Eric Mabius has spent the past few years establishing himself as one of Hollywood’s most dynamic and versatile actors in the industry today. His latest film, ‘Price Check,’ pairs him with the Queen of Indie Films, Parker Posey, and solidifies him as a leading man to watch in the years to come. At it’s core, ‘Price Check’ is a smart and honest comedy that examines who we think we are and what we’re willing to do for the life we think we deserve. The film centers around a one time indie music marketer Pete Cozy (Eric Mabius) who has settled into a suburban home and a job in the pricing department of a middling supermarket chain. His job is banal but stable, and allows him to spend quality time with his wife and young son; although they’re drowning in debts they seem happy. Everything changes when Pete gets a new boss: the beautiful, high powered, fast talking Susan Felders (Parker Posey). Thanks to Susan’s influence, Pete suddenly finds himself on the executive fast track, which both surprises and excites him. As his salary increases, so do his work hours and Susan’s expectations, and the less time he has for his family. Before long, his relationship with his boss starts to cross the line of professional etiquette, with momentum and mutual attraction creating tension in the workplace and at home. ‘Price Check’ is a hilarious and poignant film for our times, a workplace comedy about reconciling cubicle politics with the comforts of home, and dreams with reality. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Eric Mabius to discuss his journey in the entertainment industry, the making of ‘Price Check’ and much more!
They say a career in the entertainment industry isn’t for the faint off heart. How did you get started on your journey and what made you pursue it as a career?
I started in high school. I went to public school in MA, there were quite a few sons and daughters of professors, so they had a pretty ambitious program there. They did a lot of original playwriting and our teacher was really ambitious about finding new and ambitious playwrights from New York City. We would bring some of the shows to production. We probably did about 15 shows a year, which was pretty unique for any high school, much less a public school. I think that is how I caught the bug. I went to Sarah Lawrence College, which is on the edge of Manhattan, so I still felt somewhat protected going from rural western Massachusetts to the edge of the city. I started interning at a great Off-Broadway theater where I got to see some of the great workshopping plays from John Patrick Shanley. I got to watch John Turturro, Richard Dreyfuss, John Voight and other people like that rehearse. That is where I, early on, learned a couple of things such as lack of funds for a theater and struggling as being something that is romantic and not something to run away from. That experience made me OK with struggle at an early age, which was nice!
Who would you cite as your biggest influences or inspirations along the way?
Absolutely, my high school English teacher who ran the drama program, who has since retired — John Worthen. He is just a magnificent man, who made you feel as if there was nothing you couldn’t accomplish if you set you mind to it. When I told him that I had gotten into Sarah Lawrence College, he said “Oh. I don’t think that is a good idea for a career.” Prior to that, I had never had a bad word out of him! [laughs] But it only pushed me further! I took it as a direct challenge! [laughs] But anyway…
Your latest film is ‘Price Check’. What was it about the script and the character in particular that drew you to your role in the film?
I had worked with the producer, Dolly Hall, before on an independent film and the casting director is someone who I know and respect very grateful, Kerry Barden. I read the script for the film and thought it was something I really wanted to explore. It had aspects of consumerism and manipulation of the consumer through a grocery store. I got into the whole mentality and exploration of exploitation of the consumer. I think people in the age group, represented by the characters in this film, come to a fork in the road. It is a point where some of the dreams we had when we were in our teens and our twenties start to fade away. Especially in New York where it was record producing, starting your own label or starting your own band. What happens is you find yourself ten or fifteen years later aware of those dreams and questioning what you are willing to sacrifice for things like a steady job and a roof over your head because you have kids — it changes the whole equation. I think that is a constant struggle with parents, it is something always in the back of our minds and it was something I wanted to look at and hadn’t done so in a film environment. Obviously, Parker [Posey] coming on board was massive because I don’t think anyone could have played the part as well as she did. She was the engine that drove everyone and pushed everyone forward, all of these characters that were in a daze and punching a clock. I felt there was sort of a grayish existence, similar to “Joe Versus The Volcano,” which is a Shanley script that Tom Hanks did years ago. There was something that really captured me in that image, the sort of ozone-y, nasty, zombie-like existence. Parker’s character comes in and jump starts everyone’s lives. She gets them to care about things they never thought they would care about and makes them feel like they are actually making a difference in what they are doing.
How do typically prep for a role and bring the character from script to screen?
There really is no typical process. I think the process comes about organically for each character. I always look to the script first, it is always the anchor for me. There was a book that Michael [Walker] and Parker were talking about titled “Buy-ology”. It is a book about the theory of manipulation of consumers in the grocery store. We take it for granted when we go to buy luxury goods like clothing and so on but there have been some really pioneering ideas in the past ten years, especially with things like the cult of “organic,” which is a term being thrown around a lot in the past three to five years which has become really relevant. There is such a manipulation going on and we don’t realize it. I found that fascinating, I really did. I tend to look at how the character interacts with each person in his life. I look at what the character doesn’t say and might be thinking. There are always one or two elements that unfold through the course of rehearsing. We got a few rehearsals in for this project, not that many. You do that work at home but through that process, a discovery gradually takes place. Hopefully, by the time you come to set, you are in the ballpark of who you want to be.
What is your fondest memory of your time on this project?
The term that always gets thrown around on an indie film like this is “labor of love”. It is always true! Especially these days when there is less money for independent film. There are always people sacrificing. There are people making massive sacrifices, such as working for basically nothing, working insane hours in insane circumstances! We had many locations on this project and it was very ambitious. You have to have fun while you are doing all this or there really is no reason to do it. If you end up in some place that is similar to what you had imagined in your mind’s eye, you feel really successful in some ways. You never come to a finite point of resting.
As an actor, what do you consider the biggest challenge of making this film?
You always want more time. I think lack of time is the biggest challenge truthfully. There is also the challenge of trying to strike a certain chord. The director, Michael Walker, also wrote film. I think he is a brilliant writer/director and fortunately, not to protective of his material. He understood when thing had to be sacrificed for the greater good. You are always working against time and lack of money, which is how you get more of it! Telling the story in it’s essence is really the common goal, which I think is the reason why I am still doing what I am doing. There is an excitement that you feel when you realize everyone involved is there to work toward that same goal. It is truly inspiring. I don’t think you get that in a lot of jobs, so that is a lot of the appeal of acting for me.
How do you feel you have evolved as an actor since starting out?
I am having more fun than I ever have before. You have an idea in your head of where you want to end up and it is a process of discovery but I think understanding that the process is the goal as opposed to an end result is key. You can’t really think about it or worry about it, giving over of yourself and trusting the director is more essential now than it used to be. I’d like to think it is less about my ego because of that! If you are giving yourself over completely, there is a sort of surrender that goes on between yourself, the director and your cast mates that is very liberating and a bit transcendent, not to sound to lofty about it. I think because of that, it is a lot less fixed, my idea of what I want the result to be and as a result I have a lot more fun.
Thanks so much for your time today, Eric. We look forward to spreading the word on you and all of your projects! All the best!
Thank you very much, Jason! It was been a pleasure!