Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday takes place two years after a major viral outbreak. We follow the daily routine of John, a man living in a remote cabin in the middle of the woods. He lost his entire family to the virus on his daughter’s birthday. Having never been able to let go of the events of that day, John repeats the same actions of wearing the same clothing, eating the same food and baking the same birthday cake. When another human shows up at his door step, John is forced to face that day and deal with the feelings he has been trying to avoid. But is this stranger a savior or a threat?
INTERVIEW WITH A.J. Laird, who plays Jack Faraday, The U.S. Vice President in "Happy Birthday".

What drew you to the role in this film?

 What initially got my attention was the opportunity to work with Ezekiel again. We had done a project the year before and hit it off and when I saw that he was looking for help with this film (Happy Birthday), I didn't hesitate at the chance to work together again, especially since both of my scenes were, essentially, just the two of us working together.
How did you prepare for your character?
Once I had the script and understood that my scenes were flashbacks to show the events that led to the present day story, I could work backwards to see how the actions of Vice President Jack Faraday caused the domino effect that Ezekiel's character, John Rutherford, is currently dealing with.
Can you share any memorable experiences from the filming process?
 The day that we shot the press conference scene where the VP's coup d'etat takes place, there was an unexpected blizzard in Milwaukee. So, we had all these folks in their suits and professional attire show up and try not to wreck their clothes and shoes as they came into the building that hadn't been shoveled and through the parking lot hadn't been plowed. It was interesting to try to avoid falling and sliding and tiptoe through all of that ice and snow and then prepare to shoot those intense scenes.
What challenges did you face while portraying your character?
 The biggest challenge in playing a villain is not making him evil. Any villain in any story truly believes in what they are doing and that it is right and just and for the greater good. Most people do not do things intentionally just to hurt others. They tend to be very motivated people who believe in whatever cause they are working towards. Their actions, while horrific to others, are truly justified to them because, in their minds they are going to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. It is much easier to play someone like that to just be the stereotypical "bad guy". However, the challenge is to find out what makes them tick and find the humanity within them and what has motivated them to take they steps they did within the story. They need to be real. All the best villains have to be real and believable to be effective. If you don't have a strong and believable villain, you don't have as good a story.
What do you hope audiences will take away from your performance?
 I hope that I was able to bring a sense to reality to him and that he wasn't just a cartoony bad guy. It is important to the story for the audience to know and understand the actions that eventually led up to the present day conditions that the protagonist is dealing with. The more the audience is affected by the flashbacks, the more intense the present day story is. It is our job as the performers in those flashback scenes to give the audience a history of the story and make it as emotional as possible.
How does this role differ from others that you have played in the past?
 Well, I certainly have not had the chance to play the Vice President of the United States before. However, I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to play many different kinds if people in my career. Because of my look, I tend to get a wide variety of roles. I have been a pastor, a gambler, a pizza shop manager (twice), a dead man, an FBI agent, a small town Mayor, and several police officers, teachers, mobsters, prisoners, husbands and fathers, just to name a few. Since every person is different, even if I have gotten several characters that have had the same profession or background, it is always a challenge to find what is unique about that individual and what their role is in the story that is being told.
Did you find any personal connections to your character's story?
 In an odd way, yes. I guess it is strange to say that you would have a personal connection with a character that caused the death and suffering of so many people. However, like I said earlier, every character has a belief in what they are doing. In the case of Vice President Faraday, he is a very determined and motivated individual. As an actor, you need to be a bit of the same way. It is a very tough business and you have to stay strong and stick to your guns, regardless of how much rejection you might get or bad jobs that you have to work through. If you keep your eye on your goals and work hard, the hope is that it will pay off. Jack Faraday had his goals and stopped at nothing to achieve them. I'd like to think I have a little bit of that myself, minus the whole violent and destructive behavior.
What was your favorite scene to film and why?
I just had the two flashback scenes and one would think that the whole press conference scene with the President and the Secret Service agents and reporters would be the favorite because of all the moving parts happening at the same time. That was a lot of fun to shoot but, actually, my favorite of the two scenes was the one that took place a few days before the press conference. This was the scene in my office where Ezekiel's character comes to see me to plead his case for the administration to listen to him and what his research had shown. Faraday really has an opportunity to play with and manipulate Rutherford and set the wheels in motion for what will, eventually, be the start of the epidemic where we find the characters in the present day story. It was a great one on one scene and it always fun to play with Ezekiel. He is a great scene partner.
How you do approach character development and getting into character?
 Well, it depends on the character and story. In my schooling, we were always taught that you begin with the text. Everything you need to start with should be there in the script. The writer has already given you the start of the map. They will let you know where they are, who they are, what their job is, what their relationship is with the other characters (if any), etc. After you see what the writer has said about the character, you read through it again to see what the character says to others and says about themselves. That helps establish attitudes and behaviors. Then, you look at what other say to and about your character. This helps establish relationships within the story. After that, you put your own spin on things and collaborate with the director to make sure you are going in the right direction and given them what they need to tell the story. Sometimes, you get no information at all and the character is fully made up by you and you have to make sure that the lines are delivered in a way that moves the story forward and gives the writer and director what they need. Sometimes, you can find a character from the outside in once you have wardrobe or makeup. Other times, it all comes from the inside out and you create the character on background and behavior long before you find their clothes or movements. It is a wonderful art and I love the challenge of finding what makes each character real and what it will take to bring them to life.
What upcoming projects can we expect to see you in?
 I try to stay busy and always seem to be shooting something somewhere. It gets frustrating sometimes because, once you shoot something, it can take a year or more to go through post-production before it is released. Currently, I am waiting for a few really fun projects to come out that we shot a while back. This year, the main things I am hoping to see released are "Bigfoot: A True Crime Documentary" (which is a mock documentary parodying shows like 'Making A Murderer'), a mystery called "Through Eyes Of Grace, the teen comedy "Pizzodyssey" and the summer camp horror film, "Tin Roof".

Screenwriter and Director's BIOs:
Ezekiel N. Drews, after a twelve-year hiatus from acting, came back and acted like he had never left the scene. He founded Lucid Films, Ltd. Co. with Joseph A. Mauro in November 2022 after some heavy drinking and never looked back. In love with acting and filmmaking, Ezekiel has a number of acting credits he's working to increase and is looking to create a booming filmmaking community in the Midwest, where plenty of talent resides but is often overlooked. He wrote, co-directed, produced, and wore 40 other hats for the award-winning dramatic feature film "Happy Birthday" in 2023. His dream is to work full time in the industry and, perhaps, work with Tom Hiddleston in a Marvel work.

Joseph A. Mauro is a filmmaker based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Joe works as a director, cinematographer, and actor on local independent film productions in Wisconsin, but his full-time job is as a battery engineer. Joe has a passion for creating things for others to enjoy and is inspired by thought-provoking storytelling. He is currently taking courses in cinematography and acting online. Mauro directed the award-winning dramatic feature film Happy Birthday in 2023. Joe enjoyed his drama classes in High School but put his art on the back burner, finally rekindling his artistic spark. His dream is to direct an award-winning psychological thriller one day, and he is currently building his body of work as a director.