I can’t lie, I was drawn to Irish Twins solely because of Rider Strong, who co-wrote and co-directed the short with his brother, Shiloh. On the early ’90s TV show Boy Meets World, Rider played Shawn, the handsome and self-serious best friend to squeaky-clean “boy” Corey (Ben Savage). I loved the show (which, as I age myself, I had no real business loving at 24-years-old, since it was about the daily trials and tribulations of teenagers), mainly because Shawn had a black girlfriend (Trina McGee) and it was never an issue. As Rider told me, they never did a “special show” to address it, there were no black jokes -- it just was what it was, and I thought for such a white, mainstream show, that was pretty cool.
Rider and older brother Shiloh make their directorial debut with Irish Twins, a clever, taut little film about two brothers with opposite personalities and divergent lives who are drawn into a dark, symbiotic vortex over the death of their father.
Rebecca Carroll: OK, so Irish Twins. Are you?
Rider Strong: No, we’re 18 months apart.
RC: Still pretty close in age.
Shiloh Strong: When we were growing up, our mom was always saying we were Irish twins.
RS: And we always thought that it was a positive term.
RC: I love that you addressed that in the film! What the term actually means, which is: poor Irish Catholics having sex without birth control.
RS: My mom used to say it so proud, ‘They’re Irish twins,’ and we were always like, ‘We’re Irish twins!’ I think I was 15 or 16 when I finally realized that it’s actually nothing you want to brag about.
RC: You both went into acting pretty early on, right?
SS: My dad came home with a video camera when we were five years old, and we started making these home movies. After that we started doing Community Theater.
RS: We started doing [acting] like everything else you do when you’re a kid. We took karate, we took piano lessons, and we did acting.
RC: And were you competitive?
SS: We weren’t competitive, but we were definitely auditioning for the same roles. I never remember having any upset moments between the two of us. Just because we fancy ourselves as such different people that it’s like, ‘OK, if he gets a part for this then its like obviously it’s not for me.’ And also there was the height difference.
RC: And so when did it really click?
RS: [One day] we woke up at five in the morning and joined a cattle call line-up for Les Miserables. I was ten and [Shiloh was] 11. And I got the part. That’s when it was like, ‘Oh, I’m actually going to get paid to be an actor.’ That was a big deal. My mom had to drive me down to San Francisco six days a week for me to do it. And that’s when agents starting calling.
RC: And then what happened?
RS: Then we had to convince our parents to let us go down to L.A. and do pilot season for a couple months. My mom quit her job teaching nutrition and cooking at the Junior college in Santa Rosa, and became our manager. And luckily our dad, as a firefighter, could trade shifts. He’d work four days straight and then have a couple weeks off.
RC: How did you know what you wanted to do at such a young age?
RS: I think if we hadn’t [become actors] we would’ve been diagnosed with A.D.D. I remember our parents took us to a magic show and we were like, ‘OK, now we need to do magic.’ And we became magicians and started to get paid for doing it at birthday parties. We were just emulating what we got excited by. Whatever we enjoyed watching, we thought ‘We have to be able to do that, too.’ If we liked Superman, then we had to make our own Superman movie. And our parents were so supportive. They were like, ‘You can be magicians, you can be Superman -- you can be whatever you want.’ That environment just fostered us. And with this film [Irish Twins], we’re still like, ‘We can make movies, we can do it!’
RC: So Rider, you got Boy Meets World, and Shiloh, what was your sort of meat and potatoes gig?
SS: I was on this show called The Mommies for a while -- then a bunch of pilots, a couple films.
RC: And Rider, Boy Meets World must have been a great experience for you.
RS: It was, definitely, but when you’re 15 years old and want to rebel against everything -- I was too cool for Boy Meets World. I wanted to be doing art and writing poetry, and talking about acting intelligently!
RC: Well, you’ve come to the right place, a film festival, to talk intelligently about art and poetry and acting. Is Irish Twins your first film together? And why did you choose to do it as a short?
SS: We wanted to do something that was going to be kind of a calling card -- some proof that we want to do this. And also, it’s a story that is short. We’re not trying to make this into a feature. This [film] is its own self-contained thing.
RC: How did you decide who would play the straight-laced brother, and who would play the sort of fuck-up brother?
RS: I forget. We did have the conversation that we could both play either character, but I don’t remember how we actually decided.
SS: I don’t remember that either, that’s so funny. I guess it just made sense that way.
RS: Shiloh had the better character [Seamus] -- I do remember having that conversation. I knew the audience was going to love him and hate him at the same time. [While my character, Michael] is such a dick. We hoped the audience would come around by the end.
RC: Which is so Blood Simple -- so Cohen brothers.
SS: Thank you, that’s the best compliment.
RC: So you’re not Irish twins in age, but are you Irish anyway?
SS: Technically, I guess.
RS: We think so. Irish, Scottish. But all family myths that the characters talk about [in the film] are actually our family myths. Our great grandfather claimed to be the bastard child of John L. Sullivan, the boxer. We think a lot of its crap, but our dad’s side of the family is supposedly Irish.
SS: But that’s a huge thing in the short, too, that whole idea of Irish pride -- [the characters] hold so strongly onto this sense of identity from somewhere else.
RC: Smooth sailing while you were filming?
RS: Pretty much.
SS: It was definitely long days.
RS: The hardest part was acting in it and directing it. That was exhausting. We realized afterwards we would be so happy just to be writer-directors.
RC: Did you direct each other?
SS: We rehearsed a lot ahead of time, and we would give each other notes while we were getting there. [When we were shooting] it was pretty straightforward, we knew what we were trying to do and what we had to do to get there. We’ve always worked together for auditions, so we’re used to critiquing each other’s work.
RC: I guess since this is your first film, this is your first experience having a film at a festival. How’s that been?
RS: Awesome. It’s kind of a dream come true. We’re flying so high right now. We also submitted [an entry] to the Obama in 30 Seconds contest, and just found out we’re finalists.
RC: So would you say that Irish Twins has a message or is it just meant to be entertaining?
RS: No, we meant to play with themes. The fundamental theme, which we kind of just talked about yesterday for the first time, is you can’t escape your family for better or worse, and in this case for worse. For the character of Michael -- against his better judgment, against his morality and despite his accomplishments in life -- his connection to his brother brings him to this awful place at the end of the movie.
SS: We also knew we wanted to make something that was going to be entertaining.
RC: It is! It’s funny, it’s smart, it’s suspenseful…
SS: Short films have a tendency to be a little self-indulgent, and we definitely wanted to stay away from that.
RC: Feature films can be a self-indulgent, too. Have you ever seen a P.T. Anderson film?
RS: Yes, but I love them!
RC: And so what’s next?
RS: We’re finishing up a script right now. It’s probably a bigger budget than we will actually get, but we’re doing a feature. It’s sort of based in the literary world, sort of a Wonder Boys kind of thing. And we won’t be in it. Unless we have to -- unless that’s the only way we can get financing for it.
RC: So you think you’ll continue to co-direct?
SS: Oh yeah.
RS: Oh yeah, we know that. We need each other.
Photo by Aubrey Mayer