Demetri Martin knows how to do many things. He knows how to tell a joke (as seen on his Comedy Central show Important Things with Demetri Martin). He knows how to play a guitar (if you’ve ever seen his stand-up, you know that he punctuates his droll one-liners with a well-played guitar). And Martin is smart (he’s a Yale grad).
Perhaps the one thing Martin doesn’t really know to do is how to carry a film, which leads to the question: Why did famed director Ang Lee tap him to helm his new movie Taking Woodstock?
“It was all very unexpected,” says the youthful Martin, who admits to not being a trained actor, while on a press junket in New York City. “I didn’t know that this project existed or that Ang knew anything about me or what I do.”
As it turned out, it was a teenaged fan with a slight crush on the comedian who tipped off the Oscar-winning director.
“James (Schamus, Lee’s longtime collaborator) introduced me to him, because his teenaged daughter liked him and she got him to watch clips on YouTube and thought he was very funny and cute,” says Lee of Martin in slightly broken English. “I just believed the story would happen to him. And I liked the challenge, not necessarily of taking a comedian, but just of him, of him taking us through the party.”
And as the history books prove, oh what a party it was. And it’s up to Martin, as the meek Elliot Teichberg who just happens to volunteer his family’s motel to be the home base for the three-day concert, to carry the viewer through the life-changing bash.
“Ang reminded me of that sometimes — ‘You are carrying this film,’” laughs Martin. “This ‘carry’ verb kept coming up. And I’m like, ‘What’s this carrying business?’ I started to understand when we started the shoot because I worked every day. You’re this constant figure.”
In the end, does Martin pull that “carry” verb off? During our interview, he seemed unsure, but he did say he got through it by “putting all of my faith in Ang.”
“I kept thinking of the Karate Kid because he was like this sensei who was like, ‘Do this with your arms.’ And you’re like, ‘Okay, so what does that do?’” Martin recounts. “I just tried to be a student this whole time and follow their lead and trust that they found someone to do what they wanted. I didn’t come in saying, ‘I figured out the character, and here’s what I’m going to do, Ang.’ It was more like, ‘Okay, what do you want me to do? Walk faster? Okay!’”
No drugs please
Although in Taking Woodstock, Martin portrays a man enjoying his first LSD experience, in real life, Martin stays away from the stuff but not because Nancy Regan told him to.
“I have all of these food allergies,” he says. “Any moral issues aside, I’ve avoided most drugs because I’m so afraid I’ll have an allergic reaction. It’ll be like, I’m at some party and someone will be like, ‘Hey man, try this.’ And I’ll be like, ‘Um, I gotta go, I’m breaking out into hives.’”
• For Taking Woodstock trailer, photos and screen times, or to buy tickets, click here
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