Exclusive Interview with Griffin Dunne for ‘The Discoverers’

– by Gig Patta

Griffin Dunne is back in a leading role again.

The actor was well known back in the 1980s with cult movie favorites like “An American Werewold in London,” “After Hours” and “Who’s That Girl” with Madonna.

Dunne returns to a leading role in the indie comedy “The Discoverers,” which also stars Madeleine Martin, Dreama Walker and Cara Buono.

The Justin Schwarz directed film is about a dysfunctional family who had to re-discover about themselves during a Lewis and Clark reenactment expedition.

In an exclusive phone interview with Latino-Review, Dunne talked about the film, his career for the past 30 years, re-enactments and the history tidbits of Lewis and Clark.

“The Discoverers” is currently available on VOD. It also playing in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles.

Latino-Review: What’s it like to be back in a leading role again?

Griffin Dunne: Well, it’s better being an extra—not that I ever was. It is really, really good. I’ve been fortunate to be able to direct, act and produce. I like to go back and forth between things. The acting I’ve been doing in the past has been really interesting projects. You come in for two weeks with the production with other actors already going. So you do your two weeks and be done while they all carry on. You really never feel like a part of something.

So if you’re there from beginning to end, it’s an entirely satisfying thing. It’s been a while.

It’s kind of nicer now since it’s been happening now in my fifties. In your twenties, it’s something that you’ve strived for. Then after a while, you would take it for granted in a weird strange way. So you have a new gratitude about as it comes around again.

Latino-Review: So what attracted you to this project, “The Discoverers?”

Griffin Dunne: It’s the tone. I like things that are funny, poignant and touching. The humor didn’t come out of smart-ass commentating. Things that are usually funny are tied to painful problems or situations that are semi-tragic. In the right movie, people who go through a divorce or lose their car keys can have a reaction that can be really funny. It’s very, very human. That’s the kind of humor I like. And this movie has that.

I play a guy that has a mid-life crisis. But, it’s in a fun entertaining way.

Latino-Review: You have such a great camaraderie with Madeleine Martin on screen. Why did it work so well?

Griffin Dunne: I have a daughter who is a year or two older than Madeleine. I’m very close with her. Being a divorced dad for most of my daughter’s life, your kid grows up knowing that your dad had loved and lost. It’s something of having human disappointment since I’ve been through something. So this came very natural to me. And with Madeleine, we had a really great time.

My daughter, by the way, is in the movie. She is also an actress who plays at the very beginning of the movie during my lecture.

Latino-Review: Wow, that’s awesome. Your daughter is Hannah Dunne?

Griffin Dunne: Correct. She’s actually starting to work quite a bit herself now. Hannah is going to start to shoot in a new series with Gael Garcia Bernal for Amazon called “Mozart in the Jungle.” I’m very proud with her.

Latino-Review: Would you love to act with her in a major feature some day?

Griffin Dunne: Oh, yeah. I would love to. And I could see that happening. I directed movies like “Practical Magic” and “Fierce People,” in which she had really tiny parts in it. She’s been on the set and seen me direct quite a bit. So I would love that.

Latino-Review: Personally, I’ve heard of live-action role-playing and Renaissance Fairs. I’ve never heard of a Lewis & Clark expedition. Is this for real?

Griffin Dunne: Yeah, there are re-enactors believe it or not. It’s like those Civil War reenactments. Or even those Revolutionary War reenactments. Justin Schwarz, the director and writer of the movie, did hear about people who actually [reenact the Lewis & Clark expedition]. They will follow the trek the explorers did as closely as they can on this modern planet. They try to wear the materials and clothing of that time period. They would even hunt with the muskets at the time. These are people who were obsessed to say the least.

Latino-Review: Wow. I didn’t know that. Did you learn anything new about the Lewis & Clark Expedition?

Griffin Dunne: I love history. Lewis & Clark wasn’t something I’ve focused on as a kid in school. All they did back then was to tell you about these two guys and show you a map. In the third grade, it doesn’t really mean that much to you.

When I signed on to this movie, I found out Lewis Meriwether was a manic depressive who ended up killing himself. And [William] Clark brought along his slave, who he promised to free if he went on this expedition. However, he changed his mind and wouldn’t set him free. So there were all these little details that were revealed in this movie about this expedition.

Latino-Review: So what’s it like to play dress up in that period clothing?

Griffin Dunne: It was challenging. You had a real relationship with your bladder, because once you’re in the outfit—it takes like five minutes to get out of it. I don’t know how they did it back in those days. We’ve come a long way in fabric and comfort. The shoes aren’t comfortable. Everything about it was very sensible. So wearing these pants for days were simply very itchy.

Latino-Review: So what was the most difficult thing while working on this project for you?

Griffin Dunne: It’s walking the fine line between being sad and not being a sad cat. It’s to make sure that I’m the guy who has suffered from some pain, but make sure it’s still funny. And make sure that I never fall into self-pity. Once my character goes into self-pity, then the movie may be over.

We’re looking at this guy with divorce, estranged with the kids, career going nowhere and not getting along with his father. It’s very important not to succumb to real depression. You have to find a way to make the depression amusing, entertaining and touching.

Latino-Review: You had such a long history in the film business—what has changed over the years?

Griffin Dunne: Oh, God. So much. When I first started back in 1979, I started to work regularly in movies. There was an independent spirit for the movies born from the seventies such as [Martin] Scorsese, [Francis Ford] Coppola and all those other directors at the time. People were trying to keep that going. And it was within the studio system. Everything was relied upon the studio system. There were pluses and minuses to that. There were tremendous amount of editorial freedom.

Now the studio system barely exists for independent movies. They’re mostly for distribution. They would buy the movie after it’s already been completed. The relationship with the studio executives will start after the movie is finished. Or at least with the kind of movies I’ve been involved with.

Latino-Review: Do you enjoy directing, producing or acting more?

Griffin Dunne: I enjoy working on stories that I just love. Acting is the most challenging thing between those three. It takes the longest and demands the most out of you. Doing a movie like this is also very demanding in a far different way.

Latino-Review: I understand this film was on a very small budget with a small crew. How did that go? Was it like a mini-vacation?

Griffin Dunne: We had a wonderful cast and crew. We all sort of roughed it. There are no trailers. I know what every single cast member looks like in their underwear. I think it added a good element towards the ensemble aspect. It’s all of us being on the road together. We really were walking a lot and trekking around. The crew would be carrying all the equipment as we’ll be going up and down mountains. We were a mobile unit with both the actors and crew. Overall, it was really fun.

Latino-Review: Griffin, could you tell me about some of your upcoming projects?

Griffin Dunne: I’m going to be in a series called the “Red Band Society” as an actor in that. I play a hypochondriac in a hospital. Steven Spielberg produced it with Octavia Spencer starring in it. It’s a drama set around very sick kids in a hospital. It’s an emotional show, but with some fun and humor. Other than that, I’m developing a couple of other things for television. Keeping busy.

Latino-Review: Awesome. You do sound pretty busy. Thanks for this time speaking with you.

Griffin Dunne: Thank you very much. Talk to you later. Bye.

“The Discoverers” is currently available on VOD. It also playing in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles.