Linoleum Interview: Director Colin West on Twists and Outer Space
ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Linoleum writer and director Colin West about the upcoming dramedy. West discussed his affinity for science and working with Jim Gaffigan and Rhea Seehorn. Linoleum is set to debut in theaters on February 24.
“Cameron Edwin (Jim Gaffigan), the host of a failing children’s science TV show called Above & Beyond, has always had aspirations of being an astronaut,” reads the movie’s synopsis. “After a mysterious space-race era satellite coincidentally falls from space and lands in his backyard, his midlife crisis manifests in a plan to rebuild the machine into his dream rocket. As his relationship with his wife (Rhea Seehorn) and daughter (Katelyn Nacon) start to strain, surreal events begin unfolding around him — a doppelgänger moving into the house next door, a car falling from the sky, and an unusual teenage boy forging a friendship with him. He slowly starts to piece these events together to ultimately reveal that there’s more to his life story than he once thought.”
Tyler Treese: Space and science have featured in some of your past work as well, and it’s front and center in this film. What keeps you kind of coming back to those topics and exploring them in different ways?
Colin West: Oh, that’s a good question, Tyler. I like that. That’s very thoughtful. I guess I didn’t even really realize I was doing it until people started telling me that I was doing that. I think a lot of that, though, comes back to the way I was raised. So both of my parents are in the sciences. My dad is a computer scientist and mathematician, and my mom works in big tech. I think science and technology were always really threaded into my upbringing in a big way. I guess that ends up kind of working its way into all my kind of artistic pursuits in a large way. Linoleum has this TV show in it that’s called Above and Beyond and it’s really based on Bill Nye the Science Guy or Watch Mr. Wizard or some of these old kids’ science shows.
And yeah, I guess I can’t help but come back to those things. It’s just in the fabric of me, or something. I wish I had like a more solid answer, but I guess the way in which I try to like make films and write films, I sort of try to approach it organically and like make things come from somewhere within me. And I think that’s just a large part of me. I think that those scientific themes appear again and again because I think if I weren’t a filmmaker, I would be a scientist, and I think that there’s just as much creativity in the arts as there is in the sciences, and the way in which to forward science takes creative thinking. It takes thinking out of the box, I guess you could say. So those kind of ideas are what always … I don’t know, they’re always floating around in my mind, so I just ended up putting them to paper.
As you mentioned, you have the show within the movie. Growing up, I loved watching Cosmos and Bill Nye was so exciting to me. So how was it filming this low-budget educational TV show within the movie? How was it doing those scenes? They come across as really fun to watch.
Yeah, Tyler, that stuff was so fun. We shot that on the first day. Our first day of shooting the movie was shooting all of the television show stuff. So I think it was really a joy for the cast and crew to be able to kind of step into this other world that almost looked like a Pee-wee’s Playhouse kind of thing, or something where it was just a lot of fun.
I think for Jim [Gaffigan] too, because he got to do a lot of improv-ing during those scenes and things like that and have a good time with Rhea [Seehorn] as they were in character in these goofy science characters. So yeah, it was definitely inspired by those old kids’ science shows, but also me and my producers that I went to high school with — I went to high school with Chad Simpson and Chadd Harbold — and in high school, we had a public access TV show every Sunday.
We had half an hour that we had to fill. So we grew up in this sphere of delivering the Betamax tape to the station on Saturday so they could play it Sunday morning and trying to get all that material together and shooting stuff at our parents’ houses and in our basements and stuff like that. So there’s that nostalgia that we brought back into the movie. So I guess that whole TV show stuff was some of the most fun aspects to shoot for sure.
It definitely shows. I was so impressed with Jim Gaffigan. We’ve seen him really expand and do different types of roles like over the past decade, but I feel like his standup is just so prominent that I just keep being surprised by him. When did you realize that he had the dramatic range to do this in a dual role as well?
Yeah, it’s good to bring that up, yeah. He plays two characters in the movie. When his name came up in the running through our casting director and through the agency that he is at and everything, it was pretty immediate. I think that I kind of like was like, “Oh, this is right. This feels perfect.” He is obviously near and dear to America as this stand-up comedian, but has such acting chops and has shown that, like you said, over the last 10 years or so. I think he’s getting more and more into it and getting more and more recognition for it as we move forward. I mean, obviously he’s a real powerhouse stand-up, but I think there’s something to Jim that really … not surprised me, but I remember having our first phone call when his agent said, “Oh, he’s interested in the project and let’s get on the phone.”
And we got on the phone, I remember he came in with such strong ideas and such such a heartfelt touch to this character immediately. Those ideas came from a real place. He was obviously in it for the passion, I guess, is what I could say. [He] was very interested in making a character feel full. Obviously, he wasn’t doing this for a paycheck or something like that. It was really about the passion of acting and he loves that stuff. So after having that first conversation with him, I was like, “Oh, he gets it.” You know what I mean? He gets it and he knows he can, he can pull this off in a huge way. So at that point, it was a no-brainer.
Between him being interested and Rhea, you getting all these talented actors really speaks to the script that you were able to write for this movie. There are so many interesting themes throughout it, and so many of them tie into this exploration of aging and fulfillment, and we see them through different lenses. What really spurred on this idea to delve deeply into all these different facets of these interconnected themes?
Yeah, man, I wish there was a really easy answer to that. I mean, the script took forever to write, and I think that it sort of shows in a lot of ways that it was this ensemble mess for a long time. I didn’t quite know like how I was going to piece it all together. I remember I had started writing the screenplay in 2015, and in 2018, my grandfather passed away and I was there in the hospital when it happened. In the commotion, the nurse ended up giving me his watch, which was his final possession. I remember later that night I took a look at the watch and I saw that it was three hours off. In that moment, I sort of realized that either he was living three hours in the future or we’re all living three hours in the past. There’s a subjective look at time.
And that kind of shifted my brain into thinking like, “Oh, structuring this script in a way that’s very subjective could really work here,” in that there’s this character who’s almost talking to themselves as their life is coming to an end and like looking back and sort being able to take advice from their younger self or their older [self]. It’s this very melodic dream state that the whole film is in that you don’t really even know until kind of towards the end. But it was a really delicate balance.
I think that’s what brought me back to the script again and again over the course of many years. I had been writing other things in the meantime, but I just kept coming back to this one. Yeah, I was very, very lucky that people like Rhea Seehorn or Tony Shalhoub or Katelyn Nacon, these people come onto this project and work to make this thing come to life in a way that I think really felt like the picture in my head. So I felt like I was in very good hands with that cast.
Rhea gives such a lovely performance as Erin. Obviously, she has so many accolades, but can you speak to what impressed you the most about seeing her breathe life into this character that you worked on and wrote for so long?
Well, the thing with Rhea is … I’ve never worked with such a professional, and I say that because she’s so on it. Like, she’s so passionate about character and arc and story, and she knows how to make that stuff happen. I think I’m very, in a lot of ways, proud because she’s now blowing up in an even bigger way. She’s doing Vince Gilligan’s next show as the lead, following Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. It’s like, wow, this person is just unbelievable. And she brought to the table so many great ideas. A lot of tweaks to the script with her character ended up happening in the last few weeks leading up to the movie because of her input. And I think that led to the best version of that character.
And I don’t know, I guess she’s also just such lighthearted, amazing, thoughtful, genuine person that everybody on the set fell in love with her. She was just so easy to talk to and everybody was equal and the way in which she would hang out with us and at the premiere party, she was the first person on the dance floor — that kind of stuff. It’s like … those are the kind of people you want to work with and the people you can really be friends with. She was, no doubt, in that category. So I felt really honored to have her on our set.
You had the South by Southwest premiere last year and got such great feedback. What was most exciting about watching others take in the movie and put together the revelations in real time? Because I imagine that has to be so satisfying.
It was cool. I mean, it’s cool because you never know, especially going into a festival premiere like South by Southwest. You never know if it’s going to work or if people are just going to get confused and get up and walk out. Thankfully, I don’t think anybody left or anything, but it was a real pleasure. And the pleasure didn’t come from tricking people because I don’t think the film is ever … look, I love M. Night Shyamalan and I know he’s known for these big twist films and stuff like that — and we did look at that kind of an idea for this — but we wanted the film to have more of a soft reveal than a heavy twist. So some people will figure out the conceit of the film in the first 30 minutes.
And I really like that. I actually don’t mind that at all. Some people will say like, “You know, I think I figured it out early on or in the middle somewhere,” and I like that. I think that there’s still so much to be drawn from it from any point in the movie. I think, actually, a lot of people — most people — will come up and say, “I need to watch that again now that I know why I’m watching it.” I think that’s the most fun and, honestly, very heartfelt thing for me is when people like truly want to go watch it again. I’m like, “Wow.” It just means a lot. So as a filmmaker, we make these movies for people and so when they show up and actually watch these things, it’s a real blessing.
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