspecting waitress into their appalling adventures.
‘Awful Nice’ follows Jim (James Pumphrey), a disillusioned but admired college professor and author who has to track down his dead-beat brother, Dave (Alex Rennie, who also co-wrote the script with Sklar), who he hasn’t seen in years. Jim, who finds his brother drunkenly passed out and living in a tent, forces Dave to return home, as their father has unexpectedly died. After the funeral, during which the two continuously argue and revert to their youthful need to beat each in trivial competitions, the brothers are forced to travel down to Branson, Missouri together to redeem their inheritance-the family’s lake house.
Upon arrive at the house, they discover their belongings in disarray, which leads them to believe people were squatting there. After speaking with their father’s business partner, Jon Charbineau (Christopher Meloni), Jim and Dave realize they must fix the house before they can sell it and receive their money. Dave convinces his brother they should work on repairing the house themselves, in order to bond again after their long separation. What follows is a series of costly mishaps and misadventures that help the brothers repair their strained relationship, including a drunken encounter with a local waitress, Petra (Keeley Hazell), who Dave is attracted to and persistently pursues. Despite the weariness of Jim’s wife and bosses that he plans on being away for so long, the two brothers learn how to reconnect with each other during what started as a forced reunion.
Hazell generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘Awful Nice’ over the phone. Among other things, the British actress discussed how she enjoyed working with Sklar, and the fact that he was both the writer and director meant he was open to spontaneous changes on the set, and allowing the cast to improv; how shooting on location in Branson allowed the cast and crew to bond, as the more remote surroundings of the city led them to spend a lot of time together; and how VOD is a great platform for people to watch films, particularly indies, as it allows people everywhere instant access to movies.
Question (Q): Todd Sklar both directed and co-wrote the screenplay for ‘Awful Nice.’ What was the process of working with him, as both a helmer and scribe? Do you prefer working with directors who also penned the script?
Keeley Hazelly (KH): I think the fact that Todd was both the writer and director meant that he was open to changes. With there being improv, he was fine with that. I think there’s a tendency, if the writer’s separate from the director, that their visions are detached. So sometimes there’s a longer process in initiating change. But I think it works if the director’s also the writer, because they’re bringing their words off the page, so they can change it as we go. But it doesn’t change the overall picture.
But working with Todd was awesome. He’s done a few movies, but he’s still learning things. There was a lot of learning between all of us, which was great.
Q: The comedy was shot independently on location in Branson, Missouri. What was the experience of filming where the story is set, particularly on a lower budget?
KH: It was a generally enjoyable shoot. It’s always a little bizarre when you shoot on location. But it was fun; there was a museum, which is what I mainly remember from the location. (laughs)
But it was good. I think it helps develop your relationships when you’re on location with people. You become like a family, because there’s nowhere else to go, other than your hotel room and the bar. (laughs)
Q: The movie is currently playing on VOD and in select theaters. Are you personally a fan of watching films On Demand? Why do you think the platform is important for smaller films like ‘Awful Nice?’
KH: Oh yes, definitely. I think we live in a society now where you want to see movies On Demand. If someone says, “Hey, I just saw this movie,” you can instantly pull it up online, and watch it On Demand. It’s the best thing. (laughs) People want to watch everything instantly, and I think it’s a great platform for an independent movie.
Q: ‘Awful Nice’ debuted at last year’s SXSW. Were you able to attend any of the screenings of the film at the festival, and if so, what was your experience there like overall?
KH: I didn’t get to attend any of the screenings-I was not at SXSW. I didn’t see the film for the first time until it came to the AFI festival. So I’m really sad that I didn’t get to go. I haven’t been to SXSW yet. That was my perfect excuse to attend, and I failed miserably!
Q: Besides films, you have also appeared on such television shows as ‘Happily Divorced’ and ‘The Beauty Inside.’ What is it about television that you enjoy? Are you interested in starring on more shows in the future?
KH: It’s funny you ask that, because I did have a conversation with my manager about it recently. I’m not particular; I like both. But I tend to gravitate towards films more. The characters in movies tend to work better for me than the ones on TV, for some reason.
But that’s not to say I don’t want to do more TV. There are some great shows coming out on TV right now. I’d also be interested in doing web series, and that’s something else I’m exploring. But as an actress, I think it’s great to explore all mediums, but film is the one I’ve explored the most.
Q: Besides acting, would you be interested in directing in the future?
KH: Definitely not. (laughs) I’ll never say never, but directing is not really of interest to me in this moment in time. In 10 years, I might be like, that’s something I’d like to do. If there’s something I feel really close to, and I felt that I was the only person who could carry out that vision, I’d probably want to direct. But it’s not a passion of mine in this moment of time.
Q: Besides ‘Awful Nice,’ do you have any other upcoming projects lined up that you can discuss?
KH: I actually just shot ‘Horrible Bosses 2,’ which I’m pretty excited about. But I have no idea when it’s coming out. Separate from that, I’ve been writing a piece, and hopefully that will be developed. That’s been my main focus and passion at the moment, really.