Puncture, in theaters on Friday, September 23rd, tells the story of two lawyers taking on big pharmaceutical companies who refuse to invest in equipment that could save the lives of nurses across the country. It's based on a true story, but you might not believe that if they hadn't told you: Chris Evans plays attorney Mike Weiss, a brilliant drug addict with a penchant for strange pets and outlandish attire. Co-directors Adam and Mark Kassen, the latter of whom co-stars as Mike Weiss's long-suffering partner Paul Danziger, took some time to explain the difficulties in toning down their protagonist's struggles to make the story palpable, as well as what Chris Evans brought to the legal thriller's table.
CraveOnline: Did hear about the story of ‘Puncture’ before you saw the screenplay?
Mark Kassen: No, we actually got sent the original version of the screenplay by Paul Danziger. The real Paul Danziger sent it to us, and we read it and we resonated right away with the story and the character. And we went down to Houston and met with Paul and a bunch of people in Houston […] We just thought it was a really interesting window into a health issue we hadn’t seen before, and a really interesting character – a tragic, flawed hero – in the character of Mike Weiss. And we came back to New York and we got an idea of the kind of story we wanted to tell, and we brought on a writer, Chris Lopata, [whom] we’ve worked with before. Great New York writer. And the three of us got in a room for about a year and worked on the script and [had conversations] with Paul, and got to the place where we thought, you know, this is the movie we want to make. Then we went about casting it and making a movie.
The underdog legal story is sort of a Hollywood classic. I was wondering, what were your goals to make ‘Puncture’ distinctive from something ‘A Civil Action’ or ‘Erin Brockovich?’
Adam Kassen: Well, you know, here’s the thing… We have the luxury of having a real story, and working with a lot of people who were involved on multiple sides of the issue, and multiple sides of the people. Our aim was to go with the person first. Our movie is about a guy and his partner as they go on a journey, the main journey being this dude’s struggle with being an addict, and how he deals with that, while coming up against [his legal opposition]. Character first, and issue later.
Mark Kassen: Yeah, for good or bad we didn’t concern ourselves too much with making it like or not like A Civil Action or Erin Brockovich. We just tried to get to the heart of the story that we wanted to tell, and what people were telling us. So, like we were saying, we had the advantage of having a lot of the people around us giving us lots of different stories and information about Mike and Paul and the case itself.
Mike Weiss is, not in an unrealistic way, such a big, larger than life character.
Mark Kassen: Yeah, that’s how we described him. Everyone in his life described him that way.
It’s based on a true story, but is any of that massaged in any way for the film?
Adam Kassen: Not in terms of that. We basically toned stuff down. I mean, his eccentricities and drug use were huge.
Mark Kassen: Mike, he hung out with… We talked to his ex-debate team high school members, his brother, his partner and several judges he worked for, drug users that he used to score with and [they all said] that he was the same person, you know? He was just really this neat, genius, spark of a guy, and that genius took him into messes in, but yeah, we toned stuff down. The characters that he used to hang out with. […] We’d find a bunch of this true story stuff that we’ve partaken in, and if you dig deep enough, usually the true stuff is the most interesting, and that’s what we kind of grasped on to. Fortunately […] we didn’t have to Hollywood-ize it too much.
You said you had tone stuff down. What kind of stuff did you have to take out to make it believable?
Adam Kassen: There’s small and large things, you know, things like his [collection] of animals was way stranger than [in the film]. He had birds flying around his house.
Mark Kassen: Literally, it happened often. […] And we thought if we had a bird in there, it kind of was distracting, almost too cartoony. [And] some stuff that the family and Paul asked us not to put in that we didn’t do. But even, you know, the way he dressed. He thought he was very fashionable. That was his dress. He dressed like that. That was something that everybody remarked on, from his partner to judges that he worked with.
For me, the most interesting scene in the movie was Michael Biehn’s scene. He comes along as an informant, and we’ve seen the story element before, but you played it in a really interesting way because he comes along at a time when Chris Evans is so distracted.
Mark & Adam Kassen: Yeah.
Is that a real character? Because no one else even seems to see him. You could argue that he’s even in Chris Evans’ head.
Adam Kassen: Actually, yeah, that’s interesting that you say that. We had talked about that. I mean, that guy is representative of real information. Whether there was a moment like that I can’t quite say, but having a whistleblower… There was, quote-unquote “whistleblower” types who got the information that propelled the case forward, when it would not otherwise have been.
Mark Kassen: And he’s Michael. He’s such an interesting, great actor. We’re friends, and have been fans of his for so many years, we were frankly lucky that he came down for a couple of days to help us out.
I’m always interested to talk to co-directors, and find out how you share and divide your duties on the set…
Adam Kassen: You know, a lot of people say that one guy uses the camera, the other guy deals with the actors. We have much more of an organic flow. We spent a lot of time in prep, working [the] script, working with our D.P., working with our actors. You know, Chris Evans, Mark and I walked through Houston during prep and saw all the real places. […] So right before the shoot we had a really good idea what our game plan is, and on the day I think we do what we do, and it’s just an organic flow. We just as we’re talking to you now, we spent so much time beforehand, we’re on the same page. And Mark and I have the same sensibilities. We’re used to debate, as brothers. We’ve been debating since we were young, so I think that makes for healthy storytelling if you can debate. And Chris was a great partner with us as well, everything from what he brought as an actor, but he helped the script and blocking, besides his motivations and character and all that.
Well Chris Evans was always great casting. I know you shot this before ‘Captain America: The First Avenger,’ but great timing. Was he just playing Mike Weiss or did he bring anything specific to the project?
Adam Kassen: Yeah, he’s a really great actor. He’s been in a lot of these big budget movies in the past, and I think sometimes it’s easy to overlook how great he is because of all the shiny things blowing up in the background. […] But the film we saw that really turned us on to him was Sunshine.
Oh, he’s so good in that.
Adam Kassen: Yeah he is, but if you go back and look at his other work he’s always great. We wanted the character of Mike, like you say, the character of Mike is this genius, half-crazy eccentric, yet a really tragic figure, so we wanted someone who could hopefully not just deliver a touching, interesting performance, but someone who was also electric and exciting and magnanimous. And in Chris you’ve got all of that, that you don’t find in a lot of actors. And when we sat down with him and met with him on the project for the first time, just right there and then we all got along so well, we were like, “That’s great. Do you want to do this?” “Do you want to do this?” We decided right there and then to make a movie together. So he brought a lot of… He’s a really smart guy, smart actor, so everything from just character and direction in the movie, he was really a partner with us.