As the 2007 sponsor of the Nashville Film Festival’s Audience Choice Award for Best Feature, I first became aware of “Randy and the Mob” when I was counting ballots. After years of close calls and even a few ties, Randy was unusual because it won by a landslide-a first in my 7 years experience as a ballot counter. So of course I was interested when the film’s publicist called to see if I’d be interested in doing an interview with Ray Mckinnon, “Randy”’s creator/ writer/ director and star, who plays two different roles- as Randy and Randy’s gay twin brother Cecil. I was.
Raeanne (me) and Ray McKinnon hooked up at a popular Nashville eatery called “The Sunset Grille”, at a quiet time in the afternoon, between the end of lunch and the start of after-work cocktail hour. We were pretty much alone, with our appetizers, coffee, and conversation.
For those who haven’t seen it yet, “Randy and the Mob” is the story of good ol' boy Randy Pearson (McKinnon), who can't seem to help getting in over his head financially, and otherwise. His latest scheme to keep his businesses afloat goes awry when a long-standing debt becomes due to Franco (Paul Ben-Victor), a low level Italian mobster. Randy's desperate, but his only hope is a helping hand from his carpal-tunneled, baton-teaching wife Charlotte (Golden Globe Nominee Lisa Blount, also McKinnon’s wife); his estranged, gay twin brother (also played by McKinnon), and "Tino Armani" (The Shield's Walton Goggins), a mysterious modern day bible-spouting prophet with many talents, including high fashion, Italian cooking and clogging. Burt Reynolds also has a small role as mobster Elmore Culpepper.
Randy is McKinnon’s third self-penned film. The first was 1991’s The Accountant, which, miraculously for a first time auteur, actually won the Academy Award for Best Short! The film featured his now expected ensemble cast of his wife Lisa Blount, Walter Goggins, and himself. McKinnon explained, “It was just a short film because we couldn’t get our features made.” Next came 2005’s Chrystal, starring the three, plus Billy Bob Thornton. “Lisa was Chrystal,” NcKinnon explained. “She played the title character. The critics were very good to her, and she won the Best Actress award in the Stockholm Film Festival. And it was just a great performance. You know, I call it a hillbilly art film.”
As it turns out, it wasn’t until McKinnon met Blount that his career as a filmmaker began in earnest. Previously, he was just an actor for hire, a common profession in Hollywood. He tells me, “I was kind of a closeted writer, and it wasn’t until I met her that I came out of the closet, because of her encouragement, her saying that what I was writing was worth something. I hadn’t written Chrystal until I met her. She has family from the Ozark Mountains, and that is where the movie is set. And it’s set there because she would take me there and I got to visit the countryside, so it all started after I met her.”
McKinnon describes how the two met. “Whenever “Needful Things” was being made in Canada, a Stephen King movie, starring Ed Harris and Max von Sydow. It was probably 1994–somewhere around there. And we met on a ferry heading to an island off Vancouver, and we both were in the movie, and that’s how we started hanging out. Spent three months in the little Canadian town and really got to know each other.”
As it turned out, the seed for “Randy and the Mob” was implanted in Ray by Lisa during a casual conversation. Ray described how it happened, “My wife told me the story – a real story – of twin brothers. One was gay and one was straight. It was fascinating. And later, we discovered, since I wrote it, “60 Minutes” did a whole piece on that same thing – maternal twins, where one is straight and one is gay. There are various theories as to what causes that. Because they’re raised the same way, so that’s interesting. And for me, I’m a part of them, I’m both of them, so that’s interesting too.”
I suggested to Ray that every character he writes probably represents him somehow. I asked him if he thought that was true. “Wow. Well, that’s a little deeper than I wanted to go, but yeah,” he replied. “Yeah, certainly. I created them all, and I played them all before I gave them away.” He continued, “When I would read them to Lisa or Walton – I would play all the characters. And yeah, it’s kind of hard to give them all up. And it was very nerve-wracking for Walt to take his character over and make it his. And then he had to present the character to me. That’s very scary for him. And I remember the day that he presented it to me; it was a beautiful, beautiful thing. It was wonderful.”
He continued, “ I think…there’s a little Cecil in me, a little Charlotte in me, a little Tino…So Randy is not the dominant guy. I think I’m a much darker version than Randy is. I don’t think Randy would ever get as dark as I do sometimes.”
Walton Goggins has been in all three of McKinnon’s films, and is as oddball a foil to McKinnon’s unusual characters as the writer/director could hope for. “I met him when he was 15 on a movie in Georgia, and I kind of stayed in touch with him over time. And then he grew up and became this artistic man. And he was in our first film, “The Accountant”. And he was so daggum producorial and problem solving – a real problem solver – that we asked him to come on board with us, and he’s been a close collaborator ever since.
Goggins is much more than an actor to McKinnon, who has his hands more than full with acting and directing. “I did these three movies that were very personal in their own ways. And I played these twins in the end. Walton was by my side. And we have similar aesthetics, so it’s not just trying to get him to understand my vision, he’s helping me with others to make my vision happen. He’s always had my back. Because when I was acting, there was no time to look at the script as an actor. I had to know the lines cold and the characters cold. And boom! It’s time. Become the character. The only way to do that is to become the character.”
McKinnon continued, “I felt like Randy and Cecil were so close as kids, and Randy looked at Cecil to be the leader, because Cecil was a little bit smarter and probably had a little better sense. And Randy felt some comfort in that. I’m just imagining them as kids. And one day Randy said…society told him that he’s got to pull away and be his own man. And that made him uptight. And once he confessed and could take guidance from his brother again, he relaxed. He was more relaxed at the end of the movie. He was like, “Damn, the pressure is off, man. I can go back to my buddy.”
With a huge sigh, McKinnon concludes, “The whole idea of the movie was…it’s a movie that I wanted everybody to feel comfortable from the very beginning. It was going to have its journey and its peril, but it’s a love story. It’s a feel good story. And it’s going to tie-up at the end. He’s going to show up and redeem himself. It’s a fantasy in some ways.”
Randy and the Mob is in limited release in various cities across the US. Be sure to check you local listings!