Around 10 years ago, actor and aspirant filmmaker James Roday and his writing partner Todd Harthan were having dinner in Los Angeles at a Mexican restaurant named El Cholo when the pair noticed that the joint had become eerily empty.
“It was almost closing time and we were the only guys left in the restaurant,” says Roday, who is best known for his starring role on the USA show Psych. “The entire front of house staff had just disappeared to the back for some reason. We were just like, ‘Wow, this place is really dark, there’s not a single window. If someone came in right now and wanted to take the place over, it would be so easy. We could do it!'”
A decade on, that idea has finally borne some (highly weird-tasting) fruit in the form of Roday’s directorial debut, the horror-comedy Gravy, which is now available to watch on VOD and Blu-ray. The film stars Jimmi Simpson (House of Cards), Michael Weston (Garden State), and Lily Cole (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) as a trio of crazies who do indeed take over a Mexican restaurant one Halloween with the intent of killing, cooking, and eating its staff, including characters played by Gabourey Sidibe and Broadway darling Sutton Foster.
Roday and Harthan penned initially penned the script thinking it could be made quickly and easily, but the pair spent years trying to get the necessary finance with no success. “We explored every international tax credit that anyone’s ever heard of to make this movie,” says Roday. “At one point, I was going to fly to the Isle of Man. I still can’t tell you where the f–k that place is, dude. Finally, I got with a producer who sat me down and said, ‘This is how you make the movie for under a million dollars.'”
And how does one do that? “[It’s about] rolling your sleeves up, and getting really dirty, and cutting corrners,” Roday says. “It’s not the way you want to make every movie in your career. But it was absolutely worthwhile.”
The high caliber cast of Gravy also includes Sarah Silverman and her fellow standup comedian Paul Rodriguez. But Roday says it was a particularly delicious pleasure to first cast and then direct Foster, a two-time Tony-winner for Throughly Modern MIllie and Anything Goes, and pretty much the last person you would expect to see facing off against flesh-eating fiends.
“That was such a joy, man,” he recalls. “I’ve been a fan of Sutton’s for a long time. She was absolutely terrified of this project but, at the same time, that’s why she felt she absolutely need to do it. She came in, she read with Michael Weston, she crushed it. From the time she started talking I was like, ‘This is obviously our girl.’ She was a trooper and the rest of us were just getting such a kick out of how not in her wheelhouse it was. Making someone who had built a career on being a Broadway sweetheart say things like, ‘Go to hell and take your giant p—y with you!’ — it almost wasn’t fair how much fun it was.”
So, having finally mopped up Gravy, does Roday have another project he can spend the next 10 years getting off the ground? “I’ve got a couple of things that are racing each other to get finished first,” he says. “I can tell you that I am nowhere near ready to leave the genre sandbox. So, whichever one ends up moving ahead of the other, there’ll still be plenty of bloodshed!”
You can see both the trailer for Gravy and a clip featuring Weston and Silverman below.