It has been a whirlwind journey for creator and starof the geek favorite film THE SIDEKICK. Premiering exclusively at San Diego Comic-Con in 2013, the smash indie hit is finally available for digital streaming on iTunes, Amazon and Vimeo. Inspired by his own life and all the things he loved about genre superheroes, Rob decided to write a short film about a superhero sidekick who has outlived his role in the superhero universe, and then he invited all his favorite actor friends to join the project that ultimately became
In an exclusive interviewtalked about how this amazing film was brought to life, what it has meant for him, and all the fun he had bringing it to the screen.
Why now? Why is THE SIDEKICK just now coming to digital media?
ROB: The journey that we have been on, we premiered at Comic-Con, then after that we did a year of festivals. Then Film Buff was the one that put it together so the film could be distributed online. So that’s the journey we have kind of been on. It is sort of the nature of this film that we kind of made it just for fun and then it turned into this kind of bigger thing than we ever imagined it to be. So I feel it is the perfect time for the trajectory that we have been on, and now anyone can see it.
What was the original inspiration for making this movie?
ROB: What inspired me was I turned 40 and I realized that if I quit my job of being an actor, it was almost too late to do anything else — like I hadn’t been trained in anything after I went to college for acting. So it felt too late for me to do anything else. I didn’t want to be a 40-year old interning at a start-up. So I thought that a superhero sidekick is on a similar journey: if he gets fired at 40, what else is he going to do? He doesn’t know how to do anything else, except how to do the “Hey, look out” or “Here, catch!” He doesn’t have superpowers of his own. That was sort of the nugget of the idea. It was reflective of the midlife crisis that I was going through. Plus, I have always identified with being the sidekick. I was never the main guy, but the buddy of the main guy. That’s kind of the roles I’ve played. The other contributing idea was: in what world is the sidekick the main guy? I wanted to make a movie to give that guy a voice.
Interestingly, the time period you chose to bring this film to life was just as Kickstarter was becoming widely known. So it seemed like there was an immediacy of people wanting to create original content for the internet. Was that one of those things that help spur you along a bit?
ROB: Certainly the fact that the internet has made it possible for anybody to create things and put it out there. I can’t say that I was directly influenced by that. It was more that in my twenty years as an actor I’ve met a lot of people — a lot of great talented people — so when I wrote this script, I wanted to pull all these people together that I had worked with to do this project. I thought it would be something special, especially since we had Michael Weithorn directing it. He had created THE KING OF QUEENS and he had this immensely talented pool of actors to draw from. So that added to my inspiration. Certainly, in the back of my mind, I thought this film could have a life on the internet. It was definitely in the realm of possibility. But I really just wanted the film to be an indicator for a larger feature film or a TV show. I wanted people to go, “Oh my god, this is so fun!” I really think now is the perfect time for it to be accessible on the web. So it’s great that Film Buff came along to get it out for online distribution. Certainly, we have benefitted from the fact that the internet is there and we have all these outlets now.
One of the themes of THE SIDEKICK was: how to repurpose your life, to find another way to embrace whatever you are good at, and move on with your life. For sports figures, it seems that it is going into acting — since a lot of sports figures retire in their 40’s and go into the acting field. So where do actors go to repurpose their lives?
ROB: (Laughs) That’s a great question. I’ve never heard that one before. It’s so true. That is what happens. If only actors could retire and move over to sports casting or cross over to being movie critics or reporting live from a play. But what do actors do when they retire? It’s a great question. I suppose everyone writes a memoir or you join a celebrity golf tournament. There’s really no pretty exit for an actor. You act until you just can’t do it anymore. Fortunately, there’s always roles for actors of all ages. Like the actress from TITANIC, Gloria Stuart. So it’s always possible to keep going. That’s what we do.
So you do not necessarily want to step out of acting, you just sort of want to reinvent yourself every decade so that you keep out there.
ROB: Exactly. For me, definitely. That was sort of the result of my midlife crisis. I couldn’t do anything else. Once your path is chosen and it’s the only thing you’re good at — like, for me, I just want to stay inspired and to stay busy as I reinvent myself. I am most comfortable when I am acting. (Laughs) I don’t think I’d be comfortable being a sports caster or anything like that.
THE SIDEKICK also feels like a love-letter to the geek fandom. Did you intend that or did you have a wider audience in mind beyond the Comic-Con audience?
ROB: I am a geek at heart and those are my people. So I knew that is my audience. That’s who I am and, fortunately for me, being a nerd is kind of “in” these days. That’s why debuting at Comic-Con was so perfect. That’s my people and that’s where I am most comfortable. A lot of the TV shows that I have been on and the parts that I’ve played, I tend to play more geeky characters, than let’s say “cool guys” and even when I play cool guys, they tend to be a little geeky. So that’s fun for me. But I didn’t intend to make a movie for the geeks, I just made a movie of what I knew.
What did you hope that your audience would see in the movie? What did you hope that they would get out of it?
ROB: It is a movie about finding yourself. Ultimately, at the end of the movie, the character that I play, Max McCabe, who is the sidekick, he doesn’t learn how to not be a sidekick, he learns how to use his abilities as a sidekick to get a job in the real world. He learns how make himself the main character in his own life, and not just a supporting character. But he doesn’t have to give up parts of himself, and what he is good at is he is good at helping people out and being quick and noticing things. So he finds a job where those qualities come in handy. And that’s what I want people to get out of it. It’s a movie about finding your true self and finding a place where you fit in, and not having to conform to be someone else or to be in someone else’s story. That you need to be the hero in your own story.
You had mentioned that this was a journey to find yourself while doing this project. Is that something you got out of it? What did you get out of making this film?
ROB: Definitely. I’ve always played the buddy and it was really gratifying, not only starring in the movie, but also to be the producer and writer. I was even helping Michael along with directing it because I had a specific vision and he was using my vision to guide the way. So the whole experience was incredibly gratifying. More than you can imagine. I would pinch myself in the middle of the movie and think, “oh my god, we’re doing this. We are making my movie.” So I learned that it was a very similar journey for me — that it was okay to be the lead of my own story.
Would you want to do another one or a follow-up film to THE SIDEKICK?
ROB: For sure. I am already writing stuff and one of the things I am writing is sort of a follow-up to it. It’s a world I am exploring and it could turn into another one of these. And I’m working on some other projects, not just comic book stuff, but other character studies.
In the movie THE SIDEKICK, you play Max McCabe. What did you love about that character, especially since you had the opportunity to create him?
ROB: What I really loved about him was the idea that somebody who is taking their life for granted and he has no clue that he is kind of phoning it in. That’s why the character really made me laugh. That’s the character we start with in the first half of the movie. He really has no idea that he’s turned into a sucky sidekick because he is phoning it in. So when Captain Wonder (Ron Livingston) calls him into the office, he thinks he has been doing great and he has no idea that it is not good. So that part about the character really made me laugh. I like that kind of thing in a character who is kind of unaware of himself or how he’s doing. So it was fun to play that, and then the realization for him that there is more to him, like when he is more clued into himself and more self-aware and aware of the world around him.
Another cool thing about the film was the casting. You have a remarkable set of friends that were able to become a part of this project. What was it about each of those actors? What spark did they bring to their character that kind of made the film?
ROB: I had this dream cast list when I wrote it and I was fortunate enough to get everybody that I had in mind — with the exception of Ron Livingston — I didn’t know him at the time. So I didn’t know who I would get to play the Captain. Then when I met Ron, I was like, “Ron would be perfect for this!” I also loved Lizzy Caplan because that part had to be somebody who was quirky and I wanted the character to haver her own flaws. I wanted the whole cast to be sort of like from the Island of Misfit Toys, where everybody has their own kind of thing. So the group of actors I got, I was lucky. Like Ike Barinholtz from THE MINDY PROJECT, he is totally that guy; and Jordan Peele, he always plays that kind of off-beat character; and Martin Starr, he is also so great at off-beat characters and yet taking it very seriously. That is where I really lucked out with these people and it was so perfect that it all worked out.
Did any of them look at you and say, “are you crazy?!” when you first told them about it?
ROB: (Laughs) No. For people like Ike Barinholtz and Jordan Peele, we throw sketch stuff together all the time and they are used to dressing up crazy for work. Like for KEY AND PEELE, Jordan dresses crazy, so he will put on whatever. So from spandex to goggles, there are no second thoughts. They will just go with it. Everyone is really game. I was surprised. They just loved the script. The kind of actors I got really love to do these kind of characters. So nobody was like, “Hey, I can’t. I’m not doing it.” Everyone happily tried on the spandex, which was a funny process to watch everyone go through.
Did you see this project as like peeking behind the curtain of your personal lives a little bit because these are your friends and you all probably interact in funny ways normally?
ROB: (Laughs) A little bit. Like Jordan Peele and Josh Meyers, myself, and Ike, we all sang acapella at Ike’s wedding. That was a very fun experience. Then the laundromat scene where we’re all together playing these characters in spandex, that was another fun one. I don’t think it reveals anything about our personal lives because the characters we play are so different than we actually are. But if was fun for me personally to work with my friends and then see it on the screen, that was pretty gratifying. But the film was not that realistic in terms of who we are or what we are really like.
Was there any particular challenges that you overcame working on the film?
ROB: It was definitely a challenge being the producer and the actor. You’re having to make decisions, like what food is supposed to be on the table while in the scene in the restaurant. That’s why I really wanted Michael to direct it because I need another eye to yell “action” and “cut.” So it was a challenge. It took all my brain power. Every bit of it was a challenge, but I felt like I overcame it. Nothing was crippling. It was do-able and a really gratifying feeling when it was all over.
So what’s next for you? What can we keep an eye out for?
ROB: I am actually in New York right now. I’m doing a music tour with a sing/song-writer friend of mine Jason Manns. We’re touring through Germany and we will be back in the States in a couple of weeks. I also have the writing projects that I was talking about that I hope to get off the ground in the next couple of months, and then start looking for my next acting gig — the next sidekick job that comes along.
You’re not starting your own movie studio then?
ROB: (Laughs) No, but you never know! I may just have to. That’s the future.
For those curious about how a superhero sidekick found a way to be the hero of his own story and to see just how zany and wacky this crazy film truly is, THE SIDEKICK is currently available for online viewing at iTunes, Amazon and Vimeo. Rob also welcomes your feedback on Twitter, where he can be found under the Twitter handle @RobBenedict