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An Interview with Owen Conway, Star and Co-Writer of Eminence Hill

by Mike Haberfelner

November 2019

Owen Conway on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie Eminence Hill - in a few words, what is it about?

 

I think itís about morality and the grey areas between good and evil.

 

With your movie being a western - is that a genre at all dear to you, and some of your genre favourites and inspirations?

 

Westerns are mythic. I think myths are powerful. Genre gives you the benefit of the audience expecting certain things from a piece. If youíre a smart writer, youíll be able to use that framework as an opportunity to surprise them instead of something that boxes you in.

 

Other sources of inspiration when writing Eminence Hill?

 

The Coens are at the top of my list for sure. And westerns with a more realistic, nuanced approach to violence like Clint Eastwoodís Unforgiven. I loved the way that filmís characters managed the violence they witnessed or committed.

 

You've written Eminence Hill together with your brother Robert  [Robert Conway interview - click here] - so what was your collaboration like, both during writing and also on set?

 

Robert had a very clear story laid out from the start so it wasnít the usual process of bouncing ideas around or maybe even coming in to write the ending like Iíd done in the past. It was more like dialogue revisions, certain structural things. The scene that has most of my fingerprints on it is one of the last scenes in the film and itís actually our favorite. Itís a very simple scene with Carlie Motley and Augie Duke. Carson, Charlieís character is just sort of wrapping his head around all the stuff heís seen and this strange journey heís been on. And thereís just this very human existential fear and yearning for some kind of connection. Iím not really sure where that scene came from, a lot of the heavy ideas that keep me up at night I guess, haha.

 

You also play one of the leads in Eminence Hill - so what can you tell us about your character, and have you written Quincy with yourself in mind from the get-go?

 

Quincy was very much Robertís baby. Other than some minor dialogue revisions, Quincy was entirely written by Robert and he had a very specific idea of what he wanted for the character and it was not me, lol. It took a lot of convincing. We did a series of screen tests and a lot of back and forth, I knew Iíd convince him eventually, but I think it may have been tough for him to see me as this menacing figure because itís very much not who I am in real life. It was actually him seeing my performance in Irin Danielís The System that sorta swayed him. But I also think he saw I was willing to collaborate and take adjustments and find the Quincy he was looking for, and that was a real boon for me as an actor because thatís not something you generally have the time for on an indie film. To have those sorts of discussions with the director.

 

What did you draw upon to bring your character to life, and how much Owen Conway can we actually find in Quincy?

 

Very little I hope! Lol. I drew on some real life figures. There was an man by the name of Luke Short, heís commonly remembered as ďthe Dandy GunfighterĒ. And guys like Wes Hardin or these other sort of famous old west death dealers. I plugged into Dick Cheney of all people for the sort of cold, calculator and the intelligence. Then there were just great performances I loved. Giancarlo Esposito in Breaking Bad was a guy I looked at, Day Lewis in There Will be Blood. I tend to leave my personal stuff at the door as an actor unless itís really going to serve me. Quincy and I are very different people, so hopefully thereís not a whole hell of a lot of me in there. Maybe his fashion sense, lol.

 

Do talk about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?

 

My new favorite thing to say is that big films are made by committees, little films are made by communities. This movie was always impossible to make and somehow we did it. It was a coming together of people from all different walks of life, all different places on the political spectrum, to make a cool movie and have fun. It was far from easy but the enthusiasm and the work ethic was always there. Just a great group of people.

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

A lot of time in the lab writing as of now. Working with Robert on a new script. Polishing off a few of my own pieces. Iíve written a few plays Iíd like to see about staging one maybe next year.

 

What got you into acting in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?

 

It was always what I was gonna do even if I didnít know it. I did theater camp and certain school stuff, but it wasnít until actually Robertís first film Redemption, in which I played a small role, that I really started taking it seriously. After that, I went to an audition and really botched it. The casting guy told me I had talent but I needed training. He recommended Stella Adler in Hollywood. Then my life changed. I found my place. Very grateful to Stella Adler Hollywood. I learned to act there and theyíre still so supportive. Itís really like an extended family over there - in fact, Louie who plays Cyrus is also a Stella alum.

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Eminence Hill?

 

It was a lot of colorful supporting stuff. Usually the ďsketchy guyĒ but rarely any real leads. It was Irin Danielís putting me in The System that really started opening up the sort of roles Iíve alway wanted to play. Very grateful to Irin for that. Since then, the last four or five roles Iíve played have been these sort of dark, powerful but broken men, which I find very compelling as an actor.

 

Only in recent years you have also branched out into writing - now what prompted that step, and how do you see yourself as a writer?

 

Iíve written since I can remember, but the hardest part has always been sharing that writing with anyone. Iím very self conscious about it. It feels so much more personal and like the emotional stakes are so much higher than with acting. Iíve been lucky as I usually donít get bad reviews as an actor. When my first play I had written went up a couple years ago, I experienced my first really bad review and boy oh boy. It stuck with me. Nevermind all the people who told me they loved the play, it was this one reviewer hating it that stuck. Itís that old thing of the comedian focusing on the one guy in the room who isnít laughing. So itís tough for me, that aspect and probably why I havenít done more. But I think Iím getting over it the more I do it. Itís like exposure therapy.

 

How would you describe yourself as an actor, and some of your techniques to bring your characters to life?

 

Every character is different. For this one, it was a lot of trial and error and just letting the story wash over me. I tend not to break things down in a methodical way, as you can get bogged down in logic circles and you can get stuck on a choice that maybe isnít right or maybe youíll be asked to lose. So I try to stay flexible. Above all itís being true to the character and recognizing that youíre a part of this bigger story and serving your function in that.

 

Actors (and indeed actresses) who inspire you?

 

De Niroís still the man. Harrison Ford is very big for me. Tom Hanks. I think Meryl Streepís probably the best living actor. But there are so many greats. Iíve been watching the new Watchmen show and I think Regina King and Jean Smart are freaking AMAZING. There are so many incredible actors out there right now.

 

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Your favourite movies?

 

Goodfellas, The Empire Strikes Back, Birdman.

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

Gone With the Wind. Hate that movie.

 

Your website, Facebook, whatever else?

 

Iím on Facebook, on Twitter @owenconway and Instagram @owentconway

 

Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

I think we covered it!

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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directed by
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written by
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