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  • Writer's pictureAugust Sorenson

In Dialogue: The Creative Team Behind 'Pure O'

Updated: Apr 8

Helmed by writer-director Dillon Tucker (‘06) and a “cherry-picked” ensemble of Academy alumni and faculty members, Pure O has been sweeping the festival circuit. Making its premiere at South by Southwest (SXSW) in 2023, the indie feature film has been praised by audiences and critics for its raw, documentary-like storytelling. Staff members of The Academy Pages spoke with Actors Society members Dillon Tucker, Jeffery Baker (‘05), and Daniel Dorr (‘09) to discuss their work on the film.

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

The Pages: Dillon, I want to start with you. Tell me about this film…it’s a feature covering some tough, hard-hitting topics. What is Pure O?

Dillon: The movie follows somebody with a late-onset OCD diagnosis. It follows this character, a man in his 30s, in all facets of his life as he’s going through recovery and treatment. He’s engaged and working at a rehab facility. We follow him as he navigates his OCD diagnosis.

The Pages: You wrote it, you directed it. What was the catalyst behind putting pen to paper to tell this story?

Dillon: It’s semi-autobiographical. I’ve gone through it before. I don’t typically write that way, but it became apparent to me that many films don’t authentically portray or represent OCD. I had trouble finding one show that did. It isn’t a visual thing…it’s an invisible illness. The trick, the challenge for me, was to show it in a way that was both authentic and understandable. 

It’s an entertaining film, first and foremost, and conveys the experience to someone who doesn’t have OCD. You can see what the experience would look like. That was really the impetus for making the film: to be specific with my own story and, through that specificity, bring out something universal.   

The Pages: The film is so personal to you. Is representation of these stories you’d like to see more of in the industry at large?

Dillon: I’d love to see more of it. I see OCD often used as a quirky character trait, something that’s not really additive to the character. It’s one of the most debilitating illnesses in the world; some people go on disability their entire lives because of it. I hope this film unlocks some doors and opens the conversation around OCD. A lot of celebrities have revealed their diagnoses in the last few years. With Pure O, the timing is just right.

The Pages: Those universal themes you mentioned. Do those aid in the story having a wide reach?

Dillon: I think the best stories are universal. I like to deal with universal themes in the films I make and the stories I tell. The catch is not to get general…you have to be as specific as possible. The more specific you are, the more universal your story will become. 

I decided from the beginning that this project would be naturalistic and authentic. That was the only way of approach. When my cast approached me with questions about motivation, I didn’t need to go into my writer’s brain to think of a story; it was a lived experience, not a fictional account.

The Pages: Let’s get into the acting side of this. Daniel, you star as the lead. I wonder what your initial impressions were when you received such intense material.

Daniel: I was so moved by the story. The script drew on personal dealings and experiences…it didn’t stray from vulnerability. I came with my own preconceived notions of what OCD is from media and perceptions. Early on, I had to check myself and take a step back. Knowing that people live this way weighed on me the entire shoot. I wanted to honor Dillon’s experience and that of others.

The Pages: You bring such tenderness and empathy to the role. Can you tell me about your process and approach to the character?

Daniel: Dillon probed me early, asking, “Are you ready? Are you ready to get down and dirty with this?” As we started to work and really got into it, I felt like I was walking around, having done my prep work and homework, completely exposed. I did all my preparation and showed up complete and ready to work, but I didn’t “know who I was”…I completely opened myself up to who Cooper is.

It didn’t feel like we were making a movie. At some points, I was like, “Is this a documentary?” It was something that was just happening in the moment…it was so surreal. I found myself talking about the project as if I had gone through the [OCD] diagnosis. And I’m so grateful that this situation allowed me to be as vulnerable as possible.

The Pages: Were there moments when you wondered how you’d get there? Things that were of a particular challenge?

Daniel: The movie’s climax, without giving too much away, deals with Cooper’s triggers. We shot that on one of the first days’ onset, and it set an incredibly high bar: Now I know what this world is, and Cooper is at a 10 all the time.

The Pages: Jeffery, you joined this project after an acting hiatus. Tell us about your return.

Jeffery: I knew Dillon from The Academy…we’ve known each other for a long time. Working with professionals like Dillon and Daniel, who excel at what they do, makes me happy to be a part of these projects. For the character I played, I think the greatest compliment I’ve received so far was having people approach me and not realize I was an actor. My character was an addict in rehab who didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be in the project at first, but Dillon pushed enough. To get there, I pulled from that experience.

The Pages: Were there some nerves? Was it a bit overwhelming?

Jeffery: I don’t know if it was overwhelming, but I was rusty. You use those muscles (being comfortable and allowing yourself to focus and listen) in life. And then, with them, you go wherever that character needs to go in the scene.

The Pages: Did you rediscover some of the training you received at The Academy?

Jeffery: Funnily enough, being away from the craft for so long helped me. I was in the business for a few years after The Academy and got into some unhealthy habits. I leaned too much into…I overindulged. It’s not healthy for an artist. Life experience and being very comfortable with Dillon, knowing how he writes and what performances he likes, made doing this movie one of the easiest things I’ve done as an actor. It was almost effortless to put this character on. 

The Pages: We keep bringing the conversation back to Dillon. Is there something you’d like to say about our cast and crew, Dillon?

Dillon: I can’t say enough. Honestly. I was so lucky to have the team I had. It was an intimate crew, and the filmmaking was egoless. Actors, when they weren’t working, would help move lights. 

When you write, you have an idea of how it looks. Luckily, I was able to cast the project myself. I knew everyone’s skill sets and where I wanted them. I knew them well enough to know how to push them while still respecting their boundaries. Daniel and I discussed it a lot: “Where’s that line? Let’s find that line.” Sometimes, it was too close to home, so you must ease off.  But I can’t say enough about my cast. I cherry-picked the people I wanted to work with; I hadn’t worked with Jeffery, but I go back a long way with Daniel. You get to make those calls when you’re the one making a film.

The Pages: I have one more question for Daniel. Is there an onset moment that lives rent-free in your mind?

Daniel: There are a few. I think my favorite scene in the movie is the one I have with Jeffery. I love the way it’s written. It’s a beautiful scene between these two who are at odds with one another for most of the film, but our journey to recovery reveals they’re more similar to each other than they think. There’s just something really electric about it.

The Pages: You can ride the ladder when you have good writing. The last question goes to Dillon. This film has been making the rounds at festivals and receiving all this praise. What’s next, and where can people find out more about it?

Dillon: We have a distributor now called Good Deed Entertainment and an upcoming theatrical run in Los Angeles from April 5th through April 11th. After that, it’ll be released digitally in the US and Canada on April 12th and play at New Filmmakers Los Angeles (NFMLA) as their feature film nightcap on May 4th.

The Pages: I’m glad we could find time in the midst of your busy schedule to sit down and chat about this. I’m excited to see where it goes and will definitely pop by for a showing. Be in touch.


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