Recently I had a chance to interview the Man of Steel himself, Christopher Dennis. Christopher has been portraying Superman on Hollywood Boulevard for two decades now and has appeared in several films and television shows such as "Confessions of a Superhero", "The Reinactors", "Jimmy Kimmell Live!" and "Gene Simmons Family Jewels". His most recent appearance was in the very funny "Long, Slow Death of a Twenty-Something", directed by and starring indie filmmaker Larry Longstreth. Christopher was kind enough to talk about his film experiences as well as his life on one of America’s most famous roads portraying his favorite superhero.
I also took the chance to speak with Larry Longstreth, writer, director, editor and star of "Long, Slow Death of a Twenty-Something". Larry was able to shed some light on his background as well as making "Long, Slow Death of a Twenty-Something". He also talks about future forthcoming projects and the formation of his brand new production company, Eddy Spaghetti Productions.
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CC: Christopher, for those readers who don’t know you, give us a little background on yourself. Where did you grow up and why did you originally want to act?
CD: I was born on June 16, 1967, in Fullerton, Orange County, California. I grew up in Santa Anna. When I was eight years of age we moved to Phoenix, Arizona. I lived there until I turned 17, then I moved back to Los Angeles where I found work doing all kinds of things. I became an actor because I love entertaining.
CC: How did you become a Superman fan? Have you been a fan since childhood or did this love for everything-Superman develop as you grew older?
CD: I guess I’ve always just been a fan of the Man of Steel.
CC: How did you make the decision to play the Superman character on Hollywood Boulevard? Was it something you wanted to do or was it originally a necessity just to survive? How long have you been playing Superman on the boulevard?
CD: As a waiter I could never just up and leave for an audition or a rush call so I asked myself, “What can I do?” One day while waiting tables I came up with the thought: what if I were to dress up as Superman? Could I make some extra money? So… I did and I have been doing this ever since. I started portraying Superman on June 10th, 1991. Working here, I can just take (time) off whenever needed. Superman was the ticket.
CC: You starred in a documentary about people who play cartoon characters and superheroes in 2007’s "Confession of a Superhero". How did that feature develop?
CD: I was working in front of the Chinese Theatre when I met a man named Mat Ogins. He was filming an infomercial and I gave him my card and we began to talk about what we could do. So we came up with the idea to shoot a documentary. On a side note, I also did the casting for this film.
CC: What was your reaction to the film? Did you find it an accurate and satisfying portrayal of you and the other superheroes?
CD: On my behalf and Jenny’s (Wonder Woman), yes, I felt the portrayal was accurate; but not so much in regards to the other two actors (who portrayed The Incredible Hulk and Batman). The filmmakers made up some stuff. They didn’t really show those two the way they really are, so some of their stories
are just not true.
CC: In "Confessions of a Superhero" you come across as not only a quirky, uber-obsessed Superman fan but also as a kind of informal "elder statesman" of the superhero actors that work Hollywood Boulevard. You seem to be not only a mentor to the newer characters but also a monitor for the behavior of the actors, as in the scene where you are chastising Ghostrider for smoking in costume. What is your reaction when people don’t treat your passion and chosen profession seriously? I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of criticism over the years….
CD: I do accept critics, but I also think that it’s only one person’s opinion so it doesn’t really affect me. I try to do my best and I try to help out whenever needed. As for the other characters, I don’t like it when they don’t show respect for the one they are portraying… and I think they should know the history of their character before heading out there.
CC: You also appeared in a lead role, again as yourself, in another documentary entitled "The Reinactors" (2008). Although I have not had a chance to see this film, from what I gather it is essentially another film about the people that dress up as famous movie characters to make a living on the boulevard. The reviews I have read all insist that "The Reinactors" portrayed all of you in a much more negative light than "Confessions of a Superhero". Which film, in your opinion, was more accurate?
CD: “Confessions of a Superhero”, of course. “Reinactors” was not a real documentary. They came down and paid us to say bad things about each other.
CC: Perhaps your biggest brush with fame has come from appearing on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!". Tell everyone how those appearances came about.
CD: As I’m out on Hollywood Boulevard, Jimmy’s people see me out there. Jimmy is a big fan of the Christopher Reeve Superman and took a liking to me. I’ve been on approximately 113 episodes of his show so far!
CC: Your latest film appearance is in Larry Longstreth’s 2011 indie film, "The Long, Slow Death of a Twenty-Something", again playing yourself in your Superman costume. Tell us how this film appearance came about. How did Larry find you?
CD: Larry saw “Confessions of a Superhero” and thought that I was just the man for this job. So, he researched a bit and contacted me. I received an e-mail from his people and we talked for a bit about the project. They flew me to Ohio to shoot. The film is called “The Long, Slow Death of a Twenty-Something” and has a release date in October, though it can be pre-ordered now on Amazon. This film really was a lot of fun to work on.
CC: What’s next for Super…er, Christopher Dennis? Any new roles on the horizon?
CD: Yes I have a few things coming up in the near future, but for now I’d rather keep them a surprise. But thanks for having me!
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CC: Larry, tell us a little about your background. What got you interested in filmmaking?
LL: It was really my stepfather’s collection of VHS tapes. He probably had about 150 or so of them, with two or three movies recorded on each tape. We grew up on the usual stuff like "Jaws", "Star Wars", "Indiana Jones", and all that… but we also grew up watching stuff that most kids weren’t ever exposed to. We were watching the 30’s "King Kong". We were watching such a crazy variety of movies. "Bridge on the River Kwai", "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman", "Gung Ho", "Batteries not Included", "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken", "The Mysterious Island", "Tarantula", the original "The Thing", and just so many titles that most people our age had never heard of. That may not have been what made me want to make movies. My personality and inability to function like a regular 9 to 5 human being probably made me want to make them… but once the decision was made, there’s no doubt in my mind that having had a childhood filled with such a strange mix of adventures really broadened my horizons.
CC: What are some of the films that have had an impact on you? Any filmmakers that have influenced you?
LL: Mostly Spielberg stuff. Again, Indiana Jones, Jaws, Star Wars… that sort of stuff. In his pop culture prime, Spielberg really knew how to speak to both kids and adults at the same time. Nobody’s mother rolled their eyes at "E.T" the way they might today with "Spy Kids". On the flip side, my seven-year-old boy can watch a pretty adult movie–"Jaws"–and not get bored at all. And yes, I cover his eyes when Quint bites it… though it’s not as gruesome as I remember.
I also really love the original "King Kong" for its combination of simplicity and depth. I’m not a meathead or an action junky. I don’t get off on explosions or male posturing. Still, there’s something very primal about that movie. Something very, very masculine… and not the kind that’s trying to be. It just is. Beauty and the Beast. Man vs. Monster. It’s not so much the vibe I like as it is the fact that the film is able to sustain such a simple feel the whole way through without ever getting boring. I always try to keep that simplicity in mind. I think both remakes of the film got lost along the way and piled too much junk and side story on in an attempt to freshen it up. "King Kong" is a reminder to me that you don’t always have to [pile so much junk into the story]. It’s my favorite example of how primal and elemental a movie can be. Sometimes, that’s enough.
CC: You’ve made a handful of short films and co-directed an animated feature, but "Long, Slow Death of a Twenty-Something" is your full-length feature debut. Tell us a little about how this project came about.
LL: It was time. I know my limits. Our cinematography and organization skills are our most glaring weaknesses, but I still knew we were ready. If you want to get better, you have to do. I got a lot of doubt, even from close friends, that we could do a story that people actually cared about. The most cynical of people–myself included at times–think that making people chuckle for six minutes is one thing, but taking them on an actual feature-length ride of thought-provoking and emotional story? That’s the real test. It would have been easy to hide from it, to keep acting stupid and pumping out silly shorts… but it was time. When the idea of trying something is intimidating, that’s a pretty good sign it’s the path you should take. How can I ever reach a point where I’m making the kind of movies I want to make some day if I don’t start climbing the ladder toward that goal? Sooner or later, you gotta take the leap.
CC: I really identified with the film because I remember turning 30 and it was very depressing. For me, 30 was the magic number that truly represented the transition between kid and adult. I couldn’t help but feel like the film might have been a bit autobiographical for you. Any comments?
LL: Of course that’s the same for me! I think, whether they admit it or not, it’s the same for everybody. It’s not so much getting older that I’m worried about. That I can handle. It’s the idea of getting older but not having anything to show for it. By that, I don’t mean not having anything to show other people. I mean not having anything to show myself. I guess I mean that two ways. The first, of course, is that I don’t want to be 35 years old and still living like a 25-year-old. I see certain people already clinging to this routine we established when we were all 21…work a job you hate, complain about how dumb your boss and/or co-workers are and how they’re all too dumb to be there, talk about what you really want to do with your life, accept that it’s just not possible right now but that you’ll do it later, get drunk and/or stoned on the weekends, and come Monday: rinse and repeat. It’s a rut and it’s not something just people in their 20’s do. I think all ages do it. It’s something I swore I’d never let myself do. I took a huge leap of faith. If there’s a time to starve and go for your dreams without any money or guarantee, your 20’s are the time to do it. If there’s a decade to spend on going after the ultimate goal, it’s when you are at your most youthful. I think the desire to break the mold seems to dwindle as the years pass. I swore I wouldn’t let myself do that. I think you can see that in our film. It’s what the character is going through. It’s the bottom of the 9th. The game is almost over… and once it’s over, he’ll never get another chance to hit that home run. He’s got to stop bunting and playing it safe. It’s time to swing for the fences before the game is over forever.
The other thing, and this is where it gets a little more pretentious, is that there seems to be this, you know, "moral" compromise taking place. Where people are mistaking growing up with acting like total business-minded, apathetic bastards. Too often people mistake callousness with maturity, naiveté with immaturity, kindness with weakness. It’s definitely becoming prevalent the older I get. In the business world, each and every time somebody does something that seems to have left me out in the cold or unprotected (meanwhile, they are as protected as can be)… I change just a little bit. From then on, I’m going to be a little more aggressive and protective, too; a little less trusting. Eventually, I’ve become the guy who’s inadvertently hurting the new naive young kid. It’s a vicious system. It’s not just the business world. It’s life. I think we’re all finally getting the first lines in our faces. By our late twenties, we’ve finally experienced a little bit of how life can really beat you up and break you down. We’re all saying, "To hell with it," and starting to throw the naive morality of youth out the window. I don’t think that’s necessary. I think we’re wrong in thinking it is and that we can be better than that. It’s the second thing my character is battling in the movie. To me, going "full douchebag" is not proof that you’re growing up. It’s proof that you’re giving up.
CC: You’ve written, directed, starred in and worked on the editing for the film. While many low-budget filmmakers wear several hats out of necessity, is there any particular part of filmmaking you prefer over the other, and if so, why is that?
LL: Writing and directing are by far my favorite jobs. I guess you could lump editing in there too since they’re all really different versions of each other. Storytelling, to me is the coolest thing in the world and something I want to do forever. I act in a lot of our stuff but I think it’s mostly because I bring an energy to things. I’m not really an actor… but I’m charismatic enough to get by and I feel like it sort of puts me in the middle of the bubble. Like I can direct from the center of the project, rather than from the outside looking in. I’ve had actors tell me I should be an actor, but I don’t know about that. I’ve also had complete strangers e-mail to tell me my ego was out of control and my acting in stuff was proof of that. I’m not quite sure about that one either. I have a pretty limited amount of resources. Sometimes you do certain things because you just don’t know who else would or could.
CC: Did you find it difficult to both direct and star in the film?
LL: No. Our film was super low budget. If it had been a crew of 40 people, I think acting would have been too much because too many people would have been relying on me as a director. As it was, it really allowed me to have full control over our tiny ship. It made things much, much easier… and I never had to worry about whether or not the lead actor would show up. If I wanted to shoot Friday night at 2 AM, he was there! Sunday morning at 10? He was there! It was a luxury I fear I’ll be forced to give up soon… but it definitely helped.
CC: Tell us a little about how you came across Christopher Dennis, the actor who portrays Superman in real life as well as in your film.
LL: The first time I saw Christopher Dennis, I was at my (then) girlfriend’s apartment screwing around on her laptop doing nothing important. I would track the hits on our old shorts online. At the time, it was iFilm.com that you sent your videos to. Youtube wasn’t around yet and Spike would later buy iFilm and change it… but iFilm was where you put your stuff to get it seen (along with Atomfilms.com and a few others). I was checking out how well our film was doing when I saw a link with a guy in a Superman costume called "Superheroes: We Work for Tips". Intrigued, I clicked the link and immediately learned about this insane culture where these panhandling superheroes patrolled the streets in front of the Chinese Theatre. Keep in mind, this was somewhere between 2003 and 2005… and Christopher wasn’t as famous as he is now. I’d later meet him while in L.A. and I told him I’d seen the short. Excited, he yelled, "Hey, Batman! This guy saw our short film!" My brother Aaron and I have a photo of us shaking hands with "The World’s Finest" in a tongue and cheek manner. Little did I know that six years later, I’d be flying Superman out–apparently, he can’t really fly himself–for an awesome spot in my first feature film.
CC: In the film, your character is standing on the roof of a building contemplating suicide when Superman (Christopher Dennis) happens onto the scene and talks you down. Was this scene originally in the script or was it added once you became aware of Christopher?
LL: The script was very loose. The emotional beat was there… but I wasn’t sure who it was I’d have my character meet. Superman was the perfect fit because my character uses Superman as a moral compass. I’d already known about Christopher but I’d only talked to him a couple of times at this point. In 2009, he’d given me his contact info in case I was ever shooting something. I saw that and figured it’d be perfect.
It’s funny, though. I don’t want to give away the scene… but there was originally like this three page conversation between my character and his. Once we were on the spot, it suddenly dawned on me to throw all of that out the window and to do something blunt and effective. The scene is probably 45 seconds long now but it’s so much funnier and still gets the point across. I remember Christopher looking at me like, "You flew me across the country so you could chop my scene down to almost nothing at the last second?" It was a crazy idea but I knew it was the right way to go. It works perfectly. It’s funny and really surreal and I think both of those things might have been lost if we’d kept him onscreen for too long.
CC: I felt like the film had a really good balance between comedy and drama. There were several very funny scenes (the Superman scene comes to mind as Superman rather insensitively tries to convince you not to jump) as well as some very dramatic ones, specifically a scene in which your character loses patience with his girlfriend’s companions at a party. Your character goes off the deep end, tells everyone very honestly what he thinks of them, and then ends up getting punched. How difficult is it to get that perfect blend of comedy and drama, both in the script and in the end product?
LL: It was hard and very scary. We knew we could do funny. Funny is what we do…. but I’m a sentimental guy who believes in the other stuff, too. You’ve got this feeling in your gut like if you drop the ball on the serious stuff, you’re going to fall on your face really hard. An "emotional" scene that is lame and boring in a low budget movie would be a pretty embarrassing and humiliating thing for us and I knew in the back of my mind that was a real possibility we might fail, so I had to work hard to make sure the funny moments popped in at just the right time. It’s not easy, especially with little or no money. Bigger films can just cue sappy music and corny dialogue you’ve heard a billion times and get by because we’re trained to think it works, but I didn’t let myself use any clichés from other movies. It wouldn’t be honest. I think, in our "emotional" scene… my character opens it with the line "Hey, uhh… I don’t wanna do like the gay make up thing or anything… but…"
It’s the little things like that that make it work, I think. In real life, when I’m sad I’m not dramatic about it. I’m not loud and I don’t spout clichés. That’s the last thing I want to do because I want people to hear what I really think and not think I’m doing it for a reaction. There are times in life when you have to say something and that thing you have to say has been said a billion times. So often it becomes a cliché. So when you say it, you want people to know that you’re not phoning it in but that you really think it needs to be said. You just do it honestly. Don’t try to conduct the audience like a composer does an orchestra. Don’t try too hard to hit the right spots and make somebody cry. I hate that "Meryl Streep" stuff. It’s so calculating and manipulative. You can totally feign emotion and make people cry… all the while not meaning any of it. You just know the routine because you’ve done the numbers. I didn’t want to do that. I played it straight and down to Earth and I hope it works. I think it does. I hear more compliments about the father-son scene than any other scene in the film. It could have so easily killed the whole movie. I was scared to death it would, but I kept it real and kept it earthy and rugged. I studied the audience at our wrap party during that scene and I grinned like a baby. My best friend, Clint, came to me and said "Dude. During the ‘dad scene’, it was dead quiet. Everybody was so into it." That was a bigger test than people realize. I think we passed.
CC: You released an animated film ("Four Tanks and a Healer") in January of this year, and now "Long, Slow Death of a Twenty-Something" is being picked up for distribution. It’s been a big year for you. Where do you go from here? Any new projects you can tell us about?
LL: I did those last two titles in a partnership with a company called 4Reelz, LLC. I struck a deal with Marisa Zakaria that had her kind of running things from a business standpoint while I focused on doing the real workload: writing, directing, etc. It worked out and was good for what it was, but I’m not as intimidated by the business stuff as I once was. I’ve started my own production company, Eddy Spaghetti Productions, and from now on that’s the banner under which our films will be found.
The project I’m most obsessed with right now is an animated feature film called "The Wanderer King". I think that’s where my heart is at. It’s a fantasy story, "Lord of the Rings’-style, with a real heart. Like "Twenty-Something", it’s one of those projects that’s Larry Longstreth through-and-through.
However, we’re in talks to do "Four Tanks and a Healer" as an awesome web series, so that’s also on the horizon. Once it’s official, I’m sure you’ll hear about it.
We’re also currently doing an animated pilot called "Captain Wilcox vs. The End of the World", a post-apocalyptic action/comedy that’s pretty fun. I just got a really awesome animation team together. Prepare for name dropping: Sue Choe, Raymond Kosta, and Caroline Born are looking to be the "Captain Wilcox" team and I couldn’t be happier.
On the live-action front, I’m sort of keeping my ear to the ground to get a feel for where I want to go next. I have a few ideas but nothing official just yet.
CC: Finally, Larry, tell the Rogue Cinema readers how they can get copies of your films. Congratulations on the new distribution deal, and good luck with your new project!
LL: "The Long, Slow Death of a Twenty-Something" will be released on DVD nation-wide on October 4th! You can pre-order now on Amazon.com or BestBuy.com…. but October 4th is the street date. Check out Facebook.com/DeathofaTwenty for more information.
Also, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be seeing "Four Tanks and a Healer" pretty soon, though I’m not sure I can say the details just yet.