While filming Blue Like Jazz, which opens Friday in limited release, Marshall Allman—who plays the Donald Miller character at the center of the story—was to ride an unsteady "tall bike" across Portland's Hawthorne Bridge. Director Steve Taylor, concerned that Allman might "plunge over the rail" into the Willamette River, considered a stunt double, but Allman declined. Says Taylor, "For Marshall, it's all just part of the work, and he approaches it with both a singular intensity and a great sense of play."
Allman, 28, has received thumbs-up for his acting—for Blue Like Jazz as well as recurring roles in TV's Prison Break and True Blood. He recently finished filming Jayne Mansfield's Car, a 1960s-era drama starring Robert DuVall, John Hurt, Kevin Bacon, and Billy Bob Thornton. Taylor believes Allman can go a long way: "He takes the craft of acting very seriously, and he wants to get the role right."
Allman wanted to get Miller's character just right: "So many people are just like Don," he says. "They were raised Christian and go off to college, only to abandon their beliefs in order to fit in. Or they were burned by the church and live the rest of their life resenting anything Christian." Miller—in real life and in the movie—ultimately returns to his faith, and Allman hopes audiences are inspired by the journey.
A huge fan of Brad Bird and Pixar films, Allman lives in Los Angeles with wife and fellow actress Jamie Anne Allman (AMC's The Killing). We recently interviewed him via e-mail about Blue Like Jazz and more.
You tweeted that The Artist was your favorite movie of 2011, and that you'd run into (Best Actor) Jean Dujardin, and that he thought you were Justin Bieber. Seriously?
That's the first time, since I've been an actor, that I actually really wanted to take my picture with another actor. I have so much respect for performers from old Hollywood—they could do it all, sing, dance and entertain—and Jean sort of embodied that, so yeah, I'm a fan. And yes, he did ask me, tongue in cheek, if I was Justin Bieber. But was just poking fun at my haircut. I've been rocking that haircut since '98 so, whether it's called the Biebster or the Zefron or whatever, for me it's called the "I'm too lazy to get a haircut and that's how my hair grows" cut!
How did you end up with the gig for Blue Like Jazz?
I got an email from a friend if he could pass on my contact info to some friends. Later I got an e-mail from Steve Taylor saying I was one of a few actors on their shortlist to play the part of Don. He hoped I could read the script and let them know if I had any interest.
Had you read the book?
No, but I had heard great things about it from a friend. And 10 pages into the script, I turned to my wife and said, "It's really good." About an hour later, I wrote back to Steve informing him that he had found the lead of his film, that I was 1,000 percent in, and thank you for the offer. He hesitantly responded that he loved my enthusiasm but that it wasn't an offer yet, and he couldn't promise anything except that he wouldn't offer it to anybody else before we met in person. We met for lunch a week later and when we sat down at the table he told me I had the part—which was nice because it made it easier for me to eat.
Blue Like Jazz, the book, isn't a linear story, but just a memoir of Don's random musings. Do you think they pulled it off, turning it into a movie script?
Yes. They did a fantastic job of turning a series of essays into a compelling narrative, which is not easy to do, even with Don allowing some of the details of his true life to be construed to make it a better story. I thought the script was funny and moving at the same time, which is rare. I also loved that though it dealt with issues of faith, the film wasn't trying to force any beliefs on anyone. It just happened to be a story about a kid wrestling with his beliefs and ultimately his own identity. It's a story that anyone could identify with.