Josh and Benny Safdie’s latest and largest production, Good Time, is a dive head first into the gritty underbelly of New York, following a criminal on one night as he attempts to scrape together the money to bail his brother out of jail. The Safdies have managed to wrangle an A-list cast, including Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Barkhad Abdi. But don’t forget the brothers’ love for less famous or experienced actors native to cinema’s favourite American city.
Buddy Duress plays Ray in Good Time, a fast talking yet companionable criminal on parole who gets sucked into Connie’s (Pattinson) antics. Although he plays opposite the star for much of the film, his first acting role only came recently, in the Safdies’ 2014 Heaven Knows What. After being introduced to the directors through his close friend and star of the film, Arielle Holmes, Duress ended up playing a character not too removed from his own life.
The autobiographical nature of Heaven Knows What – it was based on Holmes’ own experiences of being a homeless addict – gave Duress the chance to use his own experiences as a reference point for his acting, and it’s used again in Good Time.
Just after Heaven Knows What completed filming, Duress spent time at the infamous Rikers Island prison, where Connie’s mentally handicapped brother Nick (Benny Safdie) is being held in the film. The directors listen to Duress’ real experiences and it only makes for a more authentic impession of the life of petty criminals who live under the glossy surface of everyday New York.
You couldn’t make up some of the stories that Ray recounts in the film, and funnily enough, some of them aren’t. A standout sequence sees Ray recounting a drunken night to Connie that ended with him throwing himself from a moving cab – a story that really happened to Duress after losing his wallet and enraging the driver when he found out he wouldn’t be able to pay for the trip.
There is very little that’s recognisable about New York in Good Time compared to what audiences may be used to seeing. There are no familiar landmarks or statues to cling to; in fact the only aerial shots hover above moving cars like police helicopters, maintaining the intense, character-driven quality of the film.
We may not get much of the city in the traditional way that it’s usually presented, but Duress’ face is undoubtedly that of New York. The actor’s Italian features – the thick black hair, prominent facial features and distinct DeNiro-esque accent – are inherently linked to the city that he grew up in. He may be acting opposite one of the most well known and rapidly improving actors working today, but Buddy Duress holds his own, and despite the obvious leap to a bigger production, the Safdie brothers were dead right to carry on with their personal, on-the-ground style of casting in this role.