April 7, 2020 Interview – Jon Abrahams
Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Jon Abrahams was a kid with a fascination in the visual arts. Attracted by music and film as well, he still never imagined himself as an actor… but sometimes everything changes in the blink of an eye.
First cast in the 1995 cult classic Kids, Abrahams took decided to take a chance in Hollywood, years later finding himself starring in a list of big films including 2000’s hits Meet The Parents and Scary Movie, 2005’s House of Wax, among many others. Now decades since, he continues to chase his muse, but now as a actor, director, and producer.
Doing just that in his second directorial feature Clover, he creates a fun film that tells an interesting story while capturing the atmosphere of a Crime Comedy of years ago. Excited for the release of Clover on April 3rd, the multi-talented Abrahams sat down to chat his entrance into acting, his experiences, turning his attention to directing, plus more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in film professionally for over 25 years now. Starring in a long list of films as well as television series, first tell us, what inspired you to pursue a career as an actor?
Jon Abrahams – That’s a great question. It was never my intention to be a professional actor, albeit, I really enjoyed acting among other creative outlets when I was younger. I went to a kind of artsy high school in Brooklyn, New York. I was heavily into visual arts, but I had a teacher there who taught improv after school. I took her improv class and I was also taking a film class at the time. I think the improv really just opened up something for me; I really enjoyed it, there was something spiritual about it for me.
Again, it interested me creatively, but I did not want to pursue it as a profession. I had a thought to kind of protect myself from what I’d seen from other young people who got into acting; I wasn’t sure if that was the life I wanted to live. As fate would have it, I ended up getting picked up off the street to be in a movie called Kids (1995) which Larry Clark directed. We made Kids, and again, it was something I was creatively interested in doing, but it wasn’t like ‘this is my ticket.’
Sure enough Kids became this sensational film for that time, and it still holds up today. Out of that success from that movie I had an agent sign me, and thought maybe I should give it a shot. At first I was reluctant, but he ended up convincing me to give it a try. I felt, well, this door is being opened for me: I might as well take a walk inside and see what happens. Here I am 25 years later!
Cryptic Rock – It is cool to see how it all developed. You have built a really diverse resume working on a lot of big budget films, as well as smaller budgets. How would you compare the two?
Jon Abrahams – Probably, in any facet, the bigger the budget, the more micro-managing there is from other departments. Certainly, as an actor, with the bigger budget films I’ve been on there is definitely more of a microscope on you, or it feels that way. I’m always worried I’m going to get fired. (Laughs) On bigger budget movies there is a little more of that fear.
It’s been my experience on smaller, indie films, even though there is not as much shooting schedule, there is a little more wiggle room for creativity. Sometimes you’re working with people, it’s their first film and they are very collaborative; they’re learning as they go, as well, and you get to grow with them. This more so than a studio film that has been in production hell for 10 years already where micro-management has picked over where everything has been exposed and looked at even before you start shooting.
Cryptic Rock – That makes a lot of sense. On an indie film, you may have a smaller budget but there is the chance for more creative freedom, as you say.
Jon Abrahams – Sometimes you do. I’ve been lucky. Certainly on Meet The Parents (2000), the way Jay Roach and everyone worked on that movie there was a bit of freedom to try things.
In Comedy world you will find that, especially with The Wayans Brothers. Working with them on Scary Movie (2000) was like that; they gave you a lot of room to contribute. Most of the time there is a little more freedom when there is not as many people involved.
Cryptic Rock – Very interesting to hear. You have this new film Clover in which you star, direct, and co-produce. How did this project come about for you?
Jon Abrahams – I’m a big fan of a film called Mikey and Nicky (1976) that Elaine May directed, which also starred Peter Falk, John Cassavetes, and Ned Beatty. I loved the relationship in that film between two friends since childhood. I had been wanting to do a quirky crime film that involved two brothers who were very close in age where possibly one betrays the other.
I’m a big Shakespeare fan, so I was trying to think of something along those lines. I brought it up to my good friend Michael Testone. who wrote our first film together, All At Once (2016). He liked the idea, had some thoughts, we broke story, and he went off to write basically what you see on screen in Clover. I’ve really been involved soup to nuts, as they say.
Cryptic Rock – It has a good mix of comedy and drama. One of the aspects which stick out about the film is the setting. Did you have an idea of when you wanted this film to take place?
Jon Abrahams – It is an homage to the crime comedies of yesteryear in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s; I wanted to make the movie timeless. Obviously there is the use of cellphones, and there are slightly modern cars in it, but at the same time, you just don’t really know what the time period is. You also don’t know what the place is; it is not any specific geographic location, it’s any sort of downtrodden city in America. There was a great deal of effort to make sure it felt kind of timeless and to make sure to pay attention to all the decades I mentioned.
Cryptic Rock – You can feel that, and there are some interesting techniques used within the film’s flow. For example, there are scenes that unfold like a comic book.
Jon Abrahams – Yes. I did approach Clover partially as a comic book or graphic novel. That’s true in its aesthetic and the way Mike wrote it. There is that – thank you for noticing it. There are a lot of things, aesthetically, we did to make it look like that.
Cryptic Rock – You can tell. Were there any particular films that influenced the direction you wanted to go with Clover?
Jon Abrahams – Yes, totally. No surprise any of the modern gangster films are going to be an influence. Other ones like Mikey and Nicky and all of John Cassevetes’ crime films. These were influences and always are, as well as Point Blank (1967) and Midnight Run (1988), which I think is a wonderfully done Crime Comedy.
I’m a big fan of the midnight, cult films that I grew up watching. There is a lot of inspiration there such as Across 110 Street (1972), the Blaxploitation films, and then Taxi Driver (1976), which is one of my favorite films of all-time. I don’t think I’m the only one who would say that, I think that’s a pinnacle for a lot of us.
Cryptic Rock – It comes together well. You also have a strong cast involved. What was it like working with Mark Webber and Nicole Elizabeth Berger as a team on screen?
Jon Abrahams – My feeling is any time you can build a rapport it is great. Past that, I don’t believe you can buy chemistry. I think as much as you can when making a movie you should try to cast people you have a relationship with. There are a lot of people in Clover who were in our first film, All At Once, and they are also good friends of ours in life. Nicole played my daughter in All At Once, so I have this long-winded, built-in relationship from working with her in a family sense on the first film; that chemistry was built in.
I had never worked with Mark before, but we’ve known each other for 25 years because we both came up as New York actors who saw each other at auditions all the time. We both came out of the indie world and I knew there would be chemistry built in. Doing the work with Mark to build that family chemistry really wasn’t that hard; it was really just about trust, and for me, I already did have this close companionship to him from real life.
We did do a bit of rehearsal. I always think it is very important when making movies, but you don’t always get that much time to do it. I did go and work with Nicole in New York before shooting. Me and Mike took her around and sort of mimicked the trajectory of Jackie, Mickey, and Clover; we did a kind of run around the city and acted as if we were running from something. I also did a fair amount of rehearsal with Mark and Nicole when we started shooting in Buffalo.
Cryptic Rock – That work put in paid off. This is your second feature film as a director. Is directing something you want to continue to pursue?
Jon Abrahams – It definitely is at this point in my life. Like I said, I have interest in a lot of creative facets – I’m equally as interested in music, as well as visual arts, and always have been. Directing for me encompasses all those facets of the arts where, at this point in my life, acting is singular. It’s one thing that draws its inspiration from, where directing draws inspiration from all those things for me. Past that, I just want to work; I like to work. (Laughs) I don’t really have a preference. Whoever wants to hire me to do a job, I’ll do it. If it’s acting or directing, it doesn’t really matter, it’s a job. I like a job.
Cryptic Rock – Understandable. Speaking of music, the soundtrack in Clover works well, too.
Jon Abrahams – Thank you. The soundtrack for Clover is released on Mad Decent Records, which is Diplo’s label. It is produced by the Leon Michels of El Michels Affair and it’s a sort of a classic Crime film score. It is inspired by not just Crime films, but Horror movies too. I’m a big fan of Horror film soundtracks from John Carpenter, as well as Goblin as well as the Dario Argento film soundtracks.
Cryptic Rock – The soundtrack is certainly something everyone should check out. So beyond Clover, do you have any new films you are working out now?
Jon Abrahams – Yes, I do. I’m in post-production in my third directorial feature called Exploited. It is a Horror-Thriller set in the fetish webcam world in colleges. That aught be coming your way next year or so.
Past that, I would really like to direct television. I’ve shadowed on a couple of shows, so I’m just trying to crack that nut and stay busy. Right now, presently, it’s really about hoping what I’ve created already can entertain some people. I hope Clover can bring some entertainment in these times for people.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, it is a good break from the crazy realities going on in the world; it is full of escapism and is overall a fun ride. Last question, hinting you like Horror films, what are some of your favorites?
Jon Abrahams – I have a ton! I wanted to work in Horror special effects when I was a kid, that is sort of what I thought I was going to do with my life. I’m a big fan of the original Dawn of the Dead (1978). I’m a big fan of Tom Savini’s makeup work in general.
I’m also a big fan a lot of the ’80s Horror films, a lot of the weird midnight ones too. I love Re-animator (1985) and even weird movies like Basket Case (1982). I really like creature movies, so I was always a big fan of anything Stan Winston did. I love Predator (1987), I think it’s one of the best movies ever.