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John Magaro on His Coen Brothers Type Film with Steve Zahn and Dylan Baker

John Magaro on His Coen Brothers Type Film with Steve Zahn and Dylan Baker

LaRoy, Texas stars John Magaro, Steve Zahn, and Dylan Baker in a hilarious dark comedy that’s one of the best films of the year so far. Magaro plays Ray, a meek hardware store owner who’s mistaken for a hit man after Skip (Zahn), a goofy private investigator, tells him that his wife (Megan Stevenson) is having an affair. The film is reminiscent of the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple and Fargo, with tragic themes that have unexpected twists.

Magaro spoke with us at length about producing the film with writer/director Shane Atkinson in his feature debut. “I’ve worked with a lot of first-time filmmakers,” said Magaro, humorously adding, “It took a few years. It wasn’t easy. It’s hard to get people to invest in a first-time filmmaker. And it’s not like I’m bringing in a ton of money. I do indie films. I’ve had the good fortune of doing some good stuff, but I’m not Robert Downey Jr. or Iron Man.”

Magaro has several upcoming films, but is particularly excited for September 5th. “Sean Penn produced it. It’s Peter Sarsgaard, Ben Chaplin, and myself. It’s about the Munich Olympic massacre in the ’70s from a unique perspective. We’ve seen Munich, the Spielberg film. This is a very different story. It’s more from the sports people who were there for ABC.” In the meantime, LaRoy, Texas is out April 12 in theaters and on demand. Read on for our complete interview with John Magaro.

LaRoy, Texas Has an Unpredictable Script That Captivated John Magaro

LaRoy, Texas

LaRoy, Texas (2024)

Release Date
April 12, 2024

Shane Atkinson

112 Minutes

Shane Atkinson

Adastra Films , FLOTE Entertainment

Brainstorm Media

MovieWeb: I saw LaRoy, Texas cold. It blew me out of the water. It’s one of my favorite films of the year. It goes in so many different places and is completely unpredictable. What was your reaction to reading writer/director Shane Atkinson’s brilliant script?

John Magaro: You just touched on something that I haven’t actually mentioned before. I love that ‘not knowing.’ It’s our job as filmmakers, and as actors, to stay ahead of the audience, and trust them to find the way there. I think too often, filmmakers don’t trust their audience, or don’t want to feel like the audience is being fooled or whatever.

John Magaro: When I read this script, it kept me guessing, it kept me engaged. I wanted to flip the page. I wanted to keep reading. And then it was broken up by laughing out loud at these crazy situations. Then, ultimately getting to the beautiful, tragic, disturbing ending. As soon as I flipped that last page, I was like, “I’ve got to be a part of this.” Not only was it a great script, but it also reminded me of films that I really loved, and cinema that made me fall in love with being an actor and a filmmaker.

John Magaro: People have often compared it [to Coen brothers movies]— and Shane and I are both happy that it’s compared to this — because it certainly draws from the early Coen brothers stuff. A lot of people coming out of college now have never seen Fargo. This is a style of cinema that we as old men think they must have, but they don’t. This is a thing that isn’t really made anymore, this kind of dark humor where it’s tragic, but also really funny.



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Producing an Indie Movie from a First-Time Filmmaker

MW: I’m going to get into the themes of the film and the amazing performances. But let’s start with your producer hat. This is Shane Atkinson’s first feature film made. Talk about working with him. Were there any hiccups getting financing?

John Magaro: I’ve done things with A24. They have such a name and a machine kind of already in place that it’s easier to get things going there. This is different. We had a script, and then we were out trying to get money to get it made. That took a long time. It took a few years. It wasn’t easy. It’s hard to get people to invest in a first-time filmmaker. And it’s not like I’m bringing in a ton of money. I do indie films. I’ve had the good fortune of doing some good stuff, but I’m not Robert Downey Jr. or Iron Man. It’s not like, “Oh, sh*t, he’s going to get people in the seats.”

But I really believed in it. And as a producer, I wanted to do whatever I could to make it happen. Some of that was finding the cast, calling in favors like that. And then, ultimately, doing everything I could on set to make sure we made our days, make sure we stayed close to our budget.

John Magaro: It’s a weird thing. I’ve worked with a lot of first-time filmmakers. Obviously, you want them to do good and tell the story that they want to tell. But you’re just focused on what your character is, and part of the story. Whereas wearing the producer hat is also making sure Shane every day had what he needed to tell the story he wanted to tell.

John Magaro: I’ve worked with a lot of first-time filmmakers and I enjoy it. I like being on the ground level, bringing new voices out into the world. It’s sort of unvarnished because they haven’t done it before. They’re not jaded. There’s really a kind of purity in the way they approach it. That’s exciting to be a part of. It becomes, in a lot of ways, more collaborative and a team effort. That’s the way [John] Cassavetes did it. I like having that sort of ensemble team, family vibe.

The Outsider Feeling

John Magaro with his cheating wife in LaRoy Texas
Brainstorm Media

MW: Ray is an absolutely fascinating character. He’s not understanding something that’s painfully obvious to everybody else: the affair between his brother (Matthew Del Negro) and wife (Megan Stevenson). It’s so heartbreaking and tragic. Why did you want to play Ray?

John Magaro: Well, off the bat, the outsider feeling of Ray, the insecurities, the feeling trapped, I think those are very universal feelings that everyone at one time or another goes through. I personally have dealt with depression and anxiety. I’ve been open about that and taking medication for it. That feeling of hopelessness, the darkest places that we go to, I felt that this was something that I could take on. But also, the arc of him as this guy who was a pushover, trying to find his voice, trying to find his strength and his ability to kind of stand up for himself was fascinating to get to play. I also love the friendship element, this unexpected friendship that develops between him and Steve’s [Zahn] character.

I didn’t want him to come off as an idiot. He chooses to put blinders on, because facing the reality of what was going on is too much. That’s why I think when he’s confronted, finally, with the reality of it, it pushes him to the breaking point.

Creating an Abbott & Costello Duo with Steve Zahn

MW: Let’s talk about Steve Zahn. He’s absolutely brilliant here as Skip. Ray couldn’t get anywhere without his help. That scene in the bathroom with the lawyer had me laughing on the ground. I think audiences underestimate how hard it is to capture such a humorous moment.

John Magaro: A big part of it was the script. That scene in the bathroom was one of the moments where I was laughing just reading it. This is insane. It’s hilarious. Moments like that were already kind of written in. But then when you get someone like Steve, who is so brilliant, he’s a master of this kind of comedy that rides the line between realism and absurdity. I’ve been a fan of Steve’s for a very long time. He’s probably one of the best at doing that.


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John Magaro: When he came on, it was really exciting because you just knew that he was going to raise the level of everyone on screen. The Ray and Skip dynamic, I’ve been saying it’s like the Abbott and Costello dynamic in a movie. You go into the scenes where it is this straight man and the comedian guy. You have that banter and the pitter-patter of the comedy duo. Oftentimes, the straight man is not as rewarding, but for me, it was fun.

MW: How much time did you have to rehearse with Steve to get down the comic timing? You guys are so natural in those great scenes.

John Magaro: Zero. None. There was no rehearsal. That’s the thing with these kinds of films. No budget, there’s no time to fly us into New Mexico and have two weeks of rehearsal. There’s just no money for that. Shane said this before. A big part of it was casting, feeling like he could trust who he had, and feeling very confident about the actors. I think what made him feel confident was that we all saw it the same way.

John Magaro: We all saw the humor in the situations, and not trying to necessarily reach for jokes, but letting the jokes come out of the insane things that were happening to us. Drowning a guy twice in a toilet is just absurd. We just kind of got in there. I think Steve’s a fan of mine. I’m a fan of his. We just felt really comfortable. We were both ready to play, and we just went for it.


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Dylan Baker’s Menace and John Magaro’s September 5

MW: I’m looking forward to interviewing Dylan Baker. He’s incredible in this film as Harry, the hit man. He’s so menacing. That standout scene in the beginning with the hitchhiker, and then with the waitress at the diner — this is a really dangerous guy. Even though your scenes with him are towards the end, talk about what he brought to the set, and how he developed that character.

John Magaro: As a producer, that’s one of the things I did. I brought Dylan on board. Shane had ideas about him. I think we all saw Harry as a character that was in tandem with Ray. They sort of complement each other. If Ray didn’t end his story the way it does, he could have gone on to maybe become another Harry. He would have gone down the darkest route. There had to be a parallel between the two characters.

John Magaro: That’s why I thought of someone like Dylan. I’ve known him for years. He lives here in New York. We spent six months together on Broadway. We’ve done all this stuff. I’ve always been a big fan of his from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and then seeing him do Todd Solondz’s Happiness, where he plays such a despicable, dark character. I knew he had the capability to bring darkness and menace to Harry, but also earnestness.

Dylan has kind of a babyface and a sweetness to him. I just always thought Harry had to have that unassuming quality. Then it’s revealed there’s so much more going on. I was certain he could pull it off, and he did.

MW: Can you tell us what you’re doing next?

John Magaro: There will be some films in the fall festivals. What I’m really excited about is this film called September 5 that Sean Penn and Paramount were involved in. Sean Penn produced it. It’s Peter Sarsgaard, Ben Chaplin, and myself. It’s about the Munich Olympic massacre in the ’70s from a unique perspective. We’ve seen Munich, the Spielberg film. This is a very different story. It’s more from the sports people who were there for ABC. They’re having to pivot from covering sports to covering that. That’s an exciting one.

In the meantime, LaRoy, Texas will have a concurrent theatrical and VOD release on April 12th from Brainstorm Media. You can watch the trailer below.

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