The Glasgow Film Festival throws up some great surprises and this year is no different.
Jeremy LaLonde’s James vs His Future Self is one of those little gems at the festival this year. This indie-comedy with a mix of sci-fi stars the formidable and the very much underrated, Daniel Stern.
In a varied career both acting and directing, we’ve come to know and love him for his roles such as Marv in Chris Columbus’ Home Alone. But roles in Diner, City Slickers, Rookie of the Year and many more showcase his talents.
We catch up with Daniel Stern to talk James vs His Future Self and more!
Please note there are spoilers for the new film in here.
No doubt you get a lot of screenplays sent your way, so what was it for you that made James vs His Future Self stand out?
It was a really fun project to work on.
They sent me the script and I liked it. We ended becoming really good friends over Skype and did a lot of work together on the script for a long time, almost a year, before we shot.
I finally got up to Canada to meet them, just before some rehearsals and shooting. They are just the most humble guys and really super talented.
The film is about second chances and I love that it was a chance for me as an old guy now to go back and tell myself, ‘You fucked up man! Stop screwing up!’
I was hot-head as a young man and self-righteous. So would I have listened to my own wisdom now? Would I have wanted to?
I thought that whole arena meant something to me. That’s why this script jumped out to me.
Seems that this does well to be funny but moving at the same time which is a rarity…
The movie is sort of science fiction but it’s not. Jeremy, the director, says it is a time travel movie that is only in the present.
It wasn’t trying to be more than what it is. The most successful comedies I’ve been in, both big ones and small, have an emotional pull.
You have to be emotionally invested in a film for it to be a home-run. There can be silly things in a movie that make you laugh but to be great the heart has to be there. I thought that was really well done in this movie.
What would Daniel Stern say to his younger self?
Truthfully I am the luckiest son of a bitch you will ever meet in your life!
I dropped out of high school at 17 and moved to New York to be an actor. And y’know I did it [laughs].
Also met my wife when I was 19 and we’ve now been married for 43 years. My kids are all awesome, one is a state senator and the other a musician. No doubt I’ve screwed up a lot of things but if that winding road ends up here I don’t want to mess it up.
I would tell Daniel to stay the course, you are doing good.
In your career have you ever passed on a film that’s then became massive?
I’ve never passed on a film I then regret, but had ones where I didn’t get the part and wish I had.
Been on a few films where things have happened. Like on City Slickers, I was hired then fired then re-hired in the movie…
Again, I am the luckiest guy you will ever meet. It was a great movie to be in. I was in, then I wasn’t but not for any bad reason.
The part of ‘Phil’ was originally for Rick Moranis but his wife got ill at the time so he dropped out.
So they then hired me and he then said he could do the movie. I got asked if I would leave the film and I said okay. I left and Rick tried it for a few days but was missing being home then left again and I came back into the fold.
What parts did you narrowly miss out on?
When I was young I did a screen test for Ordinary People that Robert Redford directed. It was Timothy Hutton who got the part and won an Academy Award for it.
I loved that role!
Mr Redford hired me in another movie later and was very sweet about it all. Working with him was awesome, he is an incredibly talented guy in such a quiet and understated way.
That film he did on his own on the boat, All is Lost. He fucking held a whole movie with no dialogue.
It was such an amazing performance, so tough to do. How do you read that script and go, yeah, just watch me for an hour and a half on a boat almost die repeatedly. I loved that film.
We don’t see you in a whole lot of movies nowadays…
I get distracted. I am a sculptor – I do these life size bronze sculptures. I am so engaged in that stuff. I also have a cattle-ranch and another farm with avocados, lemons and tangerines.
When a good part comes along, I do it. I try not to do things that I don’t really like to do because I don’t have to anymore.
My life is so full that I can kind of forget about making movies for a while.
But when I am doing it I love it! I like directing stuff and writing and the acting is really fun but it’s gotta be a good part or else I just end up sitting in a trailer for way too long and go off my head.
It’s now been over 30 years since Home Alone, what has it meant to you working on those films?
In terms of the arc of my personal and professional life it’s just opened so many doors. It changed my life those movies especially the first one.
People hold it in such a soft spot in their hearts. I walk through my life with perfect strangers coming up to me saying they love me. What a weird way to go through life and it doesn’t happen to a lot of people.
How much did the likes of Buster Keaton and actors of that era influence your performance?
Those guys are my heroes, those are my guys! The physical comedy is what I grew up on with the likes of Charlie Chaplin, The Three Stooges, Laurel & Hardy as well as Abbott & Costello.
When Home Alone came out my parents said to me that is the same stuff that I’ve been doing my whole life. I would make them laugh by falling down or whatever.
And Dick Van Dyke too, what an awesome physical comedian. When I got the Home Alone script I was like holy shit I get to do all of it in such a classic kind of way. I reveled in that physical comedy.
You reprised your role as Phil in a Westworld spoof. Which of your other characters would you like to return to and explore again?
It is interesting. Yeah, any of them if the script is good! I’ve got to play a lot of different kind characters.
We just did a screening of Breaking Away and I was like a puppy then, who is that guy now!? Or the Diner boys. I’d be interested in exploring on who the diner guys are now.
Barry Levinson please write an incredible script for us!
I’ve enjoyed a lot of those characters, I’ve had a blast. Maybe if there is a sequel to James vs His Future Self I’ll revisit old Jimmy!
Is Phil still trying to work out how to use a VCR?
[Laughs] I think next for him it would be how to work his cellphone! I’ll talk to Billy, he has a million ideas and he is just so funny.
City Slickers must be one of the best sets you’ve worked on?
Out there riding horses with all those guys and the great Jack Palance was unbelievable. I bought a cattle ranch after that film.
City Slickers was sort of an inspiration to get out there in the world. Getting to know Jack Palance was just an honour of a lifetime. He was a brilliant artist himself, really encouraged my sculpting career and taught me that there is more to life than sitting on a film set.
The movie was so funny, the script was so funny. Billy is still one of my dearest friends.
Speaking of Westworld, do you keep up with it and what shows are you watching right now?
Yes! And oh man all these great shows just keep on coming at ya. We are watching The Outsider right now and it is great.
We are also into some of the baking shows out there. I like it all!
Are you the kind of person who likes to binge-watch a show?
I don’t watch them to let them get backed up. I can’t watch it without bingeing now. I don’t want to wait a week!
When I was starting out in film you couldn’t do television. If you wanted to be in the movies, you were only in the movies.
Movies are so uptight and corporate.
Television is so free rein and the storytelling is being done in a way they are big movies – 10 episode movies. I am on one just now with creator Aidy Bryant called Shrill and it is fun and we do like seven episodes a year.
It is a two hour movie or whatever, I just love that form. You can develop characters like you can’t in the movies.
I still love films and the beginning, middle and end of it. Open-endedness of a TV show is tough to keep the quality of but when you do the characters just keep unfolding and the stories can take you anywhere.
That is now long-form and movies were the long-form. So it is interesting how it seems to have flipped now.
You mentioned your passion for sculpting – how much of that creative outlet is similar to acting?
Back in my studio. Good to get my hands on some clay again. pic.twitter.com/34M1BpHHTD
— Daniel Stern (@RealDanielStern) August 14, 2016
It’s kind of the same thing for me especially because I do people in my work. The sculptures are characters.
To me I am always thinking in terms of one frame in a film and have to tell a story in that frame of what happened before and what happens after. Whether it be dancers in a pose, someone in a precarious moment or a guy in a handstand.
Like, how the fuck did he get into a handstand? What happened?
This is just a solo thing and I am kind of a hermit anyway, so it is perfect!
You are back directing in a couple of upcoming films, the first time since Rookie of the Year. Were you apprehensive at all at the prospect?
I’ve been dying to make a film for a while. I don’t want to poo-poo the acting side of things, I love all that stuff but directing a film is the best job in the world.
The thing that happened with Rookie is it was such a great movie that was a success and I got lots of offers to do more movies.
But that was right when Home Alone came out and City Slickers. Then they were doing sequels to those movies and could make a lot money and had a family to take care of. So acting sort of took over.
I’ve always been developing, working on scripts but the acting thing was too lucrative so ended up directing on television of some shows I was on.
The directing thing is really where it is at for me and I am not nervous about it at all, this is where I feel most comfortable.
Does Daniel Stern the director give Daniel Stern the actor a tough time on set?
Yeah! But the beauty of Daniel Stern the director is that he can edit the shit out of Daniel Stern the actor to make him look good.
I take it out all the bad stuff, leave in the essence of Daniel Stern [laughs].
Again, the worst part of being an actor to me is waiting. So if I am directing and acting it is so fun cos’ I am like shit, I am acting too so need to jump in for my scenes. As the director I know the script backwards and forwards so know what I want my character to do and I can just do it.
It is sort of second nature because I am already seeing the whole film or episode if I am directing for TV.
Movie sets are really second nature to me. Theatre makes me nervous though, audiences make me nervous but movie sets just feel like home.
James Vs His Future Self Available on Sky Movies from April