AWARD-WINNING FILMMAKER HAS HIS WORLD PREMIERE OF LATEST PROJECT IN NEW YORK CITY
Featured article image courtesy of Sean Turi
ACTOR, DIRECTOR, WRITER TAKING THE INDUSTRY BY STORM WITH HIS TALENTS AND LATEST UPCOMING PRODUCTIONS
Lukas Hassel is a multiple award-winning actor, writer, and director. He’s a graduate of the Samuel Beckett Theatre School of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Born and raised in Denmark, he’s now a dual citizen of Denmark and the United States.
As an actor, he has appeared in several TV shows, such as Blue Bloods (CBS), Limitless (CBS), The Blacklist (NBC), Elementary (NBC), as well as feature films, such as ‘The Black Room’ and ‘In Montauk’.
As a writer, Lukas was the winner of the CineStory Fellowship and has placed in the “Top 30” twice in the Nicholl’s Fellowship Competition. His LBGT feature length screenplay “Le Mécano” has been optioned by director/producer Charlie Stratton. His short screenplay ‘The Son, the Father’ recently won the HollyShorts Film Festival Screenwriting Competition and secured a production deal as a result.
As a director, Lukas took his sci-fi script ‘Into the Dark’ and created a successful short film. In 2017, he directed his second short film, ‘The Son, the Father’ which had its world premiered at the Chinese Theater Cinema in Los Angeles as part of the HollyShorts Film Festival. We are honored to sit down with this accomplished, multi-faceted individual and find out more about him.
- Mary Swanson
NIE: Thank you for taking your time and having this interview with us. Congratulations on your film ‘Rich Boy, Rich Girl’ making its world premiere In New York City. What can you tell us about this project? And your role?
Lukas Hassel: The film was produced by Judy San Roman with whom I have previously worked (feature films “In Sickness,” “Fair Market Value”). We met at Debras Markowitz’s film festival Long Island Intl. Film Expo. “Rich Boy Rich Girl” is a romantic comedy built around the concept of ‘fake it til you make it’ which of course is not a healthy way to live ones life. That’s what the lead characters learn as the film progresses. I play Sebastian Warren, the wise older boss who tries to help his young apprentice played by Cody Longo (of “Nashville”).
NIE: What originally attracted you to this project? And how was the entire production process?
Lukas Hassel: For me, it almost always comes down to the script. Is it good? This script flowed beautifully and was a swift and fun read. Shooting under the direction of Andrew Henriques was wonderful as he is flexible but also surefooted in what he wants out of his scenes. The fact that my co-stars were so strong was a bonus, Sasha Jackson, Abigail Hawk, C. Thomas Howell to name a few.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff. Let go of the negative. Don’t be jealous of others."
- Lukas Hassel
NIE: Your latest short film ‘The Son, The Father’ was screened at the SAG Short Film Showcase in the Robin Williams Theater in Manhattan. What can you tell us about this project?
Lukas Hassel: The Son, the Father is my second short film and came about because the script won the prestigious Oscar qualifying Hollyshorts Film Festival in Los Angeles for “best short screenplay’. The winning prize was a production deal offered by a company in Seattle under producers Lorraine Montez and Ben Andrews. So amazingly, this company did all the heavy lifting with locations, crew, cast, etc. I skype’d in from New York, where I’m based, to audition the actors the Seattle casting directors Angela DiMarco and David S. Hogan had found for me.
I have always found it way more important to be able to talk to my actors in the casting process so I can see if they’re good listeners, than merely rely on them knowing lines and doing pages from the script. In any case, eventually I flew up four days before shooting, met my DP [Director Of Photography], AD [Assistant Director] and set designer and together we went to all the locations and finessed the shortlist. Then, we shot for three days with a wonderful crew of 30, and it worked out beautifully. I got lucky they were so professional. I couldn’t have known that.
NIE: What was your favorite part of filming this movie certainly without knowing any of the crew? What have you learned specifically from this movie that will help you in your profession?
Lukas Hassel: I was a great test for myself as a director. I have always primarily been an actor, and so to realize I can actually run such a large set due to being extremely well-prepared was empowering. My mantra every morning waking up - because I tend to become micro-managerial when I get nervous - was “ be present, be pleasant”. It really helped me. I managed to be calm and present on set, while also being focused on what I needed out of my cast and crew. So the main thing I got out of this production was confidence that if I can do this on a three day short film shoot, I can do it for 21 days on a feature shoot.
NIE: What does this film mean to you and how has this role changed you? Impacted you certainly as a director?
Lukas Hassel: The Son, the Father... is a dark film. A psychological horror. The fact that it has been accepted into over 60 film festivals and picked up a host of awards, has proven to me that my voice as a writer/director is valid. I always had confidence in myself as an actor but writing and directing is something I’ve picked up later in life. I have a distinct point of view, and I’m eager to share it with others.
NIE: Where did the desire to be an actor stem from? And what was your decision to go into directing and writing?
Lukas Hassel: I had a school teacher in elhi who was into putting up small plays every year, and I recognized early how much I enjoyed acting in those. It wasn’t until I got to Cold Spring Harbor High School as an exchange student ( I was born and raised in Denmark) where I got to play the lead in the high school play (Jesus in Godspell) that I started to think seriously about taking this on as a possible career. I loved putting myself in other people’s shoes and seeing the world from a wide perspective of personalities. Has helped me as a writer too. The decision to take on writing and directing is essentially about control.
As an actor, I give away control all the time - leaving a casting office crossing my fingers hoping I was what they were looking for. That gets a little old long term. Writing was my first step towards taking some of that control back. Anything I wrote is mine and from me, no compromises. Then taking that script and directing it is ultimate control because it’s all my vision, my call, and my voice. That feels great. I freely admit, I’m a control freak. That said, I still love being an actor in someone else’s hands when they have a strong vision and drive.
A director I have worked with many times who has such a strong voice is Jeremiah Kipp. He and I are kindred spirits but also challenge each other and create interesting layered films as a consequence.
NIE: You have won several awards as a screenwriter, including the Cinestory Fellowship and The Shore Fund Scripts, what can you tell us about achievements and what is your main goal as a writer to accomplish?
Lukas Hassel: These competitions and fellowships are important in order to stand out in the vast sea of hopeful writers and scripts. Go to Starbucks and you’ll see at least four or five people write on their laptops, most of them doing screenplays. It doesn’t mean they’re all good, but it means they crowd the market and makes it harder for the great script to be discovered. Production companies are flooded with scripts. So winning fellowships not only widens your network in terms of people that matter becoming your mentors, but alson getting the attention of people in the industry.
Cinestory Fellowship gives you, apart from cash and various prizes, two mentors for a year and beyond who volunteer to help you open doors. My winning script was subsequently optioned and is currently in pre-production phase with a British production company. Crossing fingers it’ll come to pass as I hope and expect. Short Fund has been incredibly helpful in getting my TV pilot Galápagos out there. We’ll see if anyone bites. It’s strong pilot that I really believe in. It’ll make an amazing TV series. Dark and twisted, set in the far future, exploring hope as a theology.
NIE: What process and techniques do you use to get into your characters as actor? What role(s) have been the most challenging for you, and why?
Lukas Hassel: I went to Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland for acting, My professors’ goals were to give each actor a tool kit of options. No two actors work the exact same way, so we did a huge variety of techniques Stanislavski, Meisner etc. to guide each of us as to what works for us. So I have a good tool kit to pick from when I take on a new character. Mainly of course, I explore the basics - what does my character want, what are the obstacles etc. but then finesse those answers through various layers of physicality or character choices.
In terms of the hardest roles to play, the ultimate was probably Othello. It was in Cork, Ireland, and I was originally set to play Cassio when the lead actor had to drop out and the theater company offered me the role. The sheer task of learning so many lines of Shakespearean language plus the fact I was recently out of acting school, made it rough. I remember waking up with stress nightmares many times during those days. In the end, I don’t think I did the characters justice - I was way too young for it - but I learned a lot and I got confidence from having been able to do it. In general, the hardest roles are the ones that are poorly written...
NIE: What obstacles do you face as an actor and what do you do to overcome and achieve your goals?
Lukas Hassel: Obstacles as an actor almost always come from not having the final say. Since I stopped doing theater - I always enjoyed the rehearsal process, but the actual performances less so due to the form of most theater - I’ve focused on indie film and TV. In both those media, I don’t have control over the final product. I can be edited differently to what I’d have liked or hoped. Of course, sometimes the edit can fix a poor choice I may have made as an actor, so it goes both ways. But mainly, as an actor I try to align myself with the director and gauge how flexible he or she is in achieving what the script calls for. I can be like walking a tight rope, simply doing my job as an actor and not bother the director too much and yet challenging some of the choices the director makes in a helpful way.
NIE: What do you personally take out of a role and what impact does it have on you?
Lukas Hassel: I always learn something about myself from putting my mind in someone else’s head, so to speak. It helps me as a person in life to see things from many angles, not just my own myopic view. In general, I think acting has made me a better human being, and not just look a the world through my own lens. Some roles stay with me longer than others. I’ve played Dracula a few times in various productions and someone as iconic as Dracula is hard to lose quickly. In order to understand someone so dark, so tragic, it took me to places in my mind I don’t often venture into.
NIE: How do you prepare yourself before a scene? And how do you overcome your nerves? What helps you perform to the best of your ability?
Lukas Hassel: Overcoming nerves usually comes down to preparation for me, The better prepared I am, the less nervous I am. Of course, on TV shows the pressure is enormous to not mess up and take up expensive time. Basically, when you’re face to face with a celebrity, keeping calm and collected is crucial. So trusting in my ability and in myself is key. Don’t be a door mat, but also know your place in the hierarchy. In order for me to do my best work, I need to know I can trust the director. If I feel he or she has my back, I can relax and find the details in my character that hopefully will make it sing.
NIE: What would you say is the biggest asset for any actor verse a filmmaker in the industry to achieve?
Lukas Hassel: Great question. For an actor, I think a huge asset is to develop the ability to quickly evaluate what type of director do you have on any given project. Is the director open to collaboration, or is it better to just keep your head down and get on with it. Figure out quickly how they work best and how can you help yourself. As a filmmaker, I think the biggest asset is to develop a sense of overview. Being able to focus on the miniscule, the details, while at the same time be able to step back and see the whole.
NIE: What are some of your secret tips that help you in this industry to keep grounded and focused?
Lukas Hassel: I never take praise too seriously as well as negative criticism. That keeps me humble. Hard work is the name of the game. Also, learning to enjoy the journey. If I was focused on the $$$ and Hollywood fame, I’d be in a lot of trouble. I do what I do because I have something to say and I enjoy it. Everything else is a bonus.
“The only race or competition you’re in is with yourself.”
- Lukas Hassel
NIE: Who inspires you?
Lukas Hassel: Smart and kind people inspire me.
My husband, Dr. Petros Levounis, whose wisdom, love and insight is a such a gift. My family. Close friends and colleagues. People I have access to and can really see what great things they do. Rarely am I insured by celebrities or people I don’t know personally.
Specific films or performances can inspire me. I’m obsessed with Fosse’s Cabaret, or Kubrick’s The Shining, or Meryl Streep’s performance in Bridges of Madison County, etc. The list goes on. However, since I don’t know these artists personally, they’ll never be role models for example.
NIE: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to pursue a career in the field?
Lukas Hassel: Make sure you find enjoyment in the process. Don’t do this if you want a house, a car, a large family and a summer home in Nantucket. The odds are you’ll never get that. If money and success matters to you, do something else. However, if you want a life that’s never 9-5, that puts you on a set in desert in Las Vegas fighting a demon covered in slime, or freezing on a beach in Montauk during winter shooting a break up scene, then go for it... The acting life is unpredictable and exciting.
NIE: What are the most impactful words of wisdom someone told you and who was it?
Lukas Hassel: Martin Luther King said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” That is something that really resonated with me. Speak up for the things I believe in. As an agnostic for instance, I often speak up against the discrimination that too often happens in the name of religion. Also, my parents have been role models for me - really good people both. My mother represents strength and focus, my father being kind and generous.
NIE: What are three things you would say to your younger self that you know now?
Lukas Hassel: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Let go of the negative. Don’t be jealous of others. The only race or competition you’re in is with yourself. Be brave. Stand up for yourself.
NIE: We’ve heard you have several exciting upcoming projects in different stages of production. What’s next for you?
Lukas Hassel: I’m focusing on making my first feature. Whether it’ll be the more expensive but more commercial horror film Silhouette (the script just won the New York Intl. Screenplay Award), or the low budget dark drama Halfway, we’ll see. Money raising and pitch packets are out there. That’s as a writer/filmmaker. As an actor, I’m finishing shooting on Couple of Guys by Debra Markowitz, and will head to Los Angeles to shoot Hermit under the direction of Aimiende Sela this summer. A film I shot earlier this year, Art of the Dead, directed and written by wonderful Rolfe Kanefsky is coming to Netflix soon. “The Black Room” just made it Netflix, check it out. My first short film “Into the Dark” is now on Amazon Prime.
NIE: Anyone you would like to thank?
Lukas Hassel: The list is endless. Of course, SAG/Aftra always have my back, but overall my manager Josselyne Herman with whom I’ve been working for the better part of 20 years gets a lot of love from me. Also, my agent Barry Kolker from Carson Kolker deserves thanks. Present Tense Writing group gave me legs as a writer and I recommend anyone looking to take writing seriously to enter that class under the guidance of Mick Casale. Cinestory Fellowship is special to me also, so to writers out there - submit your work to them. If you get in to the writers retreat, go! You’ll thank me.