BWW Interview: Lee Wilkof of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS Unveils New Film Project, NO PAY, NUDITY
Broadway veteran Lee Wilkof may be best known to many for his iconic portrayal of the nebbish florist Seymour in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS Off-Broadway, and to others for his Tony-nominated performance in the 2000 Broadway revival of KISS ME, KATE. But now Wilkof's trying his hand at something else - writing and producing his first film. He's been in several already, most notably 2009's LEAVES OF GRASS and most amusingly indie director John Putch's "ROUTE 30" trilogy, for which he just wrapped up shooting the third and final installment, but it's time for him to try the other side of the camera. On September 9, he announced his Kickstarter campaign (http://www.KickstartLee.com) to raise funds for the production; we met with him near the end of August to discuss the project.
This is his first time producing or directing. "It's something that I've often thought about. I've written a few scripts but they've gotten away from me - but if I don't do what I want to do now, I'll never do it. I'm 62; it's time."This script, for NO PAY, NUDITY, hasn't gotten away, possibly because it's rooted in what he knows best -- theatre. "This is a script I wrote with another young man, Ethan Sandler, based on a story I wrote. I dusted it off last year in Chicago while I was doing THE ICEMAN COMETH with Nathan Lane. I decided it was good when I re-read it, and I'm going to try to get it made. I called up Ethan and I talked to him. I had my wife, director Connie Grappo, look at it. Ethan and I made some changes, did some rewriting. A cousin of mine was very generous about giving me some money. We decided to start a Kickstarter campaign to get the rest of the money. I just got off the phone with my producer and a woman who's a Kickstarter expert. I have a video John Putch helped me shoot."
Those familiar with Kickstarter are aware that there are usually gifts or prizes awarded for donations, and Wilkof is following that policy, with some unusual awards to donors. "We have prizes, yes. If someone gives us a thousand dollars, I'll sing to them on Skype. If they want "Happy Birthday," they've got it. If they want "Suddenly, Seymour," they've got it. For ten thousand dollars, there's dinner with Nathan Lane and me at Joe Allen's for four people. There's speaking parts in the movie."
Major donors aren't the only people who may be gracing the screen. Wilkof's friends have expressed interest in parts in the film. "Some really neat people are interested if they're available. Nathan Lane - who's not starring. Ted Levine, who I'd like to have starring. Laurie Metcalf, Jessica Hecht. So many people are interested - it just depends on their schedules and when we're able to start filming. Boyd Gaines, Brent Spiner, Lewis Black, a lot of good friends." (This author just encountered Spiner, one of the stars of television's STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION at science fiction event Dragon Con in Atlanta, after talking with Wilkof; Spiner has confirmed to us his great interest in participating in the film. He's an old friend of Wilkof's, dating back to LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.)
NO PAY, NUDITY isn't the most obvious choice for a film title, but it sounds as if it means something; surely it has an origin. We asked Wilkof to explain. "When I was a young actor, every Thursday I would pick up "Backstage" and Leo Shull's "Show Business". Agentless young actors would go circle the ads we thought we were right for. Back then, in the Seventies, there would be ads for experimental plays, and not so experimental ones, reading, 'no pay, nudity' or 'nudity, low pay' as requirements. Those who were Equity members would be reading the ads at the Equity lounge, and we nearly titled this movie 'Lounge Act,' but that's not really provocative or an attention-getter. People hear this title and they get excited. But there's no nudity. It's metaphorical, for actors - they don't always make a lot of money but they wind up baring their souls if nothing else."
What's needed to make a movie about a life in auditions? "Our goal is to raise $450,000. Some people think that's a lot of money; others think it's not. Either way, this film is going to get made. We'd rather do it sooner than later. It's all going to be shot in New York, pretty much. It depends on the funding and on everyone's schedule. This is going to be an independent. In a perfect world, this will be of a high quality and it'll do the film festival circuit. Loudon Wainwright III is doing the music. My cinematographer works with John Putch. We have excellent people."
NO PAY, NUDITY covers working out of love versus working purely for money, and jealousy or non-jealousy at other actors' roles. "There are so many brilliant actors in New York, but you're not considered a success unless you're famous. A lot of us work regularly but aren't well-known - everyone defines 'star' differently. For some people, it's fame, and for others, it's how steadily you work. But to the public it's all about visibility. I've had successes myself, and I get to work with great people, but it's taken years to acknowledge that I've been successful. But this film truly isn't about my career."
In fact, NO PAY, NUDITY centers on one actor among a group of friends and frenemies, who meet regularly at the Equity lounge. He's been, like his friends, in the business for years and, unlike Wilkof, is looking for work - but he's not sure if his heart's in it at the moment. Life changes while he's auditioning for a Shakespeare role in the hinterlands and another actor in his circle strikes gold with a film part at the same time.
"I'm confident we'll raise the funds. I don't know much about that end of things but I've surrounded myself with great people who do. The same with film-making. I know my way around a set, but I'm learning, and I'm surrounding myself with people who know what to do and how to do it. And I think I've got a really lovely script. You can't make a good movie with a bad script."
The fundraising Kickstarter campaign has just opened as of September 9 at KickstartLee.com. Additional information about NO PAY, NUDITY, as well as the John Putch video of Wilkof, is available at the site.
Photo courtesy of Lee Wilkof