Updated: Jul 21, 2021
Our Editor-In-Chief, Micaela Merryman, and our Curation Lead, Darby Wilson, had the privilege of speaking to actor Artoun Nazareth. Artoun plays an armed robber in Night Shift, a short film dir. by Finn Wolfhard, which received the silver Audience Award for Best Canadian film at the Fantasia International Film Festival. We asked him a few questions about the experience.
Tell me about the first moment you heard about Night Shift. What were you doing and how did you feel?
I had worked with Finn and Billy on Ghostbusters, we developed a friendship and we were talking about different projects and ideas. The two of them were definitely working together, writing stuff, and they vibed; the three of us were telling stories about ideas we were having. When I heard about Night Shifts, they had texted me saying they're working on a short-film or something, and they wanted to know if I’d be interested. I said of course, and then eventually they sent me a script. There’s the story of when Billy says in the film: “Oh, I’m an actor working in an escape room and I’m a blind butler”, which is something that I had actually done before moving out to LA. A lot of the stories like that had been from us just chatting and telling stories, so Night Shifts didn’t come as a total shock. It wasn’t like I thought we’d make it when they had the idea, people send scripts to each other all the time, and then maybe they fall to the wayside as so many projects do. It was cool to actually see it come together.
How was it filming Night Shifts during the pandemic? In twelve hours? What was the energy on set like that night?
We actually filmed before the pandemic, not by much, we filmed in early February. I remember flying from LA to Vancouver and being like “Oh boy, Coronavirus is out there,” you know, just one of those things in the back of your mind in early 2020 when we were all naive and dumb. I’ve worked on sets more recently where there were so many protocols in place to make sure everyone stays safe. We didn’t have any of that because it was way before it started to become a problem. Filming in 12 hours moved by pretty fast, but I'd say everything was straightforward. We made sure things were moving along, but with a four to five page script, I never felt rushed. There was plenty of time to make sure we got what we needed.
We heard about the attempted robbery that occurred during filming - tell us more about that crazy moment. What went through your head?
It was so strange. You know, I'm supposed to come in and I'm robbing the store, so to get in that place mentally, I'm doing like jumping jacks and I want my actual body to feel warm and hot like as if I'm about to rob a place. I come in, I'm wearing the mask, I have the prop gun in my hands and then the door opens. Obviously, I'm not thinking, yeah, let me stop this guy and point my gun at him, and it looks like he’s pointing something at me, so I move towards him and I’m thinking to myself, Does he have a gun? No, I don’t think so. What’s happening? The entire time he was in the store was about five seconds, but it felt so much longer for how much was going on. Finn and the rest of the crew couldn’t be around the area I was being shot in for the scene, so they didn’t see him come in, just me, Billy, and the DP. I didn’t really know what was going on regardless because it’s not like he came in and said “I’m robbing the place”, and then he just left! Of course, it's nothing to joke about, there are shootings going on regularly in this country and it's scary, but it was such a weird, shocking little moment. Everyone did a great job of checking in afterwards, Finn gave me a hug, but everyone was just a little shell shocked. We eventually recuperated and got back into the shoot.
What kind of unique perspective does Finn bring on set as a director? What specific insights did he bring to filming that made the film what it is?
I’d say Finn is definitely an actor’s director. He was technically good, the beginning especially is so clean, nice and crispy. For me personally my favorite moment is a little bit later on when Billy and I are chatting on the floor, there's that moment where he sort of ruffles my feathers, I pull out the gun and I start making fun of him, but I was having a hard time figuring out whether I should be really angry and it wasn't working. We were filming it over and over again, and Finn came over to me and said, “What you're doing here is you're making fun of him, so really try to mess with him, or mock him.” For some reason until that moment it hadn't hit me that I’m supposed to be peeved because this is an old close friend from high school. So when that finally all clicked in, I was able to act the way Finn wanted and what I wanted.
If at all, how did participating in Night Shifts change anything about your approach to acting or directing?
I don’t think I’m a director in any sense of the word, but for actors just recognizing that it is difficult when you’re filming a scene, sometimes you need to take a step back, and take a look at what's going on. Sometimes I'm feeling the emotions I'm supposed to be feeling, but it might not line up with what the director is looking for or the mood of the scene. Having someone, whether it's a director or an acting coach to help you, or even just taking the script and pulling yourself out of it to really assess what's going on really helps create a scene, as opposed to just going with what you're feeling in that moment. That specific moment I was talking about earlier with Finn, when he told me: “You’re not angry, you’re mocking”, and that was great for me.
What have you learned as an actor from filming Night Shifts? What advice do you have for up and coming actors looking to land their first role?
It is good to work with someone else on a scene, right? I think as an actor, if you're hyper focused on a scene, you’re not gonna see everything that’s going on because you’re looking at it so critically from a single perspective. Whether it's working with a scene partner, having others read the script to you, or asking others questions about what they think is going on, help from others is such a huge thing for actors. You end up making the choice on how to act, but these people let you know that Choice B is also available if your initial choice doesn’t work out. Knowing that there are options is super helpful. For up and coming actors, acting is very fun, and don’t forget about that. It is very difficult on the business end of things, or “showbiz”. A lot of times the acting progression is from school plays to community theatre where you have big, meaty roles showing a range of emotions and different states of being, and then the next step is a two word line in a commercial. You feel a complete drop from where you wanted to be based on what you think acting is. Instead, think about how you can find joy in those two words; how can you act in those two words? Can you be happy with knowing that those two words will eventually lead you to bigger roles? It takes a while but you can go from two words in a commercial to have a fun little short-film with a ton of dialogue. You have to stick with it, and it’s gonna be brutal, but it’s also gonna be worth it.
You can keep up with everything Artoun is up to by following him on his Instagram.
Watch Night Shifts dir. by Finn Wolfhard here!