[The team for Beast (L to R): Chad McKinney, Tom McKeith, Sam McKeith Garrett Dillahunt]
Starring newcomer Chad McKinney and veteran actor Garret Dillahunt (Winter’s Bone, Raising Hope), Beast tells the story of Jaime Gray (McKinney), a young boxer in the Philippines who is managed by his father, Rick (Dillahunt). After getting involved with a local bookie, Rick convinces his son to tamper with his gloves in order to win a match. However, when the end result of the fight is not what he expected, Jaime must wrestle with his own guilt and whether or not to come forward with the truth.
The first feature by directors Tom and Sam McKeith, one might think that an experienced actor such as Dillahunt would be phased by joining a project with relative newcomers behind the camera. In fact, however, working with the two young men was something that interested him about the project.
“They’re pretty impressive young men to me, especially to keep that vision in the midst of that sort of chaos… My favourite projects generally are with first time directors because they’re so prepared… They have this story that they want to tell and they have the whole thing in their head. It’s kind of what filmmaking is supposed to be… There was a time where people told stories.”
Having said this, one of the most striking aspects about Beast is its commitment to realism. For instance, while one might assume that issues like tampering with gloves couldn’t happen in today’s highly regulated world of boxing, McKinney says that things are entirely different in the Philippines.
“The boxing theme worked in the Philippines,” he claims. “Any other boxing arena, they check the gloves. They’re watching you. But in the Philippines, I’ve fought 14 fights that are not on my record because they weren’t part of the American Boxing Association. I actually fought in a place down the road [from the arena in the film] and it looked exactly the same.”
Through it’s close-up, documentary-style filmmaking, the film manages to draw you into the drama by giving it a personal feel. An excellent example of this commitment to realism through the film’s opening boxing match. As the camera holds relentlessly on McKinney’s face, we can sense his intensity in the moment. While one would rightly assume this was due to the strength of his performance, it’s also interesting to note that this scene included actual boxing.
According to McKinney, “We’re the only film I know that used actual boxing. I love Southpaw and those other boxing movies but you can see they’re missing with their punches. We had to pay [the other guy] extra because it was real fighting. He was one of my trainers—he’s a former world champion. I had told him to knock me out because I was going to try to knock him out too… And he was scared for a couple of rounds because, you know, you might not get paid. And I said, no. It’s just you and me—we’re friends. Knock me out. For the camera angles, I had to keep my hands down.”
“I was overly concerned,” chimes Dillahunt. “I didn’t think they were gonna get three rounds out of this. They were really going at it. We were concerned because of all the swelling and we had other things to shoot.”
“I didn’t know we were shooting,” McKinney recalls. “That was real.”
Ironically, as a boxer playing a boxer, McKinney originally feared that he may be typecast in the role for future projects.
“Will James is the one that found me for the movie. I was in a boxing gym, training amateur boxers,” he remembers. “I was there—not boxing—just getting the amateur boxers ready for their fight. He came up to me and asked me to come over. I got a callback two days later. They pitched me the story and I thought it sounded kinda like my own story. I wasn’t thrilled to be typecast as a boxer—I thought ‘Great, I’ll never get Cruel Intentions or 12 Years a Slave but the film itself, other than the beginning, really isn’t about boxing itself. It’s really about one man’s journey and I enjoyed it as a movie-lover. I was a lot more satisfied than I thought I’d be.”
For McKinney, Beast is also more than simply a movie in that it also connected deeply with his own story as well.
“The funny thing about this movies is that I grew up as a jack-of-all-trades guy. I lived in a lot of places,” he shared. “I was a missionary pastor’s son but the rebellious one, the black sheep kind, the prodigal son type of guy. We moved to 9 different countries by the time I was 15. Born in Seattle, made in the Philippines but lived everywhere. Every time we moved, we didn’t have Facebook or MySpace yet so, every time we’d leave, I’d lose friends. I’d make friends and we’d leave the next year. So, I decided to create new personalities when I showed up there. And then, I got into martial arts because I said what’s the point of meeting people if I’m just going to be all broken and leave? When we lived in Thailand, I spent a lot of time in Muy Thai, got into the MMA circuit and I was fighting by the time I was 14 or 15. It brought me down. I eloped and got married against family will—and got divorced… I was literally homeless for like 5 months before I swallowed my pride and called my family. That’s a long time to be homeless in San Diego, doing dishwashing in a restaurant and found myself in a boxing gym. They wouldn’t let me fight right away and I needed money so I found myself in Mexico underground in Tiawana. I fought with no gloves. I fought guys I probably shouldn’t have fought because I had to get blood tests later but I was able to bring those different attributes to this. I’ve always been one to live by ‘never have a dull moment’. I could walk out of here and have a stroke or get hit by a car. Live every moment. If I die on the corner, I want people to be able to say that this guy knew how to live. He’s got a smile on his face.”
In terms of his character’s dysfunctional relationship with his parents, McKinney says that his life and Jaime’s differ strongly in that area.
“I’m closer to my father. My mother is a great woman. She lives in Chicago and I haven’t seen her in two years but we talk all the time. She loves the movie. In the States, I was doing well as a boxer, spending more money than I was making. Then I went back to live in the Philippines… and I ended up on my dad’s couch. He’s a pastor and a missionary for the church. He doesn’t earn a wage doing that—he gives it all to that. So, really, Beast is the opposite with my father. I came to the Philippines, I partied, I slept on the couch—and pretended that I wasn’t sleeping on the couch—and pretty much used my dad for two years. I had to apologize to him after that. I sort of found myself and, in this movie, I found myself even more.”
In light of this, when asked about his feelings towards Rick’s actions, Dillahunt doesn’t judge his character, viewing him as an ordinary man broken by immeasurable poverty.
“I don’t know why I don’t mind people like that,” he begins. “I mean, we’re all sort of shades of gray. I’ve done things I’m not proud of and I feel like I’m an okay guy. How is that a possibility? The circumstances are so interesting – this entire world is foreign to me. That level of poverty… Here’s this American and how did he get there? He’s not a very successful dude and he seems like he’s full of shame himself… He loves his kid… I remember being so broke, in school, that I raided my roommates penny jar and I was racked with guilt. I mean, I’d stolen a bunch of pennies. That’s what fear of having no money did for this privileged white boy. What if it’s worse? [My character] probably had big dreams of being a fighter… and here [he is], pimping out [his] son.”
“Not only that,” McKinney echoes, “but Will James comes in and slams me up against the wall… The son is just, you know, not looking at his dad but at the same time, he’s looking at his dad and saying ‘this is what is going on’.”
“There’s this discomfort and pacing that’s going on [between Rick and Jaime]”,
Dillahunt explains. “The fact that he allows somebody to do that… the kid is sort of abandoned by both parents. [My character keeps] more than half of that money and his mom doesn’t want to see him either and [Jaime is] still is ultimately driven to do the right thing.”
With this in mind, McKinney also states that the element of poverty expressed in this film reveals a very present reality that most of the people in the Philippines experience daily.
“They say that Manila has 7 million people but it’s 20,” says McKinney, seriously. “I have a heart for the Philippines. I still love it but you see a level of poverty there that, when I came back to the States, I was just thinking ‘Wow’. Thank you for options and choices… There’s basically no middle class in the Philippines. There’s a small middle class. My dad would be in the middle class in the Philippines where he was well off but, if he was back in the States, he’d basically be broke… There’s a really, really wealthy part of the Philippines and there’s a dirt poor side. [Directors Tom and Sam McKeith] didn’t even get to see the wealthy side until after we were done shooting and they were like, ‘Woah. Wait, are we still in the same place?’ Just to help those families and people, [like child actor] little Myo. The movie changed their life. They were telling me behind the scenes. They took me to where they lived and it was not so well. And they’re doing a lot better now. It was humbling. It made me actually miss the couch again.”
There is an overwhelming sense of reality in this film that makes it something to watch. Whether it’s the authenticity of the situation or the honesty in the performances, Beast draws you in and begs the question of what really defines the quality of a person.
Says Dillahunt, “There’s that great scene where [Devina] calls him a monster. You start thinking, at least I did, about how you can be perceived like that. He’s not and… it’s the most heartbreaking thing, what that sort of thing can do to you.
After watching a film like Beast, one can’t help but ask the same question.