The opening night of the 53rd New York Film Festival featured the world premiere of Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk. The docudrama was a fantastic and fitting choice for fest’s kick-off, not only because it’s a bold cinematic experience, but also because through its story of Philippe Petit’s 1974 high wire walk between the tops of the Twin Towers, The Walk is a celebration of New York itself.
Adding to city’s character in the film are a pair of character actors who gleefully steal every scene they’re in. James Badge Dale has been winning praise for his work in Iron Man 3, Flight and World War Z. Ben Schwartz has won the hearts of Parks and Recreation fans as the ever-outrageous Jean-Ralphio. When we sat down with this pair following the film’s big opening night, they did not disappoint! Both native New Yorkers, they explained the honor of representing their hometown on the big screen, the risky (and possibly sinister?) facial hair they donned for the ’70s-set film, and the road trip spinoff they’d like to create for their Walk characters. Bonus: I bust out my awful New York accident. You’re welcome, world!
So, you guys are both native New Yorkers. Did that give this film a kind of special significance?
Ben Schwartz: Absolutely, right?
James Badge Dale: For us? Yeah.
It did, absolutely, because growing up those towers are embedded in us; the skyline is and stuff like that.
James Badge Dale: It’s part of our culture.
Ben Schwartz: Absolutely…
James Badge Dale: It’s part of a New Yorker’s culture.
Ben Schwartz: That’s what it is. Truly that is a part…You don’t have…New York, growing up that’s just what we were raised with. So it’s an incredible part of…We’re so proud to be part of the movie because it shows the light and the beauty in these two beautiful towers a bunch of years ago.
And it’s also funny because you guys play very [in New Yorker accent] “New York” characters, like they’re very distinctive. Did I kill that? I killed it!
James Badge Dale: You did!
Ben Schwartz: Say: “I’m going to get a bagel and cream cheese”.
You don’t say cream cheese! You say “schmear.” We know that.
Ben Schwartz: A “schmear”?
James Badge Dale: Wow, dude!
Ben Schwartz: Wow! OK!
I’m a transplant, but I’ve been here a while. So was there a joy of kind of being the representation for New Yorkers playing the film and what was that like?
Ben Schwartz: There’s this great pride that comes when the movie ends and you see this gorgeous shot of the Twin Towers and what Philippe has done, and Philippe has shown how beautiful the city is and the human beings that inhabit the city. And then you leave the theater…Even to have a small role in telling that tale and to show the world that moment, I was incredibly proud.
James Badge Dale: Absolutely. Being a part of kind of the New York contingent of the film. And I think you’ve got to remember New York is an international city. We’re 8 million strong from all over the world. It’s a city of immigrants. And in this cast it was an international cast. So everyone, in some way, shape, or form, has a relationship to New York City, whether they know it or not. And to be there and to kind of represent New York as our birthplace, I think that was special for Ben and I.
Ben Schwartz: Absolutely.
Philippe’s great artistic step in the film is actually taking that first step off The South Tower. What is the biggest risk you feel like you took artistically, not necessarily in this film, but I guess in your field?
James Badge Dale: In the film, the hairstyles.
Ben Schwartz: Yeah, I think if you look at our hairstyles, our facial hair…I kinda look like an evil villain who is about to be up to something but doesn’t quite have his idea yet…
James Badge Dale: Possibly. We’re not too sure yet. We’re a little bit leery…we don’t know…
You’re like in college for evil?
James Badge Dale: That’s exactly correct.
Ben Schwartz: I’m at like University for Evil and I’m really trying to figure it out…
James Badge Dale: Like the grades aren’t too good…
Ben Schwartz: [laughs] No. I’m not going to graduate with honors…
James Badge Dale: …you could drop out and become an accountant.
Ben Schwartz: Yeah. Like, I don’t twist my mustache here. I twist it down here. It’s very weird.
I want this to be a spinoff project you two create where Albert goes off…
Ben Schwartz: We already wrote it. JP and Albert go off on these whacky adventures. I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie Thelma and Louis?
I think I’ve heard of it, I’m pretty sure…
James Badge Dale: It’s sort of like that.
Ben Schwartz: Very similar.
James Badge Dale: There’s a convertible.
Ben Schwartz: There is a convertible. And we just drive. So I guess it’s more like True Detective…
Ben Schwartz: Kind of.
Have you guys gotten to do the virtual reality experience?
Ben Schwartz: No. I want to do this. Can we do it right now? By the way, I’ve seen YouTube videos of it. It looks so cool and I want to do it so bad. I think before the end of the day, because of this interview, I think we’re both going to be able to do it. Did you do it?
Ben Schwartz: What was it like? Were you able to walk?
I was. The guy told me that only 50% of people actually walk.
James Badge Dale: Yeah, I’ve heard this. People are actually having a real problem taking that first step.
Ben Schwartz: Oh, I’m so nervous talking about it…
When you have it on, your brain is like, “No, no, no. this is pretend. This is pretend.” But then you see little teeny taxis going by and you can hear the wind in your ears. Then they have a little cord that you are actually walking on…
Ben Schwartz: Oh, my goodness! Do you have a balancing thing or do you do it without?
There’s a guy who like goes behind you and makes sure so you don’t, I guess, fall over.
Ben Schwartz: Just like what happened with Philippe. There’s a guy right behind him…
[Laughs] Exactly…Well, thank you so much.
Ben Schwartz: So nice to meet you!
Twelve people have walked on the moon. Only one has ever, or will ever, walk in the immense void between the World Trade Center towers. Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), guided by his real-life mentor, Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), is aided by an unlikely band of international recruits, who overcome long odds, betrayals, dissension and countless close calls to conceive and execute their mad plan. Robert Zemeckis, the master director of such marvels as Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Back to the Future,Polar Express and Flight, again uses cutting edge technology in the service of an emotional, character-driven story.
The Walk is now playing in a limited IMAX-only release. It will expand nationwide on October 9, 2015.