In a few short months, moviegoers will get to see Chris Evans fight the evil Red Skull in the big-budget franchise starter Captain America: First Avenger. Before he bursts into the superhero stratosphere, however, Evans has to fight some equally imposing foes in Puncture, a film about drug addiction and health care group purchasing organizations that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this week.
Based on a true story, Puncture stars Evans as Mike Weiss, a drug-addicted Houston personal injury lawyer, who — along with his partner Paul Danziger — fought to get safe syringes into all U.S. hospitals to prevent health care workers from being stuck with infected needles.
The feature directorial debut of Mark and his brother Adam (producers on HBO’s Bernard and Doris), Puncture is a hybrid film — at once a harrowing tale of addiction and the crippling grip it can have on those in its throes, and a David vs. Goliath legal battle reminiscent of Michael Clayton. At the center of the film is Evans, in a far departure from his comic book work in The Losers and Fantastic Four. He makes Mike both sympathetic and infuriating — the type of guy who has his heart in the right place, but sabotages himself with every popped pill and crack-smoke inhale.
As of this writing, Puncture doesn’t have distribution, but following a well-received Tribeca Film Festival premiere on Thursday night, a timely subject matter and the burgeoning star power of Evans, expect that to change relatively soon. Movieline caught up with Evans and the Kassen brothers in midtown on Friday just before lunch to discuss Puncture, the importance of debuting the film at Tribeca, and just how Evans wound up starring as Mike Weiss.
The one thing I was very surprised by was how recent the events Puncture is based on happened. You don’t really think of dirty needles in hospitals being a problem in the last 15 years — it’s shocking that the safety needles took so long to break through.
Mark Kassen: That’s the thing — the breakthrough in medical science already happened. It’s the mechanism that’s broken in a way that the breakthrough — or something similar — can’t get to people who need it. People say there is not enough electric technology or solar technology or wind technology because it’s not cost-effective. This is not that problem. This is just that mechanism of distribution is broken.
Was this something you were aware of before? How did you guys find this story — did Paul Danziger contact you?
Adam Kassen: Paul sent us the script — Paul sent us a version of the script. Like you, we were surprised by that story. We hadn’t heard this either. Also, at a time — as it continues to be — where health care is at the forefront of the political arena, this was an interesting window on that debate. In particular, our parents are both front-line health care professionals, and in all the debate about health care you don’t really hear too much about those people. So, that connected to us on a personal level. And then the character that Chris played, Mike, was this amazing, brilliant, tragic hero. And we thought if we got the right actor — which we were lucky enough to get — it could be a really special movie.
We got Chris Lopata, who is a friend of ours — a writer we’ve been working with for a bunch of years, who’s great; we worked with him for about a year. We got it to a place where we really loved the script, and we sent it to Chris, and Chris was nice enough to take a meeting. And as we keep saying, we got him drunk, and…
Chris Evans: I signed my life away! [Laughs]
You took Puncture before being cast in Captain America. At the time, were you specifically looking for something more character-driven like this?
CE: I think my team — my agents and managers — know the type of scripts that I like, the types of characters that I enjoy. My team sent me this and said, ‘You’re going to like this. We know you’re going to like this.’ I gave it a read, and I did. Within ten pages, I just loved the character — and then it turned out to be a great story. I was like, ‘This is awesome, I can’t believe this is in my ballpark. This is a possibility for me, no one is going to take this from me.’ I met with these guys, and at the end of the day you need good directors. If you don’t have good directors, it doesn’t matter how good the script or the character is. With them, I felt completely comfortable and confident, and I said, ‘This is great. I can’t believe these guys are foolish enough to just give me this movie.’
As a character, Mike is a departure for you. Are you going to try to do more of these types of roles going forward, perhaps to balance out being a major superhero like Captain America?
CE: Yeah, of course! You gotta. The Captain America stuff is great, it’s fun. I actually do connect to the character; I love that character. But for me, the thing I struggle with on those films is the process. The way the film is made. It’s a very big movie, there’s a lot of waiting around. This film, we shot… 25 days?
AK: 25 days.
CE: 25 filming days! That’s insane. It’s like 90-something with Captain America. We’re doing 7-to-8 pages a day on Puncture, and Captain America, we get — y’know, half a page. We’re lucky if we get a page.
AK: I know, you’re like: ‘We did 16 page days here, today we did 6/8th of a page.’
CE: 6/8ths of a page. I had one line today. I had one line!
MK: Throw a shield! Duck! Head down! [Laughs]
CE: And we do that a million times. This movie, you came home and you felt like you made a movie. You felt like an actor. You felt like, ‘I did my job today. I did what I love to do. I came to set and had to be ready on a bunch of different levels.’ And it’s rewarding. It’s satisfying. I certainly want to make sure that I keep doing these things.
The relationship Mike has with Paul in the film reminded me a little bit of the relationship the characters played by Matt Damon and Ed Norton had in Rounders. Did you guys do a lot of preparation beforehand to really hone the chemistry?
MK: We went on a retreat. [laughs] We went to Barbados. No, we didn’t really do that.
AK: No, but what they did do [was hang out]. Chris came down to Houston, and — besides us hanging out in LA beforehand — we spent some time just walking around the city. Meeting the actual real characters involved, together. The two of them, through rehearsal, talked through the script themselves, worked on material — things that worked, things that didn’t. That prep time kinda helped us get to know each other, and allowed all of us to feel comfortable. And the nice result of it was that Mark and Chris had a really great chemistry between them.
MK: Also, Chris and I — I think we all are people that… we do this for a living, because we like other things. We spent more time talking about other stuff in life — or in the world — while walking around Houston. Sorta doing that you get to know people on a real level, which was the hope. Also, as an actor, we really wanted to be a partner in something. We really wanted this to work. Otherwise, what we ask is too demanding.
You mentioned on Thursday night how you guys spent almost a year researching the film. Were you two doing investigative reporter-style work, trying to find out whatever you could about Mike’s story?
AK: More documentary-style. We were trying to get everybody’s side of the story. So we met with most of the players in the movie, who had a lot to say about it. And there’s stuff written about it — a lot of the information about the needle stuff. The actual footage in the movie of some of the stuff you saw in Africa was from a real documentary called Injection. It’s a really interesting documentary that talks about some of the real needle tragedies that happened overseas. So there’s information out there — and like you said, we were really surprised that this was actually happening.
MK: I’d say that’s one of the single biggest comments we get about the subject of the movie. People can’t believe they didn’t know about this.
So the goal is to get people to know about this. Puncture hasn’t been picked up for distribution yet, but with Chris’ Captain America star power and the health care peg, do you think it will?
AK: We’ve been producing films and television stuff. For us it’s like, we made it. We did our work. And we have people that will show it to the people and put it places. It will have a life somewhere.
MK: This will have a life somewhere. We’re proud of it. And people will decide where it goes.
You guys are from upstate New York — does debuting your first feature film at the 10th anniversary of the Tribeca Film Festival mean a lot?
AK: Yeah, because the city is our adoptive home. We’ve lived here all of our adult life, and even with this film: we started developing it here, we posted it here. We still consider this is our film community. So to have our directorial debut be at Tribeca Film Festival really means the world to us.