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3DaysinHavana-1An interview with THREE DAYS IN HAVANA co-director/co-writer/co-producer and star, Gil Bellows

Notable character actor, Gil Bellows is perhaps best known for his role in THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, and for television shows like Ally McBeal and Sanctuary. He has teamed up, however, with fellow actor Tony Pantages to collaborate on writing, producing and directing the feature film THREE DAYS IN HAVANA. The darkly comical film noir revolves around Jack (Bellows), an insurance executive who travels to Havana for a conference but, in a case of mistaken identities with his newfound friend Harry (Greg Wise), gets embroiled in a dangerous assassination plot.

Prior to the Toronto premiere of the film, I had the special opportunity to sit down with the multi-talented Bellows in the Cambridge Suites to discuss this exciting new film.

Black Sheep Reviews: The title of the film is THREE DAYS IN HAVANA. Why Havana of all places?

Gil Bellows: It’s unlike anywhere you’ve ever seen. It’s a place that time forgot a little bit. It’s not an overly exposed location, so the lead character, when he arrives there he seems like a stranger in a strange land, one the audience isn’t all too familiar with. Their experience is what he’s experiencing – which is a new world with old world customs and rituals, etc. After we’d gone there and checked it out, we thought, “This works.”


BSR: One of my favourite aspects of the film were the wordless tableaus of the locals. For example, the elderly man just sitting meditatively in the street and the young kids playing soccer in the plaza. Were those actors or locals and was it scripted?

GB: They weren’t actors. We had spent time looking around the city and saw the way people interacted and experienced their lives in a moment to moment way. We wanted to infuse the main character’s experience with that. So with the old man, we saw him sitting there and the frame was so beautiful that I came over and just sat down next to him. The moment was very organic. And then with the kids, we saw them playing soccer and asked them to play. They agreed but then the parents didn’t agree to have it filmed. But then we got ice-cream for the kids and shot it.

BSR: In the film, Harry, played by Greg Wise, remarks to Jack, “We have to write our own stories.” Yet this story is night and day, if you will, from your own. How did you and Tony (Pantages) come up with this twisted story? What was your inspiration for it?

GB: The inspiration was really a few things – one, Tony and I wanted to collaborate with each other, so that was the beginning. The second was, on a personal level and in just observing other people, I was really loving the low budget, indie, groundbreaking way that films are being made now. So whether it’s mumblecore or new ways on how to tell stories, we wanted to infuse that. Lastly, I had this idea in my head, which turned out to be the middle to end of the movie, that was just sitting with me for a long time.

BSR: Which idea was that?

GB: Just this idea of a mysterious man going to a foreign place and meeting somebody, and then them hanging out and him realizing that things have changed. Realizing that a) there’s a massive problem, and b) now he’s being mistaken for this person. From there we went backwards and started crafting the story.


BSR: You stated in a previous interview that you wrote a bit, then shot a bit, then wrote a bit, then shot a bit, and so on. Can you talk about some of the changes that occurred in the evolution of the film?

GB: The big change was that we had an opening before that included a whole storyline that set up who Jack was before he got on the plane. It was darker, emotionally complex, provocative and upsetting. Then he gets on the plane and goes on this creepy adventure. While I loved all of that material, it didn’t have a harmonious relationship with the rest of the story. So we sadly abandoned it and just expanded a few things that were connected to the rest of the plot.

BSR: In terms of the writing, there was a thank you in the credits to notable Canadian author, Douglas Coupland, and you had esteemed writer/director, Don McKellar, in your film. Did either of them offer you and Tony any writing advice?

GB: Doug is an old friend of Tony’s and he was very supportive of the whole exercise. Don was a very generous collaborator in that he’s willing to dive in and participate on all fronts. He was great in the movie as Pepe.

BSR: Did you already have him (Don) in mind for the role? And, in turn, did you have your actor friends in mind when you and Tony wrote their roles?

GB: Yeah. I think every single person who is in the movie was someone that we wanted for the movie in that role.


BSR: I really enjoyed the Latin music in the film, with a lot of it done by musician, William Holland. How did that collaboration come to be?

GB: Super organically. We started to source stuff as we were shooting and we were very fortunate in that everything we sourced, everyone was very willing to accommodate the scale and scope of what we were offering. I have no idea if there will be a soundtrack but maybe we’ll just create one ourselves.

BSR: There were some fantastic visual cues in the film, such as (female lead and Bellows’ real life wife) Rya Kihlsedt’s animal print dress to symbolize the unpredictable nature of each character, and the coffin shaped (empty) pool which the two lead characters sit and converse in. Were those written in the script or did the costume designer and set designer come up with those on the cuff?

GB: When we scouted the hotel we saw the pool and said, “we have to shoot there.” The management of the hotel said, “what do you mean you’re going to shoot in the pool?” Anyhow, it had already been drained. They generously offered to fill the pool for us but we told them it was perfect as is.

BSR: You co-wrote, co-directed, and co-produced this film with Tony Pantages. What was the biggest obstacle with that two-handed process?

GB: You’re always challenged for resources and time, and we’re very similar in a lot of ways but we operate very differently. He’s incredibly good at doing one thing at a time. Incredibly good. He’s an artist at it. But we were in a situation where we had to get a lot of things done constantly. So I was running around trying to get all of those things done and he would just be doing one thing. So that created a lot of chaos. Well just a little. But we have twenty-five years together so that offset the chaos.

Bellows (left), with Pantages.

Bellows (left), with Pantages.

BSR: While working on the film you were a man of many different roles. Director, producer, writer, actor, and then in your personal life, husband and father. Which role was the hardest to do or maintain during that time?

GB: I would say just creating a balance between all of them. After a couple of months where every day you’re in crisis mode, people don’t want to hear about your problems any more. They don’t want to know about it. They love you and want everything to work out, but they’d rather that your focus and attention be on something else. For my family in many ways, the premiere in Toronto is a celebration of their patience and good will.

THREE DAYS IN HAVANA is currently playing in limited release in select Canadian cities.

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