Writer-director Matt Atkinson spoke with Solzy at the Movies last week ahead of the release of the Hitchcockian comedy, Room for Rent.
Congrats on the upcoming VOD release of Room for Rent.
Matt Atkinson: Thank you so much.
How did you get the idea for this Hitchcockian comedy?
Matt Atkinson: My parents—years ago when I still lived at home, I think this was sort of right at the end of high school, I was moving out and they mentioned that they were going to rent my room out to a boarder. I just had thought, oh, that’s so strange. Maybe I’m going to be moving back home if things don’t work out in the real world. Before you know it, I’m home for Thanksgiving and there could be some stranger at the table? That was some weird idea that had stuck with me—the kind of thing that you write on a scrap of paper and throw in your desk. Then I just started thinking—we were looking for a comedy idea. For some reason, this stuck out to me just as a very sort of thin premise to then hang a bunch of comedy around. That was sort of the genesis of the idea.
How did this cast come together?
Matt Atkinson: Over a long period of time. As you know, it’s not easy—especially for a low-budget independent film—to put your cast together. I had made long list of my favorite people in comedy—I’m a bit of a comedy nerd—thinking about different people in different roles. Early on we had our lead character playing Mitch, which is Mark Little. He’s a local guy in Toronto—very sort of popular Canadian talent who had signed on to do that film. We had that piece and built it brick by brick. We got Mark McKinney soon after that from obviously Kids in the Hall fame. Everyone was pretty elated to get him involved. From there, it kind of came down to the wire in pre-preproduction—still not having the rest of our cast. We had Carla Gallo come on after that—who my producer knows personally because our executive producer, Mark Satterthwaite, is married to Carla. She had read the script and decided to come on board. That was a big coup. It was all these little pieces come together. It was a very stressful process. Then it came down to two roles. We had Betty and Carl. Basically, my producer said if we could get anybody for Betty, who would it be. I just thought, well, if I had my choice for anybody in the world, it would be to get Stefnie Weir, who I knew from Mad TV and The Comedians—TV shows like that. I just always thought this is the funniest person that I’ve ever seen. Luckily, we got in touch and she liked the material and got on board. It was really down to finding our Carl, who is obviously the lynchpin of the film. At the top of my list was Brett Gelman. I had just always found him so fascinating as a personality. We had been reaching out to him—our executive producer, Mark Satterthwaite, had met him a couple times. Lo and behold, we got him the material, he read it, and got on board probably within three days of shooting. It was pretty stressful but in the end, I can’t believe we got this all-star comedy cast.
With regards to Brett Gelman, what were you looking for in his performance?
Matt Atkinson: There was a few different ways we could go. I had thought, well, we could cast someone that maybe seems like really innocuous—kind of like a Ned Flanders character, someone who would seem like soft edges and then when they would turn later, maybe that would be interesting. I just thought with the character of Carl, it would be great to have someone who comes in and really just has a lot of depth and layers to life. Immediately, you see Brett and there’s certainly a lot going on behind his eyes. He seems very funny and charming but then he can really easily switch into this other gear that’s certainly mysterious and threatening. I always found that quality in a lot of his performances. We’d just have a feeling that something is off with this guy and having Brett play a character like that would kickstart the conflict in a really interesting way.
Mitch moves back home with his parents after blowing through his lottery winnings. If you won the lottery, what would you do with all the money?
Matt Atkinson: I’d move to an island and open and In-and-Out burger on it just for myself.
What is it about Canada that draws so many Canadians into comedy?
Matt Atkinson: I don’t know. It could be the weather and that it’s so cold. Our national personality doesn’t really take ourselves too seriously but we do celebrate our comedy scene, artists, musicians, comedians, and filmmakers. It could be that, too. There’s a lot of venues—certainly in Toronto—for comedians to hone their craft. I don’t know. It’s just in our DNA.
What else are you working on?
Matt Atkinson: I’m writing some new material for a couple of different features and then some TV projects. I think I really enjoy working in the comedy genre—like comedy/I guess you would call this thriller or noir. I like the idea of films that sort of mix genres like that. I’m obviously a fan of all different types of films so I’m working on pushing more in that direction.
Thanks again for your time and congrats again on the film.
Matt Atkinson: Of course. Thanks, Danielle—I really appreciate the help.