An alumnus of the Experimental Theatre Workshop of the Tisch School of the Arts and the sketch comedy group Hammerkatz, Jack Quaid is probably best known for portraying Marvel in the first two “Hunger Games” movies. Recently, Quaid wrote and starred in the short film “After Lilly,” which aired at the New York Independent Film Festival. He spoke with WSN about his role in the upcoming HBO show “Vinyl” and his experience working in both New York and L.A.
WSN: Tell us about the short film “After Lilly.”
JQ: It was maybe my first dive into something that has more of a story to it. I’ve been writing and performing in sketch comedy for the longest time ever since NYU, when I was in Hammerkatz. This was my first “let’s try to tell a real story with a beginning, middle and end.” At the time I had gone through a pretty serious breakup, and that’s what the short is about: a guy who can’t quite get over his ex-girlfriend who he sees everywhere. He goes into a club to celebrate his friend’s birthday, and it’s kind of his first time out after sulking in a room for weeks and every girl he talks to and eventually everybody in the club becomes his ex-girlfriend in his mind. It goes back and forth between reality and fantasy.
WSN: Have you ever really bombed doing sketch?
JQ: Oh yeah. I’m happy that I did. In college we had a great sketch group. Hammerkatz is something that’s been around basically forever. Donald Glover basically made it what it is today. We had a great sketch group ourselves. One of the people who was a director at the time works for SNL now. Even with all the talented people in the room occasionally you would try something and it wouldn’t work, or something you thought was hilarious in rehearsal just doesn’t play for an audience. But I love that almost more than when it goes well because you get a sense of what works and what doesn’t work. The only way you can learn is by failing.
WSN: You’ve had some experience doing this with sketch, but how was it writing something serious for yourself?
JQ: Well, at the time that was what I was going through. I was seeing my girlfriend everywhere. I knew that that was something that everyone could relate to on some level. Hopefully it’s funny. It’s one of these things where I realized that the joke is as funny as it is true. It’s a sad thing, but I think since we’ve all been through it you can find comedy. It was personal to me but I think the challenge was finding something that we could all relate to. The first drafts of it had details that were very specific to my situation. Then I tried to remove myself from it so that people could see themselves in my situation.
WSN: Could you talk a little about the show “Vinyl” that’s coming up?
JQ: My character’s name is Clark Morrell. I’m so back in the day they would have to go out to clubs and stay there all night just to find a sound that they could bring back to the record company. If they found somebody they would try to develop them. They would get in a studio, they would offer notes, they would produce the album or demo. Through that they would bring the company money, and that is how they would move up the ranks. I wouldn’t say my character is very good at his job when we first meet him. Throughout the show a lot happens to him to the point that he is a very different person by the end of the first season. It’s going to be a really fun show. It’s fast moving. It’s really funny in a lot of ways. The cast is incredible. The lead is Bobby Cannavale. That guy is a one-man acting master class. Watching him is ridiculous. You learn so much.
WSN: What are the differences and similarities between working in New York and L.A.?
JQ: What I like about New York is I feel very creatively stimulated. Just walking down the street, you just kind of want to create stuff. However, that can get kind of overwhelming. I remember when I went to college here, the city would overwhelm me. In L.A. I still feel creatively stimulated but at the same time I can relax more. I like driving in that you can prepare for and react to whatever you’re going to, like an audition, a date, anything. In terms of creative work in L.A. there’s more of it available. However, New York there’s less quantity but there’s more quality. There are very few weird projects that are casting out here. Everything is pretty good. No matter where you are, wherever you are is happiest is the place to be.
“After Lilly” premiered on Oct. 13 at the NYCIFF on 358 W. 44th St.
A version of this article appeared in the Oct. 19 print edition. Email Tony Schwab at [email protected]