Wednesday, February 12, 2014

INTERVIEW: Actor / Director Scott Coffey looks back at the 1989 film SHAG

 Actor and Director Scott Coffey talks with TV STORE ONLINE about SHAG (1989).

TV STORE ONLINE: How did SHAG come to you?

COFFEY:  I had just read the script, but I can't remember how I got my hands on that script exactly, I think that my agent or manager might have gotten it first and given it to me.  When I got the script I was in the middle of rehearsals for a film I had been cast in already called SATISFACTION (1988).  When I got the script for SHAG I read it right away, and I just loved it.  It was so smart and it really articulated an exact moment in time.  I did everything I could do to get an audition, but they told me that the role had been cast. I decided to press the producers for a meeting and I went in to see them.  I went in with the intention of convincing them that I was the only person that could do that role. The actor who had been cast in the role... Something happened and his deal got screwed up or something like that and that opened the role for me.   Which was great for me...laughing  I was so happy to get that role.  When I first read that script I knew that I was the only person that could play that role, and I don't feel that way very often.  But I really felt that way about getting that role in SHAG.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Who was that "Chip" character to you?  How did you find him after you had read that script for the first time?

COFFEY:  I usually get their voice in my head.  Usually it comes to me through someone I know or from something I've seen in a magazine.  In this case, I had an idea more so of the time and place of the story than of the character.  I really wanted Chip to be a metaphor for what was happening in America in that moment.   The script takes place in the late summer of 1963.  That was the summer right before John F. Kennedy was assassinated.   That was the death of innocence in America.  I mean that in the way that there is this very stereotypical cliche idea of innocence in post war America today.  So I was thinking about that, and with Chip, I really wanted to embody that idea.  

As I was doing research on the era...I found a Life Magazine and on the cover were some kids in a car. One kid was hanging out of the back of a convertible and he had this sort of shaved head.  When I saw that I said, "That's it.  That is who this kid is..." I sort of became obsessed by this and the producers of SHAG had specifically asked me to not cut my hair but I went and shaved it anyhow,  just like the kid had his cut on the cover of that magazine.   I just knew that it was the perfect look for Chip.

TV STORE ONLINE:   How long did it take you to learn how to do the Shag dance?

COFFEY:  The dance took forever.  It was so hard for me.   It so unbelievable difficult for me.  I was so nervous to shoot that big scene at the end at the dance competition.   I had a very hard time with those moves.  They are very specific, small and tight.   Your feet move always in the same pattern no matter what's happening up top, so it is literally like trying to pat your stomach and rub your head at the same time.  

Annabeth (Gish) picked it up the first day and took off with it.   I was hopeless at it.  She was so patient with me.  She was so great to work with.  I was really having a tough time with it.   There was a discussion even about having someone double for me to do the dancing.  They didn't tell me about it at the time, but when I found out about it, I was all about it. I said, "Great.  Get someone. There are a ton of kids here that can do the dance."    In the end they decided that they really wanted me to do it.   I'm really glad that I managed to get it down, but in the end it was really tough for me to do that. 

We didn't shoot the dance competition scene until the end of the movie.  So while we were filming in Myrtle Beach, I would be shooting all of the other scenes and then at night go and rehearse the steps for the dance with Kenny Ortega and Annabeth for a couple hours. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  Well, it really pays off...That chemistry that you have with Annabeth Gish in the film is pretty magical...

   Yeah, that chemistry was really interesting.  I loved Annabeth the second I met her. She was really wonderful.  She was a little bit younger than the rest of us.  She was a bit more innocent too.  All of us were sort of savvy Los Angeles and New York City kids and we more aware of the world than she was I think.   She was like five or six years younger than the rest of us in the film.  Even though she was younger that I was...When we were rehearsing or when the camera was rolling, something magical would happen.  We had this whole other life there than what was happening off screen.   There was something magical that happened there.   I was very comfortable with her physically and I think she would say the same thing about me.   It was really great working with her.

TV STORE ONLINE: What was your experience with Director Zelda Barron?

  Zelda was really great.  She really encouraged us to take big risks and really go for stuff.   We had a couple weeks of rehearsals prior to shooting the film and we took that time and broke down the script and all of the beats in it.   We were all really young actors and with the exception of Phoebe [Cates] it was all our first really big film.    She was very maternal with us.  She made us all feel really safe.   She was funny.   She allowed us to create that chemistry and she helped us along the way, but at the same time kept us on track with the script.  She was wonderful to work with. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  Looking back...What was the best part of the experience for you on SHAG?

COFFEY:   Just the fact that I developed friendships with everyone that worked on the film.   We all spent so much time together while we were working.  All of those girls were all so incredibly smart and it was so much fun hanging out with them and going out to movies at night.  I'm good friends still with one of the producers on the film now.    You can feel how close we became, and you can feel that collected energy in the film all of these years later when you watch it now.  It was hot while we were there shooting, and I don't do well in the heat myself, but I don't remember it as being hot.    Thinking back, that climate just became another character in the film for me.  My memory of that summer is just really great.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What do you think it is about SHAG that has allowed it to become a film that its fans want to revisit over and over again?

COFFEY:  I think the film is shot really well.  It is a great ensemble piece.  I love how it focuses on the girls.  They are all very different characters apart from each other.   The narrative is divided evenly between the four girl characters.  When you watch it today you don't notice the film's structure either.  It really keeps you in the moment that it exists.  That's what is so cinematic about it.   That makes it classic in a way.   There's something very honest and truthful about the moments in the film that resonate out of the time period that the film takes place in.  

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung