Brian Avers, known for his recurring role on NCIS: Los Angeles as Agent Mike Renko, has recently introduced fans to another one of his talents: Directing.
The Columbus, Ohio native has now made his mark as a writer as well, unleashing an independent film, “The Weekend,” a true-to-life story about a group of old summer camp friends who’ve reconnected in their adult years.
“However,” he says, “because the cast and I created the movie together, there are a number of true stories inside the film -- a few are pretty blatant (the actor playing Uncle Max truly had ‘just signed his divorce papers’ a week earlier, for example!), but most are more subtle: memories, experiences, true stories that came up that we found ways of using at different times for different characters.” Avers goes on to add, “I was inspired by the actors themselves. Many of them are friends of mine, all of them are brilliant. I’ve created plays before, and had collaborated on a couple of improvisation-driven short films that I thought really put the actors in a position of strength. So, I always felt we could get a talented group together and shoot something in a short period of time, on one location, and come out with an authentic, funny, and maybe even magical film. A few years ago, I sat down with our producer, Michael Izquierdo, and pitched the idea — he was thrilled by it, offered to produce, and that began a long and wonderful journey.”
The unique aspect of The Weekend is that the actors all have impressive resumes, but are names less often heard of. Avers says it wasn’t difficult to cast them for the movie at all.
“I asked the actors, they all said ‘yes,’ and we created the film together as a collaborative process. The movie was written for these actors, and nobody else, which is part of why it works so well, I think. In general, however, casting can be very difficult, especially since the ten people you want the most are rarely available, including your personal friends. That’s true in Hollywood, true in the theater, and it’s true when you’re making a micro budget indie film. That said, ‘perfection’ is the enemy of surprise. Sometimes when you reach, the actor is able to totally transform the original idea into something even better. That’s the power of great acting. And that’s something our commercial film, TV, and theater has gotten really bad at, in my opinion: recognizing that you should always try to cast roles with great actors if you can, not necessarily the ones that perfectly fit the ‘mold’ in your mind. Famously, Mike Nichols chose a young unknown Dustin Hoffman to play the lead in 'The Graduate' — that’s not something you see much of anymore. Truly great directors tend to be great at casting. As many have said, it’s arguably the most important part of the director’s job.”
An even cooler part of this film is the fact that it was shot in real time, “from a Friday to a Sunday,” as he explains, and most of the film was “improvised by the actors — that way of shooting explains the tone of the movie, the fly-on-the-wall nature of our style, and really amplifies just how extraordinary the cast is. They did everything in one or two takes. I think knowing that takes our movie from ‘awesome, hilarious, and touching’ to ‘holy sh*t how did you do that?’. I’m proud of my team. People should know how unique this movie is."
Avers hopes that future viewers take away what all of their viewers already have: “the chance to laugh, relive some personal memories with your old friends, and have a reconnection with the sense that we’re all human, we’re not alone, and we’re not here together for very long… [S]o, do your best to love one another and live with joy and gratitude, while you can.”
Of course, I couldn’t let him get away without discussing his time on NCIS: Los Angeles, and whom he most enjoyed sharing scenes with.
“I’ll actually go back to the original NCIS episodes here [NCIS: Los Angeles pilot episodes, “Legend: Parts 1 & 2”] and say Mark Harmon. He’s an outstanding leader, a great presence, challenging, intimidating and supportive all at the same time. Shooting those scenes with Mark really made an impact on me. On NCIS: L.A., everyone’s equally great fun. [T]hey really are. I can’t pick a preference.”
He states that he enjoyed “[t]he challenge” of playing Mike Renko, adding, “I was being asked to do a number of things I’d never done before, from firing an assault weapon to, well, acting a large role on television. It’s a tremendous amount of pressure if you’re sensitive to that stuff, which I am. In terms of the character, honestly, it felt like Renko was forming as it was happening — in a way, I only learned who he was over the course of several episodes. Certainly I enjoyed his sense of humor, and getting to flirt with [Daniela Ruah] all the time didn’t suck.”
Despite his already hectic schedule, Avers also recently co-hosted a podcast, “Ballin’ Coast to Coast,” with friend and fellow NCIS: L.A. alum and recurring guest star, Peter Cambor.
“[W]e only ended the podcast because we felt we should spend that time writing — so we’re writing together right now and it’s going very well. Finding an effective writing partner is notoriously hard, but we’re off to a great start. I can’t specify what we’re working on, but if we sell any of our scripts, you’ll certainly find out. We’re both excited about what we’re doing.”
While Ballin’ may be in the record books for now, he does, however, co-host another podcast... This one focuses on Ohio State Football.
“I have an active radio show… called ‘The Buckeye Brothers Podcast,’ which is going very well after our first season - check it out on iTunes or podbean.com if you’re a fan… As always, let’s go Bucks!”
Knowing his love and devotion for OSU Football (and being a native Buckeye myself), I had to ask what his thoughts were on the Blue and Yellow.
“[A]nyone from Ohio is a friend of mine, especially my Buckeye loving brethren. As for Michigan, well… I have tremendous respect for our historic rivalry. Let’s stay positive and leave it at that!”
Podcasts aside, the triple threat does have other projects currently in the works, but he’s not quite ready to disclose anything just yet, only sharing that he’s “currently in Los Angeles auditioning for new television pilots — and I’m dedicating the year of 2014 to writing, writing, writing. I have a pile of ideas, a handful of great actors and writers who I’m working with, and the immediate goal is to develop the next great project, which I can hopefully sell, or make with my own team. It’s exciting.”
So, will we be seeing his face on the big screen (or our television screens) again anytime soon, or will he be focusing his attention behind the camera?
“[T]here is much to love about each. As an actor, I think the nearly-impossible balance of generating as much electricity as you can without sacrificing honesty or clarity of communication is such an extraordinary effort, it’s almost spiritual. You’re operating in a state of hyper-presence. When you get it right, it’s an indescribably powerful feeling.
As a writer and director, it’s the creative control, and the opportunity to problem-solve in a visionary way. As the writer, you’re creating the whole world, making all the rules, literally telling the story, while hopefully giving actors (and other artists) delicious opportunities to apply their talent. As a director, you're in the leadership position, you’re unifying the team as best you can, you’re the one who ideally is making it all ‘come to life’, and especially in film, you really become the ultimate author of the story that gets told.
I admit, I prefer directing and writing at this stage of my life. We’ll see if that sticks.”