The film “Puncture” is a smart, wonderfully grown-up and wound tight courtroom drama-slash-political thriller, driven in part by a tour de force performance from Chris Evans playing hot-shot and hot-headed, drug-addled attorney Mark Weiss. The film also boasts the steady, balancing hand of co-director and co-star Mark Kassan. Mark co-directs with his brother Adam. (They formerly brought the unusual and beautifully well-acted “Bernard and Doris,” starring Susan Sarandon, to HBO recently.)
I sat down with Chris Evans, the brothers Kassan, and the lovely Vinessa Shaw, who plays the film’s heart beat and literal face of the movie’s subject- the terrifying fact that front-care and ER healthcare workers were once infected by AIDs and Hepatitis C on a daily basis by accidental needle stabs. When an engineer develops a non-reusable needle that is literally “accident-proof,” the movie heats up as law partners Paul Danziger (Mark Kassan) and Mike Weiss (Chris Evans) take on the case to battle the largest manufacturer of plastic needles in the world. Billed as a “David & Goliath legal drama,” the film world premiered at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.
VIMOOZ: Mark and Adam, how did the script come to you both?
Mark: Paul Danziger (one of the real-life lawyers) sent it to us. We had done this movie “Bernard and Doris,” also about a true story, and it was kind of a complicated story, and we made it independently, and Adam and I wanted to take the currency from that, and find something that we really believed in, and that we could own, both from a production and a creative standpoint. The character was amazing, and it was a great window into an issue that we cared about. And then it took a year to get the script right.
Adam: We had Chris Lopada, who is a friend of ours (whom they’d worked with before), who is a great, unsentimental writer, work on the script for about a year. And then we meet with Chris Evans, and convinced him to do it….
Chris: They just got me drunk!
Adam: Yeah! (laughs)…And then we got Vinessa (Shaw) attached. We got so lucky with this cast.
VIMOOZ: Chris, How important is it to you to do films like this, that have such an important social message?
Chris: Well, the social message is like the icing on the cake. For me, it’s a bit more about the selfish motivation. On bigger movies, it’s such a different feeling, you shoot at almost like a snail’s pace. On this, the pace was incredible, we would knock out giant scenes, 6, 7 8 pages a day. And you go home, and you’re not sitting in you’re trailer all day, so you can say, you know, “I was an actor today.” I got my hands dirty. And it just felt so…satisfying.
VIMOOZ: This was such a great role for you, Chris:
Chris: Well, it was really the directors. They have to spoon feed the story to the audience. I mean, I’ve read some great scripts, and they come out terrible. But they created the pace, the tempo. Acting is a very small piece in the movie puzzle. At the end of the day, the actors could take your performance and make it great, or make it terrible.
Mark: I remember one scene specifically, the withdrawal scene, and Adam and I had a different about that, about what that would be like. And Chris was like, “Well, I called a bunch of people that have been through this. Was it opiate withdrawals, or this type, or that type of withdrawals?” and he read us off a list of what people’s experiences were. So we were like, well, that’s true. It could be that way. So Chris made the scene, and took it to a much more interesting level than we would have imagined. Because he really based it in reality.
VIMOOZ: How does it work for you two, Adam and Mark, working together as co-directors?
Mark: Well, we had to sit in front of a DGA panel before we did the movie to get a co-directing credit. They are very strict about giving co-directing credits. A lot of times split it up, like one takes camera, but we didn’t. It’s very organic, and we worked together, and put it together as best we can. And we dealt with decisions as they came up.
Adam: And we’re different, and so if one of us responded more to another person (actor) we were like, great, talk to them. And we have the same creative tastes. We like 98-percent of the same things.
Chris: They share the same brain, they really do. I was nervous at first. Now I’m like, I only have to go back to one director? It was great, from the rehearsal process, to the shooting itself….It just made me feel so safe. It was great, it was a fantastic experience.
Vinessa: It’s like they were mom and dad. They may have differing opinions, but share the same core purpose and meaning. Some of the scenes I was in with Mark in them, and then Adam would take over a little bit. Mark was really soft in his approach, and would come close and talk, and Adam was straight forward and blunt, which also helped me. Both of their styles really helped me.
VIMOOZ: Adam’s character does a lot of drugs in this movie!
Chris: Mike’s an amazingly dynamic charismatic person (to play). He’s a functioning drug addict who also just crushes at his job, he does it so well. From what I learned, a lot of people didn’t know that Mike Weiss was such a heavy drug addict. People I talked to say, you know, he had an ego, he could be a little bit crass at times, but he was just brilliant.
Adam: We love movies like “Requiem For A Dream,” but, in some films, it’s almost like (it can be) drug porn, and we didn’t want to do that. We wanted it to be, okay, it’s here, it’s in his life, he does drugs, it kind of creeps up you, how much he’s (using the drugs). Rather than showcasing it. We made it so you never see a needle actually going in.
Chris: I think the less you show, the more it’s, I don’t know, more interesting.
VIMOOZ: Do you see the film as a real advocacy tool?
Adam: We try to be careful. I mean, it’s a movie first, it’s about entertainment. But, we connected to it, and just by having this conversation about it. We’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals over the past year and a half, and these needles are all over the place (the non-sticking, “good” needles) because of that case. And they still need to be in a lot more. And overseas, it’s a huge thing. It’s just not talked about. You hear about HIV and hepatitis spread in Africa by unprotected sex, but not that people are getting them from reused needles. The hope is, in small part, it can start a conversation, maybe get people to do something.
Mark: It’s also worth mentioning that Paul Danziger, you know, after he had seen the movie, he’ll say, “are people curious about the needle, about the issue?” and we’ll say, “Yes, they are very committed to the issue.” It is their hope that there will be foundations (springing up for this) and it will have a global effect.
Vinessa: I have two friends that are nurses. Both of them told me they had been stuck by needles multiple times (in their careers.) It’s commonplace, and it’s very dangerous.
Adam: You have this injury that you can prevent. Frontline health care workers are rarely spoken about. They’re such an important part of the healthcare industry.
Mark: We are so focused on the “macro,” The bills, the healthcare issues. But-you hope this just sheds a little bit of a window and some light on these conversations that take place, that affect so many people’s livelihoods.
VIMOOZ: Your character is kind of the lynchpin of the film, as you’re representing the face of the issue:
Vinessa: It was actually just talking with Adam, and realizing that she really was the catalyst and heart of the film.
Mark: You needed to fall in love with Vinessa’s character, and then you had to make her look sick. She was a victim, but the hope was that she wasn’t (made to look) victimized. Vinessa really made that happen.
Adam: We were worried she would be way too gorgeous!
Mark: It’s really hard to explain how amazing it was to have this cast. We didn’t have a weak link. Every single person who came in, from Roxanne Hope to Tess Harper, these amazing professionals. I mean, we felt honored. We couldn’t believe they showed up. I’m a theatre geek, and we had Kate Burton for a day! And nobody treated like an independent film. They came to play. We just lucked out.