The series An Incomplete Education, which began as a short film and is now streaming on the YouTube channel of Radiant Studios, is an incredibly timely series because it is in many ways about two characters, a father and a daughter, that are in the midst of a global pandemic and must pool their resources in order to get through it together. It’s also an extremely fascinating project, made all the moreso as it stars veteran actor Dylan Walsh, newcomer Paloma Rabinov, is written and directed by Scott Swofford and produced by Jared Shores of Radiant Studios.
On a recent afternoon, Brief Take participated in the press junket for An Incomplete Education in which in the course of three individual phone calls with Walsh, Rabinov and Shores, we gleaned so much insight into the unique series.
The following is a condensed and edited version of three fantastic interviews with Dylan Walsh, Paloma Rabinov and Jared Shores.
Brief Take: Dylan, you have three daughters. How much did the personal aspect lead into the professional aspect of working with Paloma on this project?
Dylan Walsh: I’ve been doing it long enough that I can trust that it’s going to happen. Which is that you shake somebody’s hand, in this case, Paloma’s hand, and within an hour, you’re supposed to have an intimate relationship. And when I say intimate, you know I mean a deep relationship with her as your daughter. It comes in handy, because with the three daughters, I’ve had every possible experience with them. [laughs] And I let it run through me. I didn’t think too much about that. In fact, that was the one thing about which I didn’t have to think. I let that stuff happen. And Paloma, who you said that we were happy to have a veteran there in me, Paloma was every bit as prepared and excellent, she’s such emotional access, she’s very intelligent. I found it very easy to sit with her and let her be my daughter.
BT: The two of you have incredible chemistry. How do you generally go about building a connection with your scene partners?
DW: Well, you know, it’s kind of you show up, it doesn’t always go well, I’m not going to lie and say: “Oh well! We acted and it’s always great.” That’s why I point to how great it was that she was so prepared. That also as an actress, very smart and willing and open, and that makes it easier. We didn’t have much time. We didn’t have time to sit around and grapple with this and that and the other. We kind of had to jump in and I think that helped the piece because we were free with it, like free-fall [chuckles] with it. And then again, her personality, I warmed to it immediately and that opened up for me the ability to treat her as if she was one of my daughters. My experience could come out without me overthinking it really.
BT: Paloma, what was it like to spend the end of the world with Dylan Walsh?
Paloma Rabinov: [laughs] It was cool. Dylan is so awesome, it was really fun to play with him. This is actually my first short and really lengthy time on a production. I was so excited to finally have the opportunity to build a relationship and dive into that with 1. With another person, because it’s literally fun to and 2. another actor who has been working for a long time. I really felt like we became great friends. I mean I know he’s supposed to be my Dad, [chuckles] I am older than the character that I’m supposed to be, so we became really great friends. I think that, for me, and I can’t speak for Dylan because I’m not sure what his take on all of this was, but there was a comfort in knowing that we had each other, so the fear, at least for Rachel and for me, wasn’t as present, it was more of a hope and the possibility of being able to be surrounded by others and finding a community.
BT: This project was developed pre-pandemic, but watching it now, it’s kind of scary. What does it mean to have this project come out at this particular time?
DW: It’s amazing. To think that in November 2019 it was something that incited our imaginations. And months later, we had hit right on it! It felt a little to close to home. I think that the problem is [chuckles] some people are going to assume we had made this thing into the pandemic, and give Scott Swofford credit, he wrote a really cool, prescient piece of what we thought was science-fiction, [laughs] it wasn’t science-fiction at all. There’s a jolt in me that this went from fiction to [whooshes] Wow! This is really happening. It’s kind of like a head spinner. We’re all dealing with this and it’s crazy, but to have come from this little short, where we touched on it, barely trying to imagine what it might be like, and now here it is. It’s pretty strange.
BT: One project that you were in previously was Nip/Tuck alongside Julian McMahon, in which you again formed an incredible 1-1 dynamic. How do you go about doing this and what does this project mean for you in this vein?
DW: Well, you’ve got to be open to what’s really there. And who knows what’s going to be there. I mean Julian and I are very different people and I think that without Nip/Tuck ever coming along, I don’t think that our spheres would have intersected enough for us to become friends. That’s not to say that I would have met him and not liked him, we’re soooo different, I don’t think that we ever would have tried. The show gave us this unique opportunity. And again, I think potentially, I could get on his nerves and he could get on mine, but we were so…first of all, working so hard together, we enjoyed the differences we had and that was lucky, because I’ve worked with people where you can’t enjoy the differences. [laughs] And that was the secret to Nip/Tuck. First of all, Ryan Murphy is a genius, but secondly, he happened to get two guys, of whom he always said, it was like a heterosexual love story. And that’s exactly what happened with Julian and me. We hung out more than I hung out with my wife at that time. I mean for 7 years, it was him and me and it was a great ride. But look, you’re pointing out…you’re making a good point, how does that happen? Is it something in our acting technique? Ah, I think it’s more an openness and the script, you know, I think the writing helped kind of put us at ease, in the sense that it’s in the writing, let’s go with it. But some of the finer points, when we first did the pilot, the contrast was so severe. I mean I wore these square kind of Brooks Brothers suits and I was trying to learn Spanish in this silly way, and he was Mister Slick. And we were able to make those differences a little more refined. It wasn’t so…such broad strokes. And that was only because him and me, we worked well together.
BT: What do you think of the placement of a red hat in the movie and the suggestion that it may be a MAGA hat?
DW: That’s a Scott Swofford question, but being there, I was aware of it. But these are the times we’re in and whichever way you kind of land on that topic: science, religion, of course! And it’s not exclusive, it can bend, but the argument there—we’re all living in it, what’s on the news every day, in my heart to be honest with you. I mean how far we’ve gotten away from science, but at least believing any of it, it’s like fiction to people. I think that this is a much smarter script than it seems on the surface, it’s funny, because I wish it had been intentional, the hat. But that’s how it works, in making movies. Sometimes it’s a little accident and it ends up being the smartest thing that you do.
BT: You were announced for Superman and Lois, which touches on similar themes. How much of the content of the roles need to matter to you?
DW: Well, it does need to matter. But that’s like a zone and within that zone, almost 35 years of doing this, you can’t count on the content stimulating you consistently. To me, it’s similar to when I was an English major in college and yeah, every once in a while you read a book that you absolutely love, and it was easy to write an essay on it. But the harder challenge is [chuckles] when you didn’t particularly enjoy it or like it or resonate with it, you still gotta write an essay! And sometimes, as an actor, this is day to day, hour to hour, you gotta find it, you better find it. There’s always content there, it might take some imagination.
In the case of An Incomplete Education, this was loaded with content, in terms of polemics and everything we’re arguing and my daughter, we might be the last two alive, all of this it was pretty loaded for a short film. And I rode it, like it was a wave. But I’ve done other things in which I’ve had to reach a little bit. In the case of Superman and Lois, I look forward to having fun with that. I play this General Lane, Lois Lane’s Dad. And again, another daughter, [laughs] it’s my speciality. So I look forward to that. I imagine that’s going to be where the softer edges are or more a conflict to which I can relate. But then, you know…the world is in danger. And you have Superman, and you gotta use him, and you have to push him. And he happens to be your son-in-law? [laughs] And the General who is taking care of the world, they gotta put that aside. I’m looking forward to it, it’s a totally different tone, I don’t think that I have done anything like it in a while, but I think that it’s going to be fun.
BT: In An Incomplete Education, you’re a teacher and a mentor. Do you feel like this in the acting world as well?
DW: Well I do feel…and this wasn’t something that I consciously decided at some point, you find yourself on the set and something comes up and you do kind of have an instinct and you can consciously nudge something in a certain way, whereas for so many years, I’m standing there wide-eyed, green, I felt green for years and waiting for some kind of direction that’s magical, that’s going to make you magical. And now, it’s me. [laughs] Not that I’m going to impart some genius or anything, but you do this enough and starts to get into your muscle memory and you can kind of feel something moving in a direction that’s maybe not going to work the best. And tv moves fast, so sometimes you’re lucky enough to kind of do that in a rehearsal, but often you’re already on the fly, you’re already shooting, and look, I’ve never liked other actors who boss other people around. But if there’s something that I know, or I feel strongly about, to me, that’s the fun of it. I’ve always enjoyed the process, and if you can grapple with something or maybe get it a little better—we did that on Nip/Tuck, that was a lot of fun to do. That was tough material and sometimes you have to find it, very quickly. [chuckles] But you had to dig deep a little and that’s the part I enjoy.
BT: What are some of your quaranstreams?
DW: Well, I’ve had a lot of time to watch tv and catch up on shows, as all of America has, as all of the world has, and they hit me harder, too, I find that I’m more emotional, easier to emotion, almost like my body wants to let out some emotion. I think that we’re all walking around and the part of our brain, the mechanism that is the fight-or-flight response, is so on fire and we can’t admit it. We can’t walk around like that. It’s there and anything can trigger it. And that’s why it’s so strange and actually kind of interesting and exciting that the Black Lives Matter movement has kind of been thrown into this energy of a pandemic. I think that there’s some emotion—negative and positive—that’s coming from misplaced triggers, but for me, I was sitting in bed last night with my girlfriend and we were watching Dead to Me, which is an excellent show, and we were watching the second season. And I gotta tell you, the acting in that show, I’m in awe of what they were doing and I think so much is asked of them emotionally, and to watch it, first of all, my admiration, because I know what it’s like to be on a set and to be asked over and over again to go there. This very deep, upsetting place. To sit in my bed and watch it, first of all, I could enjoy it. And secondly, I could cry a little. I mean, this is where we are, this is what we’re in. And I let them trigger me with their amazing work and I thought the second season of Dead to Me was genius.
BT: What have you noticed in terms of the shift in the landscape toward streaming?
DW: Well, first of all, the storytelling. You know, maybe it started with, well, of course it started with HBO, Showtime, and I was lucky enough to be a part of FX getting started, along with The Shield, in which we were trying to push boundaries. Now everybody will use that phrase. [laughs] I think that FX even used it to promote the network for a while. But the whole streaming revolution has encouraged really talented writers to go find something new. [chuckles] And I have to say, that the audience, the actors, the rest of us beneficiaries of this, because…and this goes back, Nip/Tuck was part of this, it wasn’t like doing…and believe me, I’ve also done procedurals. It’s not like hitting a mark and saying basically the same four lines for a seven year run of some police procedural. This was like a circus. You’d go to work every day and the content was so out there and it was fun to do that. I think that the streaming revolution has taken their cue from those kind of shows and taken off. There was a point, actually and not to give Nip/Tuck too much credit, but there was a point in which I was watching Dead to Me and I thought: “Ah!” Liz Feldman, the showrunner, I think that she watched Nip/Tuck. The way that she would push to get to the emotion. That’s Ryan Murphy, he doesn’t like to mess around with too much small talk. He likes to get in there and get people crying, [laughs] and yelling and we’ll see how it develops. My only comment about it, not a criticism, but every episode has to kind of outdo the last, which is what we felt on Nip/Tuck. We had to do that for a hundred episodes, how do we keep… [laughs] And that becomes its own structure, and for an audience, you can almost kind of feel predictable about it, you know what I mean? Oh, the next crazy thing is coming. I think that writers are going to learn to temper this, mix it with this, vary the pace and all that stuff. But mainly, I’m amazed at all the storytelling that is going on. I’m also watching a show called Unorthodox, which is beautifully done.
BT: Where do you find the magic? During the filming or after the fact?
DW: I think it’s both. I love, and going back to the red hat that wasn’t intentional, accidents and having them reverberate, and they may not even reverberate on the set, maybe it’s not until later. I always tell people that every script I read on Nip/Tuck, I balked a little bit. There was something in which I would think to myself: “Ah! I know! It’s going too far, or this is too sensationalist, or that this is a stunt, and that was Dylan Walsh, thinking from all the other mediocre stuff that I’d done before”. It was sort of ingrained in me. I cannot tell how many times, the final product, Ryan would bring it by in DVD and drop ’em off at the trailer, and I’d put ’em in and I’d be amazed that it wasn’t a stunt, it was something deeper and a little more poignant. That’s what I love about the business. You don’t know when the magic’s going to land. [laughs] You don’t.
BT: What do you enjoy about this project being episodes of different lengths and certain tones?
Jared Shores: I’m glad you asked that question. I think that is one of the things that excites me most about what we’re trying to do at Radiant (Studios) is this freedom of storytelling. For us, what I really enjoy is the fluidity of: “Hey, how can we tell these stories that don’t have the same bounds and don’t have to fit a certain constraint and don’t need to have an executive order from our side of like: “No no no, sorry, this is 21 minutes and 28 seconds”. But instead of: “We’ll finish this thought. Could this discussion between Rachel and Preston, is there something that isn’t being said that ought to be said? Or are we repeating ourselves as such so that the audience says: “Okay, yeah, this is super interesting””. And what’s great is that by first distributing up on YouTube, we get that response, and we see where people are engaged, we see where they disengage, and we can start to better understand our audience, and that for us is really core of wanting to create something that for Gen Z and Millenial audiences both resonates, but also they felt themselves dealt in, with which they identify. YouTube and other digital platforms provide more insights into that then we would find elsewhere.
BT: What would you like a viewer in particular to do with your work?
DW: It’s a funny, funny thing to ask, because I do think about that. I like to know they’re watching and they’re not getting up in the middle of the night and getting popcorn. I like to put it on pause, every frame was laboured over and thought about and let’s stay with the story. But any actor will tell you that, that’s [laughs] that comes with the territory. You know, I think about it, I think about how viewing has changed and people are often watching these things now on a phone. I feel like the old guy, that makes me feel very old-fashioned and very old school, but look, [chuckles] I’ve benefitted from it. But when I look back on this last 20 years, as in this golden age of storytelling, I’m glad that in my little way, I was part of a good story here and there.
Two episodes of An Incomplete Education are currently available on the Radiant Studios’ YouTube channel