Director Jason Priestley on His Feature-film Debut, Cas & Dylan

"I fought for rehearsal time with these two and it brought such huge dividends."
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Cas & Dylan is a film about two people at the opposite ends of life who are thrown together on a cross-country adventure. Dr. Cas Pepper (Richard Dreyfuss) and Dylan Morgan (Tatiana Maslany) meet in a hospital where Cas works and Dylan is observing patients. After Cas learns he has a malignant brain tumor, he decides to drive from Winnipeg to Vancouver to end his life. As Cas is trying to leave to begin his final journey, Dylan convinces him to give her a ride home and a series of unfortunate events sends them off on Cas’s final journey together.

When someone offers you the chance to sit down with Jason Priestley, you should always say yes. I was excited for the chance to sit down with him and talk about this film which is his feature-film directorial debut.

Thanks for sitting down with me today, Jason.

Yeah! No problem.

Congratulations on your first feature film.

Thank you.

That is exciting!

It’s a big deal.

It is a huge deal…I know this is your first feature film but you began directing a long time ago when you were still on Beverly Hills 90210. Is directing something you always wanted to do?

Yes it is. I mean I started directing theater when I was in high school and I have been directing ever since. I started my professional directing career in 1993 on Beverly Hills 90210 and I directed all through that series. By the time the show was done, I had directed the second most episodes of any director on that show. Dan Attias directed the most and I directed the second most.

Wow

And I don’t know why it took me 20 years to direct my first feature, but it did…I don’t know. I was too busy doing other things. Ya know. But I’m glad I waited for this one. I think this is a nice little movie. It was the right size of movie to take on as a first feature, but I was able to make it feel like a much bigger movie than it really was. It definitely comes together and it definitely works.

I really enjoyed this film. I thought this was such a moving film. My husband and I both watched the screener and loved it. And I think not only is this a film about a beautiful unexpected friendship between two people, but I also think it’s a story about what happens when people are really alone in the world. You see Cas, this man who has this great success and great education, but really he’s by himself.

Yup, all alone.

And then his dog dies and he’s truly all alone. So are those the elements that drew you…or what are the elements that drew you to this film?

It was the simplicity of the story within the movie that I love. It’s exactly like you said, it’s this unexpected friendship. Two people that are so different and at different points in their lives. Cas who’s at the end of his life, Dylan who’s at the beginning of her life. Two people who are so different and on divergent paths and yet when they’re put together and stuck in this tiny place together for five days they form this friendship and discover all these things that they can learn from each other and teach each other and this friendship that they can form. And I thought that was a beautiful story to tell and something that we all need to be reminded of in today’s society.

The idea that we can learn from people outside of our own comfort zone.

Yes! Learn from people that are maybe a little different than us.

Maybe open our horizons a little.

Yes, and I thought a beautiful little story about an unexpected friendship like that, but I could wrap it in these big, beautiful vistas and the gorgeous landscapes and make the audience really feel like they are going on this journey with these people. So by the time they get to the end of it the audience is like, “Get me out of that fucking car!” Ya know what I mean? I feel like I could do that with this film and hopefully I succeeded.

I think you did a really good job at taking the audience along. Cause I know that road trip feeling of, “This is great. Those are beautiful. Can we pull over? I need a shower.”

(Laughing) “Oh god. When is it over? When is it gonna be over?”

The first half of the film really made me want to drive across Canada, and then it’s like, “When are we to the other side?”

That’s what it’s like driving across the prairies. “Wow, this is gonna be great.” (Mimes a look at his watch and lets out a huge sigh.) “When’s it gonna be over?”

Can we put a different CD on? Can we change the iPod?”

I once drove from Vienna to Pisa, get a load of this, with one CD in the car, Barry White’s Greatest Hits. I wanted to kill myself by the time I got to Pisa.*

And you’ve never listened to Barry White since then.

Nope! Never again. Done. (Laughing)

Friend of mine and I drove cross-country from Virginia to California and we only had five CDs until we got to Colorado. Have never listened to those CDs again.

Nope! Never again. Done.

Yes, that is the joy and the misery of a road trip.

Jason nods and laughs.

Actor, fan of film, you are directing your first feature film and you get word that Richard Dreyfuss is joining your project. Did you lose your mind? I would have lost my mind.

I did, except it wasn’t quite that simple. We had Tatiana, she was in the film.

She’s fantastic, so fantastic.

Thank you. She’s great in the movie. We couldn’t find a Cas so I sent the script to my agent here in Los Angeles. The next day my agent calls me and says, “What do you think about Dreyfuss?” I said, “Uh, well what do you mean?” He said, “What do you think about Dreyfuss for Cas Pepper?” I said, “What do you mean, what do I think about him? You think we could get him?” He said, “I don’t know. But is he likes it, why not?” I said, “Do you wanna send it to him?” He said, “I already sent it to him.” And I said, “OK.”

Two days later my agent calls me and says, “Dreyfuss wants to talk to you.” So he gives me a number and I gotta cold call Dreyfuss. “Hello.” (Jason does his Richard Dreyfuss here.) “Hi. Richard? It’s Jason Priestley.” What am I doing? So Richard and I talk for three hours and by the end of that three hours he was on a plane and coming to Canada to make this movie.

Oh, that’s amazing!

It was crazy. I was sweating. It was crazy. But you know he was great. He was unbelievable.

Both of them in this film are so believable as their characters. Tatiana is so annoying at times you’re like, “I love her, but I need her to go away for a while.” And then with Cas you’re like, “Can you please laugh or smile or something? Give me something.”

Anything.

And they both embody them so beautifully and believably. You have two people in this film, character wise, who are so different from each other. What did you guys do in rehearsal to have that distance at first but ten bring together that chemistry that culminates in the most beautifully moving and unexpected way in the end of this film?

Well, I tell ya what we did, we had rehearsals. We had a week of rehearsals. Just the three of us in a room working, working around the scenes, rewriting the scenes, making the scenes work and getting them together. I just wanted to spend eight hours a day in a room with Tat and Richard letting them get to know each other so that they would trust each other enough.

Early in the movie when they have to be far apart they could be that far apart because they would be there for each other. You know what I mean? And then later on in the movie when they needed to be open and exposed and there for each other they could be. I knew it was a question of time and trust and ability. We just had to be in a room together, the three of us doing the scenes and working material so that they knew they could trust each other. We didn’t do trust exercises.

No trust falls.

No. No repetition games. I’m not gonna have Dreyfuss do that.

You just got him, you don’t want to lose him.

We both laugh

"Please stay with me, Richard."

They just needed time with each other to know that wherever they went…the first couple of days of rehearsals everybody was playing it safe, but then they became like a little jazz combo. Dreyfuss would go and Tat would go with him. And Tat would go and Dreyfuss would go. It became like watching a couple of jazz virtuosos playing with each other. They would meander and they were always supporting each other and playing with each other. It was beautiful to watch and it was all because of the time we spent in rehearsal. I knew the movie was gonna live or die with them and so I fought for the rehearsal time.

My producer, typical producer, doesn’t wanna spend any money, and there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s what they do. I fought for rehearsal time with these two and it brought such huge dividends. It’s the one thing I’ll always fight for on future films, rehearsal time, because it pays you back tenfold.

Alright. Last question. What do you need people to know about this film? When this film comes out, what do people need to know about why this film is important?

I hope this film gets people thinking about and talking about the realities of what we are all going to face very soon as the baby boomers, the largest generation in history, are getting to the age now where people are going to have to start to make some very hard decisions about how they wanna exit and shake off this mortal coil. I think that this movie deals with it in a very unflinching way. I think people need to see it for that reason.

Fantastic. Thank you so much. It was a pleasure.

Thank you. It was a real pleasure.

Cas and Dylan starts its run in theaters and on demand today, May 1, 2015.

*Road trip note: It takes almost nine hours to drive from Vienna, Italy, to Pisa, Italy. Barry White’s Greatest Hits runs 45 minutes. Jason would have listened to that CD 12 times. No wonder he was ready to kill himself. 

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