SXSW Interview: Nick Offerman and Brett Haley on working together for Hearts Beat Loud

After working together on The Hero last year, Brett Haley has once again teamed up with Nick Offerman for new drama-musical Hearts Beat Loud. The film has already screened at Sundance and SXSW Film Festival to critical acclaim, so we thought it best to sit down with both Brett and Nick to talk about how it all came together.

In the below transcript, Nick tells us about the trust he placed in both the Brett and his fellow cast members, how grateful he is to have this role, and his range as an actor. Brett was also present during the interview, providing insight into what attracts him to optimistic indie films and why he feels the world needs these types of messages.

First, I wanted to start a bit broad and get at the origin of your involvement in this film. What was going through your mind when Brett [Haley] and Marc [Basch] first approached you with this script?

Nick: I had worked on The Hero with them previously and had a great time. I love what Brett does, even with his previous film [I’ll See You In My Dreams] which he wrote for Blythe Danner, Martin Starr -who is amazing in it – and Sam [Elliott], who’s a friend. These films about people just dealing with real people situations, with nothing edgy, or no one getting their brains getting sprayed across a snowdrift. So I was really charmed by his films. Working on The Hero was great, and seeing the end result was really moving; I was so grateful for what he did with Sam [Elliott]. By the end of that, he intimated that this next one was coming, and I so I probably would have signed on sight-unseen, but then he pitched it to me. Nobody’s ever written me a part like this. I’ve never gotten one of the leads of a movie where I have this fully fleshed out story that’s so charismatic with my daughter and a love interest. It’s been like I won the lottery every day of the week for the last couple of years. There wasn’t a whole lot of thought that went into it other than to make sure I express my gratitude properly.

And tell me a bit about your co-stars and what you feel they brought out of you as an actor.

Nick: Well that’s another great thing about how Brett works. His movies are often peopled with these great two-person scenes. That makes them attractive to talent of the caliber of Blythe Danner; so working with Blythe who I’ve known for a long time…just on the superficial level of being cast as the son of Blythe Danner feels incredible and daunting, with big shoes to fill. She’s a gorgeous old pro, you can feel her stage chops when you’re doing a scene with her. It just excites my admiration watching her operate.

Ted Denson I worked with on Fargo, and I’ve known him around The Good Place – which is in the family of Parks & Recreation – and he also is just as successful as he is, not just because of his devilish good looks, but because he is so incredibly charming and his talent is so effortless. He generously just showed up for a couple of days; actors like him and Blythe just make it easy, they make you feel like you’re in very good hands.

Toni Collette – forget about it! I mean, it only occurred to me as we were getting into it, I’ve never had a love interest in a movie, of any substantial quality. So to get to break my cherry in that regard with a seasoned veteran was an incredibly gentle journey. Indeed, anytime I felt nervous I would just look across the room and Toni would nod reassuringly at me and I would think “well, she hasn’t left so I’m just going to keep talking”.

And then Kiersey [Clemons] – saving the best for last – she just got it. From the moment she walked in the door she was just a whirlwind of joy and love and creativity and openness. Immediately I said “wow, I’m her dad”. That just informed the performance that I had created, single-handedly because we lost her mum in the movie. I had created this girl; we are father and daughter but we’re also friends in a fun way, and we’re musical collaborators. So I was really thankful for that; I was grateful that I wasn’t supposed to be the one who was amazing at music, because we both would have had to do a lot more acting. Getting to collaborate with her musically…when she starts singing, a three block area of Brooklyn would just lift up off the ground, it was Angelic.

From start to finish, the experience was so good, I just made sure I did my homework and if anyone was going to screw it up it was going to be me, so I just did my best not to.

Actors who I guess become best known from a genre like comedy – since the wider world was exposed to you through Parks & Recreation – they’re often typecast into that genre, unfairly. Could you speak a bit about the range that you had as an actor before that, and the range you feel you have after this? Is there a difference?

Nick: Good question. I come from Chicago Theatre, and straight theatre – people don’t often hear that and think of Second city or comedy. I have no comedy training [laughs], I just have theatre training. So you do whatever is on the season: it could be comedy, it could be Shakespeare, or whatever. And so I have never really discerned, we were never asked to specialise – you were just either a skilled actor or you weren’t.

And so in the years leading up the Parks & Recreation in Los Angeles, I did a lot of dramas, I did a lot of work in dramatic independent films as well as scattered comedy bits. And since then, thankfully, I was really grateful that Noah Hawley gave me this really great part on Fargo [Season 2], which was all dramatic chops – there was funny stuff about it, but it’s by no means comedic content. And so I’m grateful that the business, I guess, knew me before Parks & Rec, so they still trust me to play things that are funny but also things that are not funny.

I feel just as ignorant as I did before that show came around, and I’m always just hoping for the next good piece of writing. Whether it’s the stupidest, broadest comedy, or the most moving evocative dramatic role. I’m just glad when I can do somebody some good.

Brett, A lot of indie films these days have this kind of profound and dark message. What attracts you towards optimism, and love?

Brett: I wish I knew the exact answer, but I know I’m naturally attracted to that, because I think there’s so much darkness, and anger, and hate and negativity, and barriers between people right now. No one is listening, everyone is just yelling, and I think the best way to get people to listen is to not bang them over the head with a message, but rather sneak it in so that they don’t even know it. I sort of describe my movies as when you need to give a dog medication; you wrap it in a doggy treat or bacon or something and the dog thinks it’s just eating bacon and that it’s delicious, but really it’s getting nourishment…it’s getting healing from it.

I like to think of my movies that way; on the surface people can say, “Oh, I’ll See You In My Dreams, that doesn’t seem like my cup of tea, that seems like a movie about X Y or Z”. In reality, if they saw it I think that they would think something different. The message is very important. To me, the world needs more movies that have a positive message that aren’t bullshit, that aren’t saccharine, that aren’t false, that come from a real place. I think there’s room for both, but I think it’s rare in indie film for whatever reason. I’m not a very optimistic person in life, but my art is optimistic, and I think that says a lot. I’m trying to be optimistic, I’m trying to look at the good, and I think that people right now could use it. I could use it. I’m putting out into the world what I think I need to see and feel from people.

Hearts Beat Loud screened as part of the SXSW Film Festival 2018. We’ll keep you posted on an Australian release date for the film.