Rising Hollywood star Zach Avery and great moments in the new era of film noir

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Star of Lionsgate’s new thriller Last Moment of Clarity, Zach Avery talked with The Vivant this week about the noir film genre, his transformation from Hoosier to Hollywood star and exciting new projects in the works.

Although Zach today is firmly entrenched in the Hollywood scene and has quickly become enormously successful as an actor, he has deep roots in the Midwest. He attended high school in Fort Wayne, Indiana; and college at Indiana University Bloomington, before moving to Chicago to study psychology. At some point, nearly everybody in Indiana says to himself or herself, “I’m going to move to California.” Very few do, but Zach had a strong motivation to take that big step.

“For me, it was follow the dream and stop listening to what everybody is telling me is the safe bet, or what you should do, or what’s impossible,” Zach told me on our call this week. “I was in school for psychology, doing what I was supposed to be doing, and it took a really big step back for me to say, ‘this isn’t what I want. This isn’t going to make me happy.’ And I needed to follow the dream and get out there. My girlfriend and the time and my wife was really supportive of it, and I was finally able to tell someone, I think I’m really going to do this. And the fact that she was like, ‘I’m with you, let’s go.’ It was that push to say, okay, let’s jump in the car and drive across country and make it happen.”

Again, most people who move from the Midwest to Hollywood find themselves in a little bit of culture shock, but at the end of the day, there are more similarities than one might imagine.

“There are definitely pockets in Hollywood where it’s all glitz, glam and red carpets, as opposed to where I grew up in the Midwest, where it was about relationships and community, and working hard to get where you need to go. But when I found my pockets within Hollywood, it’s a similar tone. People work really hard here. And yes, people have a huge dream of being on camera, but you have to put in a lot of effort, and sweat and all the years, just like you would if you had another job or another lifestyle in the Midwest. There are definitely lines through both, but it’s a slower life in the Midwest than it is here. Los Angeles moves pretty quickly and you have to stay on your toes. That’s the biggest difference.”

Zach played the lead role of Sam in the noir thriller Last Moment of Clarity, just released from Lionsgate. Playing opposite leading lady Samara Weaving (who starred in the Netflix series Hollywood). His character Sam is multifaceted and interesting on so many levels. Sam is still brooding over his former girlfriend Georgia, who he thought was dead but then sees a movie star (Weaving) who bears a striking resemblance. Sam becomes obsessed with finding out whether the star really is Georgia, and although he doesn’t quite cross over into creepy stalker territory, he moves to Hollywood to seek her out. The movie is as much love story as it is noir thriller.

“You’re spot on with that,” Zach told me. I asked Zach what attracted him to this role: “I got a call from James and Colin Krisel, who wrote and directed it, and they said, ‘we would love to meet with you about a potential part. It’s kind of nuanced and layered and there are a lot of good characters to play.’ And we started diving into it. There’s this duality with Sam, where he’s in New York and living the ream with his gorgeous fiancé and everything’s going well. And then this event happens and his fiancée his murdered and he needs to reinvent himself. What drew me to him is this notion that if you have the perfect life and perfect love, does it last forever? Is it something you can get over, where it might still be in your mind but you can move on, or not? And you live in a stuck place forever. I wanted to be able to dig deeper into that and see what I can find within myself. It was a perfect role.”

As is often the case in film noir, the surroundings are all important, and the movie starts in the most romantic city in the world, Paris. Shooting on location in Paris was, according to Zach, one of the most exciting parts of the production.

“It was incredible. The first thing we shot was all the Paris stuff. They were like, ‘oh, by the way, you’re going to go to Paris and ride your bike around town and we’re going to film it.’ It was incredible. Any time you’re able to shoot on real locations, especially somewhere like Paris, it cements you into the story and the character. It was a new world, it’s all different and unique for me, riding through the streets and hearing the different languages. It really put me in the mental space that Sam was in at the time. It was just fantastic.”

But Last Moment of Clarity isn’t the only thriller Zach is involved in. Production of The Gateway just recently wrapped, and although the pandemic has put everything in Hollywood on pause, he’s looking forward to The Gateway, in which Zach plays alongside Olivia Munn and Bruce Dern, being released hopefully some this year.

“In The Gateway I play a character named Mike. He’s had some troubles in the past, he was involved in drug trafficking and gang stuff. He is in prison, and he was supposed to serve a seven-year sentence but he gets out early and he wants to straighten his life out. He has a daughter at home, his wife is at home waiting on him, and he wants to get on the straight and narrow and make it up to them. But he gets sucked back into the old world that he left before he got locked up. It’s a cool thriller action movie where Mike is forced to do things he shouldn’t necessarily do, and he’s putting people he loves in jeopardy while also trying to keep them in his life.”

Zach is a big fan of the film noir genre, a category which is often misunderstood to mean fast-talking wise guys in zoot suits, private detectives and Hitchcockian cinematography. But the genre hasevolved today in some very interesting ways.

“It’s stuck in my head. Rear Window, Hitchcock and stuff like that, because James and Colin brought that up and put it in my head, so I started watching them before we started shooting. I love them. There’s a very cool kind of duality. You don’t really know what’s going on, you’re being put on one path, but there’s a lot of other elements that surprise you along the way. I love it. It’s evolved in a cool way. It’s tough to make, because it revolves around this darkness and sex and violence, and now it’s evolving into neo-noir like Drive with Ryan Gosling, or John Wick. It’s growing now in a really cool way. You’re able to show audiences a unique perspective and visual concept, as opposed to just saying, ‘this is a Hitchcockian film and I’m going to follow the blueprint.’ You’re taking that structure and the themes, but using it in ways that are unique and more relevant now, and can keep the audience’s attention.

What’s next for Zach? Yes, it’s another thriller, and another exotic on-location city.

“I have a film that we were about to shoot in Spain at the end of March that obviously got pushed back. The working title is Trunk, and it’s a straight-up action movie that Daniel Arévalo, a great Spanish director, is directing. It’s myself and Mario Casas. Hopefully we’re going to shoot late this year, depending on how everything turns out, and I’m excited to jump into that for sure.

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