‘Dakota Skye’ Behind-the-Scenes Pic(s)-of-the-Week #4
Two initials, one name, and one abbreviation.
A writer’s worst nightmare…
…and his best friend.
Usually you want to, I don’t know, meet an actor before you cast them. Sounds reasonable, right? Sure, you want to see their audition, how they deliver the lines, but you also want to suss them out as people. Get a feel for them. Hollywood may be a town full of assholes, but you do usually try to avoid them. Especially for a little film like Dakota, where you know the cast and crew are going to become a very tight-knit family, you want to make sure you’re casting nice folks. Talented, sure, but also people you want to work with.
We read several guys for the role of Kevin in the traditional, face-to-face, ever-so-awkward, nobody-likes-doing-it audition format, but no one stole the show. There were some good options, I recall, but no one who jumped out as us like Ian and Eileen had. With those two, we just knew, even if we did make them jump through the hoops. But nobody came in and knocked Kevin out of the park.
And that was my fault.
Kevin is, in the script, by far the flattest of the main characters. It’s no secret that Jonah is a cuter, more charming, more honest, version of me, but Kevin, well, I never quite nailed him. He had some funny jokes, sure. Good moments. And I don’t think he was poorly written or drawn, he just wasn’t all that exciting. He was a plot device, comic relief, and a necessary foil to our main love story.
So, while reading over forty guys for the part, what we didn’t realize was we weren’t looking for a guy to play the character on the page…we were looking for a character to transcend the page.
Enter Jasbir Singh Ghuman Junior.
JB’s casting is documented on the Dakota Skye DVD, so I won’t go into it all, but what it came down to is that we only saw him on tape, auditioned by our casting director Simone. John got the tape, showed it to me, showed it to Shaun, and we all had the same reaction: yes.
It wasn’t the way he was reading the lines, although that was great. It was how he acted between takes, with the camera still rolling, being himself. The man oozes personality and charm. And I, at least, realized what Kevin was truly missing in the script, what he needed to be in order for the love triangle aspect of the film to work: he had to be lovable.
So, without ever meeting him, John cast JB to play Kevin. The first time we ever met him, it was at Eileen’s apartment for an informal table read. He was polite, funny, and professional.
And he had a rat tail.
We hadn’t seen the rat tail on the audition. But, there it was, a rat tail, the kind a white trash kid in the eighties would have (I think I wanted one but never did grow it). We asked him about it and he said it was, I think his words were, “so punk rock.” Uh-huh.
We asked him if he’d cut it off. He didn’t want to. Then we asked, “if you keep it, we have to make fun of it in the film.”
He said sure.
JB is pure energy, pure light. When he shows up in the film, people sit up in their seats. Not that they’re not enjoying the rest of the movie, but they know if he’s coming on screen, something funny is probably going to happen. Something with a little devilish spark. He brings to Kevin color and life and elevates him beyond the asshole boyfriend that we’re supposed to be rooting against.
He was funny. He was electric. Everybody loved him.
He drove me fucking crazy.
As a writer, I didn’t think I was a script Nazi until I met JB. I told everyone that I was okay with the actors playing around with the words a little. JB proved me to be a dirty, dirty liar.
It’s not that JB didn’t know the script, he did. And he told me how much he liked it. And he said many, many of the words in it. But he seemed incapable of sticking to it 100%. Really, not even 75%. He has to inject a little bit of himself into every take. Try to make his own magic.
And the picture is better for it.
As a man who takes pride in the words he writes, it made me nuts. But I couldn’t deny the results. Kevin was coming to life before our eyes. He wasn’t the guy I imagined him to be and thank Jeebus for that. He was so much better.
Plus, dude’s just a blast to be around.
But if you ever find yourself lucky enough to write something for him, do not ever ask him to say a number. We were shooting one of many scenes in Jim’s Coney Island Café, the one that takes place after the concert. One of Kevin’s lines read simply:
“On a scale of one to ten he like was a negative 42.”
On the first take, JB says:
“On a scale of one to ten, he was like a negative 1000.”
Now, specific numbers are funny; big round ones are not. Ask Kevin Smith why Veronica didn’t suck 50 dicks and he’ll tell you: 37 is funnier.
So John tells JB this, that the line is 42, not 1000, and we do another take.
“On a scale of one to ten, he was like a negative 1000.”
He just couldn’t help it. He is a big personality, a big talent, and he thinks big. 42 was too small for him. He had to crank it up.
After much cajoling, we finally got him to say
“On a scale of one to ten, he was like a negative 142.”
It was close enough.
My favorite thing I saw him do, and the reason I will always think he is a genius, is this:
We rehearsed for one week before shooting. Now, in this case, rehearsals didn’t so much mean running the scenes over and over, but more a chance for the actors to get to know each other and for John and I to talk to them about the scenes, the relationships between the characters, and their backstories. It was very loose.
Due to some scheduling, JB came into rehearsals a few days late. By that time, Ian and Eileen had already developed a rapport, a friendship. Which was good. They were going to be playing falling in love; it would be nice if they liked each other.
But, in the story, at least in the beginning, Dakota is Kevin’s girl, and Jonah is the interloper. So very subtly, with no fanfare, I’m not even sure completely consciously, JB started to make Ian feel that way.
JB and Eileen could be standing in a room full of people, talking, and you would just see people in conversation. But, whenever Ian entered the room, JB would put his arm around Eileen’s waist. Or kiss her on the head. Or set her in his lap. It wasn’t lewd; it wasn’t inappropriate. It was affection between new friends.
But it was sending Ian/Jonah a message: this is my girl.
This is not on camera, mind you, but between takes. Sometimes after we had wrapped for the night. If I had only seen it happen once, I would have thought nothing of it. But I saw it several times. JB, in front of Ian, showing affection towards Eileen. And, I swear, I saw Ian get jealous.
I don’t know if it helped Ian’s performance, but it couldn’t have hurt.
Maybe I read too much into it, but I thought it was genius.
JB is a director now, more than he is an actor. He directed a bug-fuck crazy film called Spork, which I recommend checking out, plus a bunch of music videos. He is a talented, talented man.
I will always be grateful to him for saving a big part of the film. The character was there, but he brought him to life in a way that wasn’t on the page. Now, as I’m writing the novel, I can’t hear anyone else saying the lines. He’s the one character in the film I can truly say I didn’t create. And that is humbling and frustrating and beautiful.