Exclusive: Michael Rapaport and The Directors of ‘Special’ Talk Superpowers and Cinematic Middle Fingers

Does it make you a pervert if you choose Invisibility over Flight? Yes. But it doesn’t keep you from making a great film.
By  · Published on November 21st, 2008

Just so we can get it out of the way – Hal Haberman is a pervert.

I claim that Haberman, one-half of the directing team behind Special – the superhero movie about a man with no super powers – is a pervert for several reasons.

1. While the other one-half of that directing team, Jeremy Passmore, Michael Rapaport and I laughed and ruminated on how incredible it would be if we had the ability of flight, Haberman opted for invisibility, a power we all know belies a desperate need to sneak into women’s locker rooms and a large stock of deep dark secrets and

2. Despite the strong possibility that Haberman will sue me for libel, I promised Passmore that I’d make his colleague’s perversion the centerpiece of my interview.

The interview begins with me asking each of the men that age old question: Flight or Invisibility, and the resulting debate dominates a large portion of the time I was allotted. Which says a lot. Especially about filmmakers that claim they aren’t really into comics.

But perhaps a better angle for this article – an article that’s starting to get really meta – would be just how passionate these three men are about their film. Especially Michael Rapaport. It seems natural for the writer/directors of the project to be excited, but it was refreshing to hear an actor speak so passionately for a project he completed almost two years ago.

“I wouldn’t still be behind the movie if I didn’t really feel as strongly as I do,” Rapaport says. “That’s saying a lot considering the amount of time it’s taken for the movie to come out, but I’m really so proud of this movie, and I’m happy to be finally getting to talk to you guys after the bumps in the road for distribution. So I’m happy to be here.”

And it has taken a while for this movie to reach audiences, but it’s a good thing that it finally has. It tells the story of Les (Rapaport), a consummate loser who participates in an experimental drug trial that makes him think he has super powers. Not only does his dedication shine through in the interview, but it shines through most of all in his performance.

So I ask what superpowers each of them would have, and flight is the clear winner. Passmore jokes, “especially with these airfare prices,” although Rapaport boils the brilliance of flight down to a simple concept: “You wanna go to fuckin’ Peru? You go to fuckin’ Peru.”

Haberman tries to hide his perversion by claiming he’d crash if he could fly, but it seems clear that he’d “steal from banks and rig elections,” basically using his powers for evil.

Luckily, both directors have used their powers – evil and otherwise – to create a solid film. These self-proclaimed film geeks who couldn’t get into comics because they lacked the commitment to show up at the comic store on a weekly basis, wanted to explore the notion of the geek sitting next to us all having abilities beyond our imaginations. Or that geek having delusions beyond our imaginations.

“Superman’s the obvious one. A nerdy little guy in his cubicle but when nobody’s looking, suddenly he’s this ass-kicking hero. I mean, that very notion is so crazy. If you were to read a superman comic, it could just be some guy’s delusion,” says Haberman.

And that concept birthed the film, but the film goes far beyond it to explore the life of a guy who most of us, sadly, can relate to.

“It’s that premise wrapped up in this character-driven thing.”

The end result succeeds or fails almost completely on Rapaport’s skills as an actor. The veteran attempted to personalize the character in order to bring him to life on screen.

“The emotion of it was what I related to, and the emotion that I tried to give was all of my own. For me, that’s the thing that I get off the most on as far as what I do for a living. That’s the thing that turns me on the most – the expression of those emotions.”

He goes on to describe a kinship with Les – the insecurity, feeling like an outsider – something that the audience will see throughout the film. It’s clear that Rapaport was able to hone those feelings in order to bring a sweet, sad person to life.

Passmore goes on the describe the universality of that character because of the masses going to work everyday, feeling unfulfilled and dosing themselves with anti-depressants. When I liken the film – and the Les character – to Michael Douglas’s character in Falling Down – it strikes a chord with Passmore, a major fan of the film. Although Les doesn’t have any children to go kill at the end like Douglas does, there is an odd question of whether or not Les is a typical hero. His intentions may be pure, but he is, in a very real sense, going crazy.

So is there a connection between filmmakers that are working outside the system and a film about a character who feels unfulfilled by his job? Maybe. Haberman and Passmore attended film school together – something we won’t hold against them – always admiring each others work, and one day while ruminating on the frustration their careers were bringing them, they decided to make a film together. The reality of post-film school life gave birth to a film where an unfulfilling job takes a catalyst position, and the directors might have more in common with their main character in that sense than they let on.

“I always felt like us making this movie was like Les becoming a superhero. We’re making this movie without any Hollywood backing, and he’s becoming a superhero without any powers. I just had this weird sort of connection as the movie itself being our version of Les’ journey. Even at the end, where he doesn’t have any powers, and he’s saying ‘you can’t make me stop.’ To me, that was always Hal and me making the movie and saying, ‘you can’t stop us from making this movie.'”

It’s a good thing that nothing stopped them. What results is a strong performance from a talented actor, a possible cinematic middle finger to the powers-that-be, and a superhero movie with no super powers made by a possible pervert and a guy smart enough to choose Flight over Invisibility. Turns out, that’s a recipe for success.

That recipe opens up in limited markets on November 21. You can check out my full review here.

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