The Tender Bar tells the story of a boy named J.R., who doesn't have a traditional father figure in his life but ends up discovering a unique community of parental figures in the most unlikeliest of places. That would be a local bar that J.R.'s Uncle Charlie bartends at, and it's here he'll learn valuable lessons and gain sage advice from the cast of characters that frequent the beloved location. Included in that mix is Joey D, played by the talented Matthew Delamater, and ComicBook.com had the chance to talk to him all about his role in the film, working with Ben Affleck and George Clooney, his Wolverine dream role, and being in the presence of two people who have at one time or another brought Batman to life on the big screen.
Delamater plays Joey D, one of several frequent customers at the bar and one of the people who J.R. ends up confiding in and learning from along his journey. Delamater reveals that J.R.'s father is still in the picture, but he's not really involved in his life, even though J.R. can hear him every day.
"The Tender Bar is about J.R., a boy who is sort of raised by this band of men and by his mom, his single mom played by Lily Rabe, and he's searching out that replacement for the dad that he can hear.," Delamater said. "His dad is in his life, but he's like a popular New York radio DJ. So he can hear him, but he never gets to see him really. He's estranged from him, so he is always seeking to replace this version or this vision of his dad."
That's where Uncle Charlie comes in. "Uncle Charlie played by Ben Affleck is the head of this famous bar and J.R. is able to explore that world by running errands for him," Delamater said. "And he gets brought into this clubhouse, a band of men, different types of guys that occupy work or are regulars at the bar, and Joey D is one of those characters that takes J.R. under their wing and shows them the man sciences, as Uncle Charlie says. It's a fun way you get to see these men through the eyes of this young kid, and then later in the story, as an adolescent and really grow up with it. It was a really fun character to get to play and to be a part of that ensemble of dads if you will."
Working with an actor like Ben Affleck or a director like George Clooney would be an experience to remember on their own accord, nonetheless getting to work with both on the same project. For Delamater though, it rose a few notches when the fact that both have suited up as Batman was factored in.
"Let's be honest, any time you get to work with two Batmans, it's pretty crazy," Delamater said with a laugh. "That's pretty bizarre. You're lying if you're not saying you're pinching yourself, at least in the beginning. But the wonderful thing about George Clooney is he is everything that, as a huge fan of him and as many people are huge fans of him, he's everything that you want him to be and more. He's incredibly kind. He's obviously incredibly talented and he's an incredibly passionate director. But because he's such a talented actor, he understands the actor's experience, and his guidance, and his nuance. He doesn't overplay his hand, but he helps steer you towards the honesty that we're all trying to find."
"Because it's him, you trust every word that comes out of his mouth, and I think that makes for a really good team on any project when you have that relationship, where you trust your director but he also trusts you and your choices that you're trying to make. And so I found out it was a dream. It was an absolute dream to get to work with him," Delamater said.
While you get to know the characters like Joey D that frequent the bar, the focus stays on J.R. and how he interacts with them, and you learn about the world and its characters through their conversations with him. In a way, it's kind of like if Cheers was based less on Sam and more on someone growing up around the people that called Cheers their second home.
"I feel like in the story and certainly in the book and certainly in the script, there is more of that. I think when you see it in the film, I think because it's a story really around J.R. and his story and his character and his journey, a lot of those connections are with him in a lot of ways," Delamater said. "But I think it's just that sort of, like you said, Cheers, that sort of familial aspect of that place that everybody feels so comfortable, that it's like a home, but not a home, and that creating that culture and that comfort zone that J.R.'s character can fall into and ease into and be vulnerable in. I think that was the framework for all those characters.
I worked alongside two other characters played by Michael Braun and Max Casella. Michael played Bobo and Max played Chief. And so the three of us kind of occupied that cast of characters in that place, along with Uncle Charlie's band of merry men to some degree, and George always referred to us as the knuckleheads. There was a lot of that playing off each other and razzing each other in that sort of way."
"They give each other a hard time, but we can be ourselves with one another. I feel like that was the sense that we were trying to create, to allow that, to support each other in the way that Ben was really raising Tye and Daniel's character in the story. And so I felt like that was a big role for us to play in that, supporting him," Delamater said. "Also, working with Ben, obviously a huge fan of his work for a long time in my life. He's such a generous actor and he's so well-prepared. He's obviously so talented, but he's such an incredibly fun person to work with, because he gives you just as much as he's giving the audience, and that's a great place to be in when you're working with someone like that," Delamater said.
"Well, it's funny. We always joked. We got the fun exterior scenes where we would go and we'd get to drive around in Uncle Charlie's caddy and we'd get to go to the beach and we'd get to go to the bowling alley. And so I felt like we were always just hanging out, and either we were in the bar, which was the main set, so to speak," Delamater said. "It's in the middle of COVID and here we are, drinking fake beer and smoking fake cigarettes with a bunch of people, with two Batmen. So it was like, 'What? This is crazy. Life is wacky.'
"Then Michael and Max and I, we were staying in the same place, and so we would get together. We had often the same schedule, and so we would get together on off nights and do a rotating dinner, have drinks in each other's rooms or whatever in our places, and so that was great to create that familial off set. When we did get in those scenes and we had to be like best friends, it was easier and it was great," Delamater said. "We felt really comfortable. Clooney, if you watch any interview with him, he's a jokester. He's a prankster. He loves to joke around. He loves to give you a hard time. That was the easygoing looseness that played into those scenes really well, and it was fun to get to partake in that."
Fans will get to know a lovable cast of characters and be there as they help J.R. grow, learn, and adapt to the world around him. That said, Delamater also hopes people take away the message of taking all that advice and then applying your own instincts to it.
"Yeah. I love what Tye and Daniel did with the character and what Ben did, and I think that, to me, that message was really, 'Trust yourself. Trust your instinct'. I think everybody's always looking for that guide, looking at that mentor. 'Tell me what to do. Tell me what to do.' And really, it's when you look within and you go, 'All right, I got to figure this out on my own and I got to take some risk and I got to be okay to fail.' I think that's what J.R. Moehringer's theme in his beautiful book is, is that you see that journey of JR.., where he's constantly searching for that fault of his stars, but yet it's really him that creates the successes in his life and the achievements with the cast of characters supporting him and believing in him," Delamater said.
"So it's like, I really love that, about that family believing in one's talents and ability, but at the end of the day, you've got to go for it," Delamater said. "I love that message and I feel like everybody has their own brushstroke in that with the different cast of characters that surround J.R. It was fun to get to be a part of that," Delamater said.
Now, we couldn't let Matthew get out of here without seeing if there was someone from the Marvel or DC world he would love to step into the shoes of one day on the big screen, and for him, it's all about the claws.
"Heck yes. Unfortunately, I would have to unseat Hugh Jackman, because Wolverine is my favorite superhero of all time," Delamater said. "It's funny. I can tell you, my nephews are 13 and 16 and I told them I was going to be talking to ComicBook.com. I think they got more excited about that than about any film or anything I've ever been in. They're the ones with the expertise, I think I've got to brush up on, in terms of the new ones. The Marvel world is so rich with so many amazing characters we're getting to see now come to life. I love that. My comic book experience was like the old-school X-Men video game. I think Wolverine, I loved his... He was unstoppable, but he had a soul. He was complicated. I love that character."
I also have a fondness for that original arcade game, and pretty sure that's where my love of Dazzler began. As for Jackman, he has said he is stepping away from the role and is ready to hang those claws up, so it seems the spot is open, though Delamater is also up for a villainous Marvel character too.
"Yeah, man. They keep going back in time on these things. I just got to find that slot, that time slot of what genre, what year, the 40-year-old Wolverine. I'll take Sabretooth too," Delamater said. "That's the flip side. He's the evil one, but I like that animal instinct. Badass Marvel character, super excellent character. I love those guys."
So, if you're going to play Wolverine, the question becomes which costume are you going with, the yellow and blue or the brown and tan?
"No, yellow and blue all the way, all the way," Delamater said. "It's just it's burned into my psyche now. I can't see it any other way. I'm sorry. I can't."
I think many X-Men fans will be right there with him.0comments
The Tender Bar hits theaters in New York and LA on December 17th and hits nationwide theaters on December 22nd. It will also hit Amazon Prime Video on January 7th.
Are you excited for The Tender Bar, and do you want to see Delamater as Wolverine? Let us know in the comments or as always you can talk all things movies and comics with me on Twitter @MattAguilarCB!