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The Outer Boroughs Through Local Eyes: An Interview with John-Luke Montias

Interview, Movies

John-Luke Montias StillAs a blogger, I don’t actually have an office in which to conduct business and interviews. So when the opportunity arose to meet with multi-hyphenate John-Luke Montias, the first sport that came to mind was Central Park near the Upper West Side. Being the sport that he is, Mr. Montias trucked over to meet me. Waiting on the corner by a hot dog stand on a warm July day, I began to wonder if so serene a spot was proper for meeting a man whose film deals in sex-slavery, gangsterism, money laundering, and grand theft auto. Then I remembered, this is New York City; we’re all in the soup.

John-Luke studied acting at New York University. After school he did what he refers to as the whole actor-bartender thing: “I got tired of waiting for the phone to ring, I was working at a bar in Hell’s Kitchen that had some really crazy ass characters. I would hear a lot of crazy stories whether I wanted to or not. Then it dawned on me that this was a great opportunity, so I started writing.” That compilation of stories would eventually become the director’s first film, Bobby G Can’t Swim, but he admits that those stories still permeate his work. From listening to him, you can tell that his ears were well-chewed during his days serving drinks.

” For that project (Bobby G), I really wanted to hire a director, I just didn’t know any at the time.” In hopes that the script would actually get made, Mr. Montias decided he could try a crack at helming. In an effort to look like he knew what he was doing, he took a course at NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies in filmmaking. In the end, that film went on to win numerous awards at festivals around the country.

But, as is the way of life, John-Luke had to drop out of the filmmaking game for a bit due to family illness and death. “I felt kind of beaten up by the powers that be. Off Jackson Avenue comes from the feelings that I was experiencing during that period. As you can see in the film, none of the characters has an easy time of it. Maybe I was just taking out my frustration on the poor characters in the movie.” This is certainly accurate. The film follows a Mexican woman who is sold into prostitution, a Japanese hitman whose mother is fatally ill, and a bright-eyed hood, played by Mr. Montias, who dreams of going legit.

More than anything else, Off Jackson Avenue feels like a local film. Too often we (viewers, not locals) forget that while New York City is an international center of business, fashion and food (ahhh the food), it is also a place where people live, work, and do all the same things that rural Americans do every day. “That’s something I was really striving for, especially with some of the nooks and crannies in Brooklyn and Queens that appear in the film. A lot of the places in the film are just places I’ve hung out in or driven by over the years. For example, the spot where Joey keeps going to inspect his stolen cars; I used to ride my bike by that building every day and say ‘Damn, I really should shoot something here’.” He’s referring to a spot below the BQE in Brooklyn Heights, in case anyone wants to take an OJA walking tour.

Up next for Mr. Montias is a film called Mother’s Day, about a Brooklynite who gets in a scuffle with some badies and has to hideout upstate with his mother who has alzheimer’s. For now, he is promoting Off Jackson Avenue. He admits that the violent nature of the film has turned off some audiences, but he is hoping that people will begin to see past that to what is beneath. “Who knows, it could do really well on DVD,” he says with a smile.

Successful or not, it is his second feature and he has another one in the works. To me, that translates to a man with a film career. “Acting really holds no interest for me anymore. I really want to continue writing and directing.” I ask why he has had a role in all of his films. “Well, you know, if we need to shoot more, I’m not going anywhere.”

Off Jackson Avenue opens July 17th at the Quad Cinema New York.

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