A Conversation with Sanjay Pavone

A Conversation with Sanjay Pavone

Photo Credit: Aloysius Wong, Photo Editor

Catching up with U of T’s resident actor

Sana Mohsin, Arts Editor; Isabela Villanoy, Associate Arts Editor

Recently The Mike’s Arts Section had the chance to sit down with University of Tornoto’s very own Sanjay Pavone, a full-time student who also doubles as an actor. This year Pavone stars in the short film Flood, in which he plays Lucas, and which had its premiere in the TIFF Short Cuts Programme. 

The Mike (TM): Can you introduce yourself?

Pavone (P): Yeah, hi, my name is Sanjay Pavone. I play Lucas in Flood at TIFF this year in 2019.

TM: How did you get into acting?

P: So, acting… Wow. So, I wanted to be an actor when I was 10, and [at] the time I think, like most actors who start out young or who want to start out young the fame is very appealing. And maybe my parents could tell that, [or] maybe they were just concerned because they’re both doctors. [Wow]. Very academic family! They were very concerned about me wanting to be an actor at 10 years old and about the abuse that has been going on in the industry of basically anyone that can be abused, especially children, young boys as well. They didn’t tell me that at that young age, but whatever they did tell me was enough to convince me that maybe that was just not the right choice. It wasn’t until around the middle of high school [when] a friend of mine saw that I was a little artistic: singing, music, whatever. So, she got me to open up and just get out of that box because I was just so insecure about it. And eventually she convinced me join the musical theatre class in school and the drama club. And so, I did that for a few years. And at the time my plan for about six years at the point was, ‘Hey, I’m [going to] major in something that’ll get me into psychiatry one day,’ and I love psychology and I really did want to help people with psychiatry, but by grade 12 when I had to pick my university and my program I was really… not into it. [laughs] I really didn’t want to do it… It felt almost like I was coming out to my parents, sitting them down and saying, ‘Guys… I don’t know how to say this but I kind of want to be an actor.’ So, after a long while, they were finally on board and everything but like finding people to… finding instructors, lessons, and classes, all that I had to do myself. I didn’t actually take a drama course at U of T until second-year, and that was Drama100, just the intro course. 

TM: What are you majoring in?

P: Drama and Psychology.

TM: Oh, so you’re still doing psychology?

P: Yeah, I’m still doing psychology because, God, I’ve been doing psychology now for like three years at U of T… actually, no, four years at U of T. I’m going into my fifth-year right now, so I’ve been doing it so long, most of my credits at this point are psychology. I’m not just [going to] leave all of those, right? [laughs] But luckily, I also have those drama credits that are building up and I can graduate in a couple of years. 

TM: How did Flood come to you?

P: My agent — at the time I’d been with my agent for about a year and a half — and I had booked a couple of commercials, been shortlisted for a Netflix series, and something else. I didn’t have a whole lot on my demo reel, so that’s just basically like the portfolio right? So you show up to an audition [and] they’ve probably viewed your demo reel, they’ve seen your resume [and] headshot and then you just do the scene. But I didn’t have a lot on my demo reel. I had a student film with [the] Toronto Film School which was pretty good. It was okay. Some of that is still on my demo reel. Then I had another student film which wasn’t that great — my acting in it was not great. It was amateur-ish. And then I had an audition tape that was pretty good, so I didn’t have much. So my agent, she is wonderful and she has a lot of faith in me, she submitted me to this project with the Canadian Film Centre that doesn’t pay at all, but she submitted me anyway, saying, ‘Hey, I know these guys make really great films. I think you should audition for this. It would be a good opportunity for a demo reel.’ So, I auditioned and found out a few weeks later that I got it, and a few weeks after that we’re filming. So, it was through my agent, even though it wasn’t paid. 

TM: So, it all happened within like two months? Everything seems to have happened so quickly.

P: Yeah, especially, especially with short films. They usually happen very, very quickly. Just because with actors — actors are notorious for being flakes. With most students, with 9–5 schedules, their schedules are set like two months in advance. Actors, two months in advance — that doesn’t exist. It really doesn’t. So, it was really just, you take it, and I think the directors and producers, they want to keep the actors and everybody fresh with the material so from the audition to the rehearsal to getting on set they want to keep it as close as possible, and all of the pre-production and planning happen way before that. 

TM: How long was the actual filming process?

P: I think overall it was three days, but I was only on set for two days. 

TM: And when you got the script beforehand, did you know Amenta’s work?

P: No, I didn’t. They basically, during the rehearsal, they took myself and the other actor, the older man, and they explained to us what their kind of style was — basically taking regular people, non-actors, getting them to be comfortable with the camera, de-mystifying the cameras, he said, and shooting them. But the Canadian Film Centre wanted actual actors, so they decided to cast actual actors. But I had not seen Joey’s work prior to the filming. I have still not seen it! I don’t know where to find it, have you guys seen it? [No!] I had heard of them as well, but I had not seen them. 

TM: In the movie, you and your sister reminded me so much of my relationship with my own siblings — your relationship with her felt so effortless and natural — how were you both able to build such a great connection on set? 

P: I give all the credit to that to Joseph. Because during the rehearsal they said the only point of bringing her in, Isabella Franco, was so that she wouldn’t be weird with me on set, so she wouldn’t be distant. We did the rehearsal of all the scenes and what not, really so that she can get comfortable and trust me which luckily, she did luckily, she was very open, and I was not sure what would happen because I’m typically not great with kids but she’s also — I mean how old did she look in that film? Like six or something? She was 10 years old at that time, so people are always treating her like she’s five, six, but she’s like, ‘What are you guys doing? Stop being fools.’ So, like, Joseph would play the clown for her and she would just be like, ‘What is this guy doing?,’ and I was the person who treated her like she was just a regular person.  

TM: In the movie, water has a very symbolic meaning for your character. And there were a lot of cutaways from that to tight shots of you. What do you think is its purpose in telling your character’s story?

P: The film is called Flood, right? You think about floods, you think about the atrocities that are committed by floods if you want to personify them a bit. One of them being drowning. And, if you notice, with every time the shots of the water come up, the sound clips that play over it are not waves lapping the beach, they are from underwater. And so, in this, I imagine it’s because Lucas feels he’s drowning with everything he’s trying to balance. He lives with his grandmother and his sister. Where are his parents? No idea. There’s no source of income in that house aside from him doing what it is he’s doing. As a 15-year-old, that’s obviously a little much, you know. And now, it’s his sister’s birthday and he’s trying to keep that side away from her but he’s also trying to make this quick buck. And of course, he feels like he’s drowning, of course he does. He probably doesn’t even go to school now, and is that stressing him? Yeah, probably. I think it’s just that he’s drowning, and he feels like he’s drowning.

TM: Since we’re talking about your character, could you tell us more about Lucas?

P: Basically, Lucas is sort of a loner. There are no friends in the story on purpose. He doesn’t have many people. He sort of stumbled across whatever he is [and] he’s doing. Also, because he identifies — as much as he can — he identifies as a queer kid. When you’re 15, especially when you’re 15, most people sort of come out into high school or after high school. He’s 15 and that’s right into the middle of high school. Lord knows he probably doesn’t have a lot of allies with him. Probably doesn’t have a lot of peers within that community with him. But, for some reason, there are many men out there who would pay to be with him. So, one: he could take advantage of that. Of course he can. Two: it’s this sort of acceptance that he yearns for — acceptance anyone yearns for. I mean, it’s similar to a story that has happened to many, many people. Perhaps, without the factor of an exchange of money. But people engage in sexual activities with people that they don’t necessarily want to, albeit consensually. But they don’t really want to. It’s just that the people, these people seem to want them when no one has wanted them before. And so, they’re going to take it. They’re going to take that opportunity. And Lucas was obviously lucrative enough to turn that into something, to get a little money. But, the repercussions, I would say, are not worth it. I mean, $50 is what he charges that guy. In the original, I think it said $350, in the original script. And the conscious choice was to bring it down to 50 because chances are, these guys who need this from a young kid, they could just go the next one, they go to someone a little older even who looks young. Doesn’t really matter. He has to undercharge, he has to lowball so that people think, ‘You know, sure, $50 bucks, why not?’

TM: Is he just trying to find himself? In whatever way he can?

P: Yeah, yeah. And part of that is because of the huge sense of responsibility he has for his sister and for his grandmother who obviously can’t work. And obviously, the little kid is not going to work. So, it’s just him.

TM: The movie, as you mentioned briefly, it deals with a lot of strong sexual content, specifically toward the ending. How did you prepare or train yourself for that scene? Were there tools provided to you by the director?

SP: Yeah. Joseph was amazing regarding that specific scene. And that’s why we had rehearsals because there was no way that we were going to be able to do that scene, do it safely — mentally, emotionally, perhaps, physically without some sort of rehearsal, without some sort of choreography. In the industry, I mean, huge buzzword is intimacy coaching — it’s a huge thing. It’s not an actual position that is recognized by law or by even the unions. But there are intimacy coaches and Joseph acted as our intimacy coach. And so, the point of it was just to so we could get the cadence of the scene so that when we got there, we could bypass all of the personal discomfort and get into the character’s discomfort. And during rehearsals, I was shaking. It was so uncomfortable. It was really, really uncomfortable. And I was okay with it. By the end of it, what I told my scene partner was that, ‘I’m never going to be 100% comfortable about that scene, but I was comfortable with the level of my comfort,’ which is, I think, a good way to go about something like that. Because you can flat-out say no, and if you flat-out say no to something like that, you figure it out. But if you can figure out what level of comfort you can accept, then that’s when you have a lot more playing room. So, that rehearsal was primarily just to get comfortable with that scene, get the choreography down. Also, so that I and Alister could meet. And then we got to filming the scene the day of — I was probably too comfortable. I was probably too comfortable, and we were like joking and laughing between takes and probably made it a little too light, if I’m being honest. If we shot that scene unrehearsed, it would have been really, really uncomfortable. More so than it was. More so than it was. But that’s the prep for that aspect of it. The rest of it was just scene work and character work that you do for any other scene.

TM: Amenta had his own answer to this that I wanted to ask you because it was asked during the Q&A. As an actor, what is the beauty or magic of acting in a short film?

P: Oh man. Short films are really wonderful. I mean with features or long projects, I mean which are also great — you get this really tight bond with the cast, the crew, the director, everyone. But it lasts a long time and by the time you see it, you’re like, “Wow, that was a year and a half ago. I’m so much better than that now, right?” Whereas, short films, you don’t have a ton of material to go off of. There’s a lot more leeway in what you can bring to a character because there are very few things in the script that will contradict your choices. Whereas, again, in feature films, they’re so long, there’s so much rich material in a feature film script that can contradict acting choices you make. Whereas, I mean, if [it’s] 12 minutes long? So, it was like 12 pages long, about 12 pages of information that I could take from. But that’s nothing compared to a person’s life. So, I can make so many more choices, I had so much freedom with what to do in the relationships between the characters that I wouldn’t get with a feature film. Also, most of these short films are done by amateurs or by people who don’t really care too much about the script. Their focus is the story, not the words on the page necessarily. So it’s really wonderful. Short films are great. You get the footage, and it’s usually one or two scenes in it, that are real gems that you get to hold on to, you get to use. Whereas feature films, because it does take such a long time or long projects that take such a long time, maybe the whole thing is just lackluster. I’m doing a short film right now for Ryerson, and it’s another one of those things where there are a bunch of things I have that are kind of small for me. I’m probably not going to use footage from those scenes. But there was one scene, in particular, that I already shot that was a real character moment and I was able to focus most of my mental and emotional resources on that as opposed to trying to spread it out across a whole movie. So, short films are really, really wonderful. And also, very succinct. And they always tell a nice lesson. They are really wonderful.

TM: If you had to summarize the movie Flood in one word, what would the word be? I know it’s hard.

P: Heartbreaking.