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Jim Cummings Portrait
Andy Parsons

‘Thunder Road’ director Jim Cummings: ‘I failed for so many years’

The dynamic director-writer-star behind ace US indie ‘Thunder Road’ talks overcoming failure and the need for persistence

By Olly Richards
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Jim Cummings should probably run motivational classes. Half an hour with the fast-rising filmmaker and you feel like you can do anything. ‘My advice to any [budding filmmaker] is don’t wait!’ says the boyishly enthusiastic 32-year-old. ‘Just make it. It’s going to suck the first time, but you learn!’

Cummings is speaking from experience. The New Orleans native has been obsessed with movies since he saw ‘Fight Club’ in 1999. He’s spent more than a decade working in filmmaking, mostly shorts, largely unsuccessfully. ‘I failed for so many years,’ he says. ‘I was a producer making things that didn’t really connect with audiences. I got to see why things were going wrong, but the feelings of inadequacy got smaller until I thought I could make something on my own.’ The result of that persistence is ‘Thunder Road’, a film he wrote, directed, stars in and co-edited. It’s no failure. In fact, it’s one of the most interesting directing debuts of the decade.

Based on a short film that brought him festival success in 2016, it’s a hysterical comedy that also manages to be a profound drama about mental health, grief and broken families. Cummings plays a police officer who has just lost his mother. In the opening scene, 11 minutes of single-take awkward-hilarious brilliance, the cop expresses his grief via a dance routine to his mum’s favourite song, Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’. Sadly, his stereo doesn’t work, so he’s left flailing silently, humiliating his young daughter. The film becomes a story of a man who wants to win back the respect of the one person left he loves and trying to get a hold on the anger that has consumed him.

Jim Cummings as Jim Arnaud in ‘Thunder Road’

Cummings looks like an actor, wholesomely handsome, perfect ‘nice guy’ casting. He’s superb in ‘Thunder Road’ but taking the lead role was more for cost reasons than anything. ‘I’m not an actor,’ he says. ‘I just pretend to be one.’ Which is really what all actors are doing. His idols are two other men who mostly perform their own creations. ‘David Brent in “The Office” is an influence, for sure,’ he says. “But mostly Steve Coogan. Alan Partridge is great because it’s not punchline-driven. His behaviour showcases what he’s thinking and that’s so funny to me.’

‘Thunder Road’ has already been a modest success in the US which means workaholic Cummings is on to the next thing. Multiple things, in fact. He’s produced two more short films and directed, written and starred in an as-yet-untitled movie about a police officer trying to prove that a spate of murders is not being committed by a werewolf. ‘It’s like David Fincher’s “Zodiac” as a comedy. With a werewolf.” Cummings might have spent years unsure what audiences wanted, but who doesn’t want that?

‘Thunder Road’ opens Fri May 31. Read our review here

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