For his second film, following 2006’s Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, the talented young filmmaker Trent Cooper has given audiences Father of Invention, now on Blu-ray from Anchor Bay Entertainment. As “fabricator” (don’t call him an inventor!) Robert Axle, two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey leads an eclectic, distinguished and at times surprising cast in this alternately funny and touching tale about the true measure of success.
TheaterByte was invited to chat with Trent to discuss his amazing discoveries, clashing titans, and the allure of amateur sports.
You’re one of the writers as well as the director of Father of Invention: What inspired this particular story?
I’ve always been drawn to movies about really charismatic, brilliant characters who had it all, lost it all, and are now fighting to get it all back. Whether it’s Ebenezer Scrooge or Jerry Maguire, these guys have a certain passion that enabled them to succeed beyond their wildest dreams, but that same quality caused them to lose sight of what is important: love and family. I think we all love to see these stories on film because it’s so satisfying when they finally get their priorities straight and find true happiness.
What drew you to the themes of inventors, and infomercials?
To me, the infomercial world is a new and exciting way to tell a timeless story. But yes, the gadgets were a lot of fun to come up with.
Are the inventions in the movie all your ideas?
We had all hands on deck thinking about it. Sometimes people would give me an idea and I’d run with it. Or vice versa. It was a fun world to play in, and everyone was trying to come up with these “Robert Axle Fabrications.” We wanted them to be a little kitschy but also very realistic, the kind of thing you’d expect to see on a late night infomercial. My favorite was the Robert Axle Pepper Cam. It’s part pepper spray, part digital camera. And the slogan is, “Now you can defend yourself and photograph your assailant at the same time!” I actually would buy one of those for my wife if I could.
So where can I get me a couple of those “Watch Dawgs,” those multimedia locator watches for kids?
I’d know… they don’t really exist. Just prototypes! But you can get one of those “Air Cutters” from our friends at Global TV Concepts. They helped us with some of the Robert Axle gadgets.
How did Kevin Spacey become involved?
I think he was really drawn to the redemption aspect of the story. He related to it in the same way I did. This once-brilliant, now-broken man is fighting to get his life back, wrestling with the balance between career and family. I think Kevin was also excited about the tone of the comedy. He is a very funny guy in real life, one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met. We all think of him as one of the great dramatic actors of our time but most people don’t know his roots are in stand-up comedy. I learned so much working with him. One of the coolest things was his appreciation for Buster Keaton. If you watch the way he approaches the physical comedy in this film, it will remind you a little of Buster. Particularly when the whole world is falling down around him, Axle stays perfectly still and just breathes. Buster used to bring down the house with that. But really, that’s just one tiny element of what he brought to the table. Kevin really gives a well-rounded, brilliant performance here: so emotionally connected to the character, so broken, so desperate to get back on track. And so true. I think that’s why the comedic moments seem to sneak up on us.
How did the rest of the cast come together?
Once Kevin came on board it opened a lot of doors for us. The movie itself is all about finding creative ways to connect disparate parts, things you wouldn’t normally think of as going together. But when you finally do put them together it’s magic. Like peanut butter and jelly. So we were looking to do that with the cast. Craig Robinson and Virginia Madsen are a pair you’d never expect but it really works. We also felt Camilla Belle grounded the story emotionally, which enabled Heather Graham and Anna Anisimova to push their characters, which is exciting to watch. Then we got some great cameos from people like John Stamos, Michael Rosenbaum and Red West, all actors I’ve loved over the years. They dug the script and wanted to be involved. It was very cool and rewarding for me to see it all come together.
Johnny Knoxville’s performance was unexpected, playing against type as an uptight working man with surprising depths. Did you ever consider a more obvious choice for the role?
We did. But Knoxville was a fresh idea. We loved him for this part. And I think he really killed it. Great actor. Again, known for other stuff. So it’s cool to see him break out and show his acting chops. That said, I am a huge fan of Jackass and hope they do about ten more of those movies!
Are you a comic book fan at all? That Michael Rosenbaum vs. Kevin Spacey scene is a “Battle of the Lex Luthors!”
That is funny. We joked about the Lex vs. Lex dynamic a few times the day we shot that scene. I was a comic book guy when I was a kid. Loved anything. Justice League. Spacey and Rosenbaum are hilarious in that scene. It’s some of my favorite stuff in the movie. And was good to get to know Michael Rosenbaum who I think is crazy-talented and about to really pop. We are now collaborating on a new Indie comedy called Holy Takedown! Kind of a Napoleon Dynamite-type movie set in the world of Catholic high school wrestling. Great script. Really excited about it.
Sounds funny. Anything else in the pipeline?
I am currently writing an inspirational sports drama for Universal based on the life of Chelsea Baker, a twelve-year-old girl who overcame extraordinary obstacles on the way to becoming one of the best pitchers in the history of Little League baseball. It’s a great story, really inspiring, in the vein of the The Blind Side. I’m excited about it. I coach my son’s Little League team so it’s right up my alley.
Our sincere thanks to Trent Cooper, along with Ed Peters and the team Sue Procko PR.