Award-winning multi-hyphenate Phil Burgers spent half his life traveling the world, living abroad in South America and Europe, before training at the prestigious French clown school, Ecole Philippe Gaulier — a workshop that has also trained Sacha Baron Cohen and Roberto Benigni. Acclaimed filmmaker Carlos Reygadas (“Silent Light,” “Post Tenebras Lux”) took note of Burgers’ work, and cast him in his latest opus, “Nuestro Tiempo,” which focuses on a Mexican family living in the country raising fighting bulls. The pic debuts at the Venice Film Festival. Burgers spoke with Variety about stepping in front of the camera for Reygadas, his background in comedy and what he has in store for the future.
How did you get involved with “Nuestro Tiempo”?
Carlos had seen a television special I did in the U.K. with Channel 4, and because I’m not a classically trained actor, and that’s what Carlos looks for when he does his casting — he never works with professional actors — he sparked to my work and asked me to be a part of his world. He was looking for an American cowboy, and at first I was a little hesitant, but then I watched four of his films and I said that I absolutely had to be a part of whatever he was doing. He’s not driven by the traditional three-act structure and there’s nothing Hollywood-esque about him.
What was it like collaborating with an auteur like Reygadas?
Watching Carlos work was amazing because he’s entirely doing his own thing, and never trying to appease anyone or fit any molds. He’s a master of his craft and yet extremely human and relatable and down to earth. It’s easy to connect with him as a human being, and he’s very much focused and concerned with the people who are all around him. He brought about a very communal atmosphere on set which was great to experience, considering how intense the material gets during the story.
What’s your background?
My background is in comedy, especially visual comedy, and I did some clown training in France and participated in comedy festivals all over the world. I also run the Lyric Hyperion Theater in Silver Lake. I’m interested in making human connections through comedy and better understanding other people’s cultures in a relevant and entertaining way.
How did your award-winning short film “The Passage” get made?
I partnered with Super Deluxe and “The Passage” and it’s had a terrific run. My character goes on a wild adventure all over the world without speaking the various native languages of the people he comes into contact with, and there are two guys who are in pursuit. It’s really an exploration of culture through comedy.
What are you working on now?
I’d love to develop “The Passage” into a feature, and I want to continue to focus on creating visually driven comedy, and getting those projects seen by a wider audience while always retaining a cinematic approach. I just want to demonstrate a sense of comedic joy and playfulness in all of my work.