- Tom Schulman & Kim Coates Interview: Double Down South - Double Down South Film
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The cutthroat world of keno pool gets thrust into the spotlight in writer-director Tom Schulman’s latest film, Double Down South. Kim Coates stars as Nick, the boss of a high-stakes billiards house. He’s intrigued by Diana (Lili Simmons) a gorgeous young gambler whom he takes under his wing. Together, they plan to win a whole lot of money, but in Double Down South‘s world of cheaters, swindlers, and violent gangsters, nothing plays out quite how you might expect. In addition to Coates and Simmons, the supporting cast includes ringers like Tom Bower, Rebecca Lines, Justin Marcel McManus, and Igby Rigney.

Kim Coates is best known for his role as Tig Trager in the critically-acclaimed FX series, Sons of Anarchy, but he’s been around for decades, making a name for himself with roles in movies like The Last Boy Scout and Last Man Standing, as well as TV appearances in classic shows like Miami Vice and the short-lived War of the Worlds syndicated series. For Tom Schulman, Double Down South marks his first film in over a decade, and his second-ever feature directorial effort, following 1997’s 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag. He’s best known for his Oscar-winning screenplay to 1989’s Dead Poets Society.

While promoting the debut of Double Down South at the Newport Film Festival, Kim Coates and Tom Schulman spoke to Screen Rant about the film, their careers, and the art of filmmaking during a pandemic. They talk about their friendship and spirit of cooperation that allowed them to make a movie without worrying about precious Hollywood egotism.

Star & Filmmaker Talk Double Down South

Screen Rant: We’re talking about Keno pool, which I had never heard of before! It looks incredible. That must be a pain to shoot, though. Do you have billiards savants who can make every shot, or are you shooting all day just to get the balls where you want them to go?

Tom Schulman: A little bit of all of that. Kimmy here is a great pool player, so I counted on him when he was shooting, and to help with the other folks to make sure they look good. But we slogged through. In hindsight… There were many days where I said to myself, “Why did I do this?” It’s such a hard game! You don’t see it anymore, so people aren’t practiced at it. Even the pool experts that we found to come in and do it, it took them a while for them to be able to hit singles and doubles. But they caught on. It was tough, but we did it.

Sure. I’m wondering, when you’re shooting that, do you go through The Hustler and The Color of Money, and you’re just like, “We can’t copy that shot. We have to make it look different.”

Tom Schulman: Absolutely. And this game has its own kind of movement. It’s always at the ends of the table. You’re dealing with the rack, and you’re coming back and breaking. It’s that motion. You don’t want it to become too repetitive, but that’s the game. It’s a different skill from regular pool, so it’s shot somewhat differently. We didn’t want to redo those brilliant movies.

Kim Coates: Tommy, tell the story of when you played keno that first time.

Tom Schulman: Oh God, yes.

Kim Coates: You have to tell that story.

Tom Schulman: I was about 13 or 14, in this dingy pool hall in in Nashville, a 20th century pool hall, there were three “Nicks” there, etc. There was this woman who used to go play Keno at the end of the pool hall. And all of us young kids… She was really hot, so we would go watch her. She never gave us as much as a glance, but I’m hoping to get to play her, so I put my dollar on the table and wait my turn.

Of course, it’s not her, it’s some guy who’s got the table. He breaks, and he makes a double, and he says, “You owe me two bucks.” And I hadn’t really been paying that much attention, because I was just paying attention to her! So I said, “I haven’t even shot yet!” And he goes, “I made a double. Give me two bucks.” I’m intimidated, so I give him two bucks. I said, “Okay, my turn.” And he goes, “No, I get to shoot again.” So he racks and then makes another double. He says, “Now you owe me four bucks.” I’m like, “All I’ve got is four bucks!” And he goes, “Give it to me.” So I give it to him. And I go, “Can I shoot now?” And he goes, “Don’t you get it? You don’t shoot until I miss!”

I’m like, oh my God. So I ask him, “If you double again, I’m gonna owe you eight bucks?” And he said, “Yeah.” I said, “I don’t have eight bucks. This is all I’ve got.” And he goes, “You’ve got that watch.” Fortunately, he missed, and I got ready to shoot, and somebody said, “Hey, if you shoot and miss, it’ll be his turn again, and he gets to shoot until he misses.” So I just walked away. I didn’t even get to shoot.

Kim Coates: And that beautiful story, I think there’s elements of that in our script, right? When you learn the game, and Diana, played beautifully by Lili Simmons, is learning the game, she can play, there’s no doubt she can play, but Keno is the game of Nick’s place. It’s the game of that part of the world. I thought Tommy, with his edit, did an amazing job at explaining the game without staying on it too long and getting on with the story.

It’s such a vibe. I can see it being played in seedy places like Nick’s, but I could also see the next James Bond movie having a high-stakes Keno against a guy with one eye. There’s such an energy to the location in the movie… It’s like a 1970s William Friedkin energy to it, where I’m on the edge of my seat, concerned for their safety!

Kim Coates: The reason is, they’re playing for money. A lot of money. And there could be cheating involved. And when there’s cheating involved, how do you hide that cheating? Or maybe there isn’t cheating. But we all know when there’s booze and smoking, and in those times of the 1990s that Tommy set it in, the racism card and the misogyny cards are still being played today, and it’s fu*kin’ horrifying. But in the South, where the movie is set, that’s it. When you walk in those doors, you get ready. There could be a bar fight. There could be a lot of booze. You could lose a lot of money, win a lot of money… And when this gal comes to town, and this gal comes into the house, and this gal plays and looks the way Lili does, there ain’t nothing been seen like that before. Not in my world. Not in Nick’s world. That’s a brand new beginning for me. It sets me on fire.

Kim, we all know you, riding around on the motorcycle. I’m obviously referring to “Viking Bikers From Hell,” Miami Vice season 3. That’s not just a random IMDB pull, Miami Vice is my favorite show of all time and it’s really a standout episode.

Kim Coates: Don fu*king Johnson, you bet!

Going back to those days, did you think your most famous role was going to be as a biker? Did you think, “I’m gonna be back on the bike someday?”

Kim Coates: No! I didn’t think about it back then. In fact, I got my SAG card doing Miami Vice. I was flown to Miami. I was given a room! Tommy, it was the size of a room you would get. It was massive! They treated me so well. I had three lines and I had the crap kicked out of me by Don Johnson in that bar, but I got my SAG card, and that was the greatest thing for me. I belonged to the union! I’d come from the theater, I’d done some movies in Toronto, I met Matt Craven, one of my best friends, who helped Lili Simmons with her pool playing in this movie that we’re talking about today.

But before Sons of Anarchy, I was always, “Oh, you’re the guy from Black Hawk Down,” or “You’re the guy from The Last Boy Scout.” “You’re the guy from Open Range.” I had no idea about the power of a great television show. When I did Sons, I became Kim Coates. People really knew my name. I’d never taken anything for granted, but I wasn’t really worried about making lots of money. I just wanted to do the best work I could. I was so naive towards the power of television, when people would watch every week and they couldn’t wait for the next Tuesday, millions of people around the world… Yeah, I certainly… Those seven years on Sons were a big turning point in my career, but it’s also allowed me to do this type of movie.

Right, you’re a name!

Kim Coates: You know, these kinds of movies, there’s two leads, myself and Lili. Everyone else has great parts in this. It’s beautifully written. But you know, you have to raise money. You have to have some name value in order to be able to do that sort of thing, no matter how talented you may or may not be. So, for Tommy to have the wisdom to offer Coatesy this part of Nick, I inhabited this guy 100% every day. He freaked me out, to be perfectly honest with you. There were times where I wasn’t really sure what I was doing, but that’s exciting, when you get to that place, because you’re really in it. I lost a couple of teeth. I just got a new implant put in…

Tom Schulman: I can’t believe you’re still dealing with that!

Kim Coates: I know, I wish I could say I protected a damsel in distress in a bar fight, but no… It was an olive. It took out one my teeth right before we started filming.

An olive?

Kim Coates: Yeah, an olive pit. I kept the gap in my tooth, playing Nick, and it kind of helped me in a weird sort of way.

He can afford to fix it, but it is his Bond villain-esque physical quirk. He’s like, “I could fix this, but I won’t because I know what it does to you when you look at it.” Err, no offense.

Kim Coates: (Laughs) That’s right.

Did you and Tom know each other before this? What was the “Hey, be in my movie” conversation?

Tom Schulman: We’ve been friends for years! I sent Kim the script in May. I think I finished writing it in April. My hope was that he would say, “I want to do this!” We didn’t have any financing at that point, but I knew he was perfect for it, but I just didn’t hear from him. So I thought, “Well, shit, he doesn’t like it, and I’m not gonna bug him now.” But come November, we get our financing, we’re gonna make it, and I didn’t want to presume. So our casting director made the offer. I thought, he didn’t like it, he’s gonna pass, it’s gonna be a drag.

Kim Coates: I was filming White House Plumbers for five months in New York and Washington. Tommy sends me a script and I think, “He just wants notes.” But the guy’s won an Oscar, he knows what he’s doing! He’s got people to give him notes! I didn’t think it was for me. So, five months go by, and my manager goes, in early December of last year, “You know you’ve been offered Tommy’s new film, right?” And I went, “What?” It was a complete shock. So, I read it right away.

I try to say this as honestly as I can, but when you inhabit the world that Tommy wrote about, and you’re reading it for the first time, and you’re the co-lead, and his name is Nick, and he’s got misogynist, racist values that are horrifying to any human being, and they should be… But you might want to inhabit that as an actor, you have to really get it going. You have to go, wait a minute, how do we make it even better? What doesn’t make sense? Tommy being one of my best friends, I call him first thing in the morning and go, “I have a few concerns.” And before you know it, he’s making changes and I signed on the dotted line. I was so thankful that we could finally work together.

That’s awesome.

Kim Coates: Tommy doesn’t have to work! Tommy’s a rock star! Tommy comes up with this somewhat-true story over Covid, and he writes this brilliant fu*king movie that we shoot over 22 days. Pretty good, right? And didn’t Alan do a great job as the DP?

Tom Schulman: Our cinematographer, Alan Caudillo, is just… I can’t say enough.

Kim Coates: Can’t say enough about that guy!

Tom Schulman: The movie looks great. He’s so quick. He’d say to me, “If we’re shooting in one direction and we go another way and you realize we forgot a shot, don’t worry, we’ll just turn right back around and do it. It only takes me ten minutes to turn a room out. We were flying. It was great! We couldn’t have done it any other way.

I love the way Kim talks about you, Tom. I hate the old adage of “What have you done lately?” This is your first movie in a while, but it’s like, you have an Oscar! You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. You didn’t before, and you definitely don’t have to now. Is it just a case of only wanting to work on stuff that you really want to work on?

Tom Schulman: I hate to say it, but yeah. I spent years in the trenches, writing things that I loved doing, and also taking jobs that I didn’t love. After a while, I just thought, I’m closer to the end of my career than the beginning, and if I don’t do things that I love, I won’t be as good at it. You can get somebody else who loves it to do a better job. I learned that lesson early. I wrote scripts that were just… I thought they would be commercial and get made, but lo and behold, the first one that got made was Dead Poets Society, about a boarding school! No agent in the world would tell you to write that! The agent I wrote that for said, “I think it’s great, but I can’t sell this.” So yes, the lesson is always, do what you love, if you can. You won’t always be able to, whatever your circumstances, but yeah.

You have a great rapport with each other, did you ever butt heads over the script or the character of Nick?

Tom Schulman: Never.

Kim Coates: I think that became very apparent and palpable right from day one. When people showed up. Forget about what they thought about Kim Coates, or what they thought about Tom Schulman. We were all so grateful to be there, and they saw the collaborative partnership between Tommy and I had, just from being friends, let alone co-artists about to make something together. It was just really easy. With all the constraints and the toughness of shooting, and some of the subject matter and the pool shots that we had to do over and over, and the blood and this and that, and the fights…

Those are always difficult times on set, but they’re real and they’re organic. They came from a place where we all trusted one another. Tommy wasn’t afraid to say whatever he wanted to say, and I’ve certainly never been afraid to say what I want to say! I won’t say what scene, it doesn’t matter, but it’s a pivotal, climactic moment of the film, and I did my thing a couple of times, and there’s spit and blood and Tommy comes over and there’s extras and cameras and flies… And Tom says, “A little theatrical, I think.”

I remember sitting there, almost crying from laughter and horrification for going theatrical. That’s the one thing you don’t want to tell an actor. “A little theatrical.” But ya know what? I knew what he was fu*kin’ saying. So we did it again, and we did it again. And what’s in that movie, our editor, I don’t know where you found this guy, Tommy, but he’s so good.

Tom Schulman: Rick Wallace, our producer, found him. Yang Hua Hu is fabulous. Look, Kim is fearless. He’ll take whatever notes, and he’ll do whatever we need. We’ll go, “Okay, we got that, now let’s try it another way.” We just had complete trust. Sometimes, what I think is right, sometimes he’s right, it doesn’t matter. There’s no ego. For me ass a writer, it’s great to have actors who question, “Why do I do this? Why am I standing here? Why don’t I stand over there? What was I doing before this? After?” It’s only going to make the story better. If I don’t know the answers, we’re gonna figure it out.

Kim Coates: We’re working with Tom Schulman. I’m trying to be honest. For a guy who doesn’t write many movies anymore because his career speaks for himself, and he’s a family man, and he’s the president of the writer’s guild for years, he does script doctoring… He does it all! For him, during Covid, to come up with this story based on some truths of his own life, and he writes it during Covid, then shoot it during Covid, and we did it! Hello, what? Everyone had that same feeling, because Tommy has no ego. Tommy has no ego! He just wants to make the best film, learn as he goes, and he knows so much already, and he did that, and he cast it beautifully. I just can’t believe we’re talking about it. Here we are, Newport Beach Film Festival, red carpet coming up on Saturday night.

Tom Schulman: There were so many times I thought we’d never get this done. Particularly with the Covid. I couldn’t tell whether Kim was going to do it, then we had the Delta variant, and the Omicron… We didn’t have one person get sick on the set. We issued 1,500 tests, and had one positive.

Kim Coates: And it was a false positive! It was an extra.

Tom Schulman: False positive. The guy goes home, tests again. Ya know. It was truly amazing.

Not the ideal circumstances under which to make a film, but that’s what you do as a filmmaker. Make your film. You make it work, right?

Tom Schulman: You’re in a mask the whole time. If you’re sick, you certainly don’t want to get anyone else sick. So everybody, except the actors. And they’re in masks, too!

Kim Coates: We would take them off, put them in a bag, and put them back on. Take them off, put them in a bag, put them back on. All day long. Happily! That’s how we did the movie.

You do what you gotta do to get it done.

Tom Schulman: That’s right!

The character of Nick is so complex. He shows, almost immediately, that he is “the bad guy,” but you still intermittently find yourself rooting for him and the things he’s trying to accomplish. And you kinda stop yourself while you’re watching, just to remind yourself, “no, he’s bad!” But I still wanna see how it plays out.

Kim Coates: Tommy, you’ve gotta be so happy to hear that.

Tom Schulman: I knew Kim was going to bring so much charm to this. My greatest fear was that he was going to be so charming you wouldn’t even know he’s the bad guy. But the story undoes him whether he likes it or not. You find out who he really is. But for me, to take the misogynist, the racist, those qualities, and coat them with all that charm, I just love that kind of thing. I think it brings the audience a different perspective. It’s easy to hate a racist. It’s easy to hate a misogynist. But not when you like them! And we all deal with that.

I was going to ask Kim to compare playing like someone like Nick to someone like… The first thing I saw you in when I was a young teenager was CSI: Miami. Ron Saris, I still remember his name! And I was gonna describe him as a mustache-twirling kind of guy, but he’s so damn charming, too! That’s why I remember him!

Kim Coates: The difference, though, if I may, and CSI: Miami was a massive hit, Caruso, Ron Saris in a white suit with Elizabeth Berkley with her two beautiful different colored eyes, and Ron is a total asshole, but funny… This guy, Nick, who I play in this movie, there’s some real truths of racism and misogyny and violence to him. He’s a snake. You never know when he’s gonna strike. There were elements that I was really loking forward to discovering within myself, as an artist. But as Kim Coates, totally horrified at. I don’t want to be anywhere else, though.

People said to me on Sons of Anarchy, “How did you do that? Your daughter’s dying in a pit and you’re chained like an animal having to watch her!” And I go, it’s not easy, but that’s why I act. I’m so thankful that Sutter would give me, Tig Trager, some of the hardest, the transgender theme with Walton Goggins… When you trust an actor to go somewhere, it’s not always going to be successful, but when you’re an artist, you’re not afraid to go over to that dark side. So Nick was a completely different character from anything I’ve ever done, just based on those two things. The world he lived in, and that incredible racist card that’s so horrifying, and still is today.

It must be so interesting to play, because when you’re playing through that, you have to acknowledge how easy it would be to lean on that in your life. To be like, “Oh, it’s not me, it’s because of blacks or women.” Tell me about confronting that darkness and leaning into it, but as a person being like, “Okay, I’m just playing right now.”

Kim Coates: You just said it for me. Ultimately, you’re doing a job. You’re an actor. You’re a collaborator with the director and writer. And Lili Simmons, how amazing is she in this film? And Tom Bowers. He’s 152 years old, done 4000 movies. And the accents. To live and inhabit that world. I think it became… Not easier, that’s the wrong word, but shooting it in the South, shooting in the house you see in the movie, going to South Carolina for the exteriors, working with accent dialects the whole time and getting comfortable with that. How they wear the cowboy boots in the 1990s.

I think I slept with my cowboy boots on every night. And that bandage I had in my hand, when you inhabit all that method stuff, ultimately, you just have to pick a path of how you’re going to do the scene, figure out what it means to you, and let it fly. There’s times when Tommy would say cut, but there were times he would never say cut and we just kept talking. We just kept going because he didn’t want it to stop. There was this one scene where I came up with this cat noise. It’s not in the movie, I don’t think, but it scared the fu*k out of Lili Simmons and myself because it just came out! Those are the things we had, and working with Justin McManus, who plays DuBinion, how powerful…

He’s great.

Kim Coates: The whole world of that, the black, the white, the South, powerful. Again, if you set the stage that Schulman did in writing this brilliant script, it’s just about them doing it and not being afraid to fail, and just turning the cameras on. Because we’re gonna feel it! We’re in the South! Anyway, I could go on and on. I love being part of this movie.

It’s a fantastic snapshot of Americana.

Kim Coates: There ya go, Tommy!

It’s funny that it takes a Canadian actor. I’m thinking of The Band. You’re the Rick Danko of Hollywood!

Kim Coates: [With a posh accent] I’m a Canadian-American actor. I’m both. I have both passports! Both Canadian and American. Perhaps Canadian first, but both.

Double Down South had its world premiere at the Newport Film Festival, and will hopefully land a distribution deal soon, allowing audiences all over the world to witness Tom Schulman’s latest Southern Gothic parable.