Written by Luke Barnes
I recently had the chance to interview director/actor/writer Robert DeSanti about his new film The Epilogue Of Gregory Archambault, which sees a writer, also played by DeSanti struggle to write the perfect suicide note. We discuss issues of mental health, the writing process and the classic that is Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Q: What inspired you to make this film?
A: I think the inspiration came from a mixture of several things that were happening to me
at once. The main one being I was in a place where I was auditioning all the time but
never quite landing the role. I had a sadness that came from that. I felt like a good actor
with a high level of training (I am good enough) but couldn’t quite land the role(s) (wait,
am I not good enough?). This all-to-common artist juxtaposition caused very dark
thoughts for me. Knowing I couldn’t be the only one going through this, and like the
artist that I am, I decided to pour my heart onto the page.
Q: What was the message you were trying to get across?
A: It’s my attempt to address a very taboo subject—the mental health of an artist and
contemplations of suicide.
To me art should make us confront our own vulnerability and contemplate our shared
humanity. With this film I wanted to offer something real. The private moments often
associated with but seldom spoken about in regards to being an artist.
Being an artist means putting your work out there, often to be rejected time and time
again, and the brutal truth is this doesn’t come without a cost. Many of us are rejected
more times in a year than others will face in a lifetime. As artists at some point, we must
confront the duality of rejection (we aren’t good enough) while idealistically clinging to
the hope that we are good enough. The disconnect between artistic aspirations and the
gatekeeper’s system that dictates the marketplace can create a difficult psychological
split that can feel like madness. Life is hard. I feel for everyone’s struggles but I have a
soft spot for the pain an artist goes through because, well… I am an artist.
I wanted to highlight this relationship from an artist’s perspective as taboo as it may be.
It’s told, not as an outsider observer, but from inside the mind of our main character,
Gregory Archambault — it’s his world as he perceives it to be. As right or wrong as that
may feel, or as funny as it might seem from outside looking in, the stakes couldn’t be
higher from Gregory’s perspective.
It’s easy, and even delightful to speak about the successes, awards, and highlights but
what I hope, above all, is that this inspires you to speak about the doubts, dark
thoughts, and pain you also feel, and through that realize that you’re not alone. That
there is a beautiful community of artists around you that has your back, knows your
pain, and is always rooting for you. I hope you laugh. Maybe even cry. But above all, I
hope that you feel seen, and heard, and inspired to have deep dialogue with your fellow
Satire is comedy about things you care deeply about. It has the ability to express dark
themes in blunt yet relatable ways. I felt this was the best way to confront myself and
the audience with these brutal truths we often carry with us while also making it
digestible and hopefully enjoyable.
Q: How was the writing process for this film?
A: Brutal! In many ways it mimicked the film. It was very difficult, and I was full of doubt,
but it was also an amazing process of exploration and learning my craft. It feels weird to
even type this out but if you really watch the film (might take multiple viewings) you will
pick up how layered the film is. There are things in this film that add context and
meaning that no one has picked up on (so far) which really excites me. I’m a big fan of
Chekov and his belief that every element in a story must be necessary, any irrelevant
elements should be removed. I combed over each line of the script time and time again
to make sure that every word had meaning, that no space was wasted, and that I could
justify every single thing that I wrote.
I wrote it to be like Russian literature or a piece of work from Shakespeare. The stakes
had to be high, and it had to be as real as it could be for the character for the comedy to
land. This brought many struggles going back and forth to balance the tone and how far
to go or not to go. I’d act it out in my room and tape it on my phone and make decisions
based on seeing it out loud.
I had two friends whose writing I really respect, Kyle Kolich and Tom Connor, look over
it at certain phases and give honest feedback which really helped me understand how it
was being perceived.
Q: Did you find any overlap between the character’s writing experiences and your own?
A: Absolutely! I think many artists of any discipline can feel imposter syndrome whether
you are talented or not. You have this ideal of yourself and ability but at some point, or
many times, you must be confronted by that inner voice that mocks your very existence.
As an actor and writer, I have dealt with that on many occasions. In writing this film that
was very frustrating but also a very helpful feeling to utilize. I probably found more
genuine, deep truth because of that than if I had not been going through that while
writing this. Now it was nowhere near as bad as Gregory, but it still existed.
Q: If you could go back in time to when you were first starting in the industry what advice would you give to your younger self?
A: I’m a big believer that life is what it is and learn to roll with the punches. I love who I am
now and although being an up-and-coming artist that is still struggling in many ways to
get his work out there, I do believe it is forcing me to slowly become that much better at
my craft which will pay dividends in the long run. So, I’m pretty content where I am at
and the choices I have made as an artist. With that being said I would have emphasized
the importance of it’s who you know not what you know that often gets you ahead. So,
definitely to put a little more emphasis early on into heavily networking (I solely focused
on the craft for many years).
Q: How did you strike the balance between comedy and more serious elements?
A: I love a story I heard about the writing of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I think that is one of
the funniest comedies of all time and I remember an interview where Jason Segal spoke
about the writing process and Judd had told him to write a drama and then fill in the funny moments. So very much that’s what I did. I focused on the more dramatic elements first. Then I slowly layered in more and more comedy. I also had the advantage that I would be acting in this. I know my own voice pretty well and when writing it I could take a few lines of dialogue and act them out. If I couldn’t make it funny while also hitting the more serious tone I’d change it until I felt I could do that.
Q: Is the ending happy or sad? Or is it bittersweet?
A: It changes as I change, as I experience more, and have ups and downs in this industry.
And I hope that people who watch it feel the same way. I think it’s up for debate and
dependent on who you ask and where they are at in life.
Q: Who would you say your influences were for this film?
A: My biggest inspirations in everything that I do, but very much for this film in the writing
department, were Paul Thomas Anderson and Charlie Kaufman. I think that they both
explore character and the human psyche as good as anyone who does this and also
make it fun and unique while doing so. I hoped that I could maybe touch the surface of
what they do through this film. Directing style was also very much inspired by Paul
Thomas Anderson. This film is not clean and composed. It gets messy and has a very
nice build up and that is very much inspired by PTA’s early work (specifically Magnolia).
And as an actor my north star is and will always be Philip Seymour Hoffman. I just do
my best to make interesting and honest choices no matter the genre and that was as
true as ever with this role.
Q: Upcoming projects?
A: I’m currently auditioning as much as I can. I also have two more short films in the works,
and it just depends on timing which will be made. One revolves around institutional
policing and is based on a true story of a mixed-race couple that I am very close to and
the other is another piece for me to act in that was inspired by a statue I saw at the
Acropolis Museum in Greece outside the Parthenon.
If you want to watch The Epilogue Of Gregory Archambault it is currently doing the festival circuit, and will be available to watch outside of that soon.
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