Mob movies have been a popular genre since the inception of film. Clover is a mob movie that does thing just a little bit different. While the premise is standard, its layered storytelling makes it stand out. The movie includes call backs to comic books and Shakespeare. Recently, AIPT spoke with director and star Jon Abrahams about his film.
AIPT: How would you describe Clover?
Jon Abrahams: I would describe Clover as an homage to the culty midnight movies of yesteryear, and also an homage to the throwback action comedies, which sometimes are congruent with the midnight movies of yesteryear. It’s also, the best way I like to describe it is, it’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead as a mob picture. And that’s because you have these two fools running amuck and not realizing that their fate is being written as they go.
AIPT: Going back to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, one of the themes that comes up in the movie a lot is death. Was this intentional?
Abrahams: Well, I don’t know that it’s so intentional except that both me and Michael Testone might have a slight morbid fascination, but I definitely think that the movie is about family, and as weird as family can get in any facet. Some things still remain true. And everyone’s legitimately made it their own emotional concerns and states with regards to their individual family members. Death, obviously, is a major part of life and it’s something that family has to deal with a lot. So if anything, maybe there’s a bit of that in there.
AIPT: What was the inspiration behind Clover?
Abrahams: The inspiration behind Clover was, I had been knocking around. I love a film called Mikey and Nicky that Elaine May directed which stars Peter Falk and John Cassavetes. I’ve always loved that film, and I had always thought, “Oh, it’d be fun to do something in that space of crime film, a quirky crime film, that involved two, in our case, brothers that are close in age, Irish twins. And I definitely was thinking in the Shakespearean world, but not necessarily in the fool worlds where we’ve ended up with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. I had been trying to knock around an idea in my head for a while. And then I brought it up to Mike Testone, the writer, and he had some thoughts, and we broke a story together and then he went off and wrote what you see on the screen. It all evolved from the ground up.
AIPT: You mentioned that it has a lot of action in it, but the writing also has a lot of drama. And there’s a lot of comedy in it too, sometimes in the oddest moments, but it all flows really well. Was it difficult to direct all of that?
Abrahams: Here’s the thing, I think that I’m a big fan of dramedies. I feel like they make less and less of them, but life is obviously a dramedy, right? Life is funny and frightening and sad, and all these things happening all at once. I think it’s tricky. It’s tricky to make something that’s funny and frightening. You have to be very careful. You have to be very specific with where you’re going to bring drama into the comedy and where you’re going to bring comedy into the drama, those kinds of things. Is it difficult? No, it’s not difficult only because like the preparation is there. If you weren’t prepared, then yeah. But I think if you have prepared enough and you have a bird’s-eye view of where things need to land in every moment, then then it’s not so hard, or at least that wasn’t so hard for me.
AIPT: Yeah. It flows really well. I’m thinking, in particular, the scene where there’s a character who they discover is dead and Clover is trying to console your brother about it. But then she just says, “All right, we got to dispose of the body.”
Abrahams: It’s funny, because in some ways in some themes in the film, there’s a real regard for death. And then in others, there’s a bleeding disregard for death. And that actually continues to make me laugh when I see the movie because there are these things where we establish these very important characters and they have a lot of brevity and weight to them, and then they’re gone and it’s like they’re gone, that’s it, just moving on. Yeah, yeah.
AIPT: You talked about midnight movies and sometimes midnight movies can be a little bit gory. Clover is never gory, but it’s definitely pretty violent. Were you ever worried about going too far?
Abrahams: No, definitely not, because I had to treat Clover as a couple things going in. I wanted to treat it as a graphic novel or comic book in one sense. Obviously, you have all the past gangster movies as references and then, I also am a big horror fan and actually wanted to do special effects’ makeup for horror movies as a kid. That’s what I wanted to do. No, I don’t think you can go too far because you can always take it back in the edit, if you’re careful. And I think that you have to give the funny and you have to strike it away with violence, with maybe a little extra violence at times. So no, I don’t think you can go too big. And if you go too big, you can always take it back. There are certain places in the movie that I wish we had gone further, to be honest. But no, it’s all good. It’s all good. You got to make it universal, not everybody wants to see a lot blood.
AIPT: That’s interesting that you mentioned the comic book, or graphic novel, because there’re certain times when you directed, you do interesting work with paneling and it almost looks like a comic book.
Abrahams: Yeah, definitely, definitely. I did partially treat this as a pseudo origin story, graphic novel, and in its aesthetic as well. So I’m glad you noticed that.
AIPT: You don’t just direct Clover, but you also play Mickey. You and Mark Webber have great chemistry on screen. How difficult was it to create this chemistry while you’re not just acting with them, but you’re also directing the entire movie?
Abrahams: Yeah, so I am a big fan of working with people that I know, or I’m friendly with, or that I’ve worked with in the past. There are some actors in this film that are not only friends of ours, but also we’re in our first film all at once. And then there’re some actors who are not. Mark Webber, I had never worked with before, but we both are the same age and came up together as actors in New York City. So I’ve known Mark for 25 years. I’ve been running into him at auditions and stuff. We’re both big indie film guys, and he’s an amazing director in his own right as well.
But you can’t buy the chemistry, in my opinion. So anytime you can work with people that you know that there’s even something like you’ve met and hung out once before, that’s going to be there in the ether when you show up to work on a movie and end up in the frames. We did some rehearsal before and got connected and tried to build some little backstory stuff that we could share together as brothers. But, yeah, I think what works so well is simply the fact that we both knew each other for a long time beforehand.
AIPT: Do you prefer being behind the camera or in front of it?
Abrahams: I get asked that a lot, and my answer is always that I like to work, but, it was never my intention to be a professional actor. It happened for me and I loved acting. I also, at a young age was very much into visual arts and music. Over time acting becomes singular, whereas directing encompasses all my creative interests, be it music, be it visual arts in designing aesthetics for the movies, and all that stuff. So I feel like, at this point, I would prefer to direct if that’s where the work is, just because it’s more creatively encompassing for me.
AIPT: What future projects are you working on?
Abrahams: I directed a third film. I’m in post on it right now. It’s currently titled Exploited and it is a horror thriller set in the webcam fetish world, yeah, fetish webcam world in colleges. And so we’re finishing that right now. And I acted in a film which I believe will be on Lifetime, April 5th, called Black Hearted Killer. So you can check that out as well. But watch Clover first and then watch that.
But yeah, so working on that, and then what am I doing in these strange times? Like I said, I’m also a visual artist so I’m trying to draw or paint every day as much as I can, and that keeps my creative brain going a bit, and that’s about it. And I’m just knocking around ideas in my head for other movies, and things like that. We have to see what happens when we all come out of this and where everything is at. I definitely am of an age where I think of movies, first and foremost, in movie theaters and, more and more, we have to start thinking of movies as being on small, tiny screens. So I’m always trying to knock around the best ways to tell more epic stories in a small facet. Because moving forward, I think that’s what it’s all going to be, right? We’re almost there.
Yeah, I mean, I think if you’re 18 years old right now, it’s just not what you think of when you think of movies, if not your first thought, is a movie theater. You know? And certainly if you’re younger than that, that’s the case. So you have to try and think about that moving forward because, well, the demographic is that age. Their attention spans are lessening and they just don’t care about things being big giant on a screen. They would rather have it on their phone. So always try to be creative in that way. How can I creatively tell a big story on a small screen?