Ron Eldard on ‘Roadie,’ a movie about Queens

”And so actresses very often, and this is often the way things are written, feel like they gotta be liked. Women don't feel like they can be equally as shitty as a man. So in that scene, it’s like, ‘Wow, you’re really gonna give him that CD? You really have the balls to do that and look him in the eye?' But she plays it like someone who knows that she has just done something shady, but she can’t help it, she wants what she wants, but there is something about it where you can tell that she knows that she has done something possibly irreparable. She will have to live with it. And she was willing to play it that way."

The tension between Eldard, Hennessy and Cannavale comes to a head during a show-stopping scene in a cheesy motel room where the three characters go to "play rock star" before one of Nikki's late-night music shows. They snort copious lines of coke, blast Blue Oyster Cult, and things start to disintegrate, fast. Cannavale watches the kindness and tenderness between his wife and this other man with a cynical deadly eye, but he waits, holding back, for his moment to strike. The drug use is not apologized for and Eldard loved that about the script.

"I’ve never done cocaine," he said (a fact that is incredible when you see how realistically he plays a coked-up maniac). "I think it would be redundant for me to be on coke, but I’ve had friends who have done it who were like, 'Wow. That scene brought me back to some very dark, ugly times. I don’t ever want to go back there.'"

The motel scene was shot in two days, in an actual motel. The room was cramped, and the camera crew crouched in the hot tub in the corner. Often, the three actors are caught in the same frame at the same time, giving an idea of the confidence Cuesta had in the event that he was trying to capture.

There are a few quiet moments in the midst of the drugged-out chaos, one beautiful section in which Jimmy re-strings Nikki's guitar, deftly and confidently. The purpose of a roadie is to support others, and we can see how good Jimmy was at his job. The motel scene, up to that point, has been manic in a dangerous way, with a spontaneous jagged feeling, and then suddenly, in the middle of it: a pause where Jimmy changes the string.

"It just gets quiet,” he said. “People catching their breath. Michael felt the same way: he felt that that was a very revealing moment. Michael films it in real time, me changing the string. I change it very fast, very calm, and it’s something he’s done his whole life. So when I help her, the tone of that scene is very loving and sweet and I can see why Bobby’s character gets so uncomfortable there. He is not in this group. He cannot participate on that emotional level. I think that moment is exactly the way Michael wanted it and what he said he was going to do. You don’t get those moments in movies, ever, without there being some big wink on it, telling the people how to think about it, and I am so glad that so many people love that moment."

Cannavale is a great actor, and he is terrifying and also charming in his role as Randy, the smooth-talking Queens boy who has inherited his father's used-car business. Randy tormented Jimmy in high school and when they run into one another by chance Randy picks up where they left off, calling him "Jimmy Testicles," a nickname from way back. Jimmy tells no one that he has been fired from his job, and in fact gilds the lily a bit, saying that he is the manager of B.O.C. and has actually produced and written some of their songs. Randy immediately smells bullshit.

The interaction between the two men is hostile, with sudden breaks of humor and camaraderie. You never know which way any given moment is going to go. Eldard says, of Cannavale's performance, "He’s the king of Queens right there. He is the big shit in that little neighborhood. Everyone knows people like that. I just love that he’s genuinely ugly and unkind and the movie didn’t try to make it sweet. It’s ugly. But still there’s something charming about him. You can tell that he really loves his wife."

Everyone is allowed to be complex in Roadie. Everyone is allowed to be human.

"If you say what happens in this movie: what happens is a guy comes home, and he meets some friends, has a crazy night, but that’s not what happens at all,” Eldard said. “This is a life-altering moment for these people. And yet what really happens? And everyone can choose to not do a damn thing about it. I’d like to think that he gets his shit together, but I have no idea what that would mean."

Eldard says he doesn't often watch the things he has appeared in.

"I am a brutal critic on myself," he said, "and I don’t want to put that kind of energy onto something. There are certain things I’ve done where I think, 'You know, I had such an amazing time doing it that I don’t want to see it because it’ll never live up to the memory of it.' Nothing is ever as great or as bad as you think it’s gonna be.”

But, he said, “When I finally saw Roadie, I had such a great time. I was really moved, and I was able to just see the character, and not myself. I love this movie. It’s my kind of movie. I’ll be happy to see this one again. And I’ve heard other people say that too, which makes me happy. The movie is for real, it’ll stay with you."

Eldard has always been on my radar, ever since his glorified cameo in Sleepers, where he was so magnetic in the opening sequence of the film that I missed his presence for the rest of it. I kept waiting for him to come back. His season-long stint on “E.R.,” as the paramedic-love interest of Julianna Margulies' Carol Hathaway, was evidence of his potential as a leading man. Here, in Roadie, Eldard takes center stage, and it is where he belongs. It was one of my favorite performances of the year.

The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2011 and opens today at the Cinema Village in New York. Roadie is for real.