James Cullen Bressack on his unique thriller ‘Hot Seat’

(L-R) Mel Gibson as Wallace Reed and Kevin Dillon as Orlando Friar in the action thriller film, HOT SEAT, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate
Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

Director James Cullen Bressack continues to keep us on the edge of our seats, this time with his new thriller, Hot Seat

SYNOPSIS: Oscar-winner Mel Gibson brings this explosive cyber-thriller to life. The action begins as IT expert Orlando (Kevin Dillon, Poseidon) finds a hair-trigger bomb strapped to his desk chair. An unseen hacker orders him to steal digital funds online—or have his daughter abducted. As a fearless bomb expert (Gibson) arrives on the scene, the hacker frames Orlando as the bomber. The tension mounts as Orlando races to clear his name and expose the real terrorist—without getting himself blown to smithereens.

Check out our interview with James!

How did you come to be the director for Hot Seat?

JCB: It’s the same producers of Fortress and Survive the Game. They showed me the script and asked me if I was interested in doing it and I definitely was. I really enjoyed the script. I thought Leon (Langford) and Collin (Watts) put together a really great script and, for me, the challenge of figuring out how to make a guy sitting in a chair interesting. It was something I really wanted to do.

What was it like having to take the physical action out of an action thriller?

JCB: You know, for me, it was really interesting because I had to find a way to do that with the camera and the editing and the music and the storytelling. So, I had to do all of it without the actual movement, just the performances, and I think Kevin Dillon really illustrates that in the movie. I mean, you could really feel from him, how his character is feeling the entire time and he really dictates the emotion of the movie in general. And we had the music by Timothy Jones as well as R.J. (Cooper) with the editing, you know, the marching orders I gave both of them is I wanted to almost deconstruct the style based on what his character was experiencing emotionally. So when he was more nervous, things would cut quicker and the music would move faster, but when he was trying to calm himself down, we would slow things down with the editing and the music would draw out more. And really, we tried to create almost a ride of putting you in the hot seat, we wanted to put the audience in the hot seat themselves. And I really wanted to have the ability to kind of flash out of the room and so R.J. and I came up with this glitchiness where we’re flashing to things that Kevin’s character is imagining. So like when he says, ‘Apocalypse Now,’ and you see the you know, helicopter and Vietnam and all that stuff, or when you know, he’s talking about the guys in the hedge fund upstairs and we cut to them. It’s these glitches of his mind imagining stuff outside the room. But we wanted to create a feeling that the bomb could go off at any time… and the ticking clock aspect as well, we had the countdown going on that I think really helped as well.

So you mentioned Apocalypse Now, what other movies did you use as inspiration for this movie?

JCB: Yeah, Apocalypse Now, I would say you know, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard. Saw, Phone Booth, maybe 10 other movies that aren’t coming to mind at the moment, but quite a bit of stuff.

So, I wasn’t far off by thinking Jigsaw with the voice?

JCB: Oh, yeah. I’m such a nerd. I mean, I have a tattoo (on his arm) of Pinhead. I’m a horror nerd through and through. So, you know, definitely anything that has a slightly Saw-esque moment is always going to be fun to me.

Kevin Dillon as Orlando Friar in the action thriller film, HOT SEAT, a Lionsgate release. Photo
courtesy of Lionsgate.
I thought Kevin Dillon’s character was very intelligent and unique. What was it like working with him to create this very unique protagonist?

JCB: Kevin is so great and he’s so wonderful to collaborate with. He’s just such a great human being and he’s just an unbelievably talented actor. So being able to work with somebody and really kind of dive into something that is so different from what they’re known for, because many people know him as Johnny Drama from “Entourage,” so to be able to do something so different from that character, but still being able to bring that likeability that Kevin is known for, I think we really were able to create this every man. It feels like he’s a very relatable character, somebody that could be your cousin or your neighbor, you know, it’s almost like anybody could have been put in that hot seat . He’s just a very relatable character and I feel like that helps the audience put themselves in his shoes.

And what was it like working with Mel Gibson?

JCB: Mel is amazing. Mel is phenomenal. He elevates absolutely everything that he touches and he really brings something special to the role. Mel really wanted to bring some comedy to his character and I think those moments of comedy during the tension, kind of keep his character grounded and really make him charming. And it doesn’t defuse the tension at all, it’s almost just how his character deals with tension, you know, cracking jokes because he’s almost uncomfortable. And I really think this role that he plays here is very Mel and I really like this character that he plays and I think he did a great job.

You also take on small roles in your own films, and for this one, you’re the man in the park by the water fountain. How do you choose what cameos you do?

JCB: I choose the role that’s most likely to get nominated for an Oscar, so, obviously, the guy drinking from the water fountain in the park with no lines was the most likely to get nominated. That’s why I chose that role. No, I kind of like to just- Alfred Hitchcock used to throw himself in his movies, like little cameos everywhere and so like, you know, I always put myself in whatever I feel the easiest thing in the entire movie would be as my cameo. That’s kind of what I do. And it’s almost like a collage of random things, you know, like in one of my movies there’s a scene where there’s like 30 dead bodies and I’m just one of the dead bodies laying on the ground. I just kind of throw myself into random places in my movies just for fun.

Mel Gibson as Wallace Reed in the action thriller film, HOT SEAT, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.
You also have a soundtrack credit for this movie for “Mistakes.” How did you get to do that?

JCB: I made a song during COVID when I was locked in my house. I couldn’t do a lot of stuff so I just made a song on my computer and recorded it. It’s actually me singing. And so I wrote it, recorded it, and that is the song that’s playing at the kids birthday party, in the background. I don’t know, I kind of put it there like as a temp thing when we were in the edit and like it actually worked. So I was like, ‘Oh, well, we can have this for free because I made it so let’s throw it in there.’ And that’s how I ended up doing that.

That’s so cool. Would you consider yourself a musician or was this just something more for fun?

JCB: Well, so I went to music school. I graduated from the Academy of Music at Hamilton, and so that’s what I studied. Like in middle school and high school, I was on the drumline and I was in choir, so I did a bunch of music as a kid, and my mom’s a music teacher. But I wouldn’t look at myself as a musician. I think I was just locked in my house with nothing to do like many of us during the lockdown, and just kind of did what I could. During that time I made a comic book and a song. The song ended up getting used in the movie so I guess it wasn’t made for no reason.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add about Hot Seat?

JCB: I would just like to say I hope everybody enjoys it on July 1. Check out Hot Seat on demand and in theaters.

(L-R) Sam Asghari as Sergeant Tobias, Eddie Steeples as Jackson, and Director James Cullen Bressack in a behind the scenes image of the action thriller film, HOT SEAT, a Lionsgate release. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.
Lionsgate will release the action/thriller film HOT SEAT in select theaters, on demand and digital on July 1.