Native New Yorker Peter Vack is an emerging indie darling, Renaissance man and burgeoning auteur, with an increasingly compelling voice in the art world buoyed by a growing resume of acting, writing, and directing credits that are a testament to his discerning taste and wide-ranging influences. Not yet thirty, (Vack was born in the West Village in 1986), the handsome artist is often mentioned with other New York-based creatives of around the same age: Jemima Kirke, Greta Gerwig, and Lena Dunham, whose Girls entered the zeitgeist only in 2012, dragging all of its highly educated millennial angst with it. He doesn’t yet have the name recognition of Dunham, and unlike her, Vack is so far reticent on the social issues that peak through some of his work. (He plays a small role in the Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning Fort Tilden, which despite efforts to make fun of privileged hipsterism and the uncomfortable dissonance of gentrification, seems to indulge in it without real engagement or critical examination.)
I suspect that Vack’s fame will grow. Born to parents working in film and educated in New York City private schools and USC’s School of Dramatic Arts, Vack has worked steadily since childhood, starting with the short films Dear Diary and A Bedtime Story, and perhaps most famously in the long-running soap opera As the World Turns as Casey Hughes. Vack has long divided his creative impulses between acting, writing, and directing. Just last year, his own short film Send at SXSW and the Amazon Prime original series Mozart in the Jungle, in which the artist plays alongside Gael García Bernal.
Danielle: How do you decide whether or not to take on a role? What types of characters do you like to play?
Peter: I am drawn to projects that display a unique voice. I would rather take one line in a film or play that is fresh and attempts to say or do something that I have not seen or heard before than to be the lead in a project that feels like it was written by a committee whose chief goal was to make money. I am most excited when I get the opportunity to play a character that is nothing like myself. It is hard to adequately describe how exhilarating it is to be given the opportunity to say and do things through a character that I, as Peter, would probably never say or do.
What’s your process like for really learning a character? Do you take a lot of notes to really fill out their stories and histories? Is it a more physical process?
If the character I am asked to play is close to myself, then the process is more intuitive and it is not necessary to create an elaborate backstory. If I am playing a person who has a background that is very different from mine, then, yes, I will spend time thinking deeply about their experiences and honing in on details from their past that will be evocative for me when I come to play the scenes. But usually if the script I am working from is well-written, then I don’t have to do too much of my own inventing. If the writing is good, then this work has already been done by the writer, and my job as an actor is to absorb the script into every fiber of my being and act without too much intellectual interference. If the character has a physical quality that is a departure from my own – like an accent or an injury – then this must be researched and rehearsed as if it were a dance or sport.
What inspires you? What makes you want to continue creating?
I am not sure. I often ask myself this question. Of course, there are artists and individual works of art that I love and make me want to create my own work, but as for that “something more” that drives me to sit in front of the blank page every day and see what comes up, I am still looking to define that. What I do know is that there is nothing I love more than to get together with a group of people who I respect and make something as a group. Moments of true co-creation have been the most valuable of my life, and I think that I work on myself and on my art so that I can create more opportunities like these.
You live in Brooklyn, as does most of your family. It’s a huge, colorful, diverse, complex and changing borough. What do you love and/or hate about it? It is suitably supportive of your life as an artist?
I am from Manhattan. New York City is my home. I still have a very naïve and childish love for the city that I hope I never lose, so I love living in Brooklyn. I am always discovering something new about the borough to love. I also love being close to my family. Everyone in my family is an artist of some kind and we are often working together on projects and that is lucky and fun!
I enjoyed your short film, Send, especially the color and lighting choices. It felt intimate and captured something true and human about its characters. Some of my favorite films are interior like this and reveal broader issues by diving deeply into the personal. Were you looking to achieve this quality? Who are some of the filmmakers who influence you?
I am glad you enjoyed the film! All of the decisions in terms of the lighting and the colors for the film were deliberate, so I am happy you found them effective. In making this Send, I was influenced by the filmmaker Céline Sciamma; in particular her films Water Lilies and Tomboy, which are both brilliant. I also love the way Nicolas Winding Refn handled the stage sequences in Bronson so that was another key reference for me.
What's next for you?
I am putting together a feature that is a conceptual continuation of Send called www.rachelormont.com and am also prepping a dark comedy called Assholes that I wrote and will co-direct with my sister Betsey Brown. I am currently acting in the second season of Amazon Prime’s original series Mozart in the Jungle, and I am in a bunch of films coming out that I am also very excited about: Leah Meyerhoff’s I Believe in Unicorns can be seen on demand, Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers’ Fort Tilden is in theaters as I write this, Harrison Atkins’ Lace Crater will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Clay Liford’s Slash, Hannah Fidell’s Six Years, and Celia Rowlson-Hall’s debut feature Ma, which will have its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival.