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Fairhaven, The Movie: Q&A with Director Tom (Not Brady) O’Brien

Dave (left, played by Chris Messina) reunites with friend Jon (played by director Tom O'Brien) in the new film Fairhaven. (Photo courtesy of Fairhaven, The Movie)

Tom Brady: NFL quarterback, multimillionaire, three time Super Bowl champion, married to a supermodel. Everything a guy could wish for.

Yet in an interview with 60 Minutes, Brady still asked, “Is this really it?”

This is the central theme that the film Fairhaven and its protagonist, Jon, wrestle with.

Fairhaven takes place in, well, Fairhaven, exactly the kind of quaint New England setting you’d expect: fishing trawlers, wheeling seagulls, open fields covered in snow, and nothing much to do.

That backdrop provides the environment for an interesting character study of three friends brought back together once again. Jon (played by director Tom O’Brien) searches to find himself, driven by Brady’s 60 Minutes musings, while Sam (played by Rich Sommer) tries to find purpose as a single father. Dave (Chris Messina) returns to Fairhaven for his father’s funeral after escaping years earlier.

It all sounds a little grandiose, this intersection of  long lost friends, but the film is actually quite subtly done. There is no sweeping narrative arc, no moral compass, no tidy ending — certainly not to be classified under your typical sports movie genre. The viewer is merely introduced into each character’s reality as the three cross paths and come to life as very complex, three-dimensional creations that project well beyond the silver screen. The end result is both humorous and emotional, with perhaps a hint of melancholy.

Fairhaven is now in theaters and on Video On Demand everywhere starting January 15th.

I had a chance to ask O’Brien a few questions about his film, his character, and, naturally, Brady and the Patriots. Our conversation follows.

1. What was your inspiration to write and make Fairhaven?

It started when I heard that Tom Brady interview on 60 Minutes. I just thought it was so interesting to hear a guy who seemingly has it all say, after reaching the pinnacle of his career at such a young age, ask, “Is this really it?!” We live in a culture of idolatry and celebrity worship where we all think that if I had Tom Brady’s life I’d be happy. But you see that achieving goals is such a temporary happiness – enjoyable for a moment, and then in the next moment you’ve got a career-threatening knee injury and people are ridiculing your supermodel wife.

2. Maybe it’s because I’m from Vermont originally, but Fairhaven seemed quintessentially New England. Why did you choose New England, and specifically Fairhaven, as the film’s backdrop?

Fairhaven was the other inspiration. My mother lived there for about 8 years and I would visit her and just loved the working class vibe of the place. It’s like this overlooked little gem of a place. Everyone passes it by and goes to Cape Cod. But I much prefer the south coast to the Cape. There is a bridge on 195 as you drive past Fall River that I distinctly remember driving over on the way to visit my mom where that feeling came over me to write a screenplay. The ocean and the old mills and fishing boats make you want to put on a Springsteen song and just drive over that bridge.

3. Your character seems fixated on Tom Brady throughout the film, or at least the idea that Brady could wonder, “Is this really it?” Is there a reason you decided on Brady besides that quote of his? We’re you once an aspiring quarterback yourself?

I was a college hockey player, a goalie, which is really similar in a lot of ways. I come from a real hockey family; my uncle (dad’s brother-in-law) is Jerry York, the head coach at Boston College who just became the all time winning-est coach in college hockey history. But I always played backyard quarterback and dreamed of being one. I’m a huge Pats fan and of course Brady is just that quintessential all American quarterback. He’s a guy that everyone wants to be, and my character’s dilemma in the film is that he wants to be anyone other than himself.

4. Despite your character almost obsessing over not being Brady, there is very little emphasis on sports. There is a scene of you walking across a football field, some sports talk radio if I remember correctly, but no watching sports (unless you count exotic dancing). Why did you make sports simultaneously central and absent from the film?

Those exotic dancers are total athletes! Did you see the split pole slide?! Admit it, you know you rewound that part. But seriously, sports wasn’t what the story was about. This is a very subtle film. There were other more Hollywood versions of the script where his old coach was a character that he would visit, and I just found it so heavy handed. I love to just subtly feel this guy’s past and never hit the audience over the head with it. I love watching those Rudy-type movies, but in terms of what interests me as a filmmaker, it’s much more interesting and dramatic to see what happens to the guy who doesn’t win the big game. The guy who doesn’t turn into Tom Brady and whose dreams don’t come true like the older brother in Hoop Dreams. Those are the characters that interest me. How about a movie about Donny Moore? Is that his name? The pitcher for the Angels who gave up the home run to Disco Dave Henderson and ended up committing suicide? Albeit that’s a darker movie, probably less of a crowd pleaser than The Natural, but what happened to that guy that drove him to that? I also have a college hockey script about my experience at Elmira College, where we drew 6,000 fans at every game and were local celebrities in town. It’s the hockey version of Bull Durham.

5. How does Fairhaven rank among the rest of your work, both in terms of enjoyment and final product? How do you feel about your first full-length feature, and how does the screen differ from the stage?

I love the stage and want to go back. It gives the actor total control. But this has been my top professional experience in both enjoyment and final product.

My absolute favorite moment on a set is that moment between action and cut – there is something so thrilling about not being able to call cut and living in that moment for an entire performance, knowing no matter what happens we have to make it through this.

6. And finally, though it may seem like a leading question, who do you like in the Super Bowl?

C’mon, do you even have to ask? There’s a moment in the film when I’m talking about Tom Brady and I say he’s got 4 Super Bowl rings because I figured he would get his 4th by the time the film was released. How fitting it would be if he gets it in the year of our release. LET’S GO PATS!!!!!

About Nick Bohlen - @ndbohlen

Nick is an editor and regular contributor for the Patriots, Celtics, and Red Sox sections of SoB. (Despite growing up in Vermont, just a short drive from Canada, hockey never really caught on with him.) Follow him on twitter: @ndbohlen

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