Evan Louison's restless journey as a performer began when he fell into the film business assisting indie legends Scott Macaulay and Robin O'Hara, producers of Julien Donkey Boy and Gummo. Louison is a spirited vagabond, and infectiously charming with his old school New York vernacular. He's got the disposition of a wanderer; yet fundamentally he's a focused craftsman and a genuine student of cinema.
In 2012, Louison starred in Brandon Harris' film, Redlegs, which garnered the attention of Hollywood critics, "An earnest, well-crafted drama," as described by Variety. His latest film, Joy de V., premiered at Slamdance in January 2013, taking home a special mention Grand Jury Award.
Joy de V. is quite a gem of an independent film that grasps the art of filmmaking and cuts through the indie-New-Yorker-relationship-drama clutter with real characters and mise-en-scéne… and real not in an ordinary way, but real in a gritty, beautiful and epic way. Congratulations to director Nadia Szold for making a film that John Cassavettes would be proud of. As for Evan, he carries the film as the main character, Roman, alongside French and Italian film goddesses, Josephine de La Baume and Claudia Cardinale. And he skins a rabbit like a pro (really).
Kaitlyn Parks: How did you meet director, Nadia Szold?
Evan Louison: I met Nadia in the West Village, on Perry street. I tried to steal her purse. I attempted to steal her bag with her computer and stuff in it and she's pretty tough so she stabbed me right in the armpit with a corkscrew bottle opener. I still have a scar there. I was bleeding so I went to a nearby bar to get cleaned up. I borrowed some money from her and bought her a drink, and then she convinced me to join a theater group that she started called Palazzo Xhupame.
KP: She's a hero.
KP: You come from several generations of New Yorkers. Roman, your character in Joy de V., is a Brooklyn con-artist. How did you connect with the character, and are there any similarities in real life?
EL: The character, Roman, got developed partly though stories I would tell Nadia that I heard from my father who grew up in Brooklyn. The character is intended to be from the suburbs of eastern Long Island and he transplants himself here as an effort to re-invent himself and he takes on a completely different identity in New York. I was largely inspired by Steven Prince who made a couple movies with Martin Scorcese in the 70's. I was obsessed with his film American Boy where he's just a raconteur, telling stories to the camera. It's a beautiful film and my favorite Scorcese film. I used to watch it and mimic his mannerisms and cadence and delivery and it wasn't that difficult because I think we have pretty similar personalities. Roman is a very worldly, self-schooled person. I mean New York definitely informs a lot of stuff about that story and that character. Everyone from my Father's family has always been in New York and my Mother's father was from upstate and that family goes back hundreds of years in a town called Palmyra, so yeah, New York is in my blood.
The characters I play in both Joy de V. and Nadia's second film, Mariah, are both characters who genuinely tend to want more in terms of excitement and glory than they actually see in their surroundings. They tend to be self-inventive, re-inventive characters, people who create larger visions and versions of themselves. They create their own legends so to speak by putting themselves in certain situations. Both characters tend to put themselves in extremely dangerous circumstances with criminals and people who are much more dangerous and legit criminally than either one of them are. It's something I can understand and identify with; it's a matter of a certain dissatisfaction that sort of follows you. It's this whole life growing up in America and being obsessed with cowboys and heroes and gangsters.
KP: Claudia Cardinale is such a legendary actress. How was it working with her in Joy de V.?
EL: It was like being in the presence of royalty. I was very taken aback by her appearance and how she is so regal and beautiful still. She always looked very beautiful and smoked long Capri cigarettes on Park Avenue with me dressed in my priest costume. Every time someone walked by and recognized her and complimented her on her jacket (she wears all her jackets without her arms in the sleeves) she would say to them, "Georgio Armani, always."
In my first scene with her, my character is dressed up as a priest in order to gain access to her apartment, so his hooligan friends can come in and rob her. She plays a wealthy upper east side Manhattan socialite, an Italian American woman. We didn't know each other well at this point, and I'm in the hallway of the building and all I know is that I have to knock on the door and then Claudia would open it. I had prepared this whole dialogue in Italian for the scene and I had worked very hard on it the previous night to get it right. I was getting very nervous and I was in the hallway psyching myself up and I hear "action." I knock on the door and the door opens; first I see the camera and then I see Claudia Cardinale peering out from the side of the door. She says "Yes.." and then this whole thing that I had committed to memory, and learned phonetically because I don't speak Italian, just disappears from my mind. I looked right into her eyes and I opened my mouth and then I was just like "fuck." She got so freaked out that she just slammed the door. The assistant director came out into the hallway and said "You can't do that because she's really unsure of your temperament, she's a little bit nervous and you're kind of scaring her." I said please tell her I'm sorry, I was just thinking about 8 1/2, Fitzcarraldo and Once Upon a Time...and The Pink Panther and I forgot my line. In retrospect it would appear that I'm much more focused in that scene with Claudia than perhaps anywhere else in the film just because of my own psyche. She's a friend now and is very sweet and supportive of me and just a kind and generous lady. She called me last year from Paris and left a voicemail and I saved it for a long time and would listen to it when I was depressed.
KP: What was the first feature film you did?
EL: My first feature film was something I made with director Brandon Harris, which is only just getting completed now. So no one's ever seen it. It was the first time both of us ever worked with an intensive long term shooting schedule, which at the time was three weeks. The movie is called John Henry Hudson.
I shot Joy de V. almost simultaneously with Brandon Harris' film, Redlegs. I was back and forth between Ohio for Redlegs and New York for Joy de V.. It was all-in-all nine to ten weeks where both films were being made at the same time.
I recently shot Nadia's second film, Mariah, in Mexico for six weeks in San Miguel de Allende, Minerale de Possos, and San Luis. It's a story very different from Joy and a very different film in general and was made for a lot less money. Nadia is a very interesting filmmaker because her movies are just insane. Joy de V. is a total picture of madness and Mariah is definitely entrenched in the same themes and imagery. Mariah is basically a Patricia Highsmith murder mystery against the backdrop of the drug war in Mexico.
KP: You've had no formal training as an actor. How did you first get into acting?
EL: I went to school for music, for composition. And I didn't like the program I was in. I didn't go there by choice, it was sort of an ultimatum given to me by my family and the only thing I knew how to do, besides work, was to play music. While I was contemplating dropping out, I was working in the library of the conservatory in the film archives keeping track of the 16mm films and video tapes. I would know where to find all the stuff that was hard to find and rare, and the filmmakers at the film conservatory would come down and I would chat them up because I've loved movies my whole life. Eventually I made friends with a couple of them and got the chance to learn a lot about filmmaking through working on their sets and then also by just watching three or four movies every day for three years. You know, I never thought that I would do this, make films. I always thought it was pretty inaccessible to me. I just fell into it by accident. I haven't had any training as an actor, but I've worked behind the camera a lot so I understand certain parts of it that maybe other actors don't.
KP: Your father and grandfather were in the film and theater business. How has that influenced your career?
EL: My father was in the music and theater business as a carpenter and a stage hand. That was my introduction to the backstage world and to music. I come from a very dramatic and theatrical family. A very talented family actually. My grandfather was a filmmaker. He made a film about Louis Armstrong called The Boy from New Orleans, it was a documentary for the BBC. That was where my first image of a director came from. It was something I knew a lot about in a way, but I didn't really know what the process was or that I could be involved myself until I saw my peers doing it.
KP: In addition to writing the feature film, John Henry Hudson, you directed a short film in connection with Abel Ferrara's film Mary called Abel Ferrara: You are in Heaven, You are in Hell. Does your experience behind the camera impact your work as an actor?
EL: Well, I don't really like watching myself. It's not an enjoyable thing to be on stage or on set with people looking at me. It's more of a necessity, a way to tell the stories I want to tell. Because I have a background in production, I'm very concerned about the story and the big picture. I think it influences my work as a performer because I go into everything thinking less about my own personal interest in a character and more about the character's relationship with the bigger picture and the story.
All I want to do in my life is make movies and make music. I will do that any way I can because it's the only thing I've ever touched on in my life, creating stuff in that way, that's ever made me feel that I was really alive or free or happy. If I get to keep doing it I'll be happy.
Announcing the NYC Premiere screening of Joy de V !