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A Cinematic Stunner at the Tribeca Film Festival

Chris Zylka on filming Dixieland and working with his best friend

The Tribeca Film Festival boasts some impressive partnerships—from sponsors to education initiatives and more—but perhaps the most talked-about team at the year’s festival is that of actors Chris Zylka and Riley Keough, the duo starring in Dixieland

In director Hank Bedford’s debut feature, Zylka stars as Kermit, an ex-con who’s just come home to his mother’s house. And while making a new life for himself isn’t as easy as it might sound, Kermit does quickly find one way to brighten his days: a beautiful (if equally damaged) neighbor played by Keough. Here, Zylka explains what inspired him to take the role, and why the effort between him and his co-star came so effortlessly.

How did you get involved in Dixieland?

I was shooting The Leftovers in New York and I met Hank [Bedford] for lunch. We were together for 45 minutes and then I had a meeting, but he walked me all the way from the East Village to Times Square and the whole way we talked about art and film. I knew we were meant to work together. 

Kermit is just out of jail and trying to figure out his life. What made him the right character for you?

It was something different. And more than anything it was an opportunity to make great art. Kermit’s not an easy guy, so it was fun. 

How did you prepare to play a guy like that, who starts complicated and only gets more so?

It’s not an independent thing. It’s collaboration among me, Hank, the director of photography, Riley—who’s phenomenal in the movie—and everyone else. From the very first day, we all worked together. But in preparation for Kermit, it was all about earnest love. 

His plan for life after prison is to be a barber. You even have to give a haircut on camera. How’d you learn your way around clippers? 

My great-grandmother was a beautician, my sister’s a beautician and my grandmother cut my hair when I was growing up. I’ve spent plenty of time around clippers. So it was fun to do the fade. 

One of the great things about the film was the rapport between your character and Riley’s character, which was developed without a lot of unpacking. How did you two make that work?

We’ve been best friends for years. She’s like a sister to me, so we kind of just winged it. We didn’t want to perform an idea; we didn’t want to spell out what we were doing in each scene. It was very spur-of-the-moment for us and it was wonderful.

What was the best part of shooting with your best friend?

Every single day of shooting and every scene we shot, we would play. And that was really wonderful. The first five days of shooting went byand I found myself asking, ‘Is it going to keep being this way?’ It was that enjoyable and we were all working together beautifully. That’s why it’s such a special film. 

You were working on The Leftovers when this movie first came your way. What’s different for you about making a movie and making a series?

Every single experience is different. People ask what my dream role is and the answer is always, ‘The next one.’ I just love to work. And that’s what was great about Dixieland, I got to work every single day.

What is that next role? 

We start season two of The Leftovers in a couple of weeks, and that will last a few months.

So, you’re in town for the Tribeca Film Festival. What are you planning to see? 

I’m a total documentary buff, so I’m trying to see as many as I possibly can.

What’s the difference between coming to town to see movies in a fest and being in a movie in one?

Being in one is better.