By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—British actor Alex Pettyfer has had only some minor interactions with collection agencies. Once, about a dozen years ago, his car was towed after he inadvertently parked it in a private parking space in his native Britain, and later when he failed to pay a bill which had been mailed to a previous address when he lived in America. But for tens of thousands of people, a call from a debt collector can send shivers down their spine, especially when it involves dealing with a subcontracted agency that stands to gain a sizable percentage of the amount owed.
Pettyfer, best known for his roles in Hollywood films including the male stripper drama “Magic Mike,” the sci-fi thriller “I Am Number Four” and the fantasy romance “Beastly,” plays the ruthless owner of a debt collection agency whose boiler room office operates more like a gladiator arena, where staffers are pitted against each other to collect debts from a database of debtors he buys from companies for pennies on the dollar. Debt collection is a $15 billion a year industry in which small-time borrowers who have fallen behind on their medical bills, student loans, credit cards or other debts, are tracked down and threatened with credit freezes and worse if they don’t pay up.
Brandon (Pettyfer) has built his business with longtime friend Ross (Mike Vogel), who introduced him to the seedy, manipulative world of high stakes debt collection that has made them wealthy and able to enjoy the high life with fast cars and country club memberships. But Brandon is heartbroken after losing his wife and child in a car accident, and he throws himself further into his work. He hires Sean, a young ex-con to join his motley crew of debt collectors—many of them with criminal histories—to work the phones and collect outstanding debts from deadbeats and those simply down on their luck.
The staff have to work their way up the pyramid toward increasingly complicated and more valuable targets, until they reach the top, where they will be pitted against Brandon himself for a potential multimillion payoff involving a Columbian drug dealer. Meantime, Brandon begins seeing a woman (Shakira Barrera) who moonlights as a stripper to care for her young son while her husband is in prison on a drug trafficking conviction. Mercurial Ross isn’t pleased with Brandon’s distraction from their business and he takes Sean under his wing. Brandon’s fragmented loyalties to his business, his partner, his new love, his prodigy and the potential—but dangerous—big financial reward all come to a crushing head in the film’s final act.
Vertical Entertainment’s “Collection,” directed by Marianna Palka from a screenplay by Todd M. Friedman, arrives in theaters Friday Sept. 17. The film also stars Jacques Coliman and Breeda Wool.
Pettyfer also stars in the upcoming Lionsgate sci-fi thriller “Warning,” starring Alice Eve, Annabelle Wallis and Thomas Jane, due in theaters and on home video and digital platforms in October.
From a hotel room in London, Pettyfer spoke via Zoom about his two films coming out almost back-to-back, as well as his upcoming project depicting an infamous British gangster and actor. The first-time dad is on top of the world with his growing family. He married German fashion model Toni Garrn last year and they welcomed daughter, Luca, into the world in July.
Angela Dawson: How is it going back to work on films after so many projects have been shelved or delayed due to the worldwide pandemic?
Alex Pettyfer: We want to go back to some sort of normality but there’s an element of gratitude in taking a step back and observing oneself, I’m very grateful for the chance to make the film. I just made another film in Portugal. The crew and cast were fantastic with their health and safety. We were tested every two days and people were very mindful about wearing masks. I did a movie with Guy Pearce, which is the first movie I’d done in 18 months. To work with him, I was thrown right into the deep end.
Dawson: Congratulations on the birth of your daughter. A whole new chapter of your life is about to begin.
Pettyfer: Thank you. Life begins when you have a family. Before that, you’re trying to figure out everything and then as soon as you have a new life in your hands, you have a completely different perspective and appreciation for life.
Dawson: Let’s talk debt collection. What did you know about it before you made “Collection?”
Pettyfer: I have experienced collection in a very minor way in the U.K. About 12 years ago, I left my car in the wrong parking space and it was towed. That’s now illegal. But then, they’d just tow your car away. These private companies were making a fortune off of private property parking. So, I had an experience with that. As far as collection in America, only from living in one house and then changing addresses where a $15 bill has been misdirected in the mail, and all of a sudden you’re credit score drops. It was very minor, but still in the realm of government control.
As far as this movie, when I started researching it and discovering there are these companies that buy this debt off companies and take a percentage towards collection for personal gain, I was besotted with that world, thinking what kind of human being would be going after those people. I read the script and realized that a lot of these gentlemen had either been felons or had a good education but couldn’t find the right footing in the corporate world and went down the wrong path. So, I found this world fascinating but I didn’t really have that much knowledge about it beforehand.
Dawson: Did you visit a debt collection agency and watch how they operate, or did you rely entirely on the script and Marianna Palka’s direction?
Pettyfer: It was in the script, but the gentleman who wrote it, Todd (Friedman), is a defense attorney, and he had dealt with a lot of these people and a lot of these contracts. I sat with him and picked his brain quite a lot. I didn’t have too much time to prep because I’d been offered the movie about four weeks before and I was wrapping up on something else, so I was kind of prepping while I was doing something else, and went straight into it. But I knew, as a character, that here was a gentleman who was dealing with trauma, who had a past that was very sad and was living in a various poisonous environment. Through falling in love, it created a new outlook on life for him. It’s a positive one, but he realizes he is still attached to this negative environment that he has created himself. That duality was an attraction for me with the character’s journey.
Dawson: This world he has created, where he pits his employees against one another to climb the pyramid of successful collection has made him kind of this cold, unfeeling character until he meets Christina.
Pettyfer: Yeah, he’s become numb. It’s basically PTSD. Some people who’ve experienced emotional trauma turn to drugs and alcohol. Some people become numb and start to have de-realization, where they no longer understand what is real or fake in the world. Some people dive into their work and use that as a distraction. When you don’t deal with the hurdles that life throws you and face them and understand them, you end up storing them deep down and they don’t really go away. At some point, the rug is pulled out from under your feet. Some people are lucky that they find new love. Love is the cure for most things, I believe. That purity and beautiful energy can kind of wipe the slate clean.
What’s interesting about the dynamic with this character is that he falls in love and starts to believe he can have a new beginning, a fresh start, but everything, of course, has to do with cause and effect. And the environment he’s built for himself is very treacherous. Him having to overcome that and the element of self-sacrifice is also an interesting topic brought up in this film.
Dawson: What can you tell me about your other film, “Warning?” What appealed to you about that project?
Pettyfer: The script was fantastic. That’s always the basis of any project you want to be a part of. The director, she… I think I’ve worked with five female directors now. I say that now because I love watching these interviews with actors, and I saw one about Ethan Hawke’s anthology of his career from the very beginning to now. He talks about the enjoyable experience he recently had with a female director and how it’s unfortunate that in the times when he was a younger man, those opportunities weren’t there. So, I feel very blessed and lucky that I get that opportunity because there are so many incredible visionaries. That’s another reason why I signed onto “Warning,” because of Agata Alexander’s vision.
Dawson: What can you tell us about it?
Pettyfer: (He pauses.) I feel like I’m under some Marvel-contract oath. The movie is about human perspective, gratitude and appreciation. There are collective stories that come together. It’s very thought-provoking and it feels like a bigger movie than it is. It’s an independent film. Cybill Lui Eppich. who is producing it, did a movie called “The Silencing” with Annabelle Wallis and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. They had a great success with that. As a producer, she is incredible because she takes these film with a certain budget and makes them feel so much grander.
Dawson: What’s the new film you’re working, “The Chelsea Cowboy,” about? Are there cowboys in Chelsea?
Pettyfer: No, it’s about John Bindon. He lived his life was very much like he was in the wild wild west. In the 1960s and 1970s, he was a notorious gangster as well as an actor. He was in (Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s) “Performance” with Mick Jagger. He also was in “Poor Cow,” which was Ken Loach’s first film and in Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon.” He did these incredible films but couldn’t escape his environment. He fell in love with a woman (Vicki Hodge, played in the film by Poppy Delevingne) who was a part of the upper class and thought that was part of an escape from his environment. But then he realized there really wasn’t much difference between the gangsters and the upper class and how they were living their lives.
He was infamously connected to Princess Margaret on the Caribbean island of Mustique. He also was tried for the murder (of London gangster Johnny Darke), but acquitted. So, it’s just a very wild movie. I feel very blessed that I was given the opportunity as an actor to make this film because a lot of these gangster films steer towards masculinity and I think this one doesn’t do that so much. It’s more of a love story, albeit a painful one. It’s a unique twist on the genre so I’m very excited to do this film.