CS Interviews The Last Shift’s Richard Jenkins & Shane Paul McGhie
Andrew Cohn’s The Last Shift is now available on digital and Blu-ray and to commemorate the event we spoke with the film’s stars, Richard Jenkins and Shane Paul McGhie, who discussed the film in detail and even offered some insight into their own fast food experiences.
The Last Shift is an American story about two men struggling in the same town, while worlds apart. Stanley (Richard Jenkins), an aging fast-food worker, plans to call it quits after 38 years on the graveyard shift at Oscar’s Chicken and Fish. His last weekend takes a turn while training his replacement, Jevon (Shane Paul McGhie), a talented but stalled young writer whose provocative politics keep landing him in trouble. These two who share little in common are brought together through circumstance. Stanley, a high school dropout who has watched life pass by his drive-through window, proudly details the nuances of the job. While Jevon, a columnist who’s too smart to be flipping patties, contends their labor is being exploited. A flicker of camaraderie sparks during the long overnight hours in a quiet kitchen.
The movie also stars Shane Paul McGhie (Deputy), Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Dolemite Is My Name), and Golden Globe nominee Ed O’Neil (Married with Children, Modern Family). The Last Shift was written and directed by Andrew Cohn (Medora, Night School). The movie was executive produced by Alexander Payne and Lance Acord. Producers include Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa, Sam Bisbee, Alex Lipschultz, and Bert Kern.
The Last Shift will release in theaters on September 25.
ComingSoon.net: First of all, guys, I want to say congratulations on the film. I thought it was an excellent and timely motion picture with terrific performances by both of you and I really, really, really enjoyed it. I’ll start off by asking what attracted each of you to the project?
Richard Jenkins: Well, the script. I mean, the writing, the part. I read it and it’s one of those things where you read something you just say, you think I can bring something to this, or no, I don’t think I know what to do. Somebody else should do this. But I loved the character and I loved the writing. And that’s always the first thing that – and we got to shoot in Chicago, which is something that I always wanted to do and had never really done it.
Shane Paul McGhie: Yeah, for me as well, I would say that it was definitely the script. I just, I had never really seen anything or been a part of anything like it, that type of slice of life movie. And then also, of course, just seeing that Richard was attached to the project, I just really wanted to work with him.
CS: Shane, your character is angered by a lot of pressing social issues to the point where he’s almost given up on life. Would you say that that’s a correct assessment? And how did you approach this character and these specific political overviews?
McGhie: Yeah, I think that that would be a correct assessment, but I also think he just felt stuck, you know? He felt stuck with the cards that had been dealt for him. And yeah, I approached it just by, I mean, just any way that I would approach any character. It wasn’t so much very different for this character. It was just being able to rehearse in the space of the fast food restaurant. But other than that, it wasn’t very different.
CS: Richard, I’ve worked in a number of fast food restaurants over the years and met my fair share of Stanley’s. How did you go about crafting this particular character?
Jenkins: Well, I too worked in fast food restaurants and pizza places and went to high school with a lot of Stanley’s, not a lot, but I went to high school with them. Good guys, good guys, you know, just limited in their understanding and their availability and their experience. And you know, and Andrew Cohn, who wrote the script and directed it had been making documentaries about folks like this for years. And he understands these people. And that’s when I read it and I thought, gosh, I know this guy. I remember this guy. So it was, yeah, it brought back memories.
CS: Were there any particular details that you added to the film based off of people that you knew?
Jenkins: Yeah, after you’re closed down at night, we used to play cards forever until three in the morning, you know? And something’s always going on. But you know, I added the fact that he didn’t graduate from high school and I had a class ring because I knew a guy in high school that didn’t graduate that had a class ring. And because we ordered them our junior year. And I don’t think people even do that. Shane, did you do class rings?
McGhie: No, we didn’t do – I don’t think we did that, no. I didn’t get one.
Jenkins: It’s old guys like us. Everybody had a class ring. And so, you paid for it at the end of your junior year. So and this guy used to wear it and he said, well, I paid for it. So I added that. Yeah, there’s a lot of things. You know, the thing is we kind of didn’t know who these people were until we finished filming the movie. Hopefully we surprised each other, and kind of let the relationship grow and shrink and grow and shrink. So it was really a fun process.
CS: Shane, how much freedom did you guys have on the set to improvise with your characters? The dialogue and chemistry between the two of you feels so natural. It feels like you’re making it up as you’re moving along.
McGhie: Thank you. You know, Andrew gave us the reigns to play and to figure out these characters like Richard was saying. But we didn’t really need to improvise a whole lot. You know, it was on the page. But we had, like I was saying before, we had space, we had time in the space to just rehearse and block out some of the scenes and that really helped. And we kind of just played with these guys and tried different ways and I know I tried different ways of delivery and it was fun. It felt like we had the space to just play.
Jenkins: And you know, we had no time to make this. And it never felt rushed, which is really weird. But did you feel? I never felt like we were up against the clock.
McGhie: No. I was going to say they never made us feel like we didn’t have that time to do this kind of, feel it out, which I think is so important just for the sake of the art.
CS: These two characters from opposite ends of the spectrum, but they are also similar in their inability to break free from their current plight. Are they friends in your eyes?
Jenkins: I guess watching it, you have a feel. I just know that they liked each other, and I mean, there was a lot of the movie that we really liked each other. I know Stanley really liked Jevon. And it just is a shame that he wasn’t equipped to take that next step, you know? I think that’s part of the tragedy of the film, the relationship.
CS: Would you consider Stanley as a man who in a lot of ways has his head stuck in the sand and has put his faith in a system that no longer works, but he just doesn’t quite recognize that?
Jenkins: Absolutely. And Jevon teaches him that, and he’s like, oh really? And who learns what from whom, you know? And Stanley learns from Jevon, because Stanley doesn’t really have anything to teach Jevon. But Jevon just kind of opens his eyes to his own life. And it’s kind of cool. But Stanley’s just not emotionally equipped to take that friendship and make it something lasting.
CS: I think Jevon as well is a very complex, interesting character. What makes him so relatable?
McGhie: I mean, I think we can all kind of identify a time in life where we felt stuck, you know? I think for many of us, it might be right now. But I think it was just kind of bringing that feeling of what do I do next to the character. But I’m sure I’ve gone to school with guys who reminded me of Jevon. But to kind of harp on what we were just talking about, is there’s the hope that even though these guys come from vastly different worlds in the same town, there’s the hope that they connect. There’s the hope and there’s a realization we have as the audience that these guys are a little bit more similar than they think. So we kind of root for them in that way. But yeah.
Jenkins: And Andrew does not go for the easy. He’s not there to make you comfortable as an audience. He has something he wants to say about America, you know? And I think it’s beautiful, the way he chooses to do it.
CS: Richard, you’ve done so many memorable characters over the years. In fact, I actually just watched Bone Tomahawk for the first time a couple of months ago and I thought your character was terrific. How do you continue to find inspiration for these people that you play?
Jenkins: Well, oh God, Bone Tomahawk. I’ve been waiting my whole life to play that guy. I was attached to that movie for almost maybe – I think Kurt [Russell] was attached to it first, and then I was right after that. And it was like a year and a half in the making to get it done. But you know, I’ve said this a million times and it was true. It’s luck. You know, it’s luck. You wait for a part like that and it comes along. Sometimes they don’t. But you know, the answer to your question is I don’t know. I don’t know. But I just am grateful that I’ve had a chance to play a lot of different, interesting people.
CS: And this is for both of you as well, are there things you guys learned from one another as you we making this film that helped your performances a little bit more?
Jenkins: Yeah, I mean, Shane, he’s just there. He’s just there. And when you’re with an actor who’s just there with you, you don’t feel pressured to do anything, to take the scene a certain way. I mean, you don’t put anything artificial on it. And you can change it up and he’ll go with you. I trusted him. And when you trust someone, it makes it a lot easier.
McGhie: Thanks, man. I learned a ton from Richard. First of all, just the humility and sincerity that he has after being just as a person and then add that he’s been in this business for so long, he’s worked the caliber of projects he’s been involved with and still is willing to just come up and say, hey, how’s it going, and play and allow me to make mistakes and find the character. He was a part of creating that space of just, like you said, trust. And I thought that was really awesome. And I don’t know. I feel like with this character, I just was able to just try so many different things. And he encouraged me to. He said, “Don’t necessarily say what your character will or won’t do because then you close off yourself for inspiration and just seeing where that takes you.” I just picked his brain so much, even off the set, when we were eating portillos and hot dogs, which by the way was research. That was for the character. We’re very committed. But yeah, I hope to be like that. Hopefully my career goes the way that his has gone, and to be able to reach a hand back like he has done would be great.
[WARNING: Spoilers ahead!]
CS: So, and this is obviously spoiler-y, but that last scene on the bus, which to me was just an absolutely powerful moment, if it works out in a different way and they do have the opportunity to actually speak to each other, Shane, what do you think your character would tell Stanley in that moment, and vice versa?
McGhie: That’s a really good question. I think he would say, “You mother —!” No, I’m just kidding. I think at that point I think he would probably say – I want to believe that he would say, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” And not to give it away, but you see where his life goes after what happens. And he decides to get back to what he’s good at. And I don’t know that it would’ve happened the same. I think maybe that incident caused him to kind of hit rock bottom and reevaluate. So I would hope he would say, you know, it’s all right. It’s okay. It’s all good. Something like that. Yeah.
Jenkins: That’s the important thing, is you connect with both. I remembered doing that and feeling incredibly embarrassed, seeing him. Because I know what I did. And I know what I didn’t do and what I didn’t say. And you know, I felt embarrassed and humiliated. And of course, it was up to me to either go up to him or not. I mean, he didn’t owe me anything. I owed him everything and I just wasn’t able to do it. And that’s the tragedy of this, you know? That’s the tragedy, that emotionally and intellectually maybe he just wasn’t able to take that next step. And you know, Andrew, which he’s talking about America here. He’s talking about America. And I think it’s beautiful and subtle and true. I think it’s true. I think we talk past each other. There is a connection. These guys really like each other. Stanley really likes Jevon and learns from him, but just is not able to overcome 50, 60 years of beliefs and indoctrinations. So when we played the scene, that’s what he felt. When he wasn’t looking at me, I felt embarrassed, embarrassed.
CS: On a lighter note, can you expound upon your personal fast food experiences?
Jenkins: Well, the place I worked at, I mean, it was privately owned. It was the Pizza Villa in DeKalb, Illinois, which was in 1964, I think I started working there, one of the few pizza places. And it’s still there. The pizza still is great, a thin crust, midwestern Chicago style pizza. A tavern style, they call it. And we did mostly high school kids working there. All of us were in school together and had like six booths. Everything was takeout, delivery, most everything. And I loved working there. You know, it was great. We’d close around one o’clock on a weekend and everyone would play cards in the back until three in the morning. I mean, it was a great place to work, you know?
McGhie: I actually haven’t worked in a fast food restaurant, but I worked at a restaurant and I don’t know if I have a specific story, but I was a host. And you just see what a lack of food really does to people’s demeanor. You know, really needing food, it changes a person. You know, everything kind of goes out the window. Being polite, things of that nature. And yeah, true colors come out. So it was very interesting.
CS: What do you guys want audiences to take away from this film?
McGhie: I’m hoping that they take away, the ones that need to have – well, everybody, I’m hoping that everybody takes away a new perspective from the film. The commentary on race is subtle and I want to kind of think the movie is like the medicine with a spoonful of sugar. It doesn’t hit you over the head, but I don’t know. I just want them to take away a different perspective. And I think that these people are very often overlooked in society. And you know, it’s a slice of life movie, but for these people, these circumstances are so big in their lives. And so, yeah, I hope it gives the audience a new perspective and they go home and have a conversation and, or will not go home, it’ll be on DVD. But they have a conversation with their loved ones during dinner and bring up some things. Maybe it’ll change some minds, hopefully.
Jenkins: I hope they like me. And I don’t care if they like Shane. I can’t take it with this guy. No, I actually, I think that’s pretty good, Shane. That’s kind of it. You know, I hate to tell people what to think about something. But you know, watch it and hopefully it’ll creep up on you because I think it’s a beautiful piece. I think Andrew just did a great job with it. I know both Shane and I are really proud of it.