Teenagers often dream about attending college far away from home, so they can gain some independence and experience life on their own. But in today’s tough economic market, more and more young adults are returning home to live with their parents after they graduate from college. Their struggle to readjust living with their parents is one major issue first-time director Derek Magyar tackles in Flying Lessons, his acclaimed feature debut.
Flying Lessons follows 25-year-old Sophie Conway (Maggie Grace) as she returns home to the small town she always tried to forget. Faced with the complicated relationships she left behind, including the one with her mother, Carolyn (Christine Lahti), Sophie forms an unlikely bond with Alzheimer’s patient Harry Pleasant (Hal Holbrook). Harry, like Sophie, is struggling to remember the past.
Magyar, an established actor who is remembered for playing X in Boy Culture, spoke with us over the phone about what convinced him to direct Flying Lessons. The actor-turned-filmmaker also discussed why he admires Holbrook’s work, and why he thinks viewers will connect with Sophie’s reluctance to move back to her hometown.
Check it out below.
We Got This Covered: You directed and produced the upcoming drama Flying Lessons. What did you find appealing about the movie, and convinced you to make the movie?
Derek Magyar: I found myself in various different parts of the storyline, so that’s what initially gripped me to the story itself, the various parts where I saw pieces of me.
WGTC: What was the casting process for the main characters?
DM: It was lengthy, and we went through quite a journey. But it was amazing, as you can see with the end result. It was very thrilling at the same time.
WGTC: What was your reaction when Hal Holbrook agreed to play Harry Pleasant?
DM: I was very excited. Working on this film has started a very close friendship. Hopefully he’ll be working with me on every project I do. He’s in a new movie I’m about to start directing (The Secrets We Share). He’s hopefully going to play Friar Laurence when I direct Romeo and Juliet in the spring.
He’s a hero to me, and a true legend, and a wonderful human being. It was amazing to get him, and then to work with him. It was just incredible.
WGTC: What is it about Hal’s acting style that you admire?
DM: I think that with Hal, it’s not just his style, it’s his life. Hal’s lived an incredible life. Through ups and downs, Hal has the ability to let it go, and be free when he’s on stage, or when he’s in front of the camera.
At the end of the day, as an actor, if you were to simplify what acting really is, it’s about letting go. He knows how to let go, and he’s been through a lot in his life, so that he can access emotions. He’s being doing it for so long, its become a job to him in that sense.
Hal’s incredible. We had coffee at his house, talking about Romeo and Juliet, and all of a sudden, he started going into a verse of Macbeth, sitting there having coffee, no big deal. The point that he was making was how anyone can do Shakespeare, because it’s all in the words. I said, I think it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Then he did it, and I was on the brink of tears. I couldn’t believe the performance I was seeing, and there he was, not even caring about it. It was like he wasn’t even doing the work. He was incredible, and he stopped mid-way through, and said, see? I said, not everybody can do that. Hal’s got a gift, and I’ve seen it a couple of other times. It’s a beautiful thing.
WGTC: Do you feel viewers, particularly young adults, can relate to Sophie’s struggles and reluctance to return home and face her past?
DM: Yeah, I definitely think that there’s people who can relate to Sophie. I think each of the characters can relate to people’s lives. A lot of people can relate to her reluctance to move home. I think a lot of us can relate to not choosing to face a painful memory, and something that’s a painful past, and wanting to pretend like it never happened.
I think there’s a lot of things that we can connect to from all perspectives. I lost my grandmother to Alzheimer’s, so that was a very big part of the film for me. It was very touching and sad at the same time, but it’s something that we all go through. It’s a part of life.
WGTC: Given that Flying Lessons is your first film as a director and producer, what was the overall filming process like for you?
DM: It was incredible and thrilling. I was blessed in the sense that it felt natural to me. I come from a family where my father is a filmmaker and professor of film. But it was my first film (directing), and it was a huge learning experience. What I learned from that process, I don’t know where to even begin.
Going into my second film as a director, it’s night and day of what it was like going into my first film. It doesn’t matter what you know in your head, and what you’ve been taught, until you’re there and doing it, it’s a whole new ballgame.
It taught me, at least, about life, directing and who I am as a person. Also, how big and grand it is to be a director. Everything matters, every little element. It was just a huge learning experience, and amazing at the same time. I’m very grateful.
WGTC: You’re primarily known for your television acting. What influenced you to try directing and producing a movie?
DM: Well, I think Flying Lessons was a fluke, in the sense that I was very connected to the script, and I wanted to help. My best friend wrote it, and I was playing the role of Billy, and I wanted to help get it made. I just became so connected to the piece, that I didn’t feel that anyone else could direct it.
Once I was directing, and something clicked, and I wasn’t sure if it was going to click or not, that this was meant to be. It was an incredible feeling. So that’s kind of how Flying Lessons happened, in terms of directing.
I spent the past seven months working on two big film projects that I’m very excited about, that are coming out in the next five months, in the new year. Acting is where my heart and soul belong to. But directing, in a lot of ways, I see it, it’s an extension of that. It’s what draws me most to the evolution of the characters, and how I’m drawn to piece, in terms of directing.
That concludes our interview but we’d like to thank Derek Magyar for talking to us. Be sure to check back for the official release date for Flying Lessons.