Edson for Travelers: Do the Wrong Thing

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While the name Richard Edson won't instantly roll off the tongues of average filmgoers, they'll surely remember the face of the quirky thespian who made his mark in films like Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Do the Right Thing and, more recently, The Astronaut Farmer. As of late, though, the punk rocker-turned-actor has been moonlighting on the small screen in the no-dialogue "Risk," a new spot for Travelers Insurance from Fallon/Minneapolis, directed by Lance Acord, in which the Edson character blithely and somewhat innocently leaves total destruction in his wake everywhere he goes. The laid-back Edson talked to Creativity about his transition to TV, his days in Sonic Youth, and how silent-film slapstick informed his Travelers role.

You made your career in movies. Why make this commercial?

Lance Acord asked me to do it. His explanation was very enticing and I wasn't doing anything that week anyway. I've worked with him before on a short movie, and he was really cool to work with.

Were there any glaring differences doing a TV ad vs. a movie?

It's funny, because you do low-budget films, big-budget studio films, TV and commercials, and it's all basically the same. You have a camera, a director, a set and an objective. I really can't see what the difference is in terms of format. When it comes down to it, when the director yells "Action," you have to do what you have to do.

What's your overall take on your "Risk" role?

It's very physical in terms of acting, and there was the opportunity to create a character. The acting was almost silent movie-like. We were talking about Buster Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle and Harold Lloyd in the way to approach it. It's the kind of work I love to do—physical, visual acting as opposed to verbal, dramatic acting. What I'm hearing now is that people are liking it, so we achieved what we set out to achieve.

You were the original drummer in Sonic Youth; How did you go from music to acting?

Actually, I was also playing in another band at the time, Konk, which was much more up my alley—dance, funk, Afro-Cuban, it was much more rhythmic. I was doing both bands at the same time, and back in 1983 it was not so much a question of leaving Sonic Youth to do acting as it was leaving to commit myself to Konk. I continued with Konk for another two years until I did Strangers in Paradise. I considered that a one-off at the time; I didn't take it seriously as a career. But when it came out and people started offering me roles—and I realized how much I liked acting—it wasn't a very hard transition to make. But I'm still doing music and playing in bands, so you haven't heard the last of that.
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