By Rob Duguay
Special to The Providence Journal
With the coronavirus pandemic playing havoc with the entertainment industry, East Greenwich-based film production company Verdi Productions has spent much of the year working on documentaries. But this week, a bit of normalcy returns with the release of the feature film "Wander," starring Tommy Lee Jones, Aaron Eckhart, Katheryn Winnick and Heather Graham.
Verdi Productions' president and CEO, Chad Verdi, has a producer credit, and his wife, Michelle, and son, Chad Verdi Jr., are listed as executive producers in the production, in which Eckhart stars as mentally unstable private investigator Arthur Bretnik, who is trying to unravel what happened to his wife and daughter while being hired to look into a mysterious death in a small town.
In a recent interview, Eckhart talked about what got him interested in the character, the way the landscape of New Mexico plays a part in the film, and his professional relationship with Chad Verdi.
Q: What is it about this character of Arthur that drew you to the role when the script was brought to your attention?
A: The character, really. He’s suffering from the loss of his daughter and his wife, but he was caught in a conspiracy nobody believed, and yet he instinctively did. The fact that he isolated and ostracized himself from society by living in an Airstream out in the middle of the desert in New Mexico. He has very few friends and basically trusts only one person, which is Heather Graham’s character, Shelley. I like that the New Mexico desert, the towns and the Native American lore really play a large part in this movie.
I really enjoyed being out there and making this movie among the elements and geography of New Mexico. I liked working with April Mullen, who directed the film. She was very, very passionate about not only the story but the character and did everything possible to accommodate me as an actor in making this character come to life.
Q: Did you take any influences from other thrillers or anything else when it came to portraying Arthur in the film?
A: Whenever you’re studying for a part in something like this, you have to get into what it means to you to suffer and to be in the stages of grief and to be in a black hole. Everything becomes new when you’re suffering, all of the colors, and there are people speaking with their lips moving but you can’t hear what they’re saying, nor do you care. That was an interesting part of me going into those depths and always exploring. The thing about movies that’s interesting for an actor is that they’re rarely ever about happy things [laughs]. They’re always about tragedy and conflict, so you have to go to places like that.
The majesty and the magic of New Mexico, with the surreal, psychedelic, illusionary vision of it, I wanted Arthur to be in that state of mind. It was great, because April really allowed me to do that. She set me apart and made it so I could really explore that character in that way. Tommy Lee Jones and the other actors, too, made it a great little movie to make.
Q: Being in New Mexico in July last year when the filming was being done, how hot did it get down there? The weather must have been pretty intense at times.
A: It was intense, especially at night. The great thing about New Mexico was that we had thunderstorms blowing that would roll in, and it would become black in a matter of minutes. The clouds and the lightning strikes along with the flat ground and trains coming through these little towns honking their horns. It was hot, and yet it was perfect for the movie, because the setting is sweltering, confusing and it’s rolling. It’s funny, because they were originally going to make this movie in Toronto, because April is from there, but I said, “You can’t do that. You have to make it in New Mexico.”
When you see the movie, you realize that New Mexico is the star of it, and it really cannot be replaced with any other area. I’m glad they made the decision, and that’s when Chad [Verdi] came in and made that happen, thankfully.
Q: Speaking of Chad, this film is the second time you've worked with him after the 2016 Vinnie Paz biopic "Bleed For This." How would you describe working with Chad and his team at Verdi Productions?
A: Yeah, I do like Chad. He’s a can-do guy. He and his family take care of business. They don’t ask questions, they don’t complain, they just do what has to be done, and Chad always has a smile on his face while doing it. I’ll tell you what, this movie wouldn’t have been made without Chad and his son, Chad Jr., that’s the bottom line. On a daily basis, Chad was there making things happen, from the smallest detail to the big stuff. I always saw him moving and making things happen.
Q: As an actor who plays one of the lead roles in the film but also a person who is passionate about the craft, what would you say is the biggest selling point of “Wander”? Is it ideal for anyone who likes to be on the edge of their seat for a good old-fashioned thriller, or do you think it’s more than that?
A: It’s one of those movies where you’re going to dive into it and get sucked in. Yes, it’s a thriller, and it has all of the bells and whistles of one, but it’s also a character piece. You’re going to get sucked into the characters, sucked into the geography, and when you come out, you’re going to have a really good time. It’s worth the money.