Freddy Rodriguez & Joel David Moore

by Shena Verrett

​South: So let’s talk a little about the project you’re working on here in Savannah called CBGB and who you are portraying

FR: CBGB is loosely based on Hilly who is the man that started the club, and the people around him that helped him start the club. Hilly was a real person and that’s who Alan Rickman plays, and there’s another guy named Merv played by Donal Logue, and my character Idaho, but my character is an amalgamation of different people and I was one of the guys who helped start the club. But in real life the people that my character is based on were heroin addicts. The club CBGB was right next door to a flop house like a transient hotel, where people like heroin addicts, people of that nature, could rent a room for $2 to $2.50 a night or something like that, and so my character is based on those guys and I play a heroin addict and I tried the best I could to help Hilly open up the club.

SM: Is the character, Idaho, also a musician?

FR: Well yes, well he’s not a musician in the rock-n-roll, CBGB, like the Ramones or Blondie or anyone like that; he’s a violin player, that’s where his connection with the Hilly character is—Hilly in real life, was a violin player.

SM: Had you ever gone to the venue when it was open?

FR: You know ironically I was one of the last people to do a photo shoot there!

SM: Wow! Wonderful.

FR: Yeah, yeah, which is really ironic there you can see online it was an underground indie magazine in New York called Un Chin. I was on the cover of the magazine. I forget what I was promoting.

SM: Some fantastic project you were doing…

FR: (laughter) Right, right! So they put me on the cover, I remember I was doing Lady in the Water in Philadelphia at the time, and I had just come down to New York to do the photo shoot they said they were going to do it at CBGB’s and that they were planning on closing [the venue] down. And I had heard about the different bands that came out of CBGB and the significance of the club. So the photo shoot revolved around a campaign—it was a “Save CB’s” campaign—so while I was there I got to meet the real Hilly at the time, and I believe I met his daughter at the time, and here we are ironically seven years later I’m doing the CBGB movie!

South magazine web bonus material: Exclusive interview with Joel David Moore

The filming of the movie CBGB brought Hollywood to downtown Savannah. The simulated music venue transformed a small store front on East Congress Street into the lower east side of New York City, circa 1970s. The actors that filled the CBGB set were all big names in their own right, making it a star-studded cast. South correspondent Shena Verrett had a chance to meet one of the film’s stars, Joel David Moore, while he was in town. You recognize him from the cinematic blockbuster Avatar or in Fox’s series Bones. For a big star, he could not have been more down to earth. After an almost-missed opportunity to speak with the star, Verrett picked up the phone one day and on the other end was Joel David Moore. What a gentleman.

SM: How are things going post-production?

JDM: It’s great! I was just in Santa Barbara for my beautiful baby cousin’s wedding. We wrapped up CBGB with wonderment and excitement. It was an absolutely fabulous project to work on; from the actors, to the director, to the vision, the way that it was shot. Everything, you know even the hair and make-up… the design of this [movie]. When you’re trying to fit something into an early 1970s look, it’s very specific. All of these punk rockers of this time were very specific looking. So, [the crew] had to use a lot of comps and look at a lot of the history to make it right.

SM: You play Joey Ramone in the movie. Tell me about researching Joey and getting into the character. Are you musical at all?

JDM: Yeah, I’m musical, I’m not a musician. But, it was more about getting his specific character down, his accent. He’s from Queens, he’s Jewish … the environment he grew up around all affects how he walks and talks. Just going back and doing a lot of homework about it, reading as much as I can and watching documentaries. Literally standing in the mirror and finding the way that he kind of hunched his shoulders and the way that he turned his head a certain way. All of this was so important to developing that character. I got the offer about a month before we started shooting. So I had plenty of time to really kind of dig into the character and find what I needed to find out about him. And there was so much drama in this band between the Joey Camp and the Johnny and Dee Dee Camp; with drummers going in and out. Then Dee Dee leaving for a while and coming back. But you know it all came down to this girl, Linda, that dated Joey for a while and Johnny essentially took her away, and then married her and lived the rest of his life with her! So, it created this…I would say hostile environment but it was always kind of under wraps. It was never out in the open.

SM: Whew!

JDM: Yeah. Joey is a very specific character because he was awkward. He was tall, 6’5” or 6’6”, very skinny. That was part of his charm and that was part of people being able to relate to him. Relating to the fact that he was this sort of role model to people, who stuck out in society and weren’t the cool kids at school. And that is where his charm and confidence came from. You’d see this guy; if you would have met him he’d be kind of awkward and gangly. But if you saw him on stage there’s just…there’s something that takes over, this confidence that takes over. That was part of trying to ride that line between playing the socially awkward inept or kind of not necessarily available person, but then on stage really being a punk rock legend.

SM: Who did you share the screen with? Who was engaged in the Joey Ramone part of the story while shooting the film?

JDM: Most of our [The Ramones] scenes were with Alan Rickman and Donal Logue. I’ve known Donal actually for a while and we’ve worked together before. We share an admiration for each other. Alan is just absolutely brilliant…I think he is one of our best character actors over the last few decades. We were all delighted to be able to work with Alan. The Ramones were made up of these three other wonderful guys and wonderful actors: Julian Acosta, Stephen Shoop and Catfish [he laughs]. He was actually a local that ended up playing Tommy Ramone, the drummer. The director actually just saw him in town, and he’s a local musician…but he’s not a drummer. But he looks exactly like Tommy Ramone! So, they ended up having some conversations, found out that he was an actor and he came and played the part. And he played it perfectly. He learned drums for it and everything. So I was proud of my band! I had an easier job, all I had to do is lip-sync. I didn’t have to learn actual notes; they had to look like they knew how to play.

SM: Exactly. You can hold a microphone.

JDM: Exactly!

SM: Tell me about your experience here in Savannah, did you like our town?

JDM: I loved Savannah! Let me tell you! It’s such a charming little town. The city planning is so wonderful. They’ve done so much work with SCAD. And I know that SCAD has a lot to do with helping with the city planning and cleaning up the look. But Savannah is such a special town because it has so much history. There’s cultural history, there’s racial history and you really feel that when you go in. And I think that you feel the fact that you’ve added to this history. This wonderful history it just kind of has in being so progressive—with having the first African-American police officers and everything beyond that. I was basically walking through all of these great little moments that Savannah’s had in its history. And you put that with the fact that it’s a clean city, it’s a fun city. It’s full of art, it’s full of music, it’s full of great Southern hospitality, which was my favorite part. Whenever you go to shoot somewhere you like to shoot somewhere where at least the people are cool. It’s almost more important than it being a cool town, it’s just that the people are cool. And that was definitely part of the enjoyable part it. Plus, I get to drink on the street!