A Year and Change is a beautifully crafted, independent film directed by Stephen Suettinger, and co-written by Jim Beggarly and Suettinger. The film gives a glimpse into the life of Owen, a vending machine owner/operator, after he drunkenly falls off the roof at a New Year’s house party and breaks his arm. While sitting in the emergency room, Owen decides that it’s time to make some wholesale changes in his life and pursues it in fits and starts, with different choices and relationships, including a budding romance with Vera, a recent divorcee.
Actors Bryan Greenberg (Prime, How to Make it in America) and Claire van der Boom (The Pacific, Hawaii Five-0) bring Owen and Vera to life, expressing strong chemistry, vulnerability, and realism in their depiction of the characters. This writer was able to correspond with the two actors to get their take on being a part of this personal and human film, as well as how they related to and prepared for their roles.
Bryan Greenberg has worked with writer Jim Beggarly before, and was once again attracted to the quality of the script, and the challenge of portraying Owen’s brokenness.
“What drew me to the role was the writer’s integrity. I thought the character was really interesting—Owen is a complicated guy who’s got a lot of issues. He’s got a broken family, an estranged son, and a divorced wife. He’s hanging out with the wrong crowd, he drinks too much; he’s a guy who’s lost his way,” Bryan said. “I thought it was a great exploration and a great journey of one year in this man’s life where he tries to figure it out, and he discovers what family really means to him, and what’s important to him—he tries to turn his life around.”
Claire van der Boom’s attraction to the role came from a similar place, but for different reasons. “We are introduced to Vera at a turning point in her life. She is searching for her identity after her marriage breakdown. I’m fascinated with the roles we play in relationships and even the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves,” Claire explained.
“She’s in the midst of trying to break some of her unwanted patterns and triggers, and is bravely trying to find the most authentic version of herself. I was interested in that fragile place between wanting to jump into new experiences, but also knowing that time and patience are crucial in order to really learn and grow.”
When asked about parallels between Owen and Vera and Bryan and Claire, the responses were surprising.
“I didn’t see a whole load of similarities between myself and Owen, to be honest,” Bryan said. “I just took inspiration from the character: he’s a broken guy trying to figure it out. I guess if there are any similarities it will be the need to get better, to improve oneself. I’m always trying to improve myself. In the beginning, Owen isn’t really trying to do that, but he’s forced into a crossroads in his life where he has to make a choice. Does he want to keep drinking too much? He already fell off a roof and broke his arm, he almost broke his neck, he has almost no relationship with his child. It takes an accident like that to sort of realize that he has to make a choice to get better. So I guess there’s that! But not really—I don’t have a whole lot in common with Owen.”
Claire, on the other hand, delved into several sources in order to create Vera’s underbelly. “I am an actor who draws much from my own experiences, but perhaps just as much from observing others and hearing their stories. I have a lot of empathy for what people go through and I’m fascinated by how history shapes us. Life can be tough for us all at times! So once I personally have an understanding of a character, I work to find their voice and make choices about their physical traits. For example, how their experiences have made them move the way they do. Vera is more shy and more nervous than me; she’s been isolated and in a codependent relationship all her adult life. The director, Stephen and I, talked about her having some anxiety or even OCD. She’s deeply fearful about re-entering the world, so what does that look like and sound like? Sometimes I directly take from a real person, but here I made a bunch of different choices and threw them in the pot.”
Because Owen’s character is the focus of the film, Bryan had to put in the most camera time and energy in creating the space and world for the other characters.
“This was definitely a challenging role,” Bryan said. “Only because I was in every single scene, and my character has so many different relationships—my character is kind of an anchor for all of the other characters. There’s all these storylines going on, and then throughout there’s Owen, who has all of these different relationships and circumstances; so just in terms of the physical workload it was hard, because with independent movies you don’t have a budget to take your time. So we shot this in only three weeks, and there was a lot of locations, a lot of moves; so that was physically challenging.”
However, Bryan found this invigorating. “I get inspired by that kind of work. I’m the type of actor that would rather be working every day and every second – I like to be busy, I don’t want to work one or two days a week—I like to get in there with a crazy, busy rhythm, and in the end just kind of pass out from exhaustion.”
Claire found a different form of challenge in embodying Vera. “You have to be patient with yourself in the early stages of finding a character,” she said. “I remember calling Stephen and asking if I could do a slight Maryland accent. In my research I had watched some documentaries of fisherman on the Chesapeake Bay, and I loved the song in a particular girl’s voice. I wanted to make her an authentic local who was not well traveled. That wasn’t so important to Stephen, and he was concerned a strong accent may distract or even alienate. Rather he was more interested in me finding her neurosis and her spirit, and the way she was in the space. And obviously finding what drives her, what she wants. So really, it’s just about playing and talking and weeding through a whole bunch of ideas, then locking in choices and going for it! Sure it’s difficult and scary at times to do—but that’s half the fun!”
The actors also had different viewpoints on the “mid-life crisis” aspect of Owen’s journey, and whether the Millennial generation could find any relevance in the tale.
“I think people can stop and take a look at themselves and feel the desperate need for change at all different ages and as a reaction to all sorts of experiences,” Claire said. “There are no rules with timing when emotional and mental exploration comes knocking. However, with Owen he has finally come to a place where he realizes he perhaps hasn’t fully grieved the loss of his biological family—who importantly he was very close to—and that it would be way healthier for him to acknowledge his denial and find a way to fill the void and move on. I think it’s true that often we have to hit rock bottom to really be forced to stand back and go deeper into true and honest personal reflection. It’s uncomfortable and terrifying so most of us avoid it until the repercussions are too damaging.”
Bryan was less sure. “I don’t know… I feel like our generation can be a little stunted in our maturity,” he said. “We get married later now… I don’t know… I feel like we’re a little lost, and we don’t start figuring things out until our late 20s/early 30s. I suppose a midlife crisis used to happen typically in our 40s, and now it’s more like in our 50s for us (laughs). Maybe everything’s just getting pushed back 10 years.”
Both Bryan and Claire reflected on the messiness and the honesty of their characters romance.
In my experience, when an intimate relationship is based on a foundation of friendship, you have a much better shot at survival,” Claire said. I’d like to think I’m patient and deeply loyal and accepting of my buddies, all their flaws included. And unless they surprise me and turn out to be a jerk, I keep them and cherish them with all my being. How lucky when we fall in love with an individual you respect just like your friend, I say.”
Bryan agrees, “I think it’s intelligently approached because its not just like oh, these two people have chemistry so of course they’re going to he together. It takes almost a year for them to figure things out and get on the right track, and Owen has to be patient. At first, in theory it sounds great to Owen… the idea of just being friends, and just being kind of casual, but when they start hanging out and Owen starts to develop feelings for her he gets very jealous, and it gets complicated, and he starts to screw it up a little bit, maybe back to his old ways. But yeah, I feel like it’s interesting because it’s not a smooth path to a loving relationship. There are ups and downs, and sometimes the timing isn’t right – so I think this is very real. It’s honest.”
A Year and Change give both Bryan and Claire more substantial roles for their resume, only adding to each actor’s substantial body of work. On the horizon for our film stars, Bryan Greenberg produced and starred in the film, It’s Already Tomorrow, which releases in February.
Claire van der Boom is finishing up filming on Game of Silence, an NBC show scheduled to air in early 2016. Claire also completed an Australian film called Broke.
A Year and Change releases on Tuesday, November 24 on DVD/VOD via Amazon Prime and iTunes, and on Netflix within the next few months. Visit the A Year and Change website and the Facebook Page for more information about the movie and where you can download and view the film.