“The Mindy Project.” “Blockers.” “Neighbors” (and “Neighbors 2”). Pretty big projects, yeah? And they all have Ike Barinholtz in common.
Barinholtz, who grew up in Chicago (with a brief stint at Boston University), began his career in comedy traveling around Europe with a troupe that included none other than Jordan Peele. After a multi-season stretch as a cast member on MADtv and a few small-time film roles, Barinholtz jumped on board “The Mindy Project” as series regular Morgan Tookers, where he also dabbled in directing.
Now, Barinholtz has combined every facet of his experience in show biz for his latest project, a feature-length film called “The Oath” that he wrote, directed and starred in. It’s a combination of black comedy and political satire where Americans are asked to sign a loyalty oath to the United States. The film follows Barinholtz as the lead as he and his family navigate an ever-tense America during the holidays.
Barinholtz told Dailybreak that the idea for the film, which takes place in the week leading up to Thanksgiving, was sparked during an actual Thanksgiving dinner with his family that erupted into chaos. Though the film is led by a pretty heavy political hand, Barinholtz said he wants the takeaways to be about the importance of unplugging from the media and keeping your family close.
“You meet new friends in your life, but your family’s your family, and I’ve learned that there’s family I’ve pushed away from, and then I’ve needed them and I missed them,” he said.
In a show of taking that advice to heart, Barinholtz casted his actual brother, Jon Barinholtz, as his brother in the film. This was due in part to the fact that Jon was present at the Thanksgiving dinner that started it all, and less with his acting chops (which are pretty good!).
“No one makes you madder and there’s no one you love more than a sibling, and I knew that I could push him a little bit,” Barinholtz said. “There are moments in this movie where he is not acting -- he is pissed off. I knew that by casting him, I would get this extra stuff that I wouldn’t get from another actor.”
That idea of getting those extra bits from his actors was present throughout. Barinholtz, whose background is in improv, made it easy for his cast to throw their own lines in, utilized especially by Meredith Hagner in a laugh-out-loud role.
“I think it’s important in scenes where there’s any kind of chaos...that you need some improv, you need those live reactions,” he said. “I feel like I got a lot of real reactions and tiny little moments that the actors just brought.”
Another big casting call Barinholtz made for “The Oath” was nabbing Tiffany Haddish. Before even finishing the script, he said she was always the person he needed to play opposite him as the wife/mother character.
“I saw her in a movie called ‘Keanu’ with Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, and she’s so real and tough, so I said, ‘It’s gotta be Tiffany, it’s gotta be Tiffany,’” he explained.
Haddish apparently got the script for “The Oath” right around the time her breakout film “Girls Trip” came out, and though he expected her to “get pulled into like, a ‘Star Wars’ movie,” she pulled through and signed right on.
"She should be on the $5 bill. Sorry, Lincoln,” Barinholtz said.
Barinholtz, in “quite a bit” of creative control of this film, knew that he had to take his experiences as an actor into every other element of the movie.
“I’ve seen a lot of directors have no idea how to talk to actors,” he said, so he made note of little things that annoyed him as an actor and took that with him in his directorial role.
But when you’re just one person essentially leading an entire project, it can be daunting. Luckily, Barinholtz said he had clues as the film gained traction that it was going to work.
“You have these filters: The writer’s words is one filter, and the director’s vision is his or her filter, and same thing with the editor. And the appeal of having an idea and being able to present it to people without those filters was very attractive to me and I really wanted to try it,” he said. “We were getting these beacons along the way that we were touching on something that had some resonance.”
“The Oath” is in theaters now, and if you’re a fan of Barinholtz’s work, you’re in luck. His next projects include a film similar to this one, though a little darker, about the pitfalls of meeting strangers on social media and another big-time comedy inspired, again, by the current national administration.