How ‘DriverX’ star Patrick Fabian pulled from his own life to play Leonard

At last year’s St. Louis International Film Festival, I caught a film at the last minute. The movie was called DriverX, and it was a low budget go-for-broke independent film written and directed by Henry Barrial. The subject matter intrigued me, though: rideshare driving and the real stories behind it. Barrial, who one drove for Uber in Los Angeles, captured the constant frustrations, wild freedom, and overall insecurity of driving strangers in your car, hustling for your paycheck.

After playing at festivals for more than a year, the film is now opening on Nov. 3 via IFC Films in select theaters as well as ITunes and available On Demand. I had the chance to speak with the star of DriverX, Patrick Fabian, this past week about the experience of making and promoting a film about such a timely topic that he admits is helping the middle class find employment and stay afloat.

The 53-year-old actor has been working in the business for 20 years as a supporting actor, so I asked him about being the star of this movie. “It’s a thrill, and it didn’t dawn on me until we saw a piece of the film, and I noticed I was in everything,” Fabian said. “I cautioned my friends when telling them to see the movie that if you don’t want to see a lot of me, you probably won’t like the film.”

Fabian noted that past work with actors such as the late Bill Paxton and his Better Call Saul co-star Bob Odenkirk helped him prepare for this role. “Those guys showed me how to behave and how to treat people, and that helps,” Fabian said. “I’ve been an ensemble player for most of my life, which is the way it is for most people, so to go a movie theater and see myself on the big screen was a thrill,” Fabian added.

The indie aspect of the film aided the process of being the leading man, which Fabian described as someone who sets the tone. “We are all working for soup, nuts, and coffee, so it was all about pitching in together and getting it done,” Fabian said.

When it came to playing Leonard, the family man behind the wheel in DriverX, Patrick Fabian felt like he had been playing this guy for his entire life: A husband and father trying to make money for his family in an unconventional way. For Fabian, it was acting. For Leonard, a former record store owner trying keep up with the fast-moving world, it was driving.

A scene involving Leonard and his wife (played by Tanya Clarke) about how much he made during one night of driving really struck a chord with me, because these conversations take place between spouses about rideshare jobs in real life. Fabian agreed. “We all recognize as husbands that it’s a lose/lose conversation. It’s totally real, and those are the moments that carry relevance with people who see the film. Thirty-something dollars doesn’t even pay for lunch,” Fabian said.

Barrial shot the film in parts over months, so it was a run and gun process, and Fabian said it helped the authenticity of the story shine through. “The constants were Henry, Mark (Stolaroff, the producer), Daniel Lynn (the director of photography), and I in the car. We were privy to where we were driving, but the riders were not,” Fabian said. “I’d go to work, and we would do about three or four rides a night. The riders would work an hour and a half, get out, and I’d have coffee while waiting for the next ride,” Fabian noted. “It had the rhythm of what it was like to do a shift.”

When asked about preparing for a role, Fabian said he and Barrial wanted to touch on a certain aspect of the life of a driver. “Henry and I had a lot of conversations about being married. We have both been married over a decade, so we wanted to show what that feels like. What you bring to your relationship at home,” Fabian said. “We also talked about being a middle-aged guy and how that changes things, such as hearing a song at the grocery store or being called sir at Starbucks. You’ve become that person.”

Fabian pulled from his real-life experiences to comprise Leonard’s persona as well. “These are things that I am going through. The fact of the matter is I am on the wrong side of 50 and I think Bon Jovi got released last week,” Fabian said. “That runs into the reality of the world and how you feel about that and deal with it. I can plug into that easily with playing Leonard.”

Fabian saw an example of art imitating life during a scene where Leonard, a former record store owner, tries to cash in on his collection of CDs and records early on in the film, only to find out their value has changed. “That happened to me and so many others. I went to a record store with about $25,000 worth of CDs, because I started buying them when they first came out,” Fabian recalled. “I thought I would leave with at least $10,000 dollars, and I walked out with $800,” Fabian recalled. In the film, the clerk at the record store refers to the CDs that Leonard is trying to see as coasters, and Fabian said that is the exact same thing that was said to him.

DriverX reflects life in many moments, especially ones that depict Leonard as an analog player in a fiercely digital world. A scene in the film resonated with Fabian, where Leonard is applying for a job at a music promotion and marketing company, and the interviewer asks him about integrating music with social media. The question stops Leonard in his tracks. “He thinks he is doing really well in that interview, and then he is a deer in the headlights. The other day, I was struggling with DropBox, and it is depressing,” Fabian added.

The film was completed years ago, and I asked Fabian about the rigors of selling a small film to a big audience that has so many options. “Festivals are great places, getting the word of mouth going. It’s a crowded marketplace. Some may say these (the issues facing Leonard in the film) are white boy problems and that’s not sexy, and I get that,” Fabian said. “You call people, submit the film, and follow up. Eventually, we got it in front of IFC, and they liked it. Now, it’s a race to get a release and the word out.”

Fabian really likes the way indie films such as DriverX gets a release on many platforms, such as VOD and ITunes. “Having access on Amazon and ITunes, where people can download it right there worldwide, is huge,” Fabian said. “In the end, you are making a film to be seen. This isn’t a tentpole film and there are no Marvel characters in it,” Fabian added.

For the record, Fabian would make a killer Howard Stark if they ever made a story about his upbringing and origin, which got a chuckle out of the actor. One of those fable-type ideas that Hollywood wouldn’t allow.

After years of hard work in making the film and another year-plus in promoting and marketing, DriverX can’t be stopped anymore. IFC Films releases the film this week, and I recommend you check it out.

Having driven for Uber for over 16 months, the most common question I get is simple: “What is it, like? Barrial, Stolaroff, and Fabian show you how it is in this film. When ten more rideshare films come out in the next five years, remember that DriverX got it right first.

When asked about how he views rideshare drivers now that he has played one as opposed to before, Fabian noted the impact that Uber and Lyft are making. “I am more sensitive to the situation these drivers are in,” Fabian said. “A lot of people I encounter are like Leonard, doing this on the side or in between something. People in Orlando had an entire life before they drove. A lot of people are driving because it is hard out there. The rich have gotten richer and the middle class has been left behind. How do you make a life out of that? Uber is a landing spot for a lot of people.”

In many ways, Fabian lived the life of Leonard a thousand times over before playing him in Barrial’s film. Sometimes, actors merely have to reach into their pocket and pull out the tools to put together a performance. With any luck, and a few thousand eyeballs, people will know Fabian from DriverX as well as Better Call Saul come 2019.

If not, he will just keep working. That’s what Fabian has done since 1998. Work hard, learn from other actors, and have a little fun in-between.

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