Just 30 years-old, James Cullen Bressack has 44 Internet Movie Data Base credits as director. His suspense thriller, “Hot Seat,” a Lionsgate release available for rental or purchase from Redbox, will have you on the edge of yours.
Kevin Dillon stars as Orlando, who is having an extremely bad day. His wife (Lydia Hull) has served him with divorce papers, and no sooner does he settle in to his job as a computer security specialist, he learns that his desk chair has been wired with explosives that will be detonated unless he uses his considerable hacking skills to make some unauthorized bank withdrawals.
Oscar-winner Mel Gibson costars as Wallace Reed, a bomb squad veteran, who tries to defuse the situation when the police and SWAT team want to blow Orlando away.
“Hot Seat” also stars Shannen Doherty, who has now costarred in four (and counting) of Bressack’s films.
Bressack is the son of the late Emmy-winning screenwriter Gordon Bressack, who has written some of the most beloved animated series of the last 30 years, including “Pinky and the Brain” and “Animaniacs.” James spoke with Redbox about how watching movies with his father paved the way for him to write and direct his own films, collaborating with icons Gibson and Bruce Willis and why he almost replaced himself in a movie.
Redbox: You were born to the breed. As a writer for “Pinky and the Brain,” your father is one of my heroes.
James Cullen Bressack: Thank you. He was totally a badass. There was a lot of creativity in our house.
RB: You were six when he wrote “Pinky” and about 10 when he worked on “Jimmy Neutron.” Did that give you schoolyard cred with the other kids?
JCB: Growing up in L.A., it wasn’t that strange. He had Emmys. I went to friends’ houses and their dads also had Emmys. I asked my dad, ‘Does everybody have these?’ and he said, ‘Yes, they do.’ [Laughs]
RB: What were your gateway movies that got you interested in making movies?
JCB: I’ve loved movies my entire life. My father got sick when I was young. He was bedridden because he was having liver failure. He had to get a transplant, and luckily, he did end up getting one. But during that time, we watched movies together. We would watch everything from horror movies to “Casablanca.” He would pause the films and ask me questions. I thought he was just trying to make sure I was paying attention, but the older I got, I realized that he was training me about the filmmaking process.
The movie that set me on my path was Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill.” I was way too young to see it, but my dad brought me anyway. Everybody was trying to stop him. [Laughs] The ticket taker was like, ‘Are you sure you want to take your kid to see this?’ I felt like I was getting away with something. There was this feeling of danger. When I watched the movie, I was transported to this crazy, insane, violent but stylistic world, and in that moment I was like, ‘You know what, I definitely need to make movies.’
RB: You did not write “Hot Seat.”
JCB: I used to write all of my own scripts. But the last script I was working on was one that my dad and I were writing together. Before he passed away (in 2019), I promised him I would finish it. I have not been able to emotionally do that, so these past few years I’ve been trying my hand at other people’s stories. “Hot Seat” was very special because when I read it, I was like, ‘This is so unique. How do I make (a character who cannot leave his chair) visually interesting and entertaining? It’s not only an actor’s piece, but also a director’s piece.
RB: I always enjoy watching Lydia Hull, and Kevin Dillon is compelling as that proverbial ordinary man in an extraordinary situation. But this Mel Gibson guy, he shows real promise.
JCB: [Laughs] Hot shot up-and-comer Mel Gibson! Mel is amazing. One thing that’s so special about him is besides being a fantastic director, he’s just such an amazing actor. He is so invested. He finds the magic in the little moments when his character isn’t talking. He’s so real and so natural. He elevates everything he touches.
RB: I’m reminded of that great joke Jim Carrey made at the American Film Institute tribute to Meryl Streep when he said that he was nervous about meeting her; he didn’t know what she would be like: “But lucky for me, she was open and willing to learn.” What was he like as a collaborator?
JCB: Mel was fantastic. We hit it off immediately. We went to dinner multiple times and talked through the script and his character and talked about life and films in general.
RB: Did you take the opportunity to pick his brain about directing?
JCB: I was working with one of the world’s greatest living directors. It was really a great experience. When we were at dinner, I asked how he did certain things on “Apocalypto” and “Hacksaw Ridge.” I asked a lot of questions about “Braveheart” as well. He was open and honest about the filmmaking process. We worked on adding more humor to his character because he uses jokes to defuse his own tension. That’s how he deals with stress. It was a cool choice we landed on.
RB: Hector Elizondo was director Garry Marshall’s good luck charm and appeared in all his films. You seem to have something like that going with Shannen Doherty. How did that evolve?
JCB: It’s a special situation. We’ve become really great friends. When I was 21 years old, I did my first Screen Actor’s Guild movie as a director. She was the first name actress that I worked with. She took a gamble with me, and from there, we decided that we would work together come hell or high water.
RB: Mel Gibson is not the first screen icon you’ve worked with. What can you share about working with Bruce Willis?
JCB: Great to work with. Like Mel, he also likes to laugh, so he and I joked around a lot on set. I remember one thing we used to do was take the sides (the script pages to be filmed that day) and when the scenes were shot, we’d rip the pages up, roll them into little balls and toss them into the trash can. We would compete to see who scored the most points.
RB: Anything else about “Hot Seat” you’d want our readers to know?
JCB: In the first scene, I am one of the background extras in the park. I’m the guy drinking from the water fountain.
RB: Is this a Hitchcock thing?
JCB: I’ve done a Hitchcockian cameo in every movie of mine except “Hate Crime.” I tend not to give myself any lines because I will not remember them. With my recent movie, “Murder, Anyone?” we had to do 35 takes of a scene because I could not learn my three lines.
RB: How did James Bressack the director deal with James Bressack the actor?
JCB: I almost recast myself.