Interview: Jonas Chernick Talks “Borealis”


To be a screenwriter, an actor and a producer at the same time is challenging. However, that does not seem to stop Jonas Chernick from writing a story, produce it, and play in the same film the lead part. It’s a story that is captivating, depicting the relationship of two troubled people: a pot-smoking teen and her gambler father, who decides to take his daughter to a dangerous road trip.

That trip does not happen just because Jonah, all of a sudden, realizes that he should rebuild his broken relationship with his estranged daughter. But because of her vision disorder that is about to make her completely blind.

As you have noticed, BOREALIS has an interesting story to follow, but to me it was Jonas Chernick, who I without a doubt wanted to ask more about the idea behind Borealis, and the reason the same idea was born. A few days ago, I had the great pleasure to have a phone interview with Jonas Chernick, whose answers will completely satisfy all your questions.

MOVIEMOVESME: As a screenwriter and the lead actor, how challenging or easy was it to connect emotionally to Jonah and his troubles?

Jonas Chernick: When I wrote the script I only had to think about Jonah’s troubles from a certain perspective now that I’m a storyteller. Now that we’ve written the story about that character and the challenges that he had because I knew that was a great story there. When it came time to actually shoot the movie and I had to take off my writer’s hat, put on the actor’s hat, that’s when I realized how much of a challenge I had created for myself as an actor. I suddenly felt myself looking at the character and his troubles from a different perspective and it was much more difficult to get into that state of the character mostly because I had a tone of my own and the choices that Jonah makes are choices that I’d never make as a father. That’s why I found myself very happy to look at those decisions that Jonah makes and try to sympathize with my character. It was a very weird experience for me.

MOVIEMOVESME: Is there any link between Jonah and your name, Jonas?

Jonas Chernick: You’re the first person to ever notice that… It’s not an accident. When I started writing screenplays it was always intended that I’d play the roles that I was writing. I only became a writer so that I could create great characters for myself to play actor cause I’m an actor first; that’s my passion, that’s my love. So I made a decision when I started writing screenplays to always name characters that I was writing for myself beginning with the letter J. This is a way of marking my territory and claiming it as my own. Jonah was, I think, the fifth or sixth character that I’d written for myself and I’d already used up a lot of the J names, Joseph, Joel, Jordan… so I guess Jonah was one that was still available! That’s where the similarity ends, there’s no personal connection with this character.

MOVIEMOVESME: How did you come up with the idea to write this kind of a story?

Jonas Chernick: The idea was first presented to me by the director of the film, my long collaborator and friend, Sean Garrity. He had an idea that he was turning into a short film and it was a very simple idea. It was only about three or four sentences. And when he told me the idea, I wept; I cried and I thought it was the most beautiful idea I’ve ever heard. I told him that this was a great story and I’d like to turn it into a feature and he said that he didn’t think there was enough material for a feature. But I immediately saw a world open up; the idea of blindness was already there, the father-daughter relationship was there and a road trip was there. Everything else I filled in the blank script. The father and daughter each have an addiction, something they use as a crutch, to cope with their pain. They share the pain of their loss of the wife/mother and I like the idea that he is a gambler and she is a pot smoker. These were the things that they did to deal with life. When I was a teenager, I was a pot smoker, so that was very easy for me to write and my dad, although he didn’t have a gambling problem, he played cards and he loved the game of gambling. He’d take me to the track to watch the horses race when I was very young. He had these poker games in the basement which seemed very serious and dramatic. So once I quickly attached these two ideas, it seemed to make sense to me these two characters understanding each other through their vice. My favorite scenes to write and play were the scenes where Aurora shared a joint with her dad to be high with him and the scene where Jonah and Aurora gamble together. Those were the moments of the story that was heartfelt and was beautiful because of the father and daughter coming together even though they were coming together over these addictions.

MOVIEMOVESME: How did you introduce Joey King to Aurora and your plans of playing together?

Jonas Chernick: That was very organic; we sent her the script thinking she would not be interested because she does these gigantic movies and this was a very small Canadian movie. But she read the script and really loved it. When she arrived to shoot it, she very quickly bonded; actresses have a probability to bond quickly but his was unusually quick and very intense. By the time we started shooting, we had already found rhythm and understood each other as people in a really profound way. The first thing she told me on skype after accepting the role was that she hasn’t lived the life of a usual 15-year-old. She confessed that she was very innocent and had no experience of smoking marijuana or gambling. We bonded over smoking a fake joint very early on because we needed her to know how to do it.

MOVIEMOVESME: What does it feel like as a screenwriter knowing that you yourself will be portraying the lead role?

Jonas Chernick: It is a very unusual experience for me, it has now happened four or five times. They are very separate experiences. When I’m writing the script, I’m a writer; yes I know I’m playing the role eventually but I never think about it in really intangible terms because when I’m writing the screenplay I’m aware of the difficulty of getting it made. Each time I get a film made I’m amazed at the accomplishment. I think there is a need for miracles to happen sequentially to get a movie made, so when I’m writing, I’m just writing and I’m not necessarily envisioning myself in the role; although, I’m very careful when writing characters that they are in some ways shadows of myself although I like to flex my muscles and stretch my wings to play characters that are different than me. When the time comes to act I really do look at the material as the first time as an actor. It usually happens during pre-production when I take off the writer’s hat and put on the acting hat and read the scipt for the first time as an actor preparing for a role and I discover it in a very new, fresh kind of way and I love that.

MOVIEMOVESME: You’re also the producer of the film, so how did you balance that part?

Jonas Chernick: That’s fairly easy because everything that I’ve written and produced has been directed by Sean Garrity, who’s one of my closest friends and there’s a reason why we continue to work together over and over again. We have a very, very functional working relationship. So as soon as we start production, as a producer and screenwriter, I empower Sean as director. Lots of producers wield their power over the director. But I’m not like that, I’m very happy to give it over to him and let him direct and I just act. So when we’re on set, something goes wrong and we need a producer, there’s always another producer that I can call on to put out the fire or solve a problem because that’s when I’m an actor. As soon as they call cut I’m a producer again and I’m over on my phone dealing with issues and sorting things out. But in between action and cut I’m just an actor and that’s my favorite part!

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