‘Clover’ purposefully pays homage to throwback cult classics

Jonny Abrahams
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Comedies and dramas—from a distance, the two genres seem to serve abundantly different purposes, but together the outcome can be vastly more entertaining. As a fan of the timeless cult-film dramedies growing up, director/actor Jonny Abrahams realized the marriage of the two categories worked, which is why he teamed up with screenwriter Mike Testone to create their latest film, ‘Clover.’

‘Clover’ follows the story of Mickey (Abrahams) and Jackie (Mark Webber), two brothers who unknowingly center themselves right in the middle of a whole lot of mob-fueled chaos. Add in a spunky teenager who knows her way around a gun, a team of mysterious assassins, a pissed off ex-girlfriend and a whole slew of other colorful characters and you get one story that keeps you on your toes while also making you laugh.

Abrahams sat down with Metro to discuss more on what went into making ‘Clover’ as both the star and director and also dive into why he thinks dramedies offer audiences a more relatable viewing experience overall.

Where did the idea for ‘Clover’ come from?

I had been toying around with this idea in my head of some sort of throwback movie about two brothers who are extremely close in age, Irish twins, and it be a crime/comedy Elmore Leonard-ish sort of story. One of my favorite films is ‘Mikey and Nicky’ directed by Elaine May, and I’ve always been inspired by that movie, so I was just playing with this idea in my head for a long time. Me and Mike Testone  had done our first film together, ‘All At Once,’ and wanted to work together again. So I gave him the very beginnings of an idea, and he went off and did his thing with it. I think my original idea was a little more Shakespearean in a way, but at the same time I think ‘Clover’ is sort of a different type of Shakespearean movie—I keep calling it ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead’ as a mob picture. You have these two characters who are going through life and have no idea that their fate is being written—sort of a two-fools story.

Were you always set to direct and act in the film?

It wasn’t my intention to act in the film from the get-go. We sort of went down the line and it got to a point where if I jumped in it would be a go, and who knows the characters better than me? Also, directing and acting in something is not so hard for me—I know that at least there’s going to be one actor that will listen to me as a director.

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So getting into the acting headspace for this film was easy for you also being the director, but how did you get the other actors into the same mind frame for ‘Clover’?

Preparation is very important to me as a director and as an actor, and I was very well prepared going into this. We had been working on this for a long time beforehand, and very specifically. I think the best way to get other actors to follow your vision, or see your vision, and thus listen is to be prepared. If you’re prepared and you’re talking to them, they can feel that passion in you and it’s easy for them to get to where they need to be. If you’re just lagging you’re way through it, people are going to know that and they’re not going to buy into something. You have to really know what you’re talking about and then make it undeniable. We have a real family environment with our movies too, I like having some sort of repertory as we go on. There were some actors who were in ‘Clover’ who were also in our first film and are also just really great friends of ours as well, and I’m a real big fan of casting people that you have relationships with as much as you can because I believe you can’t fake chemistry. There are certain things that are just there and already built in.

‘Clover’ covers dark subject matter but also has it’s comedic moments—what do you think that blend of comedy and drama brings for the audience experience?

Well, I think that life is just that—frightening and funny, and sad and light. I think for the audience, it’s accessible. I’m a big fan of dramedies, I love them, probably for the reason I just spoke of—life is a dramedy. I feel like there were a lot of movies when I was growing up that were dramedies, and its’ something I don’t see as much of, but I still love. Some of the references for ‘Clover’ are films like that— ‘Midnight Run’ is a big reference, that’s a great heavy-action comedy. It’s got a lot of violence and foul language, but it’s also hysterical. We had to be careful though, it’s hard to run the line of frightening and funny. I think we succeeded at that, but it can be tricky. It also depends on what your references are for the comedy side or the drama side too, you have to be specific with what kind of comedy you’re trying to bring into the drama and what kind of drama you’re trying to bring into the comedy.

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How are you able to run the line of frightening and funny?

I do come from an improv background, and I’m a big fan of it. I always try to give that space when filming, space for people to come up with ideas when shooting a scene, or give them space to allow that to happen naturally so you have it in the editing room. I will say that in the case of ‘Clover,’ most of what you see there is scripted and is not ad-libbed, but all of the in-between kind of moments that aren’t said, a lot of those were more discovery moments in between scenes from allowing that space.

What went into preparing to play your character, Mickey?

There’s a tension film in the field and for Mickey—he’s pretty tense and uptight as a character, he’s obviously stressed out. There’s just an energy that’s there. The main thing for me was just trusting that I had that sort of adrenaline and tightness that I could sort of draw on, that’s for overall. The rest of it came from making sure I rehearsed. Mark Webber, who plays my brother Jackie, we’ve known each other a long time and I would say making sure the relationships were built was a big thing for me preparation-wise for Mickey. I knew that the chemistry would be there for me and Mark and a lot could just come from that. Also as an actor, you try and relate your life experience with what is going on with the character. I’ve never owed any money to a loan shark, but have I ever owed any money to a bank? How did that feel? I do a lot of that, and then when you get up to start shooting, it’s just there and built.

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Overall what do you hope audiences take away from the film?

I’m a big fan of culty midnight movies—and that’s what ‘Clover’ is, an homage to those and also those throwback great movies of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Those sort of action-comedies that they used to make a lot more of. I hope that people are entertained, and certainly, right now I hope that we provide an escape for people.

‘Clover’ drops on video on demand April 3. 

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