Two's company

Paul Eenhoorn and Earl Lynn Nelson talk about bonding and battling the elements for road trip comedy Land Ho!

by Amber Wilkinson

Earl Lynn Nelson: The audience wonder why our heads are down in the water - we kept our heads down in the water because we were freezing our rear ends off.
Earl Lynn Nelson: The audience wonder why our heads are down in the water - we kept our heads down in the water because we were freezing our rear ends off.
Odd couple comedy Land Ho! marks the first collaboration between Quiet City director Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens (Pilgrim Song). It's an offbeat charmer that stars Stephens regular Earl Lynn Nelson and Aussie actor Paul Eenhoorn as two old friends who go on an adventure to Iceland. Nelson's good ol' boy Mitch has a foul-mouthed Kentucky wit that bounces off the drier humour offered up by Eenhoorn's character Colin. The film is less about big revelations than the finer points of friendship and it celebrates the liberation that can come with growing old. Nelson, who is a plastic surgeon by trade, has a long-standing relationship with Stephens - her mum is his first cousin - and in the course of our conversation after the film's premiere, he is even moved to tears as he talks about the family nature of the shoot. Speaking about the fim in a Q&A Stephens said: "Fifty per cent is scripted, 25 per cent is loose and 25 per cent is improvised." I caught up with the two lead actors to talk about their relationship, working in testing conditions and why sometimes getting angry is a good thing.

Amber Wilkinson: You hadn't met before the film was cast. How was it when you met?

Earl Lynn Nelson: We shook hands and I gave him a hug, probably. I can't remember.

Paul Eenhoorn: We sized each other up.

ELN: Like two little kids that are not really fighting but they stand their and look at each other.

AW: In the film, he's being the straight man to your comedy. Did you find the same in real life, that you were trying to keep up with the banter - was it competitive?

Paul Eenhoorn: You don't keep up with Earl Lynn Nelson. You cannot win that battle.
Paul Eenhoorn: You don't keep up with Earl Lynn Nelson. You cannot win that battle.
PE: You don't keep up with Earl Lynn Nelson. You cannot win that battle.

AW: Did you try?

PE: No. He's got a personality that's unique. I'm the opposite which I think is why the producers and directors chose us.

ELN: I'm the same person every day.

AW: Do you like the improvisation style then? To be a version of yourself in a film?

ELN: Well, the first film that I did with Martha [Passenger Pigeons], I read the script and I asked her about the character and she said he was born and raised in eastern Kentucky. And I said, 'Martha, I love you to death, but a person from there would not say these words.' And she said, 'How would you say it?' And I said it the way that I thought it should be said but I got her point across so there was a lot of stuff that was in the script. It wasn't really improvised, I was getting across her ideas with the character that I knew about because that's where I was born and raised.

AW: Do you like the freedom?

ELN: I'm not sure I could be a concrete actor. I can memorise lines and put them out but if something that flows through your mind, it comes out a lot easier than something you try to memorise on a piece of paper.

PE: We had a script and we would run the lines and then we would throw them away. Then Martha and Aaron would talk to us, throwing ideas around so it worked really well. It was great, it was really liberating. Then we had a two-camera set-up which made it possible to catch every little moment and I think that was important to the film?

Paul Eenhoorn: We had a script and we would run the lines and then we would throw them away.
Paul Eenhoorn: We had a script and we would run the lines and then we would throw them away. Photo: Andrew Reed
AW:The reaction shots are as important as the character who is speaking - it's vital to the energy of the film. There's no faking it, for example, when you're standing in front of the abstract paintings at a gallery in the film, discussing what you see in them, and Earl turns to you and says, "Stevie Nicks". Your face is priceless.

ELN: You ought to have seen the artist's face when she heard us talking about her paintings. That was her studio and she was listening to everything I was saying.

PE: It was really good not to have to worry about someone saying, 'That's the wrong line'. The crew were laughing and if they're laughing you know you've got a good take.

AW: How was it physically to shoot it. Presumably it was pretty chilly in some of those shots, you were stripped down to your Y-fronts and about to wade in.

PE: Can I answer that question first?

ELN, mock grudgingly: Well, go on.

PE: It was physically and mentally one of the hardest shoots I've ever done because it was always cold and it was always windy and we had to put up with some, not bad weather, but unusual conditions. So when I got home, it took me about a month to get physically back into shape and to mentally leave it behind. I thought I was shooting Die Hard 6 or something and I think Earl Lynn would agree with that.

ELN: I twisted my ankle the first night. I spent most of my free time with ice on my left ankle. The scene on the black beach [a montage sequence of the pair horsing around] - the wind was blowing between 35 and 50 miles an hour and we were eating sand. When we were in the Blue Lagoon that was wonderful but when we were out there in the hot springs, it was a quarter of a mile to the closest, if you will, enclosure. The audience wonder why our heads are down in the water - we kept our heads down in the water because we were freezing our rear ends off.

PE: It was minus degrees.

ELN: It was something.

AW: What did you say, when they said, 'Just strip your trousers off Paul, and wade into that water, would you?'

Paul Eenhoorn: I thought I was shooting Die Hard 6 or something and I think Earl Lynn would agree with that.
Paul Eenhoorn: I thought I was shooting Die Hard 6 or something and I think Earl Lynn would agree with that.
PE: I got into my robe and then I read this sign that said, 'Swimmers here are notified that they can become itchy and rashy' and shit like that. So I was not in the best mood already. So I walked up to Aaron and said, 'I don't have to get into this shit do I? He's so patient with you - you cannot rile the guy. He said: [dropping voice to a calm whisper] 'Yes'. So I said, 'Okay'. I had quite a few moments where I needed to be angry, and I was. It's something that I noticed about myself that I never knew before. Sometimes you have to be angry to get some adrenalin going. I know Earl Lynn was suffering and I know that it was physically a tough shoot.

AW:How was it working with the two directors on this shoot, compared to normally working with just one person. Presumably they're a good team.

ELN: I've worked with Martha on two films and then I worked with David [Gordon Green] on Eastbound & Down [and now Katz] and it's amazing to me that all three of those directors were so interested in you and in what you said and how you said it. If you didn't know if you needed to be funny or you needed to be angry, they would take the time to explain it to you because you don't know that when you're just looking at the lines. They explained the scenes to us beforehand. But, Paul's the real star.

PE: I don't agree with that, I think you are.

ELN: We worked together. I'd get off the script and in the flow of things, he would give me back, or me him. We helped each other get through the movie.

AW: Were you surprised with how well you were able to work as a team considering that you didn't know one another beforehand - you have a surprising amount of chemistry for two people from very different backgrounds who've come together on this.

Earl Lynn Nelson: I enjoyed making the movie... and when I saw it, damn, I enjoyed it so much.
Earl Lynn Nelson: I enjoyed making the movie... and when I saw it, damn, I enjoyed it so much.
ELN: Yes, but you've got to realise because of the situation over there, we all got to know each other. We shared the pissers, we shared shitters and we shared the showers in some of these little hotels and motels. It was like a big family to me. [Tears come to his eyes] I'm an old softie. I've got friends in that crew who'll be around for the rest of my life.

PE: You're 100 miles from the nearest civilisation and food materialises. They looked after us so well.

ELN: At the end, I got a bit tired of broiled fish and new potatoes.

AW:These are very big roles for older guys [Eenhoorn is in his late 50s, Nelson his early 70s. Does it get harder to find meatier roles as it gets older?

PE: I think there are going to be a lot more roles for both of us because, 'Hello! Hollywood!' They're missing out on a 40 per cent market segment. There was an article in the paper a couple of days ago about films for mums. They don't want to see car chases, they don't want to see explosions, they don't want to see 30-year-old kids. They want to see films about people. This is an example of that. That's always been my thing. When I write scripts, I write about people, not about explosions, not about car chases but people and the situations they get into - a la Land Ho! and [fim]The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, [film]Notting Hill and Love Actually. They're all great films, everything else is just Hollywood masturbating, I think

ELN: I've been asked to do four things and I've done them. Of course, I won't give up my day job - I do surgery three days a week. I enjoyed it, I have fun doing it and if it gets to be really work, I might not like it as much.

AW: How difficult was it to take time off to go on the location shoot?

ELN: My patients love me and I have my people that work for me. I make people see better, I make people feel better and I make people look better, so it's a great job.

AW: You must both feel attatched to this personally, there's quite a bit of yourselves in there.

ELN: We've lived together. We didn't have separate trailers.

PE: I had a separate trailer [Laughs]

ELN: It was physically hard on me. It was even tougher on me to make it tougher on them - they had to help me up the mountain and down the mountain. But I enjoyed making the movie... and when I saw it, damn, I enjoyed it so much. We'd shoot two or three scenes at the end and then one at the front, and in my mind the continuity wasn't there because there were certain times that I was talking to Paul about things that hadn't happened yet and I was getting ready to put my foot in my mouth. Because it wasn't like one, two, three, four, five it was seven, three, ten, one. That was because of the weather often.

AW: How about you, did the improvisation appeal?

PE: We had a lot of latitude in what we could do. So, we would try various things and every now and then one of us would find a spur that wasn't there and hit the other player with it and that made it interesting. Again, going back to the two cameras, it caught those moments that Aaron and Martha wanted to see, which were the reaction shots to some of the crude, filthy stuff that Martha comes up with.

ELN: I could take it as far as Martha wanted me to. We'd get it to a certain level and we'd know that's where it was going to stop because we didn't want a triple-X film - and I could have made it triple-X. In the evenings, we'd eat dinner or whatever , Paul and I would sit there and look at the script and bang back and forth because there weren't any nightclubs to go to there in the middle of nowhere. To me, the whole bunch was just like a big family who worked together and it just came out perfectly as far as I'm concerned.

Land Ho! Screens at London Film Festival today (October 12), 6.30pm, Vue West End, Screen 7 and October 17, 6.15pm, Hackney Picture House, Screen 1. No UK release date has yet been announced.

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