Comedian Byron Bowers has been working on the stand up circuit for years. Now he appears in Shia LaBeouf‘s “semi” autobiographical film, “Honey Boy.”
The film tells the story of Otis, a former child star whose old demons surface through alcohol and eventually land him in rehab. The adult version of Otis is played by Academy Award nominee Lucas Hedges. But with a significant portion of the film exploring a segment of his tumultuous childhood, the film’s leading man is teenage Noah Jupe. LaBeouf plays a version of his own alcoholic and abusive father, who resents working for and being on the payroll of his young son.
Bowers plays Percy, an empathetic and compassionate fellow patient in rehab, and Otis’s roommate.
A few days ago, I had the chance to speak with Bowers about why this film meant so much to him, what he learned along the way, and why he thinks it will resonate with others. Please enjoy our conversation.
Byron Bowers: Hello! This is KWTO and you can win a great vacation to Hawaii if you answer this one question correctly!
Karen Peterson/Awards Circuit: And what’s that question?
BB: What is your favorite movie that’s coming out November 8th?
KP: That would be “Honey Boy!”
BB: Oh, you win a vacation…photograph of a family in Hawaii! (laughs) How are you doing?
KP: I’m great! How are you?
BB: Not bad, not bad!
KP: It sounds like you’re having a good day.
BB: We’re gonna make it work.
KP: Well thank you so much for taking some time to talk with me today.
BB: No problem. Thank you.
KP: I finally saw “Honey Boy” last night after several failed attempts for months.
BB: Wow, was it worth it?
KP: It was so worth it. I wish I’d seen it sooner, but it was worth the wait.
BB: Thank you.
KP: When did you first get involved and what was it about the script that really drew you in?
BB: It was the story. Growing up with an addict as a father and who’s a paranoid schizophrenic in my real life, just questioning the things I thought were real and having survivor’s remorse — having a cousin in prison and I’m living the life I live — and both our parents did the same thing. I read the story and I’m like, “These stories have to be told.”
A father and son relationship is a very important one because it causes gaps. And either parent relationship is important because each one contributes to how the child becomes an adult. But to me the father and son one is just as important on how a son views manhood. I’m dealing with that in my own life as I read this and I was like, “We’ve got to tell this story.”
KP: I didn’t realize it was such a personal story for you too. That makes it even more special.
KP: As you were developing the character of Percy, what were some of the conversations you had with Alma and Shia?
BB: They gave me the freedom to develop this character. His name was Rembrandt at first and he was a religious musician. And me growing up — I’m from the south, I was in the churches when I was younger. I understood that part. And then I wanted to add a part of what makes someone like that end up in rehab? Because I apparently broke bad myself, you know what I mean? And they allowed me to really rewrite my scene and put some of my story into this character and tell a more authentic, unique story.
KP: What was it like working with Lucas [Hedges], who is also so talented?
BB: It was amazing, man! I remember Lucas being at the Comedy Store, watching me perform stand up and he understood my humor. And somebody like that you can connect to, that really gets you, makes doing a scene very easy because it allows intimacy among the two.
KP: And you really see that, especially with Percy, and to see the way he has so much care and compassion for Otis. What was it like developing that side of him?
BB: That was easy. We all have been through that. I equate it to that day of middle school or that day of high school, you’re somewhere new you don’t want to be and you walk in the cafeteria, and you see all the cool kids at a table, and you slip and you look up. And there’s that one guy there that’s like, “I slipped in that spot too on my first day.” You know? And it makes you feel comfortable, and at home, like you’ve got an ally in this new place. So I wanted to really just do that for Otis.
KP: It’s really a lovely performance that you give.
BB: Thank you. I appreciate it. I didn’t really know what was going on, because I was present. It was like a dance. I kind of know what happens before action and after cut, so any time that happens and you’re present for better or worse is a good thing because you’re living in the moment.
KP: Some of the scenes in rehab involve some interesting types of therapy. Did you learn to knit?
BB: Yeah! I’m like, “I’m doing a Shia LaBeouf movie. This guy’s got all the action, he knows technical stuff, he can ride a motorcycle. He’s doing weightlifting.” And then for me they was like, “Yeah, you’re gonna have a nerdy person come over and teach you how to knit.” I was like, “What?” And as I started taking up knitting, it became a very chill thing to do.
KP: Are you keeping up with it?
BB: Nope! Not at all! But I do have the scarf I started making and the needles in my closet. Like, in the front of my closet. It’s just something I don’t know if I want to end or not. I could make the world’s longest scarf or something like that.
KP: If you’re anything like me, it’ll just stay in the closet forever and never get finished.
BB: No, I’ll finish it one day, but it’s one of those things that once you finish, some chapter closes or something.
KP: It’s true, but then you can start a new one.
BB: Yeah, that’s true. But you know with knitting, the starting and the finishing is always the hardest part. It’s just like with life.
KP: Maybe that’s why that was part of the therapy.
BB: Wow. Yeah, I never thought about it like that.
KP: What were some other pieces you got to learn or experience for the first time making “Honey Boy?”
BB: Coming from stand up where you’re onstage alone, [I was] able to experience what building a team — a very effective team — looks like. As well as building a team of people dedicated to have the same outcome. That was amazing. And it looks like more of a tedious process in the beginning, but once it gels, it’s solid. Because with this set and the vulnerability on the set, you can’t have just anybody around. So just like you hear my personal story and I’m invested into this, everybody has a reason like that why they’re invested into making this film. This makes it so special. I don’t know if I will ever really get a chance to do something like this again on this level.
KP: Especially something that’s so personal to the writer and one of the stars, too. What was it like being involved in telling Shia’s story?
BB: It was beautiful. The overall story is so impactful that I think everyone should hear it and I think it will move everybody, even if you haven’t experienced it. And that’s a good story. Those are stories we always… Good stories we always remember.
KP: What was one of your best days on set?
BB: I remember my first day when I was up and I exercised and I was in the trailer and I’m getting pumped up to do this scene, and then I get in there and they’re like, “Go to sleep.” And I’m like, “What?” And they’re like, “You gotta sleep.” And I’m like, “Man, I can’t believe I’m getting paid to sleep right now.”
KP: That’s a pretty good job!
BB: But imagine all the work! Moving to a strange city, sleeping in the car, doing ten plus years of stand up, whatever. Imagine the work you have to go through to get to that part. So that hit me like, “That’s weird!” But it was one of the best days, seeing I made it to a level where I get to sleep now.
KP: But you still have to put in lots of work.
KP: “Honey Boy” premiered at Sundance at the beginning of the year, and it’s been making its way through audiences for the last several months. What has that been like for you? What have been some of the conversations you’ve gotten to have about it?
BB: The thing that sticks out to me is what they said my character did in the film, as far as releasing the tension. Which is amazing because I feel like that’s what I do in comedy. So for me, it lets me know that I’m stepping in the right path. When I thought I was probably straying from the path, doing something that I probably shouldn’t be doing. It’s like the universe’s way of saying, “You’re doing what you should be doing.”
KP: What’s next for you? What are you up to now?
BB: As for now, I just want to be present. I’m going out with four different projects, and they seem to be getting traction now. So I’m very excited to see where they land. But for now, I just want to be present and enjoy this ride. ‘Cause this ride don’t come along often.