From starring in a cornucopia of hit movies and TV shows to his novel and his latest film, Kepler's Dream, Sean Patrick Flanery has become a household name. Recently released in theaters and on VOD, Kepler's Dream is directed by Amy Glazer. Critics have praised both the direction of the film and the performance of Flanery. Sean plays Walt, a father estranged from his daughter and still struggling with past pains and family issues. This reporter had the pleasure of speaking with the multi-talented artist, and he shared what compelled him to take on this role.
Carter Lee: Walt has many layers, and I enjoyed his complexity, and I like how you played that out. A lot of the deeper emotions you reveal wasn't because of melodramatic acting, but by subtle nuances, and it felt very real. What about that character compelled you to take on this role?
Sean Patrick Flanery: Well, thank you, I really appreciate that. Generally speaking, the first thing I do when looking at a part is, I read the script and I either like it or I don't. There's always a multitude of reasons you'll do a film. Usually, you need to work with great material, or you need to work with great people, or you need to be paid a lot of money. And usually, it has to be two out of the three. Unless one of those three is so extreme that it negates the need for the others.
Sean spoke with animation and humor.
"Clearly, regardless of what every artist tells you, if they ask an actor, 'Do this movie and I'll pay you $90 million.' And it's a garbage script, and there's nobody you've ever heard of in it, they're going to do the film. Trust me -- they are going to do the film. Conversely, if Martin Scorsese called me up and said, 'I want you to do my film but you're not going to be able to read the script, and I'm casting a bunch of people you've never heard of,' you'll do it -- it's Scorsese!
"So, I loved Amy. I loved the pedigree, and I loved her insight. I also loved the script. And I love stories like that, where there are a handful of emotional pews that, kind of, make an EKG signature that are punctuated in certain areas. And are set in certain areas. I really like that. I enjoy doing characters that start somewhere and go someplace else or have something to assuage.
"And Walt certainly did. He's not even thrown, he's kind of pulled into something that he wasn't comfortable with. And he found a little comfort, and then found some more discomfort, and then found a way to put all the pieces back together, at least, to operate. I love films like that, I like stories like that, and I like characters like that."
CL: You have played a multitude of characters, from bad guys to good guys, and characters that are shades of grey. I used to be a professional wrestler, and I always preferred being the bad guy. I felt there was a lot more you could do with that. What is your favorite type of character to play?
SPF: I couldn't agree with you more. My favorite roles as an actor are to play the bad guy. Normal is a bullseye. Anything outside of the bullseye is abnormal, and most bad guys are abnormal. So, the landscape is expansive for the experimentation, where you want to go and what you choose to do with the characters. Most leading men, there's a reason they call it the melon, it's one flavor in every character. Now obviously there are minute variations, but there's just much more opportunities as a bad guy. As an actor it satisfies your creative need, it satiates much more fully.
This reporter asked Sean what his favorite part has been thus far, and he named two movies that remain just as popular today as when they were initially released.
"When somebody says that I always ask, what is the criteria for me determining the favorite? Is it, where did I have the most fun on the set where we were shooting? If so, I would say Boondock Saints. Me and [Norman] Reedus have been friends since before we were even cast in Boondocks.
"So, certainly, it could have been any film. If you put me and a buddy in a foreign country with a pocket full of per diem, we'll have an absolute ball, much less a film like Boondocks. You know what I mean?"
"Creatively, it would have to be Powder. For me, a script like that is why we get in the industry."
Sean paused for a moment, reminiscing about what it was like to be a part of that blockbuster film.
"Even in the process of shooting it; when you shoot a scene sometimes you leave and go, 'I think that might work?' Or, 'Ugh, that didn't work.' Or you go, 'Man, I really think that worked.' There was a larger percentage of, 'man, I really think that worked' on that film more than any other film that I've done. I think people move out to LA for an opportunity to do roles that are far removed from who they are as a person. I had the opportunity to do that."
CL: I heard you run a martial arts academy. What art do you teach?
SPF: Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
CL: I used to do MMA, and I had to contend with a bunch of you guys. And that was never fun. How long have you taught that?
SPF: [Laughing] Almost 19 years.
Flanery spoke of how he started in martial arts, and what appealed to him specifically with Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
"I've been a martial artist since I was 9-years-old. I went through a number of different striking arts which I loved. I've always been a huge fan of the martial arts. I grew up in the '70s, and the way everybody was taught to believe was, 'Oh, that guy is a black belt.' And they would say it with no knowledge of what the art is that they have a black belt in.
"You just expected that anybody with a black belt could beat up anybody else. As a martial artist coming up, I knew that wasn't true—because I was that guy. I was thinking, 'You have an advantage, you're trained for a certain scenario, but by no means does that guarantee.'
"Well, that all changed when I got in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. First time you roll with a black belt and you don't have any grappling experience, there's literally zero possibility that you're going to accidentally submit them on the ground. You know what I mean? You're not going to go, 'Whoa! What is this triangle, I don't know? I just tripped and fell into it, and now the guys choking.'"
"So, the clouds kind of opened up. For the first time, I found the martial art, in my opinion, if you know that somebody else does them, it's like what we thought in the '70s—you're just going to lose. I think that's the very reason that with every MMA guy, the one martial art that's mandatory is Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
"There's guys that don't have boxing. There's guys that don't have Muay Thai. There's guys that don't have Dutch Kickboxing. There's guys that don't have Shotokan Karate. But they all better know some degree of submissions on the ground. And for that matter, wrestling too.
"Everybody needs to know upper body, lower body, the clutch work, and how to take an opponent to the ground. Wrestling and Jiu-jitsu were the two that really, if you don't know them, you're going to get rag dolled. I was completely intrigued by those two martial arts. Because I got completely annihilated and destroyed by those guys. On the street, there's no way I would think that guy could manhandle me the way he just did. And sure enough, they did."
In addition to acting, directing, producing, and teaching at a martial arts academy, Sean Patrick Flanery is also an author. In 2016, Flanery released Jane Two, a coming-of-age story about first love. This reporter asked the author if the creation process for his book was tedious, as some authors feel about the writing process, or cathartic. And what that development was like for him.
"It definitely wasn't tedious, you know, a little painful at times. Oddly enough, I moved out to LA to be a writer. Long story short, the acting thing happened. It, kind of, came and reached up and grabbed me. So, I put the writing on hold for a number of years. In about 2000, Jane Pratt, the editor of Jane magazine, called and wanted me to write something for her magazine, after she read a piece I wrote in either British GQ or Details... something like that.
"I thought, what could I possibly lend to a woman's magazine? I figured it was just like Cosmopolitan, or something like that. And she said, 'Why don't you write about your first kiss.' And I thought, serendipity! I've always wanted to write about the first girl I fell in love with. I was going to write either a screenplay or a manuscript. So, I said, 'Okay, you know what? I'll write that story down.'
"And I put it off, and I put it off, and I put it off. And then the morning I'm supposed to turn in the article, I was at Paramount Hotel in New York, it was a very, very personal story to me. And I sat down with my laptop, and I marched it out in about two hours max!
"I turned it in, and when it was released, a number of companies came out of the woodwork to get the rights to it. I always put it on the back burner. I didn't want to sell it outright. And then, three years ago I took a year-and-a-half off of work and decided to turn it into a manuscript.
"I was just going to put it out in my blog on my website. I sent it to get some blurbs, and all of my friends said, 'You should traditionally publish this. You can't just put it on your website.' Then one of my friends said they knew an agent and wanted to send it to them, I said, 'Oh yeah, sure.' And, the next thing you know I have an agent, and the next thing you know it's published.
"And that was it. When people talk to me about writer's block, if you're operating on memories, there's no such thing as writer's block. You don't have to come up with memories, the memories sort of come up with you. The process was a little more autobiographical than action and fiction. But of course, it's cathartic."
At the close of our conversation, Sean gave some wisdom on what has helped him survive in Hollywood.
"I think one of the reasons I've been able to survive in Hollywood, is because I'm not simply an actor that's waiting at home for the phone to ring. I have friends that will blow their head off. They just wait and, 'Why didn't the phone ring?' Then they're watching TV and saying, 'Why didn't I read for that? Why wouldn't I audition?'
But to be honest, I'm too busy to even think about why I didn't I get a movie or a TV show. Because I'm running an academy, I'm competing in martial arts tournaments, or I'm writing a book. I think, in that industry, you have to give yourself more than one thing to concentrate on. Which ends up being your little oasis, which sometimes, can be a desert."