This has been a very good year for Blake Robbins. Not only did he star in the indie “The Sublime and Beautiful,” but he also wrote and directed it. The veteran actor is best known for recurring roles on NBC’s “The Office,” HBO’s “Oz” and ABC’s “FlashForward” and from more than 35 primetime and cable shows including “Masters of Sex,” “Third Watch” and “Sons of Anarchy.” The guy’s played everything from a prison guard to a murdering pedophile, and I find him intense and captivating.
Robbins and “Sublime” did well during 2014’s film-festival circuit scoring Best Actor at Milan International, four wins at Newport Beach (Best Film, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Cinematography), Best Heartland Feature at Kansas City and Best Feature nominee at Slamdance. Not bad for a guy who never wrote or directed a movie before.
Robbins chose the route of a Kickstarter campaign for “Sublime” and raised enough money to make the film he wanted to, free from having to answer to big movie studio talking heads.
The story centers on college professor David Conrad (Robbins). He’s married to Kelly (Laura Kirk) and they have three young kids. We see right away that he is a loving dad and average guy. Then a drunken driver smashes his life to rubble. The children he adored are dead.
Grief swallows him and his marriage, and the movie has an odd title because there is nothing sublime or beautiful. It’s all sadness. Never communicative to begin with, David goes deeper inside, drinking and dreaming of revenge, and Kirk does a frightening portrayal of Kelly, a woman violently unraveling and prone to sudden fits of rage in public.
This is an unrelentingly sad tale with zero breaks for levity, but the up side of seeing the film is walking out of the theater back to your own life, which seems perfect by comparison.
TheBlot Magazine caught up with Blake Robbins to talk about the movie.
How much of David Conrad is really you?
Blake Robbins: Oh, you’re onto me. Probably 98 percent. [Laughs]
Are you as non-communicative as he is?
That’s probably the 2 percent. I’m a lot more expressive. That was just me recognizing the reality of that person who doesn’t exist, that fictional character. I wanted to represent the more typical male — more like someone I might know outside of this creative business of entertainment that I’m in.
David Conrad drank heavily. Have you during periods of grief?
No. Luckily, when I was younger, I over-indulged from my late teens to early twenties. I kind of flipped a switch on that. My family has dealt with abuse and alcoholism. My brother and my father have both dealt with alcoholism. They’ve both had varying relationships with sobriety. My biological father, he is actually clean now. I haven’t been in touch with my brother for a while, so I don’t know exactly where he is in terms of sobriety. In fact, we’ve been playing phone tag recently. Hopefully I’ll get ahold of him soon. My aunt was hit by a drunk driver, so some of the story circumstances were very real for my family.
Did she survive?
Yeah. I guess she would fall into the medical miracle category.
You lost a friend to cancer, right?
Yes, Greg, my best friend from college had a brain tumor.
Would you say that this film served as a catharsis for your own grief?
Absolutely. Making the movie has helped me. It’s lightened me to a degree. I also tell you something that has tangentially helped. So many people have experienced similar circumstances, and they felt so connected to me and to the movie that it’s been healing in that way to connect with people who, like yourself, just want to be seen and heard and understood and to feel such a strong reaction to the film and how it deals with grief.
Yes, the grief of losing my best friend of 17 years to cancer made me identify with the movie very deeply. I was blown away by your acting.
Is your father still alive?
It’s a little confusing. My biological father is still with us, but my stepfather, who entered my life at the age of 5, he passed away in April before we shot the movie. He was obviously the person who actually parented me. I could hear his voice every day in my head as we worked on the movie. I felt like he was talking to me all the time. I felt very connected to him through the entire process. My mother said this would’ve been a remarkable thing for him to experience with me. My stepfather was one of those people who was a lifesaver.
It’s so painful for the survivors when someone dies quickly, but it’s the best thing that could happen for them.
You’re absolutely right. I’ve thought of that many times, too, and taken some comfort in that. He never aged. He never had to live with losing physical or emotional ability. But it was hard on us — like something has been ripped from us.
Why did you want David Conrad to have an affair?
I like complicated movies with complicated questions. I wanted to deal with more than, oh, here’s a hero family that’s about to have something horrible happen to them. I liked the idea of making it more like real life. I’m more interested in movies that make people ask a lot of questions and stays with them. In order for that to happen, we have to be willing to really dig into who we are as human beings and the things we grapple with. For Dave, he complicates his journey, which makes it much more interesting to me. He’s a guy who is struggling with his own decline, entering his own version of a midlife crisis. He’s not sure what he wants from his life. I think it’s very common for people when they reach a certain age, they wonder is this all there is?
In the last scene in “Lost in Translation,” in the goodbye shot, it’s a scene where [Bill Murray] is driving to the airport and unexpectedly looks up out of his cab and sees Scarlett Johansson’s character. She’s on the street, down the block, and it was an effect they did of him looking at her and her looking at him and them having that moment of “I’ll never see this person again in my life.” That’s after having this strong connection of finding each other. For me, that was kind of like that moment with Dave and Katie [Anastasia Baranova] and their lives are never going to intersect again. She’s going to go off and live her life, and they’ve had this really powerful thing. Part of what’s interesting to me as the storyteller is that even though we don’t see Katie’s journey, what would it be like to be in a relationship at that age and have that happen to the other person while you were with them that night?
I felt like Katie would be fine, but did you think about where he would go from there?
Yeah, I think about it. I think about the last moment in the film. I don’t have a strong answer, but I know it’s not going to be where he’s been. Something has happened to him internally, and it’s going to have an outer manifestation but we don’t know what that is. That’s why I ended the film there. We also don’t know exactly what did or didn’t happen in the drunk driver’s house. So, we don’t know what the fallout of his actions are going to be. Half the people who see it think it went one way, and the other half thinks it went the other way.
What do you think?
Oh, I’m not going to say. I want it to be up to the audience to decide.
“The Sublime and Beautiful” just became available on VOD and iTunes. Drama. Not rated. 93 min.
Watch the trailer: