90 Feet From Home tells the story of a former Major League Baseball player Scott Conway who returns home to confront his abusive step-father James Devine. Surprisingly, WWE legend and Hall of Famer, Shawn Michaels plays the role of James Devine. Having previously played small parts in WWE Studios’ films that have played to his strengths, Michaels steps out of his comfort zone and takes on a challenging and diverse role in this small independent film.
In an exclusive interview with VultureHound, 90 Feet From Home director Brett Bentman discussed bringing in Shawn Michaels for the role of the abusive step-father, the outrage from wrestling fans after the former WWE champion shaved his head, and how the film’s story came from real-life events.
I first heard about 90 Feet From Home when Shawn Michaels was on the Edge & Christian Podcast. He said that it was an independent film and he was not sure if it would see the light of day. What was the process like getting this film from the production process to actually being released in various festivals?
The pre-production process was something we’ve always taken very seriously, that’s the step most filmmakers skimp on, and then the end result is a nightmare. Our process was very fluid and organised, and having Shawn sign on to star in the film was probably the most difficult part since our schedules were so busy. We ended up moving our shoot up for him, and it was a blessing in disguise. Now that the film is wrapped and premiered we’ve got a slate of festivals coming up, and a distribution plan so the masses get to see the finished film.
The trailer is very engaging and almost shocking because when you hear about a pro wrestler starring in a small budget independent film, you do not expect an emotional story such as this one. When did you hear about this film and when did you know you wanted Shawn Michaels in this film?
The trailer was created by our amazing editor, Michael Ray Lewis and me. The story itself is taken from a real person’s struggle to navigate an abusive step-father as a kid growing up in Texas. We chose Shawn because of what we’d read on his past and his “rebirth” so to speak. We were one-hundred-percent in on Shawn, and he believed in the script – it was a perfect match.
How familiar are you with professional wrestling? Would you class yourself as a fan?
I’m a fan. Always have been. When I was a kid, my father and I used to watch on Saturday Mornings together. It was something I grew up with in New York/ New Jersey. I had the t-shirts, the action figures, all that. Shawn was a huge thing for me as a kid. It was pretty awesome to see him on set.
Shawn Michaels is a unique professional wrestler because he created a lot of emotional rivalries during his career. So for that reason, it doesn’t surprise me seeing him take on a role like this. Did Shawn’s wrestling career give you the confidence that he could play such an emotionally challenging role?
The role was going to be a challenge from day one for Shawn. He is such a nice guy, happy, and confident in what he does for a living. This role was a stretch for him as I suppose it would be for any actor that never abused a child. When we went to Florida to meet Shawn at the WWE Performance Center he expressed some caution about the role, but we never really had a doubt he could get there, and he did.
You have an interesting dynamic in this film as you have Shawn Michaels who is a very new actor when it comes to film, and you also have someone like Eric Roberts who has been acting for many years. How different was your approach to working with these two?
Eric is so fun! In the scene they share, Shawn is a total jerk, and Eric is this tonal calm teacher figure trying to get through to, basically, a volcano. Shawn played right into it. He never backed down from the fury he had for anyone questioning him. Eric was very engaged there; I think they played extremely well. A true yin and yang!
Shawn Michaels shaved his head for 90 Feet From Home. Have you received any backlash from wrestling fans for making their beloved HBK go bald?
We did have to ask permission for that. The funny thing was, Hunter had shaved his locks off, and Shawn was down to do the same. We basically shot all the younger version of his character early in the shoot, then shaved him as part of the ageing process. After we wrapped, he went to Crown Jewel, and it was this massive Twitter storm of people wondering why he had no hair. I was thinking “it was only hair,” but in all fairness, he did win a Slammy for it back in the day.
Shawn said on Edge & Christian’s podcast, the lack of immediate responses on a film set is unusual for him as he spent years instantly hearing a reaction from fans after finishing a performance in the ring. Did you notice a need for someone to inform him how he has done?
Not at all. When we could cut a scene, we would move on to the next. There’s no real reaction on a film set unless it’s a bad reaction. So not having one means the take was great. It’s a transition for a wrestler – there’s no pop. It’s business and on to the next take.
‘Inspired by true events’ is what it says in the trailer. Was there one story that motivated this narrative, or was it a collection of events because children suffering from abuse is, unfortunately, something that happens.
The inspiration for this story came from a colleague of mine and his story of abuse, regret, and anger. Those are all emotions we have to wrestle with – if you don’t, you’re lying to yourself. I think everyone can relate to the narrative. How far is someone willing to go to find his or her own justice? How angry can you be at someone to cause them to alter your life, to compromise you? Those are things we see on the news every day in real life – this is the canvas of that.
What has the reception for 90 Feet From Home been like thus far? Has it exceeded your expectations?
We had our world premiere in Hollywood last month at Dances With Films at the Chinese Theatres, and the response has been huge. People will be shocked at how well Shawn performs in the role – it’s very real. Dean Cain also knocks his scenes out of the park as well. Is it a film for everyone? No. Will you show it to your kids? No. Will you watch it and spark a conversation? Yes.
Do you have a goal for 90 Feet From Home such as an eventual release on digital platforms or a small theatrical release?
We will be released on most on-demand outlets this fall. We also have screenings in New Mexico, New Jersey, and San Antonio coming up this summer.
What do you hope people take away from 90 Feet From Home and Shawn Michaels performance in the film?
This isn’t a pretty film, and I don’t mean that it does not look fantastic – I mean, there’s no bow at the end to wrap it up with and make you feel good. There’s real sadness here. Shawn’s performance is perfect. He gives us the range of outrage to sympathy, which is what we needed to succeed. The performance should open some doors for Shawn in the acting community.
To stay up to date with 90 Feet From Home and to find out how you can watch the film, follow their page on Twitter.