Interview With Windfall’s Fantastic Omar Leyva – wait… have you guys all seen Windfall yet? RECORD SCRATCH…. wait, what? No. You cannot keep reading until you actually watch the film. But you know what? I’ve got you covered, because you can see it right here:
Great – now that we have all the non-viewers of Windfall out of the way, we can get down to the real fun. And that is, a conversation with Omar Leyva. But waaaaaiiiiit. How exactly would a Hollywood movie star, like Omar Leyva, find the weird sticks of the Hollywood world like THiNC.? Well, apparently after I wrote up my review of the movie, he stumbled upon my error-riddled post about his movie… and he was kind enough to point out a couple mistakes I had made about his character, and another. Anyway! We got those fixed, and then I begged him to take a moment out to chat with us about his film… wait, why don’t we just start at the beginning of my awesome chat thread with Omar? Great.
<<Email from Omar – my new best friend>>
This is Omar Leyva, the actor who portrayed “Gardener” in Windfall. I’ve been curious to find the few reviews out there that even taken the time to mention the character. It doesn’t really matter if they don’t mention me, but what happens with the character is not subtle and what he represents is quite at the heart of the film and why I took on the role.
It’s amazing how much of what we all face in various professions (and I’ve been a gardener and have family members who have done this their entire lives just like the character) can also happen when stories are told and digested. Thank you for your dive into what I also saw when I read the script and for finding the importance and humanity/innocence in the role – something that the film needed for it to work.
Not that I have any reach whatsoever, but I am eager to share and comment on your fabulous look at the film. However, I wanted to give you a bit of my time in return for writing on the film, to let you know of a couple of small errors. Without going on, I’ll just paste here where you mentioned Gardener in error:
(Here we are, Gardener has the money and our visit is at an end. And Wife tells Nobody – in a complete moment of vulnerability – that the tattoo on her foot, the one the CEO is having her remove? That the tattoo was of a rose, and that she loved it. Gardener’s response? “I don’t give a f@#$.” Which, clarifies exactly where Nobody and Wife stand. It clarifies what he thinks of Wife. And it’s then she decides what to do next.)
I hope my email doesn’t somehow make your phone ring and you’re sleeping – I’m a night owl and I have a lot to get done tonight, but I wanted to send you the head’s up.
All the best to you!!!
<<See – best friends for sure>>
Then, after this email, I was super low key, and chill, and didn’t fanboy on him at all. Promise. And then I begged him for an interview. And I cried, and said I’d throw myself in front of a train if he didn’t help me. Or some really esteemed, and not demeaning, sort of composed request. And voila… he agreed to chat about his ultra cool movie.
THiNC. – “This movie is written and created and directed and acted by a really fantastic group of creatives – congratulations on creating such an amazing movie. It was such a joy to watch. How did you get pulled in to join in on the fun?”
Omar Leyva – “Windfall was made by a fantastic group of creatives and many of them are good friends. It really felt like I was working with a theater group and that’s where my roots are planted. Producer Alex Orlovsky first reached out to my theatrical agent, Nic de Armendi, to gauge my interest in the project. I immediately read and loved the script and discussed it with my manager, Paul Trusik, who also liked the role. At the time, the screenplay was just titled “Nobody” and I was informed about the cast and the choice of character names. While waiting for a window to have a virtual conversation with Charlie, Nic thought I should send a tape in. I absolutely understood the character and what I could bring to the project and decided to include a message with some of my personal connections to the role and what I thought I could further explore. Afterwards, Charlie called me directly to offer me the role and to bring me up to date on the project and we ended up having a wonderful conversation that set everything up until we saw each other on set. As soon as I read Windfall I knew that it was special and I was thrilled by the cast who would bring it to life and I was eager to take part in the fun.”
THiNC. – “You have quite a long list of shows, and movies under your belt. 90210, 24, The Mentalist, Law & Order, NCIS, I mean, is there a show you haven’t touched?? But the movie that my site talked about, and really was crazy, was Bone Tomahawk… can you tell us anything about that particular movie before we get into Windfall? I mean, that ending was completely out of control… just utterly, holy cow. I don’t even know how to add a question mark I’m so blown away by that particular movie.”
Omar Leyva- “I think this year was the first time that I was really feeling the amount of work I’ve been able to do. Watching the Oscars was fun, until the infamous assault, because my wife and I were pondering the creation of a drinking game based on spotting attendees I’ve worked with. It started because we knew Jesse Plemons would be there and then it just kept going. My life has always been one of pushing against the current and I think that helps me with my acting career and acting in general. When I met Paul Trusik, my manager, I had just been a stage actor doing it “for the love of the art” and I didn’t want that feeling to change. I wasn’t a kid anymore and had zero film and TV credits, but very solid training as a character actor on the stage. I’ve just steadily worked hard and taken every step that’s set on this path of being a working actor. Although being a regular on a show is something all of us actors seek as the equivalent of a steady job, I’ve learned to appreciate the number of times I’ve earned a job and on such a variety of shows. In my personal life, I’m a bit of a jack of all trades, and perhaps that’s blended well into my acting work. Still, my reps and I are always looking for meaningful and challenging roles that could benefit from my playing them. I look forward to more work on shows as I also continue to grow my film credits.”
THiNC. – “That is so fantastic! A drinking game based on people you’ve worked with!!! That’s a level of famous, and a massive oeuvre that has to be seen to be believed.” (Guys, go scroll through Omar’s movies and shows over on IMDb and you’ll see what we are talking about here.) I will say this – Omar, because we are now best friends – tried to tell me, exclusively, a story about shooting his smaller role on Bone Tomahawk… but because I’m a really giving, and non-selfish person, I’m going to give you guys that story too. Omar, you gotta stop talking down your stories! This is cinema-gold you are talking about here. So much goodness.”
Omar Leyva – “On Bone Tomahawk (this is for your eyes only I think because you’re interested, but there isn’t that much to it and my role turned out to be smaller than expected.) Because of you I just watched Nuevo Orden by the way and I could say the same thing about that film – holy cow! A different level of craziness.”
THiNC. – At first I couldn’t figure out where the Nuevo Orden reference came from… but he is referring to my original Windfall post where I compare it to the Mexican film, New Order. And that thing just has to be seen to be believed. It’s pretty ultra. But what’s really ultra, is that I was able to convince my new best friend to do anything! hahah. Anyway, he’s still going on his aside to me here:
Omar Leyva – “I had auditioned for the part of Ramiro, obviously attracted to the names attached, but I think almost at the very last minute the lines and character changed and a friend of mine ended up with that role, and ultimately the other character I played ended up with no lines or edited-out lines. We were shot holding matches. I do remember that the shoot was out in a very dark desert with minimal lighting and that I had to do a tricky sort of stunt because my glasses were supposed to fall apart as I was shot. This was done with some plastic twine I think and it was pretty tricky to pull off the timing. It was still cool to be working with all those great actors, a friend, and when it was all said and done, I guess our death was very tame and we didn’t have to be chopped to pieces!”
THiNC. – So much greatness. Omar, you are fantastic. I could listen to you talk all day long. “ANYWAY, I know that when this film was being brainstormed it was mid-pandemic, and the closed box set, and the secluded area was all very intentional because of the global restrictions. Was it strange filming this home invasion film in the middle of a global pandemic? What was the shoot like?”
Omar Leyva – “Shooting Windfall during the pandemic was something novel, but we were well into a year of the shutdown. Of course, as you can imagine, we had testing, mask-wearing, and a bubble approach to keeping everyone safe. I worked in Ojai for about two weeks and stayed at a hotel where almost everyone else was staying, but we didn’t gather outside of the set. My wife and I were expecting our second baby and we were basically quarantined and homeschooling our preschool daughter at the time. Windfall was a welcomed opportunity to be creative, to focus on making something regardless of the challenges, but doing all we could to stay safe. It was strange having those clear plastic shields on in between takes. I do remember that during my bloody scene when I was gargling blood, Jason, as Nobody, was emotional and saliva was flying, there was yelling in close proximity, and when we cut, we shared a laugh and I said something about that being quite a COVID-sharing scene. I think that all of the cast had upcoming projects and staying COVID-free was also important in meeting our work obligations. This would also be my last project with my long pandemic hair before my next job in Mexico. I’m so happy that Gardener immortalized my long hair because I had never been able to grow it that long before. It may never happen again and it’s fitting that when I look back at this pandemic’s film era, I’ll have that visual memory.”
THiNC. – “Windfall, on the surface is a movie about a home invasion, money, and sort of a few unfortunate accidents. But when you dig, even just a little… just scratch a little at this film, and you realize there is a lot about social strata, the haves, the have-nots, what money will do to you, what not having money will do to you, etc., etc. What is your take on the film? (I’ll put spoiler warnings to get people to watch the film before they read the interview.)”
Omar Leyva – “First, from an artistic perspective, for me, Windfall is a testament to the uncontainable power of creativity. You know how in Jurassic park “life finds a way”? Creativity also finds a way. Just like the musicians who performed from their balconies, and photographers who took porch portraits during the pandemic, Jason and Charlie set in motion something that came from their restless need to create. I find it inspiring. Their collaboration with Justin Lader and Andrew Kevin Walker resulted in a script that is truly infused with the weight of the moment. It’s also possible that the moment itself infused itself into the creative process. It now just seems like an inevitable creation, but it took quite the creative initiative.
“Windfall is so relevant that its players are confined by a threat that’s real and somewhat dismissed at the same time, It contrasts the comfort and security of some against the vulnerable situation of others. How much is enough or too much and would some ridicule your answer to that? How much death is acceptable from indirect or direct actions taken by some? As with every good film, the curtain is pulled back and a mirror is placed in front of our eyeballs. Sometimes we choose to ignore some of what is being reflected back because we’re seeking to escape an uncomfortable reality. If you are truly open you will find the desperate ways in which the characters are seeking satisfaction and the tragic resolution that brings so much disappointment to the surface. Nobody expresses this throughout and has an effect on Wife’s ability to contain her own dissatisfaction, CEO is the most frustrated of the bunch, and Gardener, as would be expected, carries it all behind his smile and subtle reactions that you might miss if you blink. I like the moment when CEO pathetically cries to everyone “I’m a piece of shit…I’m just a piece of shit” and Gardener reacts to seeing this man being completely different than what he expected. He gets to be that fly on the wall, or in this case, forced to sit there and discover what’s behind the facade. There are many moments like this in the film where even a quip carries more weight than you might think.”
THiNC. – “Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Gardener – your character – in the heat of the battle, makes a tragically consequential choice to run when Nobody fires the gun, seemingly out of fear. Is that what it was? Was he afraid – or what else drove him to make a bolt for it?”
Omar Leyva – “Usually the simplest explanation is enough, but in this case it really isn’t. As an actor, I probably pondered on this moment more than any other. You have to love the way Charlie, and editor David Marks, put together the passing of time sequence just before that pivotal scene (further enhanced by the great composition by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans). It starts right after Gardener is finding disappointment in the flawed people he works for and Wife just having apologized to him. He starts to process what seems to be mainly about money. The ticking of time begins with a fancy watch and expensive sneakers, the gardener nervously tapping his work-boots and it continues with extreme close-ups on the eyes of all the players weighing their moves. Gardener is always facing the french-doors, looking out at his realm, where just moments earlier he had enjoyed a victory and renewed enthusiasm and hope. Weighing fight or flight, Gardener does give great consideration to fighting because he badly wants to protect how he provides for his family. You see his eyes focus on the gun and then back in the direction of escape. His sketch that included the image of his happy kids playing under that tree he proposed was also flat on the coffee table and I couldn’t keep from focusing on it.
The turning point was when CEO says “Try being a rich white guy these days.” When he later says “Why am I doing this? ENOUGH!” you can see Gardener answer that question for himself. The insults and ugliness displayed by the others makes him focus on surviving for his family. Of course Nobody failed to tie him up. When things escalate and the gun goes off and he realizes it was just a warning, it triggers a flight response that might have been reversed if CEO had actually been shot. Of course, then we end up with the full blown Gardener tragedy. That same shot at the beginning of the film now returns without a pan to the beautiful surroundings. Nobody draws the curtains.
THiNC. – “Great break down of the inner workings of your character. Definitely can see him saying – yeah, no, these guys aren’t worth any of this. Which, is a totally fair response. I gotta say, your character – Gardener – is literally, the only sane person in this film. He talks of building things with his hands, taking pride in his work, about leaving a legacy for our children, etc., etc. I would argue, we learn more about Gardener than we do about any of the other characters, as long as we are paying attention. When you were playing the Gardener, how did you see the character and how did you choose to play him considering the insanity that was going on all around you?”
Omar Leyva – “Funny that you should see Gardener as the only sane person because I remember that in the initial contact by Alex, he communicated that Gardener was the only “human” role in the film; The only one with true and sincere motives. I knew that he had to be played from the heart and I was able to pull from my own experience being a gardener when I was younger. Even more importantly, I have family members who have built successful lives doing this type of honorable work. I learned to work with my hands at a very young age and I gave Gardener that same history while trying to incorporate from various people I know to be similar to him. He takes pride in his work the way I have learned to do and the way I teach my kids. When he speaks about leaving something for ‘your children and your children’s children,’ he’s talking about a tree, but like the poem by Alfred Joyce Kilmer goes (I love the interpretation by The Platters), ‘I think that I have never seen a poem lovely as a tree’. Yes, I always look for poetry in life and art, and I recall improvising the line about drawing my kids into the sketch and everyone being moved by it. That’s when I knew my heart was tuned to the right setting for the character. The legacy he dreamed about was attached to his work and he understood that it would take time, like it takes time for a tree to provide shade. Unfortunately, we never know how much time we have. I love how the film starts with a pan across the beauty he helped create and maintain. There’s a solo shot of the area that he later says took him 18 weeks to complete. There is always the possibility that Wife could decide to try and make amends and if she inherits CEO’s money, she’d complete that sketch and take care of his family. One can always dream, and people surrounded by insanity and chaos dream better than anyone.”
THiNC. – “I love that thought that maybe Wife takes care of Gardener’s family. Such an optimistic view! hahaha. But yeah, that is a hope. Do you have any stories from the shoot? Any details you can share about your co-stars or the production staff? I love hearing about what it’s like on a set.”
Omar Levya – “I have nothing but admiration for the entire team of artist who worked in front and behind the camera. Honestly, everything was calm and steady during my time on set with Charlie’s direction. As everyone knows, He and Lily were engaged at the time, but on set it was all about collaborating on the project, never letting on about what all of us who have planned a wedding know was probably happening after work with all that it takes to pull it off. Because there was a lot of familiarity with each other, everyone was just themselves. I will always remember being able to play a little video for Lily that my young daughter made for “Snow White” because as far as she was concerned that’s who I was working with. Jesse and I shared some nice chats about our growing families and he encouraged me to go with the flow and to feel free to explore beyond the page, and Jason always provided a kind and welcoming energy regardless of the character he was playing. Because of the safety protocols, one thing that I really enjoyed was the huge location where we could always take a nice long walk. It did get cold at times, but sitting outside was safest, so at times I’d sit by a space heater.”
“One interesting detail is that shooting the scene for Gardener’s bloody death was quite the moment for me. It involved special FX makeup and each take would be very difficult to reset because of the amount of blood and clean-up of me, the door, the floor, etc. I think I was ready to shoot once and we had to push to the next day and so I had to prepare myself for it all over gain. On the day, it felt like opening night of a play for me and I felt like I had one shot at it, so I had to pull from the lessons given to me by my mentor “Doc”, Dr. Frank X. Ford, whom sadly just passed away; I had to be well prepared, have all the beats I wanted to play in my head, and a game plan that I had to toss out on “Action” and just be present. So much at once went through my character’s mind during those few seconds as he realized what was happening to him. I’m proud to say that my one take ended up being enough and it was such a relief. Doc, I’m forever grateful and may you rest in peace.”
THiNC. – “My final question – I promise – do you have anything that you are working on now that you’d like to make sure we find and watch once it comes out? Oh wow – I see that you are in Alejandro Iñárritu’s next film! Wow. For my readers that aren’t familiar with Iñárritu’s work – you know him… trust me. Birdman, The Revenant, 21 Grams, etc., etc. Only one of the greatest directors of all time. I think the movie is supposed to be called Bardo? Oh, please tell me what you can about that movie! Good lord man, you are my idol! hahaha.”
Omar Levya – “The immediate project I have coming out is my guest star appearance on the HBO Max reboot “The Garcias.” I’m getting ready to go to that premiere and I’m very excited to take my five-year-old daughter to it. It features some amazing very young actors that she will see herself represented by and it is something I can let her watch! The show premieres on April 14th.
“As you can imagine, there isn’t much I can share about Bardo beyond what is public because of its magnitude and Iñárritu’s preference of keeping his creation guarded. Being attached in any way to a film of his is obviously something very special and because this is his return to making a film in Mexico since Amores Perros, it holds a special place in my heart. I was born there. That film played quite an important role in the revived era of Mexican film-making and it enthused me greatly during a time when I was studying and preparing myself before tackling the Hollywood path. I’ve been hungry to do more work in Mexico and I was able to shoot this project there after Windfall, and later I also returned to shoot The Garcias. I am as excited as everyone else to experience Bardo. Being that it was another project under pandemic protocols after a long delay, I think that everyone involved was not taking the opportunity to work for granted. I’m glad I had already worked Windfall before Bardo and that’s when I knew my long COVID hair would go. When the time came to shoot this special project, my second daughter was also scheduled to arrive into this world and I can’t even explain to you what went down, but let’s just say that a sort of miracle happened and because of it I was able to be there for the delivery and to get my wife and baby home before heading to Mexico. I know for a fact that many actors were inspired by Amores Perros and thinking back, I had no way of knowing I’d get to work with Iñárritu one day, but there’s poetry in life and there are signs, and there’s also a beauty in putting in the had work to see where it takes us.”
Edited by: CY