The feature directorial debut of screenwriter Tommy Swerdlow, A Thousand Junkies strikes a nerve and strikes a delicate tonal balance, often making the viewer laugh and cringe from painful identification within a matter of seconds. Boasting a successful career in the ’90s as the writer of a number of beloved family films—including Cool Runnings, Little Giants, and Snow Dogs—Swerdlow was, at the same time, a full-blown heroin addict. And Swerdlow wasn’t alone—his co-stars Blake Heron and TJ Bowen (who shares a writing credit on the film) were also junkies out copping, looking for the next fix.
“We all come from the same AA meeting—none of us ever got high together, but we were in recovery together, and a friend of ours has a meeting at his house that’s sort of an AA, inside meeting—a lot of dope fiends, a lot of heroin addicts, called the Hoboken Group,” Swerdlow explained, sitting down with his co-stars at Deadline’s Tribeca Studio.
A Thousand Junkies features three junkies named for the actors playing them, criss-crossing Los Angeles in search of relief, considering increasingly reckless options in the pursuit of a score, and coming across all sorts of odd characters along the way.
While Swerdlow’s film feels predominantly comedic—aiming to depict the junky’s behavior as childish and pathetic—it’s only natural that for the actors involved, the experience was sometimes painful, forcing them to relive moments from their past that they’d rather not.
“It was easy to get into character, but it was also at certain points kind of rough, revisiting that frame of mind, and lifestyle,” Heron said. “The film portrays us—the way we used to be—pretty accurately, so to revisit that sometimes was a little bit of a bummer, but I had a blast doing the movie.”
Featuring crisp dialogue reminiscent of an early Tarantino film, A Thousand Junkies is also admirably low-fi, finding its own unique visual aesthetic. “I have relatives who own RED cameras—they rent them, they have six of them—so we were able to call them up and just go, ‘We want the camera today,’” Swerdlow said. “We’d go down into the hood with this RED camera—so, this incredibly existing world, art-directed beyond your wildest dreams of reality—and we would just go shoot.
To view Deadline’s conversation with the talents behind A Thousand Junkies, click above.