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Management: Interview with Steve Zahn

Actor Steve Zahn Talks About His New Film

Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn star in Management.

Credit: Samuel Goldwyn

Above: Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn star in Management.


KPBS film critic speaks with actor Steve Zahn


Steve Zahn may not be a familiar name to moviegoers but people would probably recognize his face. He may not be an A-list player but he's a talented actor who picks diverse roles in mostly independent projects. His latest film is an offbeat romantic comedy called Management (opening May 15 in select San Diego Theaters).

Steve Zahn doesn't like to repeat himself. He's played a goofy escaped convict who puts on a junior beauty pageant in Happy, Texas; he took on the Bard in a modern film version of Hamlet; and he was the doomed POW in Rescue Dawn. In each of these diverse roles he's found a way to make the part uniquely his own. But don't expect him to dwell on his method.

Steve Zahn: "I don't know I just go punch in and punch out and I do the best job I can."

And doing his best has gotten him noticed even if he tends to work in smaller, independent films. But for his latest project, a film called Management, he teams up with the more readily recognizable Jennifer Aniston. Off screen they represent different ends of the Hollywood star spectrum and that plays perfectly into their on screen roles in the film. Zahn is Mike, a young man working at his parents' roadside motel, and Aniston is Sue, a businesswoman attending a conference. He's laidback; she's wound too tight. And Mike's immediately smitten.

Steve Zahn: "He goes up to her room and offers her a free bottle of wine stating that's what they do at the motel which is obviously bull it's just charming and amusing and pathetic in the same breath and then he goes for her butt."

Mike: "You have a great butt… I noticed it the moment you checked in."

Sue: "Thank you."

Mike: "I hope that isn't too..."

Sue: "Nah… I mean yay..."

Steve Zahn: "Jennifer cocks her head to the side and wonders if he's being sarcastic and he isn't he's incapable of sarcasm and that was fascinating and telling."

Sue: "Do you do this a lot Mike?"

Mike: "No."

Sue: "Sometimes?"

Mike: "Very rarely."

Sue: "Does it ever work?"

Mike: "Never."

Steve Zahn: "If it was creepy in the least bit it wouldn't work at all… the fact that she finds him so unthreatening and is somewhat baffled by him is the reason it works."

Sue: "What would constute having it work? Us having sex? You getting to touch my butt?"

Mike: "Yeah…"

Zahn likes the way filmmaker Stephen Belber writes for pauses and lets the action play out at a leisurely pace that matches Mike's personality. But when Mike pursues Sue back to her company's homebase, Sue thinks he's gone too far.

Sue: "This is completely inappropriate, this is like a violation… you are violating my personal space, you are violating my personal life."

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Samuel Goldwyn

Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn in Management

But once again Zahn avoids the creepy and carefully navigates around tricky stalker terrain to find something appealing in Mike. As played by Zahn, Mike comes across as a nice but socially inept guy.

Steve Zahn: "It would be easy to characterize him as a loser, slacker guy which he is not … he's just a guy who's content where he is at and in a lot of ways he's childlike because he doesn't have the experience of a lot of people and that's part of his charm."

But it's Steve Zahn's charm that keeps this comedy afloat even when Belber resorts to unnecessary slapstick to move the story along. As long as Belber keeps it real, and lets his characters drive the story, the film proves likable.

Steve Zahn: "The story was so entertaining but at the same time so beautiful and rich and simple. It's a throwback and I hate to categorize it as a romantic comedy it's so different from what we are used to in the genre."

Management is different in that it generally avoids the in-your-face sitcom hysteria that most romantic comedies strive for. Instead it creates two flawed yet sympathetic people who win us over. And once again it’s Steve Zahn who’s the center of attention as he racks up another unconventional performance.

Companion viewing: Rescue Dawn, Happy Texas, Made For Each Other

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