Vertical Entertainment’s comedy-drama Small Engine Repair, which is based on the play of the same name, is now in theaters. The film stars Jon Bernthal, John Pollono, and Shea Whigham.
“Frankie (John Pollono), Swaino (Jon Bernthal), and Packie (Shea Whigham) are lifelong friends who share a love of the Red Sox, rowdy bars, and Frankie’s teenaged daughter Crystal (Ciara Bravo). But when Frankie invites his pals to a whiskey-fueled evening and asks them to do a favor on behalf of the brash young woman they all adore, events spin wildly out of control. Based on Pollono’s award-winning play, Small Engine Repair is a pitch-black comedic drama with a wicked twist and a powerful exploration of brotherhood, class struggle, and modern masculinity.”
ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Small Engine Repair stars Jon Bernthal, John Pollono, and Shea Whigham about the film adaptation of the hit play.
Tyler Treese: First off, Jon Bernthal, I’d love to ask you about the timing of this film and reprising this character after so many years away from it. Since then you’ve been a father for so many years, has that really helped inform this role, and how was it like returning to this character?
Jon Bernthal: Wow, man. Look being a father, I think it kinda informs everything. What’s interesting about that is when I met John, it was right after I got married and I think my wife was pregnant with our first son when we were doing the play. John came into my life and I knew immediately he was something so enormously special. I read that play, read his work, and I just knew he was one of the best American playwrights of all time. There was just no question. There’s no question for me. It’s not surprising at all that now he’s become one of the most in-demand and sought-after writers in Hollywood.
What we achieved with that play was something so special. There are no words for it. With those nights where in LA it was impossible to get into, it was this humble little show, 40-seat theater. It was so electric, it was so dangerous yet all kinds of people were there. You had cops, you had fighters, you had theatergoers, you had all these people coming together to really just get to go on this unbelievable rollercoaster ride of a show. It was always kind of our dream to make a movie out of it. John did it and he did it in a really beautiful way. He opened it up, I think, in the perfect way and captured what was so electric and dangerous about the play and so human about the play. He only, I think, accentuates it with the film and with the addition of Shea and how that just changes everything. I think we just feel enormously blessed for all the growth that we’ve had in our life since then our families and growing in that way, and for this film.
John Pollono, adapting this from a play to film, were there any challenges for certain scenes? Did you feel like maybe some stuff worked better for the film than the play itself? Talk me through that.
John Pollono: Yeah. the movie expands the world a lot. It opens it up. There were no female characters in the play and they sort of steal every scene they’re in the movie and having that present. The movie is more grounded, deeper, more dangerous in some ways, more provocative. I mean, in theater, especially late-night play theatergoers go to be provoked. They want to have a conversation. They want to be shocked. They want to have be stirred up. They want to feel something. In movies, it’s a little more of an entertainment medium, so you’re kind of skirting that line and how far, what the expectation is. It’s harder to shock a movie audience and all of that stuff had to be taken into consideration. Overall. I think the story became more grounded, and darker, and deeper for sure in the translation.
Then Shea, I was really curious about what drew you to this film and what about the role of Packie really made you want to dive into that character?
Shea Whigham: Well, to work with these two guys was the first thing. I think the challenge of taking on because it had been a play that had been done so many times, and I wanted to see if I could. You’re always looking for something. I was looking for something like that at that point. Jon Bernthal approached, Jon and I had done Wolf of Wall Street. We didn’t cross paths, but we knew each other and I knew Pollono’s work. So I jumped at the chance. I mean, it was difficult but so rewarding in the end that it worked so beautiful.
Then for Jon Bernthal, I love that use your own dogs for both the original play and then the film. It just shows how personal this is for you. Can you speak to finally being at the ending line of this project and for it to finally be coming out?
Bernthal: Oh, man, look, there’s so much heart with this thing. If you know John, if you know Shea, you know we’re [passionate] guys. All of our families were involved in this. Families were on set. The kids in the thing were family. People have played the parts in plays and different productions, all had roles in the film. Yeah, my man Boss, my best dog I ever had, he was at every rehearsal of this play. He was backstage every night. We had a performance, he was the old dog on the piece. My puppy at the time Bam Bam played him in flashbacks. There was so much heart here, and I do believe when you lead with your heart, you can’t really fail. John, if anything, he’s all heart.