J. Don Luna immerses himself in student film made by seniors at TAMU-CC


Kedran Wade/ISLAND WAVES – J. Don Luna immerses himself in the role by taking a moment to process being “fired from his job” recently.

Chair of the Department of Theater and Dance J. Don Luna gets ready for his close-up by starring in the student film “Affinity.”

Directed by senior Media Production major Xander Smith, the film follows a young boy (Luke Kasner) who lives with his abusive alcoholic father (Luna), who was left by his wife in the film. Over time, the boy discovers a ukulele while taking the trash out. He plays it to help escape from the broken home he lives in.

Luna has done acting work in the past in Phoenix, Arizona and here in Corpus Christi which included commercials, television and student films. After starring in a student film three years ago, Luna loved the experience so much he wanted to do it again, but this time with Kasner who was a former student.

“One of my students (Kasner) was auditioning for the lead,” said Luna, “and it gave me an opportunity to work with him.” With having Kasner as a student for three years, Luna was able to easily establish that father-son relationship on screen that didn’t come forced for Kasner’s first film. “Their chemistry on camera was really nice,” said Emily Williams, Senior Media Production major, “It wasn’t forced, it didn’t feel awkward and it felt real natural and organic.”

While writing the film, Smith was set on an actor to play the role of the father. But it was when he saw Luna’s portrayal of the character that he knew he had the right man for the job which exceeded his expectations. “I had somebody else in mind when I was writing it, but after seeing Don, he fed it perfectly,” said Smith.

After being cast as the alcoholic father, Luna shared with Smith and the crew one of the inspirations into making his character believable and help him immerse himself more into the role. “Whenever we asked him why does he like this character and how can he make this character better,” said Smith, “he was just like, ‘That was my dad,’ so he felt that he could embody it from experience and he did, he really hit that drunken anger.”

Luna describes his character as a “breaking bad character,” where an actor learns from what they see or experience in their lives and applies it to their role to which he channeled his father for the film. “I had an alcoholic father,” said Luna, “Even though he wasn’t physically abusive, he was emotionally abusive, so I had that to draw on.”

Luna added that the character is a very complex role with many layers to the alcoholic father, who lost his wife, his job and is going through a lot of pain emotionally that results in him taking it out on his son. “Those are the kind of characters you can really get into,” said Luna, “They are very complex, and I was able to really delve into the pain that the man was going through, and of course he took it out on his son.”

With cases of some actors getting into the role of an intense character, the actor can get lost in the role and it has negatively affected them in the long run. For Luna, this wasn’t an issue because of one major thing that he learned as time went on. “That’s one of the nice things about growing older, you have processed your demons when you’re my age,” said Luna, “I didn’t have a problem using my dad and that relationship as part of my role.”

There are scenes in the film that required a lot of physicality between Luna and Kasner, this includes one moment where Luna threw Kasner against a wall that resulted in an unexpected funny moment with the cast. “Right before it, I was showing them how it was going to be done and I put my back against the wall and felt it give slightly,” said Smith.

From that moment Smith warned the cast to be careful because the wall could break, to which Luna assured the crew that Kasner wasn’t heavy. Three takes later they nailed the scene but it came at a price regarding the wall. “They never broke character and they gave us a really good performance,” said Smith, “They put a square foot hole in the wall that we had to get fixed because it wasn’t our house.”

Luna jokingly stated he didn’t remember putting the hole in the wall, but it worked because of establishing a trust with Kasner with the physicality of the scene that demanded a lot from them both performance wise. “To do a scene that as physical as several of those scenes were, both actors have to trust each other,” said Luna, “And that’s where that student-teacher relationship with Luke really helped because I already trusted him and he trusted me.”

Luna and Kasner both had stage combat experience prior to filming these scenes that helped make it feel natural, but also helped with trusting one another that they would leave uninjured. The people involved in the making of the film include Smith, Lauren Pack and Matthew Taylor, all seniors set to graduate in May 2020.

Williams graduates this December for Fall commencement marking a highlight in her working on this film with Luna. “This is the best short film that I have worked on being my last,” said Williams, “This one I was producer, I was in charge of scheduling making sure everything was organized, it was really nice and I’m going to miss it.”

With working alongside these students, Luna said that this was one of the greatest groups he’s collaborated with because they didn’t see this as just a student film, and he loved making it with them.