Up-and-coming director Aram Rappaport on his star-packed, Chicago-filmed flick, ‘A Conspiracy on Jekyll Island’.
The first time I saw 26-year-old directorial wunderkind Aram Rappaport, he was dispatching instructions to a team of six people while walking briskly down the hallway at Splash headquarters. He was filming the financial thriller “A Conspiracy on Jekyll Island” starring Minnie Driver, Frank Grillo, Dianna Agron and Ed Westwick (among other Hollywood notables). On that day, Rappaport was using Splash as the location for a high-tension scene between Driver and Grillo, and the young director proved he could hold his own alongside the seasoned Hollywood vets — after sharing a few words with his stars about the script, he returned to his chair and monitor, then called “action!”
Rappaport’s comfort behind the camera isn’t a coincidence; he’s chased his directorial dreams since childhood. “I wanted to be in film since the beginning of time,” laughs the LA native. “I wanted to act originally but my dad had always said, ‘Don’t be a victim of the industry. Write your own material so you don’t have to wait for a phone call or wait for an audition and hopefully get a role.’ ” Rappaport took his dad’s advice and ran with it, penning, producing and starring in his first flick while still in high school. Dubbed “One Line,” the film followed an autistic boy who auditioned for a school play and earned a one-line part. “Whether I was good or awful, I will never know,” he jokes.
Since that first film, Rappaport’s projects have ramped up rapidly in terms of production value and star power. His second feature film, 2013’s “Syrup” — an adaptation of the 1999 novel by Max Barry — starred bombshell (and future Mrs. Johnny Depp) Amber Heard and actor Shiloh Fernandez, both hired by Rappaport before their careers had taken off. Those prescient casting choices underscored Rappaport’s eye for young talent; now, Hollywood bigwigs are calling Rapport himself the big thing. “My relationship with Aram was formed under the trials of shooting on such a small budget,” says “Jekyll Island” producer Hilary Shor, whose other recent credits include “The Paperboy” with Nicole Kidman and Zac Efron and “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” “I have faith he will develop into an extraordinary filmmaker, and I was happy to be able to nurture that talent.”
“Jekyll Island,” the director’s third effort, will be released this fall with a Chicago premiere. It’s an apropos nod to the city that was the movie’s muse. “Coming to [Chicago] as a child gave me the vibe for the city,” says Rappaport, who took regular summer trips here with his father. “It’s what I was thinking inspirationally when I wrote the script.”
To pen that script, which follows Driver and Grillo as they attempt to thwart a cyber attack on the US financial system, Rappaport had to become something of a Wall Street expert. “Over the course of two years I ended up meeting with economists, stock brokers, marketers — anyone who had any semblance of knowledge on how the market would fluctuate and how that relates to regulation and the Federal Reserve. We walked down the street asking people, ‘What is The Fed?’ and ‘What does the Federal Reserve do?’ The answers would be different across the board, and no one would have any idea [what The Fed] actually does.” He hopes his movie inspires “the audience to leave wanting to do research on their own and find their own stance on the topic.”
In advance of “Jekyll Island’s” release, Rappaport is hunkering down in Rogers Park and devoting his time to editing, re-editing and testing the film in Chicago markets. Though the end is in sight, he’s determined to keep his laser-sharp focus. “I’ve never stepped out of the work,” he says. “It’s the most stressful thing I’ve ever done. When you’re in it, it’s so much about the story and just having this one shot and hoping and praying that this thing works … When I take a step back and see what we accomplished so quickly, it’s exciting.”
• “Big Fish” (2003): “I am such a supporter of magical realism and a shoot-for-the-moon, bigger-than-life mentality.”
• “Monsters” (2010)
• “Ides of March” (2011)
• “While we were shooting, there was a fight on HBO that Ed Westwick, Frank and Minnie wanted to watch. They convinced the owners of the house we shot at to let them watch it on the big-screen TV. I go to check up on them and someone is yelling about the fight, ‘Come on, hit ‘em! Hit ‘em!’ And it’s Dianna! Dianna is freaking out in front of the fight, putting up her fists, aggressively angry at the TV. It was a hilarious moment.”
• “My favorite restaurant is Blind Faith in Evanston [inset, 525 Dempster; Blindfaithcafe.com]. I’m a vegetarian and it’s an amazing restaurant.”
• “Northwestern [University] has a great sailing program. My favorite thing to do is sail.” 1823 Campus; Fitrec.northwestern.edu
• “Eleven City Diner [2301 N. Clark; Elevencitydiner.com] has the biggest omelets I’ve ever seen. It’s where I first met Frank [Grillo] — I made him come to the diner and get an omelet with me because I had to have it.”