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Interview: Bryan Greenberg talks A Short History of Decay

When their lives don’t immediately go according to their fantastical plan, young adults often question if they’ve made the right decisions in their personal relationships and careers. Not only has that doubt crept into the mind of the main character, Nathan, of the new independent comedy, ‘A Short History of Decay,’ but also the actor who played him, New Yorker Bryan Greenberg. Nathan’s a struggling writer who’s understandably determined to find the area he wants to pursue in his literary career, particularly when his parents become increasingly ill and his girlfriend breaks up with him. Greenberg relatably and genuinely drew on his own experiences in his career, as he contemplated where his acting was headed after certain projects ended, and enthralling infused that questioning into his portrayal of the fraught writer.

Benjamin King, Linda Lavin and Bryan Greenberg star in first-time writer-director Michael Maren's independent comedy, A Short History of Decay.

‘A Short History of Decay,’ which is now available for Long Islanders to rent or buy on VOD and DVD, follows Nathan Fisher (Greenberg), who can’t seem to quite get it together. He’s temping at an ad agency while struggling to launch his writing career in Brooklyn, frequently moving from plays to novels to screenplays without ever finishing anything. As his ambitious novelist girlfriend, Erika (Emmanuelle Chriqui), is about to publish her first book, she finally gets fed up with Nathan’s lack of motivation, and decides to leave him. Her declaration she has met someone else leaves him vowing to get down to some serious work once and for all.

But in the midst of Nathan’s new-found clarity, life intervenes. After getting a call that his father, Bob (Harris Yulin), has had a stroke, Nathan heads to Florida where he’s called upon to deal with Bob’s failing health and his mother’s (Linda Lavin) early Alzheimer’s. In the process, Nathan gets a crash course in love, loyalty, family and forgiveness, particularly from his mother’s manicurist, Shelly (Kathleen Rose Perkins). He also learns from a troubling revelation from his brother, Jack (Benjamin King), a Washington, D.C. lobbyist who secretly reveals that he’s estranged from his wife and their two daughters.

Greenberg generously took the time to talk about filming ‘A Short History of Decay,’ which was written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker, Michael Maren, over the phone. Among other things, the actor discussed how since the comedy was made independently, he and his co-stars didn’t have much time to rehearse before they began filming, but how they quickly bonded on the set after they all prepared on their own time; how VOD is an important platform for independent films like this one that aren’t driven by visual and special effects and showing in thousands of theaters across the country, as it allows viewers to watch movies on their computers and phones; and how he’s been taken aback by audiences’ reactions to this film, but he feels viewers are connecting to it because the story’s so relatable, and everyone goes through what Nathan’s experiencing.

Question (Q): How did you bond with your co-stars before you actually began filming ‘A Short History of Decay?’

Bryan Greenberg (BG): With these little films, you don’t have a lot of time to spend together before you begin shooting. Maybe if you’re lucky, you get a dinner, which we did. I remember Harris picked up the check, so I want to thank him again for that. (laughs) But that was it, and then we were on the set, and we just had to go.

The thing about working with veteran actors is that everyone comes in prepared and professional. They all did that on this film, so we got lucky and didn’t need any rehearsals.

Q: Like you mentioned, ‘A Short History of Decay’ was a smaller film that was shot independently. Did filming independently pose any challenges on the set, or do you feel it helped with the story’s creativity?

BG: I think it might have helped, as we didn’t have time to over-analyze anything. Sometimes when you’re working on independent films, the schedule forces everyone to be on their A-game. There’s no time to mess around, and you have to get to the truth quickly. It puts everyone on the same clock, and the pressure to get it right is always there. There’s no time to try to find the truth. I think it helped, because it turned out to be a good movie.

Q: The film was released in both theaters and on VOD. Do you think the On Demand platform is beneficial for smaller films like this one, particularly so it can reach audiences who can’t see it in theaters?

BG: Yes, 100 percent-VOD is where people are watching movies now. This platform is important now in the world we’re living in, especially for movies that aren’t driven by visual and special effects. People are now watching movies on their computers and phones, and I do the same thing. I’m happy this movie is getting out there. People are seeing, and responding to, it. So I don’t care how people are watching it, as long as they’re watching it.

Q: Speaking of audiences’ reactions, what kind of responses about the film have you received from viewers so far?

BG: It’s crazy. You do these little films for the experiences, and it’s not about the rewards or the critical acclaim. But with this movie, critics loved it, and I’ve been taken aback by how everybody’s been responding to this film. But I think that’s because it’s so relatable, and everyone goes through what Nathan’s experiencing. It’s also a really smart and funny film.

Q: Since Nathan is a writer in the movie, would you be interested in trying writing, or even directing, in your own career?

BG: Wow, I really want to direct. I never thought I would, but I’ve been working a lot now on independent films. So I know now what I want as a filmmaker, and what I want from a filmmaker. So I just started looking at projects to direct. I’ve also produced two movies this year. As your career goes on as an actor, you see the bigger picture, and you want to be able to tell stories in more ways than just playing a character.

Q: Are there any directors you have influenced your career, who you would be interested in working with in the future?

BG: I would love to work with Woody Allen, Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. The list goes on and on, as I would love to work with all the greats. I always want to work with people who inspire me.

Q: ‘A Short History of Decay’ was shot in Wilmington, North Carolina, where you filmed ‘One Tree Hill,’ and New York City, where you received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre at NYU. What were the experiences of going back to both Wilmington and New York to film the movie?

BG: Well, I live in New York part-time, so it was easy for me to commute to work on those shooting days. But I feel like going back to Wilmington was crazy, because ‘One Tree Hill’ was a big jumping point for my career. It was one of the first jobs I had coming out of NYU.

Since then, I’ve had a fortunate career, so it was interesting to go back as a man, 12 years later, to do this film. I hadn’t been back there since the show, so it really gave me some prospective. I feel like it helped the character of Nathan, because he was coming home, and was now a different person. He was also on a similar journey as I was. So it was cool to go back, and there were even some of the same people on the film who I worked with before. I love that town.

Q: ‘A Short History of Decay’ premiered at the Hamptons International Film Festival on Long Island last fall. Were you able to attend the festival in support of the film?

BG: Yes, I did, and it was a great experience. It was great to see the movie with an audience.

Q: Besides ‘A Short History of Decay,’ do you have any other upcoming projects you can discuss?

BG: I did a movie called ‘Vice,’ which is a sci-fi action film with Bruce Willis Thomas Jane and Ambyr Childers, and it's coming out next year. I also produced and starred in a movie called ‘A Year and Change,’ and we’re in post-production on that one. I also recently wrapped the film ‘It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong.’

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