“The Big Ask” is a very well made black comedy which stands out among other indie movies being released at the moment. Its story revolves around three couples who go on a vacation in the desert to help their friend Andrew (David Krumholtz) who has just lost his mother to cancer. But once everyone is there, Andrew tells everyone there’s only one thing which can heal him in his time of sorrow; he needs to sleep with his friends’ girlfriends. It’s an absurd offer which makes everyone eager to jump in their cars and go home, but they stay as they see Andrew is very depressed and needs attention. But the movie has you wondering if they will actually go through with his plan if it means saving him from himself.
I got to speak with David Krumholtz over the phone, and he proved to be a lot of fun to talk to. Krumholtz has appeared in “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle,” “Serenity,” “The Santa Clause” and “10 Things I Hate About You,” but these days he is best known for playing Charlie Eppes on the CBS show “Numbers.” During my interview with him, he talked about why he didn’t feel the need to do research on his character, what it was like making a movie with two directors instead of one, and he described the town of Twentynine Palms where the movie was shot. Also, he took the time to talk about a new website he is part of called Weather From which allows him to play one of his favorite characters.
Ben Kenber: The original title for “The Big Ask” was “Teddy Bears” which one character uses as a nickname for the cactus trees near the home everyone is staying in. Why did the title of the movie change?
David Krumholtz: I really don’t know why. I think Tribeca Films felt the title “Teddy Bears” didn’t really tell you what the film was. I like the title of “The Big Ask,” don’t get me wrong, but the problem is everywhere I go people ask me what I have coming out and I say “The Big Ask,” and they think I’m saying “The Big Ass.” So I keep getting, “You’re in a movie called ‘The Big Ass?’” And I have to explain that now it’s “Ask.” What’s even more awkward is that I show my ass in the movie.
BK: Well “The Big Ask” makes more sense in terms of what the movie is about.
DK: Yeah, I guess so.
BK: When it came to playing this character, did you do any research for this role or did you just work off the script as it was written?
DK: The script was very self-explanatory, and I really didn’t need to do much research because I’ve had an experience somewhat similar to this, obviously not asking my best friends’ girlfriends to have sex with me, but I had had kind of a painful experience in my life that I needed saving from. I needed my best friends to gather around me and to lift me up on their shoulders. I think a lot of people go through that, and it’s very hard to ask for help when you’re feeling helpless because it’s desperate. It’s interesting how people react to other people’s desperation. I had an experience like that, and this script in the way the characters react really rang true for me to what I experienced in my own situation. I didn’t have to do much research because I think I felt like I had been there, done that, so it was an opportunity for me to exercise that demon on film. I think people go through that kind of stuff all the time. Some people keep it quiet, some people handle it in certain ways, other people just scream for help. That’s ultimately what my character is doing in the film because he’s saying help me. But the matter in which he asks for help is ludicrous, and of course the fact that he thinks that there’s nothing wrong with it and that it’s totally normal is also crazy. I love how the film handles the awkwardness of it. These characters are real people, and so the idea is how real people react in this situation. The script was just so grounded in reality and in sort of the silent awkwardness and I thought Thomas Beatty did such a great job at making it feel real, and it’s because he had had an experience like that as well. I think it’s a great crowd movie in the sense of your sitting there kind of sympathizing with this guy who on paper reads like an asshole but you get where he’s coming from, and the big question is will they have sex with him or won’t they. I think it’s a fun movie in that regard.
BK: Yes, definitely. It’s like on the surface they are saying no but there’s a part of them that’s unconsciously considering it, so you can’t help but be riveted by the movie from start to finish for that reason.
DK: Yeah, the movie ends up becoming a reaffirmation of all the characters’ values. The one character of Dave (played by Zachary Knighton) wants to get married and he will stop at nothing to make it happen, and then the circumstance puts a stamp on his conviction to make it happen, to get his girlfriend to say yes. And the opposite is true for Jason Ritter’s character of Owen and Gillian (Jacobs) in that this brings to light the problems they have in their relationship, the communication issues. Their lives sort of unravel as a result of this question that this guy asks and it’s definitely not handled in a collegiate humor way. It’s definitely an adult movie for people who were not sure how to be adults. It’s certainly true of every adult.
BK: This movie is credited to two directors, Thomas Beatty and Rebecca Fishman. What was it like being directed by two directors instead of just one, and did that make things easier or harder?
DK: Well Thomas and Rebecca are husband and wife, and in this circumstance Thomas wrote the script so I think Thomas appreciated what Rebecca brought to it which was a filmic sense: the cinematography element and being in communication with the cameraman. So Thomas didn’t have to concentrate on anything but working with the actors and working on the script, so that in regard it was great. I found that I got more out of Thomas than I would have if he was worried about performance and camerawork the whole time. Rebecca had her own ideas as to what the film was tonally, and there were times when their ideas contradicted one another and there were times where we all agreed on the same thing. It’s tricky especially because they are husband and wife. You definitely don’t want to be the reason they start fighting, and it was a hard movie to make. But their spirit and their earnestness and their enthusiasm for the material really just carried us all through, so it was lovely to have the two of them there together.
BK: What was the most challenging aspect of playing this role for you?
DK: I mean for me, to be honest with you, I think beyond just doing some soul searching with the role, I think the most challenging thing is probably that there wasn’t very much that can be played broad or on the nose about this character. As actors we have an instinct to perform and to push and to show, and the hardest thing for me was I felt like the movie and Andrew only worked if I pulled him back and held back a lot because I’m playing a character that the audience is wondering what’s going on in his head. And more importantly, he’s wondering what’s going on in his head. He’s not even sure what he’s thinking, so it’s really important to pull back my performance and do something really small, and that was the biggest challenge for me. I need to establish a good level of trust with Thomas Beatty about that because I told him, “Look if I’m ever going too big or broad or if I’m too on the nose with my interpretation, pull me back. Let’s go smaller.” This is a movie where the awkward silences are the funniest beats, and so in this case less was more.
BK: The group dynamic between you and the rest of the actors is truly fantastic. Did you all have a lot of time to work things out and rehearse before you started shooting?
DK: No, this is a super low-budget indie so there are no frills and there’s not a lot of rehearsal time… Yeah, we did a couple of read-throughs and we kind of worked out some kinks. The great thing was from the first moment as a cast we all got along beautifully. We all enjoyed each other’s company, we all sort of came from similar places in our lives which we applied to this experience and to this project. So, what helped a lot and what made up for the lack of rehearsal time was that we all just had amazing chemistry as people, and then that did a lot of the work for us onscreen.
BK: The movie was shot in Twentynine Palms. Can you tell us more about this city?
DK: It’s about a half-hour outside of the heart of the Mojave Desert and about an hour past Joshua Tree National Park, so it’s basically the middle of nowhere. There’s a big, big giant army base out there and that’s about it. They were dropping bombs constantly and our little house that we all stayed in would rattle when they would drop a bomb, and sometimes they’d drop a bomb closer to us and it would be like, “Do we need to get the heck out of here?” We were basically in the middle of the desert with bombs being dropped near us and it was really quite a different experience, but for us it was kind of like paradise because it was so immersive. We really didn’t have a choice. We were all trapped in the desert and we really didn’t have a choice but to focus on what we were doing and focus on each other.
BK: Wow, I didn’t see anything resembling an Army base out there so you must have done a great job of hiding it from view in this movie.
DK: It’s actually the biggest army base in America; it’s that big. If you go out on this one road the road ends and if you go off-roading for about 20 minutes, you’ll end up at a giant re-creation of the central market of Baghdad, and it’s in the middle of nowhere dude. There’s no easy access to it, and there’s literally props and fake soap and fake market items. They do drills within that city and it’s meant to mock Baghdad or any major Middle Eastern city, and it’s about a square mile, that’s how huge it is, and you can see it from above from the mountain range. You really can’t get down to it. I’m not even sure how the military has access to it. I guess they have a certain road that leads there that people can’t get to from the other side. But I know Ahna O’Reilly and Jason Ritter went out there one day with a couple of friends and actually got out of the car and walked into it and walked around it while there were no drills happening. Then all of a sudden an alarm went off and the drill was happening and they had to run out of there because the Army started shooting up the place. I actually went out there once but I didn’t get too close because it was just super scary to me and super intimidating. It’s a very trippy place man, Twentynine Palms. If you ended up in Twentynine Palms, there’s a very specific reason.
BK: You also have a website that’s starting up now called “Weather From.” Could you tell us a little more about it?
DK: I’m really, really jazzed about it. Basically my friends came up with the idea to create a weather website that would make you laugh. People get their most up to the moment weather on the Internet and they thought that since it’s become this essential part of everyone’s lives, to check the weather for their town or where they are traveling to or where they are traveling from, why don’t we make them laugh while we are doing it. The idea was to create a bunch of characters and film a bunch of vignettes where the characters told you the weather for your small town, and it kind of went off on tangents. They pushed me to do an old lady character because my friend Ricky, who was involved in it, knew that I had done this character that I based on my grandmother. I said, “Well yeah I’ll do it, but I don’t want to do it in drag. Can we get some prosthetic makeup going?” We actually ended up getting Stephen Prouty’s company which just got nominated for an Academy Award for doing “Bad Grandpa,” so all of a sudden they transformed me into an old Jewish lady that no one, even my family members, were fooled by. Basically, how the site works is you go and you type in your zip code or the name of any city around the world, it hooks up to the National Weather Service so it works like any other weather website except instead of specific forecasts coming up, a video comes up and it’s accurate to your hometown. We did 35 videos for 35 different types of weather, and the videos range from 30 seconds to two minutes long. They are basically just vignettes and it’s me as this old, nasty Jewish woman who has a filthy mouth and is very opinionated and is also a little sexually promiscuous telling you the weather for your hometown and then also going off on tangents of what the weather reminds her of or whatever; everything from her wanting to have sex with Jeff Goldblum to claiming that she was the only survivor of the space shuttle Challenger disaster. She’s a really funny, funny character. We didn’t hold back. She’s very filthy and she’s very real, and it’s hard to imagine that’s me which is really cool. People have been really surprised by it. I think it’s a brilliant concept, and the idea going forward would be that there would be more characters to choose from to give you your weather and there will be more specific types of weather. We only did 35 types of weather as a start, but the weather can get very, very specific with high fronts and low fronts and hurricanes and tornadoes. So hopefully as we go forward we will get the chance to do hundreds of videos potentially.
BK: Yeah, it will be interesting to see how the website evolves as you have started off with a couple things, but I imagine at some point it will have to get a little more specific. That should give you a lot to work with as an actor which is cool.
DK: Yeah, I think so. I think it has endless potential and I’m just happy that they asked me to be a part of it. I’ve been working really hard on promoting it and getting the word out there about it because I love playing that character. It’s so much fun (laughs). She’s such a nasty old woman. I guess she’s a side of me that I didn’t know existed, or maybe I did know and I didn’t want to tell anybody or didn’t want to admit to. But it’s so much fun getting to let her out and I just really want people to see it and enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it.
BK: What do you hope that people get the most out of watching “The Big Ask?”
DK: Well, I really hope they have a good time laughing at my character’s misfortune, but I hope it makes them reflect a little bit on their own frailty and their own willingness or lack of willingness to ask for help. It’s the kind of movie that I love when I can walk out of the theater and feel like I know what that’s like. I can feel those feelings in my life, and maybe it’s time I ask for what I need regardless of whether or not it hurts people’s feelings because I need it. And if their friends, they’ll understand it’s something that I need. So hopefully someone will walk out of there having popped the question or whatever it is just because they felt inspired to do so.
I want to thank David Krumholtz for taking the time to talk with me. “The Big Ask” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital.