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EXCLUSIVE: Demetri Martin Comes to Terms With His Own Expectations to Make ‘Dean’

by Stacy Lambe 11:42 AM PDT, May 30, 2017
Photo: Getty Images

After briefly appearing on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart as a contributor and then landing his own Comedy Central series, Important Things With Demetri Martin, the comedian is now making his feature film writing and directorial debut with Dean.

The project comes after years of stand-up specials as well as supporting roles in films like Contagion, In a World and Sequoia when Martin, 44, realized he wanted to make his own movie someday. Inspired by the likes of Woody Allen, Mike Nichols and Albert Brooks as well as the experience of writing and selling film scripts, only to see them get shelved by studios, Martin decided to take his film career into his own hands. “I can't wait for someone to give me the opportunity. I'm going to have to write something that I can shoot,” he tells ET.

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Realistic about expectations, Martin drew inspiration from a personal place to tell a story about a father and son (played by Kevin Kline and Martin) coming to terms with love, loss and everything in between. In the film, an illustrator named Dean flees to Los Angeles as he copes with the recent death of his mother while his retired father confronts the loss head on by selling their family home.

While a fictional story, Dean draws on the comedian’s own experience of losing his father to cancer when he was a junior in college. “I thought, That’s a good place to start because emotionally, I think I'll know what I'm dealing with,” Martin recalls of the writing the film versus his many stand-up routines, which allows him to hide behind jokes. “It's much closer to what I've gone through as a person and that feels very vulnerable.”

Also making Martin feel exposed is putting himself out there as not only the star of the film, but as a writer and director of his feature debut. “I feel like, ‘Wow, I'm putting it all out there,’” he says of being front and center.

The project, a truly independent experience as he describes it, was an exciting endeavor that came with its caveats. “It was like, ‘Oh sh*t, be careful what you wish for,’” he says of suddenly being worried about not embarrassing himself or the cast, including Kline, Gillian Jacobs and Mary Steenburgen, when it came to producing a low-budget film and not knowing truly how it would end up.

“You get Kevin Kline. That's a coup. I can't believe I get that guy to be in my movie and then you're thinking, I don't want to f**k this up,” Martin says, adding that he eventually reached a place where he got past all of that and put it out there.

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First debuting at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival, where it won the Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature, Dean is finally opening in select theaters on Friday, June 2. The journey from festival to theaters has been a long one for Martin, who shifted his focus back to stand-up and other projects while he waited for the film to get an official release date.

But now, it’s here. “It's been a longer journey than I expected,” Martin says. “But I’ve got to say, it has exceeded what I expected.”

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