The Forbidden Wish is an intense drama that takes place over the course of one night in a synagogue. The movie is written and directed by Michael Carnick and stars Sammi Rotibi as an Ethiopian rabbi and John Berchtold as a man seeking the Mourner’s Kaddish in order to commit suicide. The Geekiary sat down with Carnick, Rotibi, and Berchtold to discuss the movie and the filmmaking process.
The Geekiary: What initially drew you to this story?
Michael Carnick: This was originally a one-act play that I wrote over a decade ago while I was attending UC Riverside getting my master’s degree. I saw a documentary on Ethiopian Jews, and I thought that that was a very unique topic; it was certainly new to me. I thought it could be a strong film or on stage, since it was originally a play. I was going through some emotional hardships at the time and that feeling of wanting to belong, I thought matched really well with the journey of the Ethiopian Jew and themes of Judaism and humanity in general. It ended up being a very universal story.
Sammi Rotibi: What drew me to the project was when reading the script, I had never heard of Ethiopian Jews. There are certain projects that you do sometimes that you learn from, this was definitely one of them. Talking to Michael and reading an amazing script that he wrote with so many different subject matters, I just felt that his script was reflective of a lot of things that were happening presently. It was just a beautiful script; it’s one of those that comes around once in a while.
It’s the perfect setting for an independent film where you can actually get to work with great people. Michael assembled a great cast and crew, and it was a journey of love. I saw the documentary as well on Ethiopian Jews because I had never known of them. It was called Falasha, and it was amazing. I learned so much from it and I just wanted to be a part of it. Michael wrote a wonderful story.
John Berchtold: Definitely everything that he just said, but you can tell that when you hear the words that it’s coming from a true perspective. You can tell that he just put so much of himself in his ideas and his questions into the script. When we cracked it open, we got to explore so much. Also, knowing that Sammi was going to be playing the rabbi and getting to act alongside and learn from him, that was super appealing. I ended up learning from both of these guys. I think that the thing that was most appealing was just being able to tell these stories and explore these characters with each other.
The Geekiary: What was the audition process like?
Berchtold: I taped my audition first, and then Michael was like, “Sure, we’ll bring him in.” I was very thankful for that. I auditioned alongside Sammi. I was reading with him so already the pressure was on for me. I immediately was so drawn to the whole experience because I got to, from day one, start performing with Sammi and that was awesome. You guys were there for the whole audition process.
Rotibi: Yeah, my agent brought the script to my attention and told me about the project. I read it and I said that I wanted to talk to the director, Michael, first to see where he was coming from, what his idea of the story he was telling was. I did my research and I liked Michael a lot, I liked what he was talking about. The script was what attracted me to the project in the first place and I jumped on after talking to Michael. We had a great conversation and I said, “Yes, I’ll be a part of it.”
Berchtold: And we’re forever grateful.
The Geekiary: This movie deals with some very serious issues. How much research went into either writing or preparing your performance and how much were you able to draw from personal experiences?
Carnick: I was a lot of both. It was a lot of personal experience with mental health. I also had to do a lot of research about things like religion. I had to write from a rabbi’s perspective, so I had to do a lot of research about what it says in the Talmud and in the Torah and determine a real rabbi’s perspective. I talked to medical doctors about mental illness issues. It was definitely a lot of research I hope I did eighty percent correctly.
Berchtold: You can just tell that all of the writing comes from such a poignant perspective. For me personally, I was able to just talk with Michael and get his perspective on all of these issues and the ideas and themes while also drawing from these human aspects. I think there’s so much relatability in the things that we’re talking about and so I was definitely able to pull from personal experience. I don’t know about you, Sammi.
Rotibi: I related to the rabbi in a fact that the moment between him and his son kind of reminded me of my relationship with my father. I just felt it was a story that anyone could relate to in different aspects because it touched on a lot of different issues. It’s a human story, it has a humanity and there’s a commonality of pain between the two characters. I just felt that it was well-written and hopefully it came across on screen.
The Geekiary: The movie takes place mostly in one room. How did the filming process differ from previous projects you’ve been a part of?
Rotibi: For me, it was a bit intense because we shot at night. It was all night shoots as the whole story takes place at night. Having such dense material and then doing it at night, your brain after a while kind of gets…but it was great. I think also what made it easy for me to work in that scenario and also in one location is that every day there was something new. Johnny was such an amazing and giving person that it wasn’t like dreading going to work.
When you go to work you go to one place, but it’s important when you’re surrounded and the people that you’re working with, they make your job easier, or they can make it harder. Michael, the film itself, the production felt like a family affair down to the PA. Everyone was on this journey together, with love, it felt like. Michael’s parents were there, they brought us food sometimes. It was great, but it’s a big difference in one place. The story takes place in one place, so you need to get into that and take that on. It went great for me. It was good for me.
Berchtold: Like you said, the story is in one place over one night. That is really what we were doing, we were living the story. We were exploring the story together, so we weren’t all over the place. One of the big challenges was the continuity of our characters’ arcs if we weren’t going to be shooting in order. “What happened right before? Was I exploding? What was the conversation we were having?” We were in that space together. It was an intimate setting and it made it that much easier to tell the story because we were in that story essentially.
It was great but it is very interesting to do a film that lives out in real time on location because of continuity. “Oh no, is my hair going to be the same?” But obviously everyone is so good at what they do.
Rotibi: Don’t worry, Johnny, you look good [laughs].
Berchtold: It was awesome; it was such a collaborative, creative experience. For me, it was just a masterclass. I just got to sit in one room and watch these guys do their thing and I got to learn from it, which was my biggest takeaway.
Carnick: Since I’m a sadomasochist, I really wanted to write something, or try to write something, that was completely reductive. I asked myself, “What would be the most challenging to a writer?” I thought that writing a script, almost everything away but location and actors, and just made it people having to lead the scenes and try to entertain an audience for a feature-length movie. It would be a huge challenge and overall an undertaking. My genius actors pulled it off.
Berchtold: We had great writing and directing to help us.
The Geekiary: Do you have any favorite memories from set?
Carnick: Remember that great chocolate cake?
Berchtold: Chocolate cake is a good memory.
Rotibi: Yes, that was the night your mom brought the chocolate cake, right?
Carnick: Who brought it? I don’t remember.
Berchtold: We devoured it.
Rotibi: It was night shoots, so there’s a lot that goes on after a while. Your brain starts playing tricks on you and we just tried to have fun. We were shooting all night and I think Michael tried to tell a joke [laughs]. That was hilarious. I was like, “Okay, what’s the punchline?” There was one that was hilarious and one I was trying to figure out what the punchline was.
Berchtold: We were all so delirious and I’m trying to play the role at two in the morning. At one point, Michael told a joke and Sammi was a wisecracker. There was a silence, and he goes, “That was supposed to be a joke.”
Berchtold: You would have these big conversations about the theme or the story. “What are we talking about here?” I was about to do this very intense scene where there’s spitting and I’m screaming. I was like, “Okay, Michael, what do you want?” He was in video village and he had a paper delivered that said, ‘Lose Your Sh*t.’ Also, my everyday post-wrap breakfast with Sammi. We would go get breakfast sandwiches.
Rotibi: That was good.
Berchtold: It was just a great collaborative experience. I’ll forever be grateful for it.
The Geekiary: What do you want the audience to take away the most from the movie?
Carnick: I want them to buy a lot of copies so I can make the sequel. Hopefully, they’ll take away the idea of loving and accepting other people even though they may appear different on the outside. This idea of faith and humanity and forever trying to find your place in community. That sense that we all work together, and I hope that people see this as not a faith movie, but a movie about faith. It’s not a movie about Judaism, but it’s more of an exploration of the themes.
Berchtold: How do you follow that? I hope people are just thoughtful about how we treat each other, how we understand each other, understand themselves.
Rotibi: I concur with what Michael just said. He basically encapsulated what I would hope people take away from this.
The Forbidden Wish is now available on VOD platforms.
Author: Jessica Wolff
Jessica Wolff is a graduate of Drexel University with a BS in Film/Video. She has a passion for entertainment and representation in entertainment. She currently resides outside of Washington, DC.
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