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"I'm really confident about it," Huggins says of Kick Me. "It has more of a commercial motor. The producer looked at it and said, 'It reminded me of Die Hard.' And yeah, I can see that."
Huggins didn't need a casting call to find his Bruce Willis.
He met Vasquez several years ago at a Kansas City, Kansas, library where Huggins worked. There was no missing him, a mysterious man with a Fu Manchu mustache, long hair and a serious affection for the library's Akira Kurosawa and Miyamoto Musashi films. Huggins thought his new acquaintance was just another oddball cinéaste. He didn't know that Vasquez was working undercover as a drug dealer. After a big bust, Vasquez revealed his true identity. The two have been friends and collaborators ever since.
After First Date, Vasquez starred in a film called The Grass Grows Green, which also went to Sundance.
"I have the privilege of being the only actor in Kansas City, Kansas, who went to Sundance back-to-back," Vasquez says. "Nobody has ever done that. Am I being arrogant? Perhaps. But I can back up my BS."
Two Sundances in a row hasn't translated to stardom, though, so Vasquez also has something at stake with the Kickstarter campaign.
"After reading the [Kick Me] script, I believe if this isn't going to bring me any fame, nothing else will," he says. "After this, if nothing happens, I will retire." His statement sounds more like a threat than a promise. With his gleaming shaved head and his steely stare — and a laugh that cuts through the air like the maniacal kung-fu master of a pulp movie — the fifth-degree black belt gives off an organic menace. His forearms feel like granite, but he's not ready for stunt work just yet.
"By the time we start shooting the film, my body is going to be so ripped," Vasquez says. "I'm going to put Charles Atlas to shame."
Vasquez describes his character as a pacifist who is forced to fight for his life.
"I don't have a choice," Vasquez says. "I have to become more violent than my attackers in order to survive."
"It's more of an After Hours kind of feel," Huggins says. "Somebody gets involved in an episodic situation where they get taken down peg after peg after peg. And it ends in violence."
Vasquez plays a guidance counselor, which isn't a stretch. Four years ago, he became the school-resource officer at Bishop Ward High School (Huggins' alma mater).
"I see the dynamic of his character really often," says Gran, who is working on her master's degree in human-rights education at the University of San Francisco. "That dynamic of reaching out and helping people, and how complicated that can be when you're going cross-culturally and across state lines and sort of into unknown territory."
Huggins says Josh Fadem, who plays Liz Lemon's agent on 30 Rock, is slated to play a bad guy in the film. Fadem is in the process of posting a YouTube video challenging Vasquez to fight to the death in a fictional film.
"I'm not sure how we found him," Huggins says.
Huggins and Gran discovered the rest of the cast through open auditions.
"The casting call alone, we could have written 12 more scripts based on the people we met," Gran says.
"We got such an amazing parade of people," Huggins says, "from a woman who was the 1980 Iowa hog-calling champion to a former L.A. gangbanger who has the Last Supper tattooed on his back. A woman who had a cameo in the movie Blacula.