Colin Michael Day on The Loneliest Road in America, stardom and avoiding getting stabbed
A couple of years back, University of Denver grads Mardana Mayginnes and Colin Michael Day set out from Denver and headed to Los Angeles to chase the dream of making it big in the film world -- and now, they return to accomplish that goal with a film about that trip...sort of. For The Lonliest Road in America, their first feature film, which they co-wrote and produced together (Mayginnes directs and Day stars), the two used their Denver-to-L.A. road trip as a template for the story of three characters taking their time and exploring the desolate Nevada stretch of Highway 50 from which the film takes its name, and where it was all filmed on location. The resulting movie, which premiered last year in L.A. and has been making the rounds of the small-festival circuit, is getting its first Denver screening tonight with appearances from both Mayginnes and Day. In advance of that, we caught up with Day to chat about the film, the original road trip and almost getting stabbed by a drunk archeologist.
Westword: The movie obviously hasn't screened anywhere here yet, so I haven't been able to see it. Do you mind telling me a little about it?
Colin Michael Day: It's a road-trip movie from Denver to L.A. The main character, Jamie, who I play, has got a girlfriend back home, he's going to college and he just feels like he has to get away, and so he goes on a road trip with his friend Matt. Matt has a lot of money, has sex with a lot of women, all that, and he's like, let's just go to Vegas, but Jamie wants to go to these small mining towns along Highway 50 in Nevada that have been abandoned when the mines moved on, and just meet some of the people who live there and hear their stories. So they go, and they get drunk in all these towns. There's a lot of drinking in the movie.
What starts to happen is, they pick up a girl along the way that Matt knows, and this love relationship kind of starts to happen between Jamie and Ashley, the girl that they pick up. So you're going through all these mining towns that have been used and just sort of exploited by capitalism -- once the mine moves on, the town dies -- and Jamie's kind of starting to do that with women; he's already got a girlfriend at home who he's basically left for Ashley, and in the end, he kind of leaves Ashley behind and betrays all of his friends. So the effect of capitalism on these small towns kind of reflects Jamie's attitude toward women, which is basically he just leaves all this devastation in his wake, doing whatever the fuck he wants.
WW: You and Mayginnes had made basically this same trip when you moved out to L.A. Is it a true story?
CMD: Semi, yeah. We road-tripped to L.A., but we kind of came up with the idea because we wanted to do something that we knew, and we've road-tripped a lot -- so there are a lot of true stories or true experiences in it, although the narrative itself is fictional. You know, going on the scouting trip before we started shooting and hanging out in these mining towns and hanging out with the locals, we had to change the script. The experiences we had just during that, we were like, we gotta put some of this stuff in.
But, yeah, the characters are kind of based on some of the people we know, and these mining towns -- Mardana knows about them because of a trip that he took when he was younger, with his father. So we used that in the movie, like Jamie knowing where to go, and how to find some of these more obscure towns that aren't necessarily right on Highway 50, that you'd really have to know how to find them to not just end up totally lost in the desert.
WW: You obviously play the lead in the film, but you and Mayginnes made it together. Besides acting, what was your role in it?
CMD: We were roommates at the time -- we actually still are roommates -- and we were trucking away doing day jobs and stuff, but when we came out here, we had wanted to make our own projects. L.A.'s a beast, though. But about three or four months in, we decided to go ahead and write a script, so we picked a project that we knew we could do, that wouldn't cost like 15 million dollars.
So it was like, well, what do we like to do? We like road-tripping, and we like getting drunk in random places, and so that's what we did. So we went to a coffee shop and outlined, and then Mardana went off and spent about eight months turning that into a script, so all the writing credit goes to him. But then we got back together and started trying to make it, and we got a lot of very talented people to basically work for free, and we basically produced it together, although we don't give ourselves production credits. We worked with a of commercial people who wanted to get into features, and we produced it on a really low budget, but it turned out really good.
WW: What was the process of making it like?
CMD: Well, I had to audition for my own film.
WW: For your roommate?
CMD: Yeah, how it was, was we were bringing on all these people, and these are professional people who are doing it for a reason, and if they're going to work on it, and they're going to work cheap or free, they want it to be good. So we went through a round of auditions, and then I went to the call-backs, and I, you know, I had to prove myself.
Once we started shooting, we were shooting on location in rural Nevada, and it's like the Wild West out there. We had people try to shoot us, we had people try to stab us.
CMD: Oh, yeah. In one town we were in -- because, you know, there would be, like, one bar in the town, so if you're at a bar, it's at this one bar. So we'd be shooting in that bar but then also drinking at that bar -- so in one town, there were some archeologists that tried to stab one of our crew, because they felt like we were betraying the town or something, I don't really know. Anyway, we're at this town with the one bar, and we're drinking late-night, and we were shooting late and staying in the same motel as the archeologists were and just generally keeping some pretty odd hours, so I think they were pissed off about that. So this guy was just drunk and staring down Craig, one of our actors -- who was actually playing a local -- and some kind of discussion happened and the guy pulled a knife. But Craig's kind of a badass, and it didn't really bother him too much. Anyway, but then the guy was cool, and we drank with him.
WW: That's crazy. Now that it's wrapped up, are you pleased with the reception it's gotten?
CMD: Very pleased. When we started it, I didn't expect it to be as solid a film as we managed to create -- you know, you have the film in your head and you just kind of make it, and then it's like, "Wow, this is actually a pretty good movie." I mean it's not award-winning or anything, but people seem to enjoy it, and that's really all you can hope for.
Day's The Loneliest Road in America makes its Denver premiere tomorrow at 7 p.m. at the Denver FilmCenter, and is followed by a Q&A with Day and Mayginnes. Tickets are $9.75. For more info, call 303-595-3456.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Denver art and theater scene.