“Terri” is director Azazel Jacobs’ sixth feature film; a minimalistic coming-of-age story starring Jacob Wysocki as the overweight, pajama-wearing teen. The film premiered at Sundance in January, and was picked up by ATO Pictures, who are releasing the film in Austin today. The Daily Texan interviewed director Azazel Jacobs at this year’s South By Southwest film festival.
Daily Texan: How did you feel about working in the coming-of-age genre?
Azazel Jacobs: A lot of those movies had a big influence on me, and I wanted to try to be a part of that. There’s no way of not touching on things that have already been done. If anything, with the idea of using [those films] as references, I try my best to keep on thinking, ‘Okay, if I’m gonna talk about this, let’s really talk about it.’
DT: How did you decide on Jacob Wysocki for the role of Terri?
AJ: I wound up seeing a few different people that all could have been different Terris. But I felt what Jacob had was this humor and this confidence that is really difficult to get. To have things stacked against you in that way, and still be confident — that’s what I wanted Terri to be.
DT: How did you direct some of the more raw, potentially embarrassing (for the actors) scenes in the film?
AJ: Most of my job directing is to create a very comfortable situation, so as uncomfortable as it is on camera, I balance it out. At this point, I’m shooting with a lot of the same crew that I’ve been working with forever. It’s a good group of people, and they aren’t there to judge. They’re there to make something they care about. And I think that has a big effect on the actors, and they start feeling as if we’re going to do something here.
DT: Can you talk about the development of John C. Reilly’s character?
AJ: What I love about what John does as the principal is this front he has, and we start revealing that there’s something inside of that. I love that he’s able to do bad acting when [Fitzgerald] is lying about things and skewing the truth, on top of good acting. I think that it turns out that he ends up needing Terri as much as Terri needs him.
DT: What was it like directing the lengthy, awkward, yet fascinating climactic scene where Terri and a few other characters are in an uncomfortable situation in a shed behind his house?
AJ: I knew it was going to be the whole heart of this piece. We were able to get to the end, where we had pretty much shot everything else except that. [The shed] was too small, so we had the kids in there, and everyone else was outside. It really felt as if we were kind of insulated in the world at that moment. I wanted to be sensitive to the fact that there are kids that do this that don’t wake up the next day. I felt the weight of what we’re talking about. I wanted it to have a weight that I felt was necessary to respect it. So that it wasn’t just like, okay now, party time explosion!