You may be more familiar with him as Lucky Luciano in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, but actor Vincent Piazza has steadily made a name for himself as the man who traverses genres. From thrillers like Never Here to musicals like Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys to more romantic fare like The Girl Who Invented Kissing, it’s clear that there is no role or genre that the actor is afraid to tackle. Now audiences can see Vincent embracing the art of survival in Brendan Walsh‘s upcoming survival thriller, CENTIGRADE.
Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Vincent Piazza prior to the release of CENTIGRADE. During the interview, we discussed everything from filming in frigid cold conditions, the difficulties of navigating tight quarters, and – ultimately – what audiences can take away from the film during the COVID era.
So, to start things off, can you tell me a little bit about your character and what initially drew you into taking on the role?
Vincent Piazza: Yeah. So, Matt is a guy who is taking his wife, Naomi, they are going on this ride. A late-term pregnancy trip for his wife’s book tour. You know, trying to keep some semblance of their lives while they are in this pregnancy and one of these abrupt storms comes along. They are not familiar so much with the geography and they get pinned into their car for 24 days. And the real allure for me…mind you this was conceived before the age of COVID, so we didn’t know how relevant or timely it would be in this moment but, just the idea of people struggling to survive, struggling with uncertainty, people in tight quarters. I mean, it was a very alluring thing for me as an actor to sink into this with Geni and really try to create a lived-in relationship for this specific couple at the time, dealing with these seemingly bizarre circumstances they are in, which again, feel really of the moment. So, for me, it was a no brainer.
And I loved Brendan Walsh’s vision for the story. He, Bradley Ross, Molly Connors, Amanda Bowers, they all had a really clear vision. They got two of the identical automobiles. They cut them in different ways so that they can move the camera in unique positions throughout the shoot to create a visual variety and they parked them in an ice cream freezer in Staten Island. They were able to control the temperature, so that was real. There were no gags or gimmicks. It was all real cold that we were enduring.
And, kind of a lucky thing as an actor is that we were able to shoot this in chronological order. I had just come back from a trip from Italy. I knew we were going to shoot it, so I made sure I ate extra pasta. So, I had a forced diet, and we kind of paid the price, Genesis and I, to take the journey with the characters. And, for me, that’s a real pure process and, in an age where movies are so much about computer-generated images and large pyro and kind of thrilling audiences, this felt like such an interesting, purist movie that I just was really excited to be apart of.
I had been wondering how they had tackled getting you guys in the car and then working around filming inside that car. So, knowing that they cut it in half and then, even more how they got the temperature going and how they handled all that, that’s interesting. I never would have thought Staten Island. [laughs]
Vincent Piazza: Yeah. I know! And it was funny because we were shooting it in August, so it was just an incredible paradox of likee being in an ice cream freezer, where it’s 20 degrees, and you see your own breath and getting “Cut!” yelled, stepping out and it’s 90 and humid. Where they have to escort us into this very air-conditioned room just to keep from sweating very much, so it was a really interesting experience. Then we had one day of exteriors that we shot actually in Norway. We were about four hours north of Oslo and, I don’t if you’ve watched any of the Star Wars movies, but in Empire Strikes Back, the planet Hoth…
Ah! It’s my favorite planet!
Vincent Piazza: I know! Me too! I want more movies there. So, there’s a little slice of planet Hoth where we were, when you see all that snow and when Geni is outside the car.
You mentioned filming inside the SUV. What benefits and challenges did such a narrow space present to you? Because, even though they cut it in half, you still have more space than what it looks like onscreen. I’m sure just having that limitation presented some sort of challenge, yeah?
Vincent Piazza: Oh, big time! Yeah. There was pretty much the need for a chiropractor when it’s all done because you don’t realize how small a car is until you’re in it for several weeks. Granted, when I said they cut the car, they cut parts of the car to move the camera but, the body of the car where we would sit and move to the back was pretty much just cocooned. It was just that they would punch out certain windows to be able to move the camera. They cut off the nose of one car so they could be right inside the windshield and move it through the car. So, it was very tight quarters. Everyone got to know each other incredibly well. I think everyone, considering all those crunchy moments when we were on top of each other and then throw in the cold, the actual cold, it was a really unique experience as an actor.
And you can’t hide anything on your face because the camera is right there.
Vincent Piazza: Totally. And that was one of the terrifying things when I read the script. Geni and I would talk about it and it was like, this is on us. And Brendan had a great vision. He and Seamus Tierney with the cinematography to be able to move the camera that way, to create a visual variety, but it was certainly on Genesis and I to try and create, not only a really specific lived in relationship, but also the variety of the emotional journey that these characters go on. So, repetition was, even though the repetition of time is there, we didn’t want it to feel that way for the viewer.
One thing I noted about the character Matt is that he is very much a caretaker. And, I hate to say this, but it just felt so unusual, but so lovely. What are your thoughts on that just in terms of presenting a different side of masculinity in the form of a caretaker?
Vincent Piazza: That’s really nice of you to summon in the piece. And it’s a great question that we talked about a lot. Is Matt this guy when they are not pregnant? What is the dynamic like? And did he feel a sense of responsibility for them being stuck on the side of the road? Does he feel a sense of responsibility from a primal, protective caretaker, to protect his wife and unborn child in these circumstances? So, yeah, I was hoping to lead into nurture versus nature for Matt. It felt like the right choice.
You just don’t see that that often in terms of that approach to a male character in a relationship. So, I definitely appreciated it. You and Genesis had a pre-established relationship prior to shooting, yeah?
Vincent Piazza: Yes. Yes, we did. And that is kind of how the project came to be. Genesis and I were in a relationship at the time. Molly Connors is a friend of mine I’ve worked with a number of years ago. Wonderful producer. We had met up for lunch to kind of catch up on life and she said, “You know, I got this script. Did you tell me your girlfriend is an actor?” And I said, yeah and I shared Genesis’ information and she goes, “Well, this is kind of amazing because I’m working on this little movie. I don’t know if you’d want to do it, but the director is looking for a real couple.” And we were like Woah. Interesting. So, I went home. I read the script. I shared it with Geni. She read it. We were both like this is really cool. We met with Brendan individually and then together to talk with him to make sure he was comfortable and wanted us. And it just all just came together. It was a little adventure to go.
Lastly, what do you hope people will take away from the film after seeing it? Because I know things have changed since you guys initially met regarding the film. Shot the film, etc. What do you hope people will take away from it, especially in this post-COVID era?
Vincent Piazza: Yeah. That’s a big question. I really hope given everything that we are going through, not only from a pandemic standpoint but politically, we have two characters with two very different ideologies about how to survive this situation. I just hope that the movie elicits hope in people, survival, the future, what life is all about, about what’s ahead. Not so much what’s behind us. I hope that it is something relatable. Just that we can all get through this.
I think the survival and the isolationist story will resonate with people, especially since relationships are the foundation of what will get us through. So, I appreciate you all for creating this film.
CENTIGRADE will open in select drive-in theaters and be available on Video On Demand and all Digital Platforms on August 28, 2020. To learn more about the film, check out our review.
*This interview was edited for length and clarity.