Zack Pearlman recently sat down with MovieRetriever.com to talk about his upcoming film, The Virginity Hit, produced by the founders of the online site Funny or Die, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. As my old friend cooked breakfast, we discussed Zack's journey from posting a funny video online, to a successful audition, to his first film. On Thursday, September 2, 2010, Zack delivered a Q&A session after his hometown premiere of The Virginity Hit at a theater in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We began our interview by talking about a question brought up in the session after the film.…
By Marit Rogne
MovieRetriever.com: Could you talk a little bit about what it was like to be "discovered," or what lead up to your role in The Virginity Hit?
ZACK PEARLMAN: When I was about 19, I dropped out of Washtenaw Community College, and I was transferring to the University of Michigan, but there was a little bit of time when I was in between schools. But I was getting sick of school. I was doing some stand-up comedy at the time … and I was bad. I just watched a video of myself not too long ago … and I was bad. It's funny how you evolve. I was bad, but I was on to something, especially when I used real material. I would just tell stories, and they were jokes, but they were ultimately stories about me and somebody. It was the stories that could take up whole five-minute sets that came from an honest place, that were working for me. But it took a while for me to find my comedic voice. One day I saw a contest on the website Funny or Die to submit a video of your most embarrassing moment and I thought, okay, I'll try that. I was in a film class at the time, and I was supposed to be working on a dissertation, but ended up filming a video for Funny or Die instead. So I convinced my sister I was working on my dissertation for film class, and I made her stand in the background of the film shot – with my brother as well – as I told the story of when I was 16 years old and my sister walked in on me masturbating. So my sister starts having these Vietnam vet flashbacks – because it was a repressed memory type of thing – and just having this really intense response. So I put the video online. And maybe two days later, I get a call from this casting office in New York, and they say that if I want to, I can fly myself out for an audition. So I use the remainder of my Bar Mitzvah money to fly myself out to New York. This was just an audition, mind you.
MovieRetriever: So you were really taking a risk.
PEARLMAN: Yes I really was. What I didn't know at the time was that getting an audition isn't really that rare. But this was my first audition; I had never done anything. So I fly myself to New York … and I do the audition … then I go back to my friend's house and pass out, because I'd been up for so many hours, and I wake up to a phone call from the casting office. At the time I was so groggy I thought I had just left something at the audition. But they were like no, you have a call back.
MovieRetriever: Wow, that's fast.
PEARLMAN: Yeah it was super fast – the same day. My initial response on the phone, after just waking up, was so bad I was surprised they weren't just like no, never mind. But, I went to the call back, and I didn't hear anything for two weeks. I started getting into somewhat of an argument with my father, over which was more important, going back to school or getting into acting. It had really come to a head when I get a call from California, in which I learn they're flying me out for a final audition. So I won that argument with my father. I flew out to Los Angeles at 19, by myself, for the first time, and honestly it was terrifying. But the car picks me up, they actually bring me to In-n-Out Burger – which I now love, but I'd never been to California before The Virginity Hit. It was like my virgin … trip. I knew they had flown out another kid for the final audition for the other lead role, and I met him at the hotel that night – Matt Bennett. We connect instantly. What I didn't know is that Matt already had the part, and they were essentially auditioning me with him, it was a chemistry reading. And Matt and I had already become fast friends by the audition.
MovieRetriever: So you nailed it.
PEARLMAN: They called me shortly after the audition and told me I got the part. That was two and a half years ago. We started filming a year after that, during which time Matt and I became best friends.
MovieRetriever: So, although this is your first film, I know you've done Community Theater almost your entire life. What do you think best prepared you for your role in The Virginity Hit?
PEARLMAN: What has really helped me the most on screen is really improv [comedy]. It really is the key to all acting. All acting is, really, is reacting honestly, in a character's voice. Grounded comedy is really so popular right now: Superbad, Knocked Up, Funny People. All of those movies are grounded in reality.
MovieRetriever: I thought one of the strengths of The Virginity Hit was how it did seem to come from a very honest place. How much of the movie do you think was ad lib, and do you think this helped create the movie's spontaneous feel?
PEARLMAN: Most of the movie was ad lib, actually. We started with a script, but the final version of the movie that you saw was mostly ad lib. It helped a lot, I think, with the spontaneity. I think that is what makes The Virginity Hit stand out from other teen sex comedies, if you will. It came from a more honest place. It's so easy relatable.
MovieRetriever: It was relatable. It was really a current film. For example, technology played such a big role in The Virginity Hit, if you want to talk about that for a bit.
PEARLMAN: I remember reading the script for The Virginity Hit, and at first just thinking, this is a John Hughes [of The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles] teen sex comedy. The characters are all relatable and current. But you see the characters grow in such a way that I think it goes beyond a John Hughes film – and I think the use of technology helps in deepening characters, giving them more dimensions. Because you never feel like you're being duped. It's just like: someone would pick up their cell phone and use it in this way. Also, I actually did maybe 35% of the filming for the movie. I think giving the camera to me, as an actor and not a filmmaker, also helped lend to the realistic feel of the movie.
MovieRetriever: We talked a bit about how improv helped prepare you for film. Let's talk about what didn't help you prepare – what was your biggest misconception about acting on film going into making the movie?
PEARLMAN: I think mostly that I thought it was an easy job. But it really isn't. Its fifteen hour days – a crazy amount of work. The difference between live theater, which I grew up doing, and film, is that with live theater you only have one shot. Which is not true for film. So, if you mess up, you have to do the take over and over until you get it right. It takes an enormous amount of stamina. Say it's the last scene of the day – and it's a scene where you're running, or dancing – and you're enormously tired, but you have to press on, to find that energy. In The Virginity Hit, we all played exaggerated versions of ourselves, but it still takes energy, to help transfer that onto film. And it's the things that can't be planned … that really add to the humor of the film.
MovieRetriever: Let's talk a little bit about what it was like to meet Will Ferrell.
PEARLMAN: About a year before we started filming, Will Ferrell had me come out to New York to see his Broadway show. He is the nicest guy. And he loves The Virginity Hit – and it's great to have such a big name behind it.
MovieRetriever: It seemed like The Virginity Hit was really someone's vision, in the way it had the feel of a smaller film.
PEARLMAN: Oh, that's [writers] Andrew [Gurland] and Huck [Botko]. Their vision was really this kind of ghost filming – you know, giving the actors the camera to give it a more realistic feel. As I said, I shot maybe 35% of the movie. There was a limited budget for the film, maybe only two and a half million, and shooting [ourselves] helped out a lot.
MovieRetriever: So do you think the limited budget actually helped inspire the realistic style of the film?
PEARLMAN: I definitely don't think it hurt. I don't think it mattered. I remember being so excited that Sony was putting up two and a half [million] for the movie, before I realized that was actually a very small amount … Superbad was something like twenty million. That's a big difference. I don't know of any other big comedies that have been put out on such a small budget. There are a lot of smaller budget horror films, like The Blair Witch Project, but not so many documentary-style comedies, which is what The Virginity Hit is, really. Comedy is a huge break in the format. It is very hard to capture this movie in the trailer.
MovieRetriever: What do you think the trailer does not capture, that's great about the movie, that won't spoil anything for our readers?
PEARLMAN: This is completely honest when I say that you could cut the trailer a million different ways and you wouldn't be able to capture the honesty of the movie. Which is in the transformation of the characters, the progression of the film. There are funny parts, but the heart of the movie is really not in the jokes, but in the trueness of the characters. Also, the more you watch it, the more it opens itself up. It's Inception, the comedy … there are so many different levels. [Laughs.]
MovieRetriever: Zack, it was so great to talk to you. And your French toast is delicious.
PEARLMAN: I know; the syrup we have is amazing. It was great to talk to you, too.