Interview: Noah Silver on JAMIE MARKS IS DEAD
Tyrant star Noah Silver explores the lonely and daunting gap between death and the afterlife in Carter Smith‘s sophomore feature Jamie Marks Is Dead.
Based on Christopher Barzak‘s 2007 novel One For Sorrow, the film centers on the budding relationship between Adam McCormic (Cameron Monaghan), a track star with a troubled home life and Jamie Marks (Silver), the ghost of a bullied boy. Following the latter’s mysterious death, the two boys quickly form a strong connection, which is something they soon learn may have dangerous consequences.
I recently got to chat with Silver about the film, the themes explored in the story, his character’s unique relationship with Adam and more. Check out the interview below.
The book, which I got a chance to also got to read after seeing the film, is a good resource to understanding the characters. Did you read it in preparation for the film or did you want to create a character from scratch?
Well, I did look at a couple of details, like more about his mom and the town in the book. But mostly for me it all came from the script and Carter’s [Smith] vision of the world. It was most the script for me.
I read that Carter Smith started a photography series titled “All The Dead Boys” to help decide how your character. Jamie, would physically look. Was there any other ways that he helped you prepare for it?
They did a lot of work in terms of designing the look of Jamie. We had a couple of days up in New York, where we went to his [Carter Smith] house and we tried different tones of the full body make up, choosing the glasses, the dead eyes, the haircut. And then we also did a couple of photo shoots of me next to Cameron, so with the makeup because Cameron’s skin colour is already naturally so white. (laughs) And pale, that we really need to find something to not make me just white, but to make me kind of, give this blueish undertone to really separate from Cameron. But yeah, that was all interesting to see how Carter and Darren [Lew] designed that.
But the physicality of Jamie was really important to me in terms of physical movements because in the beginning he’s very reserved and shy and broken. As he gets to closer to Cameron and the more words he gets from Cameron, he gets closer to the world of the living and gets a little stronger and he kinda opens up a little bit, so that was interesting to play with. He also had a sort of interesting walk. He was a very clumsy character, didn’t have control over his full body.
Your character develops a strong relationship with Adam after he dies, which is something he never really had a chance to when he was still alive. How was it like to work with Cameron Monaghan for that storyline — especially that relationship, which is such the focus of the story.
Yeah, it’s great. Cameron and I became great friends. We still are today. We both really love acting. We’re both extremely dedicated to the work, and on set we had a lot of fun working on these characters. We would go very deep into those scenes and push ourselves to our limit even though it was very cold and sometimes the conditions were very hard. But we both loved our characters and loved the story.
Cameron’s a great natural actor. If the person in front of you is good, it makes you better. We were able to play off of each other. We even had a couple of days where we had a lot of improvisational things going on — the Frisbee scene was all improvised. We had a lot of things, wandering around, playing around, kind of developing that friendship. We wanted that small moment where they are friends and things are going well and Jamie is happy and Cameron is happy for a split moment — a moment of lightness. Yeah, I really enjoyed working with Cameron and I actually hope we get to work together again at some point.
The film has so many elements to it. You can consider it a coming-of-age drama, a romance, a thriller, or a horror film — which many people categorize it to. It also explore, various themes like loneliness, making a connection, and regrets in life. What aspect of the story resonated with you the most and made you want to be a part of it?
For me, the most important thing was about making a connection. That is something that has always fascinated me. How to find the courage within yourself to go up to someone and wanna be friend with them and to come from that place of loneliness and being afraid, Yeah, for me that was the most touching part of it. Like you said, that he couldn’t have the courage to come up to him alive and now that he’s dead. Ironically, it kind of gave him the power and the courage to come up to him. The fact that he was in a position where he could choose who saw him and maybe he did think he could instill a little bit of fear.
The story also has a subtle homosexual subtext that is explored in both the film and book. Besides the closet being a sanctuary for the characters, there’s also the strong bond between the two boys that is so intimate without ever getting sexual. Did you interpret the film this way or did you see it differently?
Not at all. I personally never — it never crossed my mind that Jamie, in my opinion, was looking for any sexual relationship in any way with Adam’s character. It was more truly about making a connection and feeling loved and receiving something. No, I never saw it that way personally. I just think it’s more powerful if that’s not in the equation.
Do you think that it speaks to the richness of the story that it can interpreted that and a million other ways, too?
I think it depends on the audience, the person that’s watching it — what touches you and how you interpret certain thing. I think that it can be seen in different ways, and I think that’s good in a movie sometimes to judge characters differently.
Jamie, Adam and Gracie (Morgan Saylor) — they all share the characteristic of being outcasts in their own individual ways. Even though Adam’s a successful athlete at school, he’s not actually the stereotypical popular kid either. Did the complexity of these adolescent characters played a factor into what attracted you to the film?
Of course. It makes all these characters more real. It gives internal conflict. You’re always doing something to becoming something, but who you inherently are comes in the way of that. It made these characters three-dimensional. Internal conflict, at the end for me, is what I look for in a character. It makes me relate to them.
Adam’s closest friendships in the story could arguably be stated as being more physically intimate with Gracie, while being more emotionally intimate with Jamie. How did you personally interpret Jamie and Gracie’s different connections with Adam?
The relationship with Jamie is, some people can argue, comes out of regret. Adam is trying to make up for the fact that he couldn’t help Jamie when he was alive. Also, Jamie, I think for Adam, is a way out of the world of the living, with all the crap that is going on with his life right now. Even though it’s not the best option, it kind of takes him away from all the stuff going on in his house and at the school. I think that’s attracting to him towards Jamie. Grace, who is… (laughs) Who doesn’t wanna, you know, have fun. That’s an interesting question. Yeah, they all come from different places. I hope I answered a little bit.
Since I read the book after seeing the film, I didn’t realize how much was changed until after. Did you guys film anything that didn’t end up making the final cut?
There was this instance in the movie where Jamie spent time in the house a little more. There was more of a playful Jamie that was happy and part of Adam’s life. He at one point got Judy’s [Greer] character out of the house, but that didn’t make it. There was also a lot of wandering around the deserted areas and them just having fun. Yeah, I think that those were the main parts that I remember didn’t make it to the final product.
Finally, the exchange of words is one of the characteristics of Jamie and Adam’s relationship. It’s a way that Adam keeps Jamie connected to the world of the living, but at the same time it also makes him less part of it and becomes physically weaker. What did you think is the significance of those moments and the use of language as a tool?
Well, like you said, the words enable Jamie to be attached to the world of the living and for Adam to keep seeing Jamie. It gives Jamie strength, while taking it away from Adam. Jamie is taking something away from Adam, but Jamie isn’t necessarily giving anything back. I think that comes from the fact that because Jamie never had the friendship, he doesn’t really know what being friends is like. He’s only taking, and he’s not giving anything away. For me, it was also a lot like — it was a high. It was almost a drug. For me, when I worked it, physically embodied that moment. You know, the fact of inhaling these words was like a high, basically. (laughs)
Jamie Marks Is Dead is now available on VOD/digital platforms and in limited theatrical release. Watch the trailer below.