Criminal Activities is the new crime thriller from first time director and star Jackie Earle Haley. The film features John Travolta, Michael Pitt, Dan Stevens, Christopher Abbott and Edi Gathegi as an ensemble of characters, all caught in an intense plot involving kidnapping, murder, mafia debt and revenge. Criminal Activities is currently in select theaters across the country and available on iTunes and VOD.
Four friends stumble into a deal too good to refuse. But when the investment goes bad, they learn that part of their funding came from a notoriously ruthless crime boss… and it’s payback time. Now, they must successfully kidnap a family member of a rival kingpin in order to erase the life-threatening debt. In way over their heads, if they can complete the assigned task without screwing up, they just might escape with their lives. John Travolta (Pulp Fiction), Michael Pitt (“Boardwalk Empire”) and Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”) star in this action-packed thriller about insider trading, the Mob and an unrelenting quest for vengeance.
How did you wind up directing this film?
Jackie Earle Haley: My manager is married to a very prolific film producer, and luckily he’s been watching all the audition tapes I sent out. He’s been seeing these for years and he had this script Criminal Activities, and he called me up and said, “Hey listen, I’ve got this script. If you like it, I’d like you to direct it. Directorial debuts are important; if you don’t like the script, I understand.” I read the script and absolutely loved it and I called him and said, “I’m in.” and here we are.
Were you inspired by any other movies?
JEH: No. It’s been neat because people have been asking me that question. I could totally see myself if I got a hold of a really good horror script and I liked it and wanted to direct it, I know for a fact that I would immediately dive in to start looking at a bunch of horror movies. When it came to this script, it didn’t even dawn on me to think, “Ok, what’s this movie like? Should I watch this movie or that movie? Should I borrow that tone?” That’s a perfectly good approach, but it never dawned on me because the script was so good.
I felt like I had a tone and I was building a vision as we went along to match that tone. Once we started diving into casting, it was really about getting the right cast and planning, having a vision and approach and cinematically shoot the thing with an idea of how you’re going to edit. To me I literally just feel like I was doing the best job that I could with the script and the cast, and I think we had an excellent ensemble. All of the actors are wonderful in this thing and I’m real proud of it.
How did you approach John Travolta for this?
JEH: Y’know, I was just real fortunate. We sent out an offer to John to play the part because obviously he was just the perfect guy to play Eddie Lavado. The way he described the story was that when he first heard that I was going to do a directorial debut, that that actually interested him. So that was the impetus that made him want to read the script. We got on a 30 minute phone conversation and it was really cool. After the conversation, that was good enough and he wanted to do it. So John was on board and the movie kind of took off from there.
How was it working with your ensemble cast?
JEH: Everybody was just super cool people and fun to hang out with. Everybody has a slightly different approach to their style. All five of those guys and Edi Gathegi who’s got so much dialogue and wonderful nuance, every single one of them hold a specific place in the film. MichaelPitt’s character is the alpha male, Dan Stevens is the nerd of the group, Christopher Abbot who I always felt is the heart of the movie and you’ve got Rob Brown who did a wonderful job as well. It’s this kind of well rounded group of characters and we got this well rounded group of actors to play them.
Are there any directors that inspired you to direct?
JEH: Michael Ritchie or John Schlesinger, even when I was 10 working on The Day of the Locust. I say that because this is something that I have wanted to do my entire life. I have always wanted to direct a movie and never found myself in the position to be given the opportunity. When I was 11 years old my mother bought me a Super 8MM camera, a projector and a little plastic editor, so this is something that I’ve wanted to do and it’s a dream come true.
Any final words on Criminal Activities?
JEH: Yeah man, I hope people find it in the theater or on VOD. I always felt that the script was a fun ride and I’m really proud of the film. I hope people get a chance to see it and I’m definitely looking forward to directing in the future. Right now I’m working on finding the next project and hopefully I’ll be able to continue along that path because it is something I’m very passionate about.