Don verdean a film by Jared Hess Starring Sam Rockwell, Amy Ryan, Jemaine Clement, Leslie Bibb, Stephen Park, with Will Forte and Danny McBride running time: 96 Minutes Sundance Contact

Download 321.3 Kb.
Date conversion14.11.2017
Size321.3 Kb.
  1   2   3   4

Lionsgate Presents


A Film by Jared Hess

Starring Sam Rockwell, Amy Ryan, Jemaine Clement, Leslie Bibb, Stephen Park, with Will Forte and Danny McBride

RUNNING TIME: 96 Minutes

Sundance Contact:


Kate Rosenbaum

(914) 584-6883


For materials please visit:

Hired by an ambitious small-town pastor to find sacred relics in the Holy Land, a self-proclaimed Biblical archaeologist comes up short and his attempt to cover up his failure fuels a comic conspiracy from the filmmaking team behind Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre.


Self-proclaimed Biblical archeologist Don Verdean (Sam Rockwell) has spent a lifetime scouring the world for artifacts that prove the stories of the Old and New Testaments. But a commission from the Reverend Tony Lazarus (Danny McBride), a small-town preacher with ambitions of building a mega-church, promises to elevate Don to the top of his profession. With the help of his trusting and put-upon assistant, Carol (Amy Ryan), and his right-hand man, an Israeli shepherd named Boaz (Jemaine Clement), he sets off for the Holy Land on a modern-day Crusade to find the skull of Goliath.

When the search goes badly awry, Don makes a last-ditch deal with the Devil to save his reputation. But the conniving Boaz discovers Don’s fraud and attempts to blackmail him, and the audacious hoax puts increasing pressure on him to produce even more significant artifacts. As Lazarus’ archenemy Satanist-turned-evangelist Pastor Fontaine (Will Forte) plots to discredit Don behind the scenes, Don, Carol and Boaz agree to search for the Holy Grail of Biblical archeology … the Holy Grail!

Verdean stars Sam Rockwell (Cowboys and Aliens, Moon), Amy Ryan (Birdman, “The Office”), Jemaine Clement (“Flight of the Conchords,” Rio), Danny McBride (This is the End, “Eastbound and Down”), Will Forte (“SNL,” Nebraska), Leslie Bibb (No Good Deed, Iron Man 2) and Steve Park (The Gambler, Snowpiercer).

The film is directed by Jared Hess from a script by Jared and Jerusha Hess (Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre). Producers are Brandt Andersen (Lone Survivor, Escape Plan), Jason Hatfield (Gentleman Broncos, The Crow: Wicked Prayer), and Dave Hunter (Nitro Circus, Heavens Door). Director of photography is Matthias Troelstrup (Electrick Children, Clear Blue). Editor is Tanner Christensen (The Cokeville Miracle, 17 Miracles). Production designer is Richard A. Wright (Mud, The Sitter). Composer is Ilan Eshkeri (Kick Ass, Stardust). Executive producers are Rick Lehman and Sam Rockwell.


In a series of off-beat and intensely original comedies, husband-and-wife filmmaking team Jared and Jerusha Hess have explored the diverse worlds of Midwestern high school nerds (their debut film, Napoleon Dynamite), masked Mexican Luchador wrestlers (Nacho Libre) and modern-day writers of far-fetched fantasy fiction (Gentlemen Broncos). In their fourth collaboration, Don Verdean, the pair ventures even further off the beaten path for a foray into the arcane arena of Biblical archeology, where highbrow academics and ambitious charlatans compete to prove that the stories of the Old and New Testament are factually accurate.

“My good friend and one of the producers on this film, Jason Hatfield, turned me on to the world of Biblical archeology,” explains director and co-writer Jared Hess. “He sent me articles and links to videos with some leaders in the field who all had different claims. I thought it was a fascinating and potentially humorous world to have things go wrong in.”

In Don Verdean, the Hesses have concocted a modern-day morality tale about an itinerant archeologist hired by the pastor of a local church to find ancient relics in the Holy Land. “Don Verdean promises that he can find the skull of the giant Goliath, felled in combat by David,” says the director. “When Don fails, he decides to cut his losses and fabricate his find.”

Hess became enthralled by the real-life world of Biblical archeology, reading and watching interviews with prominent proponents, but he says the character of Don Verdean is not based on any one person. “There are numerous figures in the field who have made outrageous claims over the years about what they’ve found,” he says. “It was more the psychology of a character who does this that fascinated me.

“A lot of these people don’t have the proper academic credentials, but what they do have is passion,” he continues. “They believe very strongly in certain things because of their faith. A lot of them say they know how to locate the Ark of the Covenant or something legendary like that. They just never seem to have any photos or video or any evidence, really. It was all destroyed or they want to keep the proof secret for whatever reason. You have to take their word for it.”

It’s not, Hess says, that the discipline is dominated by con artists. In fact, it’s often quite the opposite. “Some people are definitely suspect,” he admits. “But there are plenty of others who are genuinely trying to find out about what they read in the Bible using the stories as a map. There’s a lot of imagination with the best of intentions.”

As always, Hess and his wife and writing partner Jerusha Hess worked hand in hand to develop the script. “We throw out ideas for a long time and then we lock ourselves in an office for a few hours a day to write until the script is done,” says Jared. “It’s a lot of talking and brainstorming and dry-erase boards. We worked off and on for four or five months before we had something we were happy with.”

He says the process works because they share a similar comic sensibility and because Jerusha doesn’t pull any punches in the writing room. “She never hesitates to tell me when an idea I have is lame or not working,” he laughs. “And she usually has a better one. She also knows me very well, so she can anticipate what I like as a director. That helps the writing process.”

The in-depth research involved in creating Don Verdean’s story was a new challenge for the couple. “This world was completely unfamiliar to us,” he says. “Having to learn the basics of Biblical archeology was very different from what we’ve had to do on other films, but because I was raised in a religious environment, the material was somewhat familiar.”

With a tight budget and short shooting schedule, Jared says, “we didn’t have a lot of time to make mistakes. But we had such a funny and talented cast that we were able to make it work. It’s a fast-paced comedy, so my hope first and foremost is simply that the audience laughs.”

Jared Hess counts himself lucky to have been able to assemble his dream cast for Don Verdean, starting with his Gentlemen Broncos star, Sam Rockwell, in the title role. Rockwell, whose performances have garnered critical and popular acclaim in off-the-beaten-path projects like Moon, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and The Way Way Back, brings Don an otherworldly innocence and zeal even in his basest moments.

“Sam is so committed,” says Hess. “And he’s so talented. When he chooses a script and a character, he doesn’t mess around. He goes for it. He lives and breathes that character every day of the shoot. He takes everything he does very seriously because he is all about making good art. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s also a joy to work with.”

Rockwell did not take any convincing to tackle the role. “The script was very funny, as I expected anything Jared and Jerusha wrote would be,” the actor says. “Don Verdean is a bit like Steve Martin as The Jerk meets Robert Duvall in The Apostle with a bit of Inspector Clouseau thrown in. His journey is the story of Faust. He makes a deal with the Devil.”

The actor was also intrigued by the unusual and specific world the characters inhabit. “It’s certainly one that I’m not familiar with,” he says. “I referred to a number of different sources to get to know it better. I had already played a born-again Christian in a film called Snow Angels. I used much of the same material as a reference for how people pray.”

To help Rockwell prepare for the role, Hess sent him footage of Biblical archeologists and evangelical leaders. The transformation the actor was able to effect surprised even his longtime collaborator. “He became a different person when he played Don,” says Hess. “His look and his voice and his mannerisms are unlike anything I have ever seen him do before. When I watch him on screen, I don’t see Sam Rockwell. I see Don Verdean.”

Rockwell says he appreciated the fact that Hess was supportive of the physical changes he wanted to achieve. “Most directors do not embrace the idea of transformation,” says the actor. “They want you to be you. But Jared encouraged me to go there. He was happy to see me put on the funny mustache. And the hair and glasses were his ideas. He wanted a particular type of accent, so we got Liz Himmelstein, who is one of the premier dialect coaches, to work with me.”

Himmelstein has worked with countless prominent actors, including Nicole Kidman, Kathy Bates and Frances McDormand, whom she helped achieve the Minnesota accent she used in Fargo. To assist Rockwell in honing the specific southern accent Hess had in mind for Don, the veteran dialect coach had a funeral director from Tennessee tape his lines.

Rockwell says the biggest challenges he faced during the production were the relatively limited budget and tight shooting schedule. “I’m in pretty much every scene,” he says. “So I had a lot of lines to memorize. We had very little rehearsal time. But Jared is so inspiring. It doesn’t matter what comes out of his mouth, you just want to do it for him. You’d stand on your head for him.”

To play Don’s loyal assistant, Carol, Hess tapped the talents of Amy Ryan. A Best Supporting Actress Oscar® nominee for her nuanced role as a bereft mother in Gone Baby Gone, Ryan has also demonstrated her considerable comedic chops in roles including Steve Carell’s abiding love interest, Holly Flax, on “The Office.”

“Carol is Don Verdean’s secretary and field assistant,” says Hess. “She admires him, but he definitely does not treat her kindly at the beginning of the film. He slowly realizes as things fall apart what a good, loyal friend she’s been to him.”

Ryan more than holds her own as a quiet everywoman in a world of big personalities. “Amy plays this very shy, reserved person in amongst all these huge, nutty characters,” says Rockwell. “I know we really lucked out with the entire cast, but Amy in particular brings real dramatic cachet to the film.”

“She’s just an incredible actor,” agrees Hess. “I’ve admired her work for ages. I always imagined her in the role and we were lucky enough to get her. She’s just a dream to work with.”

Ryan has been a fan of the Hesses since she saw their first feature film, Napoleon Dynamite. “When Jared reached out with an offer I thought, ‘what an amazing invitation to receive on a cold winter morning,’” she says. “The group he had already assembled was made up of phenomenal actors and I knew I wanted to join it. Knowing that Sam Rockwell and Jemaine Clement had worked with him before and were going back for another round was a big plus.”

Before signing on, Ryan checked in with Rockwell to get his input on the project and the director. “He told me that Jared is one of the nicest men I could ever work with,” she recalls. “Not only is Sam a great actor, I also don’t think he’s never made a bad choice, so that was all I needed to hear.”

In addition to the Hesses’ signature quirky humor, Ryan was attracted to the character’s openness and faith. “I hadn’t come across someone like Carol before,” she explains. “She’s really honest and optimistic. She has great belief in people. She starts out as a secretary, gets promoted to field assistant and becomes indispensable to Don’s work. It’s a crazy adventure for this woman who has had an extremely sheltered life.”

Although she learned quite a bit about Biblical archeology over the course of the production, Ryan said she intentionally did not spend much time on research prior to the shoot. “This woman is completely outside of her comfort zone,” she explains. “I figured the less I knew about it, the better. The conversations I had with Sam and Jared were more about comic tone and how truthfully we were playing this. Sam wanted to approach it more as a character study than a comedy, which really grounded it in reality.”

The feeling on set was warm and inclusive, according to Ryan. “Jared is such a funny guy to be around,” she says. “He can direct by inhabiting the character himself, which is always a great laugh. Sometime he would drag me in a particular direction by taking on a similar character.”

Rockwell also contributed to the positive vibe on set, she says. “Sam is very protective of his cast mates,” says Ryan. “He wants to make sure everyone has what they need and no one feels taken for granted, which may seem small but it makes a huge difference on a set. He stays in character most of the time, but with a bit a wink. It’s not like you can’t call him Sam. He just stays consistent and that keeps it all alive and fresh. It’s really fun to be around him. If the outcome of the film is as good as the time we had making it, audiences are in for a great treat.”

Jemaine Clement, perhaps best known for his portrayal of a hapless musical hopeful in the TV series “Flight of the Conchords,” plays Boaz, an Israeli shepherd who is Don’s main contact and advance scout in the Holy Land. Rockwell describes the character as “Borat meets Dr. Strangelove,” and the combination is sinister, silly and just plain funny.

“Boaz has helped Don secure and ship a lot of artifacts over the years,” Hess explains. “But when Don perpetrates his first hoax, Boaz is quick to catch on and begins to blackmail him. First, he just wants a chance to relocate to the States, but the stakes keep going up. He is both the best and worst partner you could ever have.”

Hess and Clement became friends after working together on Gentlemen Broncos, in which the actor played a fantasy writer who stoops to plagiarism when faced with a crippling bout of writer’s block. “I’ve known Jemaine for years,” says Hess. “He can do so many hilarious voices and characters. His comedic instincts always blow me away.”

The pair has kept in touch, Clement says, and Hess often runs ideas for future films past him. “He told me this story along with a whole bunch of others and this was the one he got going first. When he said I have a part for you, I showed up.”

Clement was also excited at the chance to collaborate with an actor he has long admired. “I’m a big fan of Sam Rockwell. We were both in Gentlemen Broncos, but we didn’t have any scenes together. I was glad to get a chance to work with him.”

Ryan says her scenes with Clement were some of the most difficult to shoot. “Jemaine is very hard to work with,” she explains, “because it is nearly impossible to keep from laughing. He’s quiet and contained and shy off camera but something happens when the camera goes on. I would have to just look at his shoulder. I loved working with him.”

Clement says the shoot was full of moments that defied the actors to keep straight faces. “There is a lot of great comic work on everyone’s part. I’m laughing now remembering it. I can’t wait for people to see it.”

Don Verdean’s odyssey begins at home, when the Reverend Tony Lazarus and his songstress wife Joylinda dispatch him to find artifacts that will bring glory to their struggling church. Danny McBride is the Reverend Lazarus, with Leslie Bibb playing Tammy Faye to his Jim Bakker.

“I always imagined Danny as Tony Lazarus, so I sent Danny the script,” Hess says. “Danny’s from the South and he grew up in a religious home, so it was a character he understood in an authentic way.

“And I love Leslie Bibb,” he continues. “I have wanted to work with her for a long time. She just nailed the look and feel of a preacher’s wife. I also just really wanted to see her sing on screen.”

Also on hand is Will Forte as Pastor Fontaine, a glittering-eyed rival evangelist with a sordid past. “Will plays a former Satanist turned Christian,” says Hess. “His church is competing with the Lazarus’ church and he’s trying destroy them so he can take over their congregation. It’s definitely an unfriendly competition. He hasn’t abandoned his old ways entirely and Will found ways to make that profoundly funny.”

From architectural landmarks like the walls of Jericho to the random ephemera of everyday life, Biblical archeologists search for any existing proof of the lives and events chronicled in the Old and New Testaments. The discipline has yielded astonishing discoveries over the decades, including the well-known Dead Sea Scrolls, more than 800 fragmentary documents written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek, dating back almost two millennia, as well as less-well-documented finds like a recent claim to have discovered Noah’s Ark in Turkey.

“A group of Chinese Christian students believed they found the Ark in a glacier on top of Mount Ararat,” says Hess. “It turned out to be an old mountain ranger’s cabin that had been buried in the snow. A lot of people were really disappointed.”

Even items that merely date back to Biblical times and places are considered important because they cast a new light on the history and culture of the era. Many Biblical archeologists are respected academics with years of research and teaching under their belts. Don Verdean is not one of them.

“Don’s a believing Christian with a sincere love of archeology,” says Hess. “He wants what he does to support his faith and his beliefs.” To that end, he proposes to his new sponsor, the Reverend Lazarus, that he find the skull of the giant Philistine Goliath, slain by David (later the first king of the Israelites) in the Valley of Elah, as related in the Book of Samuel.

“Unfortunately, Don is willing to lie and cheat for what he considers the greater good,” notes Hess. “There are plenty of people who lie for completely selfish reasons, and while Don is definitely trying to save face, he thinks it’s okay because he sees his actions as benefiting the cause on some level. Of course, he’s violating his own ethical beliefs to do it and that creates the moral dilemma.”

Don’s purported Goliath skull is one of the film’s more memorable props. “My brother-in-law was our assistant art director and he sculpted it,” says Hess. “He actually made a bunch of skulls. It’s unique and it is a direct reference to the Bible. We decided to work it in because as a kid I read an article that said they had discovered Goliath’s skull. It was pretty bogus-looking photography. I think it’s a funny thing to try and pull off, especially when we have carbon dating and other ways to prove whether something is from a particular time or not.”

The vast majority of excavations and investigations by Biblical archeologists are carried out in areas that appear in the Old Testament: Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the surrounding region. For the film, however, Hess was limited to his home state of Utah, which meant extensive location scouting and creative thinking on the part of production designer Richard A. Wright, whose previous work has included creating the American prison at Guantanamo Bay for Camp X-Ray, backwoods Arkansas for Mud and the elaborate fantasy world of Gentlemen Broncos.

“I’ve worked with Richard on quite a few commercials, as well,” says Hess. “He has such an incredible eye and a knack for finding locations. He creates environments that look lived in and real and true to the characters. Nothing about his work ever feels artificial.”

With little time or budget for building, the filmmakers used practical locations whenever possible, combing the Utah landscape for sites that resembled remote Holy Land archeological digs. “Getting the look and feel we wanted presented a challenge,” Hess says. “But ultimately we were able to find a wide variety of locations that are true to our settings, all in Utah.

“We did a ton of research on what the desert looks like in Israel,” he adds. “Richard had to find just the right kinds of rocks in the right color. He did a great job of matching desert environments. And in the end we felt completely validated. Yaniv Moyal, who was born in Israel and plays the Israeli police officer in the film, came on set and said the area looked exactly as it was supposed to.”

Although Don Verdean is very different from anything the Hesses have put on film previously, fans like Jemaine Clement will find plenty to enjoy.

“There’s always something very particular about Jared and Jerusha’s sense of humor that I appreciate,” the actor says. “What they find funny comes from the smallest details. It’s hilarious to me, but it can slip past people at first. In each film, they create their own little universe that doesn’t relate to other films or the real world. They have their own reality. It’s a unique experience that I really enjoy.”

SAM ROCKWELL (Don Verdean, Executive Producer) has emerged as one of the most dynamic actors of his generation by continuing to take on challenging roles in both independent and studio productions.

Rockwell stars in the forthcoming remake of the classic film Poltergeist, opposite Rosemarie Dewitt. He can also be seen in Digging for Fire, written and directed by Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies). The film deals with the pleasures and pains of building a family, as well as the difficulties of maintaining the excitement of a relationship over time.

Rockwell was recently seen in Lynn Shelton’s Laggies, opposite Keira Knightley and Chloë Grace Moretz. This romantic coming-of-age comedy follows a woman (Knightley) who reacts to her boyfriend’s marriage proposal by hiding out with her new 16-year-old friend (Moretz) and her dad (Rockwell). He was also featured in The Way Way Back, written by the Academy Award®-winning team of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Descendants), co-starring Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Maya Rudolph and Rob Corddry. The film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and Rockwell was nominated for a 2014 Critics’ Choice Award for Best Actor in a Comedy.

Throughout his career, Rockwell has created memorable and diverse characters. He’s made a mark in such films as Tony Goldwyn’s Conviction, opposite Hilary Swank; Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, opposite Robert Downey Jr.; Jon Favreau’s Cowboys and Aliens, opposite Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig; Duncan Jones’ Moon, featuring the voice acting of Kevin Spacey; the blockbuster Charlie’s Angels, with Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu; Frank Darabont’s Oscar® nominee The Green Mile, opposite Tom Hanks; the cult classic Galaxy Quest, alongside Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman and Tony Shalhoub; Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, with Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck; Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths, opposite Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson; David Gordon Green’s Snow Angels, with Kate Beckinsale; the Russo brothers’ comedy Welcome to Collinwood, opposite George Clooney and William H. Macy; and David Mamet’s Heist, alongside Gene Hackman and Danny DeVito.

Additional film credits include The Sitter, Everybody’s Fine, Frost/Nixon, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Matchstick Men, Celebrity, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lawn Dogs, Safe Men, Jerry and Tom, Box of Moonlight, Drunks, Light Sleeper and Last Exit to Brooklyn.

Rockwell made his feature-film debut in Victor Salva’s Clownhouse while still a student at San Francisco’s High School of the Performing Arts.

For his portrayal of Chuck Barris in George Clooney’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Rockwell won critical praise as well as the Berlin Film Festival’s Silver Bear Award and Movieline’s Breakthrough Performance of the Year Award. He starred opposite Clooney, Drew Barrymore and Julia Roberts in this adaptation of Barris’ memoirs.

Other awards include Best Actor honors at the Sitges International Film Festival of Catalonia (for his performance in Joshua) and the Decades Achievement Award from the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival.

Last summer, Rockwell starred with Nina Arianda in Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love” at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Other stage credits include Martin McDonagh’s critically acclaimed production of “A Behanding in Spokane” on Broadway, opposite Christopher Walken; “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” at the Public Theater, directed by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman; and the Off Broadway production of “Goose-Pimples,” written by noted filmmaker Mike Leigh. He has also appeared in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “The Dumb Waiter” and “Hot L Baltimore,” all for the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

  1   2   3   4

The database is protected by copyright © 2017
send message

    Main page