Die-hard Trailer Park Boys fans might recognize Taylor Olson as Larry from Trailer Park Boys: Jail and Jail Shorts, but there’s a lot more to this aspiring actor and movie maker than a few backwoods laughs. His latest feature length film, “Bone Cage”, is the theatrical telling of the Catherine Banks play of the same name.
It’s a touching show that sees his character Jamie trying to rescue animals from the very environment he’s been hired to destroy.
Why did you choose this one to make a film with?
I read the play in University, it feels like forever ago, and I fell in love with it. I think Catherine’s a brilliant writer, and my family’s worked in the logging industry for generations. My dad’s a heavy duty mechanic. My grandfather, on one side worked a wood processor, just like Jamie and the other one ran a Boom Boat business. So it was something I really understood in a world that I knew. Then luckily, I did the stage version here, in Halifax in 2017. This is the second day of rehearsal, I just thought it’d make a great film. The poetry of her writing was so beautiful. And I could see that translating to visual images that I’d seen before and clear cuts or in selective logging woodlot. It just felt right.
How difficult is it to take a play, especially an established play and turn it into a film.
It is quite difficult. That was one of the things I learned about the adaptation process. Luckily, I had Catherine as my script editor every step of the way. The play has about 15 scenes, and then you end up with 107 scenes in the film. What we really wanted to do was make it its own thing. It’s coming from Catherine’s play, keep the heart of it, but find the story that I want to tell and find my own voice through it. Through that, change the medium. So it was a lot of hard work but it was totally worth it.
You said she was involved in the process of this, how involved or how was your interaction together?
Catherine’s great. She’s really insightful and knows this world, so well. She wrote about real places of real people that she knew, and she built off of these real situations. She was an incredible resource and adapting the playbooks.
I could go to her and say, I had this question about this character, what’s underneath this? What’s the back-story for that, and she would say, Oh, it’s this, this and this, and then I can build off of that and make my own version of it. Even in the casting process, I wanted her to feel very involved, because I’ve heard of so many stories of people having their work taken and adapted and stripped from them. And it’s something completely different. And I didn’t want that to happen to her because I really respect her. So even in the casting process, I had her input and at the end of the day, it was my decision, but I really wanted her to feel good about the choices we were making.
You said it was somewhat difficult to take a play and turn it into a film. And here you are doing it on your very first feature length film. So what’s it like directing a feature length film? You must be pretty proud and excited.
Thanks. Oh, man, it was so fun. It was honestly, a really joyful experience. It was a great challenge, there were days that it was difficult, but overall, we get to tell a story that we’re passionate about, and we get to go and make a movie, something, not many people have the privilege to do. So that was a blast. The thing that I learned, moving from shorts to features is, at the end of the day, it’s all filmmaking, but there is a larger scope. It’s more prep, and in that prep, you’re digging deeper and deeper, because you have a lot more room to play with. And so we did a ton of crap when we came into the film, memorize the shot list, from beginning to end, the cuts were planned and we knew every piece of it just so that we could try to be there and be present with the actors and the crew on the day.
Did having the play as a background for this help with character development, because that’s one of the big differences you’d have between shorts and features.
Yes, absolutely. It was huge. I’ve done the stage version, so I knew the play so well, I knew it inside and out by the time we finished the run on stage. And that really gave insight to how I wanted to shape the characters in the film. The heart of them are the same, but there’s little nuances that I was going to, pull from my life here. And this person I know here, and it was a huge foundation to then be able to add specific small details.
Jamie’s a pretty conflicted character. Tell me about Jamie and how you became him.
Jamie was the thing, even reading the play, although it was the world altogether and the images. I’d seen these clear cuts before, it was really him and his character paradox that really excited me. He’s a hard case, he’s sort of tough guy and really, what’s happened is to survive in this community.
He’s taken on this armor of performative masculinity and now it’s welded itself to him, and he can’t get it off. But underneath all of that, he’s actually quite a sensitive, and caring person who’s slowly changed over time, because of this armor of essentially toxic masculinity. That was something I grew up in many communities in BC, around the forestry industry, and I knew a lot of these guys. So there was a lot to pull from, there’s even parts of the character, especially the sensitive side of him who’s working this job that he knows he’s actually working himself out of a job, and knows it’s stripping the environment, a place that he cares about. And it hurts him and I saw a lot of my dad in that and so I was able to pull from all these people.
Why did you decide to take the role on? Are you that passionate about it? You could have just given it to another actor being the director.
Yeah. It was something that I went back and forth on, and got advice from people on. At the end of the day, one of my closest mentors said, you know the role so much better than anyone else stepping in is going to know it. In that sense, there’s an advantage, since you’ve done the play, you’ve adapted the script, you know this character, so well, why would you hand that off? And I’d already acted in my short films. I’d already acted and directed myself before. So it was something I was familiar with, and in the end, it felt organic for this project.
How odd is it directing yourself?
It’s a good question. I’ve gotten used to it. At first it was a little bit odd, because you can second guess yourself. But at the end of the day, the thing that wins, if you had to fight between the two, 100% of the time, it’s the side of just making the film as good as it can possibly be.
What happens to me when I’m dragging myself is, when I watched the playback, I don’t even recognize it’s me, I’m just watching the character and it’s the story coming across, so I think when you focus on the story, you don’t recognize yourself in it, and it doesn’t bother us as much.
The environment is so top of mind right now. This is a potent movie in some senses, and its one side of the story that we usually don’t see. What’s your take on the environment side of this whole thing?
We all know that scientists are saying that we have to make these changes now, or it’s too late. The thing that at the end of the day that I always think about is, how do you hold on to hope in these situations? But I think we have to find different ways to and that comes in connection with each other and building community and that’s how we can hold on to hope so that’s my take on it is, we got to act now, and we’ve got to do it together.
Were there any environmental concerns or extra care taken while making the movie?
Yeah, absolutely. In the film, you do see us with the wood processor, cutting a few trees. We were very, very careful to only do a few trees. All the footage that you see in the movies as much footage we had, and actually we double up on it sometimes.
We were very careful in that way, we wanted to show how intense and aggressive and violent that wood processor is. But we didn’t want to do more damage than was needed. The same thing when we’re in the clear cut, making sure that there’s no animal habitats and things like that before we shoot. That was all really important to us, as we were making the film for sure.
Was it important for you to tell a big Nova Scotia story like this?
Yeah, I’m a technically a “come up from away”, right. That’s what they say out here. I’ve been here since 2010. I feel, like Nova Scotia is my home, and I’m Scotian. and I love this place.
I really wanted to tell a story, from Catherine’s play, that told the story of these people and rural communities out here and be honest and not pull any punches on what rural living can be like, when you are without necessarily money, or education. What does that actually do and how does it hold you back? What does it look like when you have big dreams but you don’t fit in the box of what people are expecting.
We can’t talk about Nova Scotia and not mentioned the Trailer Park Boys. I bet you were thrilled to be involved in “Jail” and “Jail Shorts”.
Yeah, that was a lot of fun. A lot of friends were in that too. I got to know, Robb and JP a bit and those two guys are sweethearts, and I did a film this last summer with Robb on Shelley Thompson’s feature debut who played Barb on the “Trailer Park Boys”. So I got to work with him. And that was really neat, because Robb’s a really good actor, and people sometimes might not realize it, but he’s a really good actor.
Trailer Park Boys has quite the following, or they wouldn’t keep making them. Give me something from being on the set that fans might not know about.
The thing that fans might not realize is someone like JP is so chill. He’s just the nicest guy ever and makes jokes about the set. It’s a running gun shoot, like fans might think, Okay, it looks like it’s all just made up on the spot. But, you know, they really do just dive in and go for it and find it on the day. And so there’s a lot of improv flying around. You have to be on your toes on a set, which is fun.
They’re very specific characters, very specific styling, was it hard to fall into that style?
No, I think you just follow people’s lead, right? They’ve been doing it for more than 20 something years now. You get a chance to watch what they’re doing to go Okay, alright, I’ll just jump on board and try to fit in, just try to catch the wave and just surf it and just keep going.
Have any Trailer Park Boys fans come up to you and said, Hey!
I’ve got a couple of messages on Instagram or Twitter saying, you’re Larry, so that was kind of neat. That’s never happened before.
How important do you think the Trailer Park Boys is to your whole career. At this point it’s probably notable?
That’s a great question. I don’t know. It’s funny when I did go to Toronto for a week to get an agent as an actor there. That was the thing that a lot of the agents were saying “Oh Okay, he did however many episodes on that.” That did help me land an agent in Toronto. I’m just curious to see, I know they’ve talked about doing more seasons. So hopefully, fingers crossed, that I get to be brought back, I think that’ll help it more.
Once “Bone Cage” is finished its run, what’s next for you?
This summer, I’m starting to shoot my second feature, which is another micro budget, and that’s called “Look at Me”. I’m excited to shoot that and we’re doing it in chunks, like in piecemeal. We’re allowing for physical changes and changes in season and weather so it’s almost like we’re shooting a series of short films in a way that become a feature even though it’s narratively very feature like, and not biology-like. I’m really excited to do that and in the fall, I can’t say where yet but I got a small web series funded to shoot and I’m waiting on funding for my third feature, which is “In the Waiting Room at Telephone”.