In the new indie film “Least Among Saints,”
Martin Papazian decided to knock out three birds with one stone. He’s the movie’s writer, director and star. The actor has played in movies such as “Jarhead” and “The Island” and on television show’s such at “24,” but the movie, which opened on Oct. 12 , is his directorial debut.
The film is a coming home story of a war veteran named Anthony, who befriends a boy whose mother dies. Alongside him is fellow actor and occasional director Charles S. Dutton, who, in his role as a cop and former veteran, can connect with Anthony’s struggles returning from a war. The two men talked with The Root DC about seeing double vision on both the acting and directing side of film, driving home a deeper message than just entertaining audiences and honing creativity.
Mr. Papazian, you performed triple duty on this film as the writer, director and star on the film. How was that?
Papazian: It was an insane task. You have to kind of rediscover the text as an actor. I went into the theater with another director and other actors and rehearsed and workshopped and explored the character. And the main thing I had to sort of do was unlearn the journey of the character so that I could rediscover it fresh for the first time, every time. When I came to the set, I could be there for the other actors. A lot of times I would put the camera over my shoulder first and cover them first so I could be there for them as a director so that I could rehearse as an actor, and then I took care of myself afterwards.
I know you also, Mr. Dutton, have experience in both acting and directing. How do you feel that having both of those perspectives helps to assist with the performance that you deliver?
Dutton: You get a chance to actually cheat a little bit. There’s something about the creative process when, as a director . . . you really are the director. Although you’re acting in the film, you have to let that actor go and concentrate on the directing of the other cast members. But the luxury that that brings you, or gives you, is that you work with them so much and you give yourself to them so much when the camera is on them, and when the camera finally turns around on you, you’ve actually had the luxury of doing eight or ten rehearsals . . . and then when the camera turns on you, you’ve actually purged yourself of all the bad performances.
The film goes a lot further than just being entertaining. It centers on a character who is struggling to get his life together after serving two tours of duty in Iraq. Why did you choose to tackle such a heavy topic for your first film?
Papazian: I was meeting men and women who were coming back from combat, some of them were friends of mine, and the effect that it was having on their souls . . . it just really affected me. I felt sort of duty-bound, that if I was going to write something, if I was going to direct something, it needed to be about something important, and this certainly is important. It was really important for me to make work that was serving a higher purpose. I felt connected to them, and I felt like I had a responsibility to tell their stories.
Mr. Dutton, you play a policeman who is also a war veteran and serves as an adversary to the main character. What was it about this role that spoke to you?
Dutton: What affected me was that although I didn’t go into the military myself . . . all the men in my family had served in the military, from World War II to the Korean War, and through Vietnam. I had a profound respect for men who fought for this country.
When I read my character, I said, “Well here’s a guy who’s obviously been a Vietnam War vet, and who understands what the guy is going through.” He’s looking in the mirror at himself 25 years earlier. It had an emotional connection for me, and I said I’d try to find a time to move my schedule around and get it in.
You have a great advantage of being able to explore your interests both in front of and behind the camera. How have you continued to grow creatively in being both an actor and a filmmaker?
Papazian: Becoming a filmmaker was really about taking what I was doing as an actor and then just intensifying it. It challenges me to grow as an artist. It’s a greater expression; there’s more responsibility. I think there was a decade of preparation in becoming a filmmaker, and certainly having now had this experience of creating a film — it’s all I want to do. So now it’s about: How do I take this to the next level? How do I refine my choices, how do I develop, how do I evolve, how do I become a better filmmaker and a better storyteller? I look to the greats among my contemporaries and those who came before me and just to try to investigate what they did, why their pictures are successful. Hopefully I can continue making pictures that move people and are successfully in the market.
What are your hopes on how the film will resonate?
Dutton: I think it’s a film that really needs to be seen because it reflects a huge problem we got with returning vets. We no longer live in a draft world — we live in a volunteer [world]. I’m volunteering to go risk my life or lose my life to defend my country — and yet when they return, it’s not reciprocated. It’s just appalling the way our government treats our returning vets. A reflection of a society to me is how you treat your returning veterans who defend that society. If they’re treated like we’ve been treating them, then there’s something wrong with that society.
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