Bleak and harrowing, Starred Up is a prison picture that pushes the boundaries. The film opens with the graphic examination of Eric (Jack O’Connell) a teen transferred to an adult prison. Exploring the culture of violence, in particular the legacy of violence, David Mackenzie has crafted a powerful feature film that has resonated with in the year since I reviewed it at Toronto. In the system that reconnects with his long-incarcerated father Neville (Ben Mendelsohn) while seeking therapy from Oliver (Rupert Friend), Eric’s story is inspired by the experiences of writer Jonathan Asser.
Ahead of a VOD and theatrical release this week, we sat down with a jetlagged David MacKenzie to discuss Starred Up from spec script to releasing, including the debut of its soundtrack (a non-traditional noise art piece composed by Mackenzie). Check out the complete conversation below.
Can you tell us how the film came about? I know screenwriter Jonathan Asser served as a counselor in the correctional system.
Jonathan pioneered a technique of allowing violent prisoners to deal with and decelerate some of their anger. He developed this system in jail in London and I think he’s the only person to have successfully done it. If you were violent in the jail than you wouldn’t get any access to treatment and it was only when you prove yourself to be non-violent that you get treatment for your violence, which is sort of a paradox.
Jonathan wrote the script, it was a spec script. I read it; I thought it was very powerful and had a great voice to it and it had great characters and a real sense of authenticity. So it was very attractive to me to take a subject that had that much detail. It’s pretty straightforward world, not much flower on it — to take that kind of material which I’ve never really worked in before, it was very exciting. It was immediate. I read it, I liked it, I met Jonathan, we worked on the script for a while, and then we went ahead and made it. It was a very clean, good process.
Was this his first screenplay?
I think so. He’s written another one now. It was very well done. We obviously did stuff together on it but the first spec script was great.
How did you find Jack O’Connell, the star of the film?
It was just a normal casting process. He came to audition and he was great. He just seemed like the kind of guy that would get that character and was bold enough to enter into everything balls out. He threw himself into that character and it was great for me to have someone that was going to be that brave and be in that kind of scenario where we could just trust each other. If you’re a director and you have an actor whom you like what they’re doing, it’s a great ride.
What scared the hell out of me about your film is that opening scene with the graphic examination – a film typically tells you how to watch it in the first few minutes, what the boundaries will be. Was there ever any concern in developing it with regards to the graphic material. It really puts you on the edge of your seat because anything could happen. Was that always part of the plan?
It’s one of the things I’m most happy about the film. Having seen it hundreds of times as the person that directed it, I’m still kind of on the edge of my seat. There is this fundamental tension runs through it because it is this hostile environment. It’s an unpredictable environment and some shit is going to go off at any time. And so you the explosive power of that throughout the narrative, and there’s scenes where that’s escalating and deescalating and all that. But that’s something that drives the narrative through.
In terms of the beginning, because we shot the film in story order, that examination scene was shot on the first day. That process and what goes on there, the way you get processed, was a very interesting part of the thing. We throw a character into a pretty humiliating process and as far as I’m aware the reality is pretty close to that.
I was reading you shot the rehearsals and then shot the film. Can you talk about that process?
Normally you rehearse and then you shoot. In my last two films I’ve brought the crew in on the last two or three days of rehearsal so you’re rehearsing the same day. This was like rehearsing the whole team, and since we shot the opening the first day so we all learned the group dynamic, and actually some things we shot during the two days of rehearsals ended up in the film.
Instead of just the actor, we rehearsed the whole team. Instead of the sound guy treading around the camera guy’s toes, everyone just hit the ground running.
I bet that helped filming in a real prison?
Yes, the big fear with that we were filming in a real prison and the cells are tiny and we’re filming in anamorphic scope so I thought we’d never get a camera to see everything. And those walls are very hard, there’s no give in them so the environment was unforgiving. But at the same time it gave us everything we needed in terms of the authenticity of the environment and architecture. That was pretty much the first decisions I made when I read the script — that was I must find a real location so we don’t have to cheat this as much as possible. As a director avoiding, cheating and faking – this is fiction we are faking – but we wanted to reduce it as much as possible.
Was there anything in terms of pre-production that you stayed away that was maybe too graphic. Was there any issues with raising the money?
The main thing we had to juggle with was the language. When the script first arrived you it had some obscure language. It’s prison slang, it’s the real deal, but even in Britain most people don’t understand those kinds of words because its very particular to the prison world. There was more of that when the script first arrived and we worried it was too obscure, and I hated the idea that we would try to make a film in common English because you lose so much of the flavor even if you don’t understand it, even if Eric doesn’t fully understand it. You accumulate your knowledge of it as you go. That was a big ongoing discussion while making it and it’s obviously a hard story. It’s not for everyone.
What was prep like? Did you and the team visit prisons to observe these things first hand?
We had a series of advisors whom Jonathan worked with within the system, they have small parts in the movie and they advised us. We had people that used to be prison officers in the jail that advised us along with Jonathan. All the way through we were always asking about the reality of the thing. The actors obviously too were learning from them too. We had to stay a little bit below the radar in terms of doing proper research within the jail so we relied on what we had to make it real. It’s fiction but obviously all these events have plausibly happened so everything had to pass through that plausibility test.
So is Oliver (Rupert Friend), Eric’s counselor, a surrogate for Jonathan?
He’s very close; it’s one of Rupert’s hardest things. He had to get to know Jonathan but then say I’m not going to play him, I’m going to be my own character. It’s obvious that Jonathan and Oliver are very close in what they’re doing and that the therapy techniques are very close. There’s a scene where they stand and absorb Eric’s anger and that’s part of a technique that Jonathan developed and its very brave in terms of what he does – and the reality of what Jonathan does is very brave and they capture it well.
Is there anything else you want to tell us about the film?
Whenever everyone asks me that I tell them we are releasing the soundtrack album. I did the soundtrack, I’ve never done a soundtrack before — I’m not even a musician. But I wanted to have a wall of sound underneath it. You don’t even notice it but it’s intense. I worked with a producer to make some interesting sounds, and it turned out that it’s quite interesting and quite dramatic in its own right, so we’re releasing that next month as Starred Up Music Reworked. We messed around with keyboards and live sounds and all kinds of sounds and we had a few musicians to come in.
Great. Well, thank you so much.
Thank you. I’m very pleased you can remember it from last year!
Starred Up is now on VOD and in limited release.
Steven Knight‘s Locke, which, after a theatrical release this past spring, is now on VOD and Blu-ray as of this week, takes place entirely inside of Tom Hardy‘s BMW SUV cruising down the motor way in London. It’s a set-up the leaves much to the imagination. Ivan Locke is a concrete expert who is literally driving away from the biggest job of his life to take care of something much more important to him. The intimacy of spending 83 minutes with Hardy’s Locke inside his car as he phones and tries to cover his bases is one of the most unique experiences I’ve had in a theater all year.
I had the chance to sit down with writer/director Steven Knight to discuss the way he went about developing and capturing this unique experience. We talked about the benefits of shooting in one location, whether he had any dropped calls, integrating the reality of shooting on a live set, blurring the line between cinema and theater, the way that reading lines can be freeing for an actor, the kind of feedback he received from test audiences, and much more. I kept spoilers out of the conversation so it should be great prep for watching the film or even afterwards.
You can check out our entire conversation below and read our previous interview with Knight during the theatrical release here.
The Film Stage: I imagine, with a contained film like this, with really one set, there are a lot of benefits and drawbacks. There has to be something about knowing exactly where you’ll be each day and the familiarity with the location. But there has to be drawbacks, as well, right?
Steven Knight: The good outweigh the bad, hugely. Because we were shooting for a very limited period, there wasn’t enough time to get sick of the location. We were still having fun. We had three cameras rolling at all times and one of them at least would be at a crazy angle. Aimed at mirrors or reflections, whatever. So there was always something interesting to cut to in any sequence. But just the control you have over the location is great. Then making the decision that you’re not going to control the environment. Whatever happens, happens, and you don’t stop. If there’s a rattle in the car, you continue. If there’s traffic, there’s traffic. Those two decisions really helped each other. Once we’re on the road, nothing can stop us. Unless the cameras broke down. And even then, if one them goes, which they often did, we still have two rolling. Know that when you say action, you’re going to shoot the whole film. There’s something buccaneering about that. All of the people involved are very, very good at their jobs of making conventional films for a living. We all sort of took a vacation from the rules and that was what was fun about it.
There are quite a few contained films out there. There’s something maniacal about pulling this off. Do you have a favorite one or even a top five?
I try not to refer to other films when I’m making films. And I don’t actually watch a lot of films, to be absolutely honest. I’ve not seen any of the single-location films. Some of them I didn’t even know existed until I made this and people would say, “Oh, it’s a bit like so and so.” This was purely the idea of having the moving background as a theater. Putting an actor into the theater and shooting a play. Trying to blur the lines between cinema and live theater. Trying to get some of that intimacy you get from a performance on a stage. I hope that when the lights go up after a screening people are engaged with the character and the story. It’s only secondary that people should say that it was made in a particular way. What this film is about is getting people to use their own imaginations. Instead of special effects and the budget giving you the imagination that you then absorb. One of the best things that some people have said after watching it is that they forget they haven’t seen the other characters. Some people have even sworn they have seen the other characters people because naturally have that ability to imagine. They hear a voice, they hear the TV in the background, they can see their house. It’s an underused thing. It’s like when you tell a kid a story, they can see in their head.
Your film runs under the 90-minute mark. I believe it’s 83 minutes. For so many films, it’s a struggle to even get a film below the 110-minute mark. You’re way under that. Were there cuts even shorter than this?
There was a version that was longer where… before we started showing it to people I thought maybe people would get claustrophobic if you’re in the car all the time. So there were a lot of shot of the outside with the car driving by. From bridges and car to car. When we showed it to people they said they didn’t want that. They want to go back in the car. We want to know what happens next. By then people were engaged with the story. So that was great. That was the first clue that this was going to work. Far from being hemmed in by the location, they wanted to stay in it.
I’ve read that you had the calls a bit out of timing.
I kept it in sequence but I kept varying the gap. All the time, the cameras are rolling. So Tom never stops acting. He’s doing ordinary things as if you were driving. Just let it go. Then cue the call. So when the phone rings, it’s genuinely a shock. It’s inevitable that he’d forget. Even if you did it 10 times, you’d forget what the order was. So it’s genuine when he looks at the screen and is like, “All right, here we go.”
Dropped calls are just one of those things that happens. Were some in the middle of a take?
I thought there would be more. What I said to all the actors was that if it happens, react exactly as you would if it happened for real. It happened very rarely. Probably only three or four occasions, which is very unlike a cell phone to be so efficient. But it helped with the rhythm. Everybody got confident. If it had happened too much, people would start to just lose faith in the whole concept.
It seems like you all embraced the real life aspects of shooting the film. Tom Hardy was sick on set and you just rolled it into the script. I thought that was brilliant because I’m sitting there, as a film critic, wondering why the decision was made to make him sick. You don’t ever explain it. He’s not ever apologizing for it. To read that, afterwards, it’s brilliant.
Afterwards people have said that they thought the medicine would make him drowsy and he’d swerve off the road. But when you watch a film, we’re all so literate in film that we know what to expect. I think it’s great when you break the rules. You give people stuff that they think, “Ah ha” but that never happens.
Tom was very particular about the voice he used for this film. Audio is such a huge part of this. Do you even have a traditional casting process for the people that are going to call in or do you say, “Okay, I want you to go into this room, where I can’t see you, and call in and read some lines”?
We did five days of readings with the whole cast together. The people are not necessarily household names here, but they’re the best actors. All of our first choices said yes, which is incredible. It helps that it’s only eight days of their life that we’re looking for instead of eight weeks. So we read around the table and dealt with the issues of direction, character, background. All of those things there. That meant when we set off on the road people knew pretty much what to do. They could calibrate their own performance throughout because they were doing it for real. They have the script and Tom has the script in front of him, on the teleprompter. The words are there but that means they’re completely free to do whatever they think in terms of performance.
That has to be freeing for you as a director because you get to focus on the minutiae.
Exactly. There’s something very realistic about it. I think it’s because… the process of having an unscripted conversation, it comes somewhere first and then you say it. But it’s a split second delay. You think it and then you say it. Sight reading is similar to that. I know a lot of actors now, they use ear pieces and they have someone read the words. They say it makes it just like thinking. So maybe that’s what it is but the way Tom does it is just so incredible.
Can you talk about the response you got — or hoped you’d get?
Well, with this, I’m really glad that it isn’t being viewed as an art house experiment. The person at the center of it is an ordinary man. The things that happen are ordinary. There’s no attempt to baffle the audience in order to impress them. It’s to make everything clear. For it all to be very solid except for the fact that we’re dealing with subjects that don’t normally get dealt with and filming it in a different way. But what’s been really gratifying for me is the box office in the U.K. and in New York and LA so far. People are going to see it and they’re going to see it on the strength of word of mouth. People are coming out of the theater and talking to other people about it. I’m not one of those people who is contemptuous of popularity. I mean, I worked in commercial television for years. If you’re going to do something, you’ve got to do it so that people want to see it. So called ordinary people aren’t idiots. The audience aren’t idiots. If you make some really obscure piece of self-indulgent art they’re not going to want to watch. I’m really keen that this isn’t that. I know that the people who have had the most profound reaction to it have been working men, middle-aged, with kids. They’re far from being the art house crowd. I’m really pleased about that.
Locke is now available on Blu-ray.
One of the more interesting films touring the festival circuit this year was director Lenny Abrahamson‘s Frank, which enters limited release this weekend. The film follows an eager musician named Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) who is suddenly thrust into a touring band’s role of keyboardist. Leading that band is Michael Fassbender‘s Frank, who wears an overlarge papier-mâché head both on and off the stage and acts exceedingly strange. It’s a film that follows their peculiar process of recording an electronic album that rarely appeals to anyone but the most out-there of minds.
So when I sat down at a roundtable to interview Abrahamson, I must confess I wasn’t sure what to expect from the man himself. But we got a very aware and intelligent conversation about why he cast such an incredible actor like Michael Fassbender, if he was going to cover him up the entire time, the way he designed the fake SXSW and actually fooled me into thinking it was filmed there, how the cinematic language didn’t really change just because of the large papier-mâché head, why he thinks the film has garnered such a strong reaction, and much more. Read on below for the entire conversation and watch a conversation with the actors.
The Film Stage: The sound mix at the beginning of the films is very interesting, the way he’s walking down the street and he’s got all these different voices going on. You didn’t play with that all that much throughout. Is that mainly to put us in the headspace of the main character?
Lenny Abrahamson: Yeah, exactly. The first three minutes or probably less that leads up to the opening title is really just a very self-contained pre-title sequence designed to say, “Here is the main character of the film.” It’s quite self conscious in that respect. It takes you from a guy who you have no idea about standing on a beach to the point he realizes he just copied another song. I know what he wants. I know what he can’t do. You understand, without much dialogue, who the guy is. In my other films which have been more naturalistic — certainly my last film — I would never do anything like that. In those films I was keen not to determine characters so quickly; in other words, what I was trying to do was to force the audience to try and explore characters themselves. But this is a very different kind of film and you’re playing with those tropes of guys who desperately are in a band. You’re looking at those ideas in a broader way so it made sense to really define the character and play with that through the film.
Can you talk about where your main character comes from and the character of Frank comes from?
It’s funny looking at the online discussion in the UK about this. People are aware of some of the antecedents to this film and there’s a bit of a debate about it. I’ll tell you the history of them and what the debate shows. Jon Ronson, who is a writer you might know (he’s on the The Daily Show sometimes), he wrote the book The Men Who Stare at Goats and The Psychopath Test. In the 80′s he was in a band in Manchester with this character. The character was Frank Sidebottom, who was a character created by a punk comedian creative, a very hard to define creative force called Chris Sievey. His schtick was he wore this big fake head, but he sang in this high-pitch accent. He sang silly songs. You saw him on kids television and he became a cult figure. Years later, when Jon and Peter were working together on the Men Who Stare at Goats just started riffing on this idea of the figure with the head. That became a magnet, that central image, it seemed to draw in other ideas taken from other outsider musicians. Frank Sidebottom wasn’t an outsider musician, he was a comedic creation. But Chris himself had that outsider spirit and Frank was a curiosity but there was also something very moving about him.
That became the beginning of this journey which took elements of Beefheart, Daniel Johnston, Harry Partch, Roky Erickson, all these people we were pretty fascinated with. The film is a riff on that, a riff on lots of traits of those characters and it talks about other things as well. What’s interesting about the debate back in the U.K. is that die-hard Frank Sidebottom fans, some, and Frank’s family are very supportive of the film. Chris Sievey himself didn’t want a biopic made, but he was really behind this idea before he died. But some of the very die-hard fans feel we’ve trampled on the purity of the original inspiration. I think people are very rigid in the categories they like to use to think about films. It’s either a biopic or it’s not. And if it is, why is he American? And if it’s not, why he’s wearing a head like Frank Sidebottom? I think the answer is that it’s own thing. It’s a creative leap. It’s a leap taken in the spirit of that original inspiration, and we didn’t want to deny that inspiration, hence the name, but it is a lot about other things as well. In America this is irrelevant, but is quite a debate among the fans.
It’s interesting thinking about the way this film would be received by an American audience and taking it back to the U.K., especially when looking at the cast. You have three core actors, all from such different backgrounds, and being received at different levels in different markets. What was it like exploring the creative dynamic between the actors?
That’s always the unknown going into any film — how the cast will gel and what that will bring up. As a director it’s a big mistake not to be sensitive to what’s really happening between the people who are in front of you; what they bring to their character and how they interact with each other. If you can make that work within the overall, the overarching thematic and tonal world of the film, then it’s always going to be better than just brining a rigid set of pre-conceptions as the director and just beating everybody into that mold. In this case, people got on really well. Particularly the early stages, we did some music rehearsal before we shot, before we did usual rehearsal. The band is really playing in the film. That meant we had to have a functioning band. That put constraints on what was written but also in a strange way liberated us in that we were really working with materials we weren’t just inventing.
People got on incredibly well both musically and personally, particularly François [Civil] who plays the bass player and Carla [Azar] who is the drummer were inseparable through the film. The rhythm section was this unit on and off the camera and they see each other all the time. I think Michael is very friendly with the other members of the band. He would have known Domhnall before, but with the other members they’re all in touch with each other. They’re all quite keen to play together again as a band. You can’t really know that in advance. I have certainly been in situations were people don’t get on that well. It’s quite interesting the relationship between Maggie [Gyllenhaal] and Michael it was really sparky and creatively exciting and I think for Maggie it was really interesting having this strong emotional connection to a character she can’t see. That plays really well.
It’d be one of those things where you’d have to employ so many different cards of your imagination. You’re projecting onto something you can’t see physically.
In a strange way, it isn’t difficult. I’d almost rather say it’s a bit like watching the film, and I suppose every viewer is different, but you kind of forget about the head. We forgot about it on set. I remember thinking, “Will I adjust? How will it be?” I had strong sense of how I was going to make the scenes, but still you ask yourself, “When I’m there, will the normal filmic grammar make sense in relation to Frank?” Like going in for a close-up, you go in on somebody to get a sense of what’s going on but actually you also go in for a close-up because it’s the way film sentence structure works. It’s telling you something significant is happening even if nothing is changing on the face. That dimension of the filmmaking process applies seamlessly to Frank. At the same time, Michael’s small movements — his tiny little settlings and readjustments — if you have a puppet you can make that puppet so expressive. It is remarkable how much you can take away and have a fully three-dimensional character. What it also gives you is this element of playful withholding.
Part of what became really interesting when we were working on the script was people’s conventional understanding of creativity. The Jon character is throwing the kitchen sink at what it is that makes Frank good. Jon is not prepared to admit he just doesn’t have any talent. He thinks there’s some secret — if he had been in a mental hospital, or had an abusive childhood, or any of the number of things he wishes. He’s just this middle-class kid, but if only I had this great awful life, I too could be this creative genius. Domhnall’s part, I think, is the hardest thing in the film, purely from a technical point of view — being the center, quite often unappealing, being the one who the straight person in all this madness is really hard. You really feel his face changing from the beginning of the film to the end. He seems more at home with himself. There’s a melancholy resignation at the end, and he tracks that so subtly and so well through the film.
Was Michael on set the whole time and was wearing the head the whole time? It could have been just a voice performance and nobody would have known.
Yeah. We made the decision early on and he was a 100% determined on this that it would always be him. Apart from a half a second during one stunt, it’s always him. It’s him during the album play. He claims he doesn’t work out, but I don’t buy that at all. If it hadn’t been him you might not know, but it wouldn’t be as good a film. One interesting thing that came out in the cutting of the film; we had thought it was handy we can’t see the lips, so if you really need to take the lines from a take that’s working really well… But there’s just something about it, you want to be able to mix takes, take the voice from one take and use the pictures from another. Why not do that with Frank? It almost never worked. The body language just kind of worked. As human beings, if we’re good at anything, we’re good at reading other people. What makes you think somebody is trustworthy or not? You couldn’t write it down. It’s tiny things they do. I find this really fascinating to think about: people that have one or more senses that don’t work still compensate superbly with the other senses. We are getting much more information than we know by watching a person perform. Michael’s voice, which are all sorts of things in there, Iggy Pop and a bit of Jim Morrison when he’s singing, he really enjoyed that challenge and it was fun to do.
How did you land Michael Fassbender?
We sent the script to his agency. You do it in the sense of who might be interesting for some of the parts in this film. His agent is smart and Michael is too, so there was kind of a hope but not an expectation that he’d be interested. When he found out he was it was really great. I think there are all sorts of reasons why it’s really great. Why cast him if you’re not going to show his face? I hope when people see the film they get the why and get an amazing performance. Also, we’re not saying whether you see his face or not. You have to see the film. The other thing about it, the challenge for him was great. He loved the script, he laughed a lot at it. It’s a testament to the fact that Michael is not some kind of — none of the people in the film are — calculating career builders. They are people who are drawn to pleasures, difficulties, challenges of acting. It’s great. He can do X-Men and he can do 12 Years a Slave or any of the other number of film he chooses.
What it did bring is a physicality to the part. I don’t think we would have gone this route, but with Michael, there’d be a danger in thinking about a character like Frank to go with a Michael Jackson, childlike, wonder-filled amazement, and that would be what you expect. With Michael you get this extra dimension; the tyrant as well, the intensity, you get all that stuff too. This wasn’t something we thought about consciously at the beginning, but the film is a lot about the way people project versions of themselves. Jon is, through social media, desperately projecting a version of himself that is much more exciting and ironic than the real one. We trade in those things, especially in this industry, as well-known actors become a brand version of themselves. The film, among other things, it says there is value in just the thing in itself regardless of how many followers or how many hits it gets on YouTube. That’s not the mark of greatness. If that’s the case not showing your big, huge star is a big statement by the film. If you don’t like it, fine. This a performance we’re not trying to sell, we’re trying to be true to it — true to the idea.
You filmed at SXSW, so I assume you got permission from them to do so. How much does that directly lead to you getting into SXSW?
It’s a good question. We actually filmed in Albuquerque but we made it SXSW. We were filming in New Mexico. Thanks for thinking it. I take that as a compliment. We studied a lot and recreated little chunks of it. The convention center bit works really well. I’ve never been to SXSW until now and when I walked into the convention center I thought we did a pretty good job. I don’t think anything in our imaginations could quite prepare me for the sheer hipster kind of intensity of the place, but we did our best. I don’t know. We didn’t premiere here. We premiered at Sundance and there are all sorts of reasons one might do that. It’s more of a market and frankly what you’re doing when you premiere your film is that you’re trying to sell it. I think honestly had SXSW not liked the film they wouldn’t have shown it. But I think they wanted to like it because it’s crazy; it’s too good a story not to tell here. The audience certainly seemed to go with the SXSW part last night.
There’s been such a huge reaction to the film. What do you think it is about the craziness and the vibe of this film that has struck such a chord with so many different movie viewers?
It’s very hard to see your own film objectively. But what I think is unusual about the film is how difficult it is to think of any other film that is like it. It doesn’t fit into any obvious genre. It is funny, including moments of pure slapstick, but it’s also quite poignant and thoughtful and playful. There are ideas at play. There are pleasures to be had both in the comedy and the music. The obligation I always feel when making a film, especially one like this, is to make it as rich as possible, where families of ideas and themes and ways of executing it that somehow resonate, where the form and the function fit together. If you do that, I think an audience will recognize that. I know when I go and see a film whether I feel if the people who made it have sweat over it. Or is it just some simple dashed off thing or an attempt to catch a wave or target a particular audience?
I do think everybody, all the people who made the film — actors, us, writers, people who are releasing it — they all really believe in it. Everybody put their heart and soul into it. Loads of creative hours went into the film. It’s like the old-fashioned websites where there’s just one layer versus one with loads of deep rich content where you can come at them from different angles. In terms of how the film will be released, we have all this other music, we have filmed songs stuff that isn’t in the film — demos the band did in the studio before we shot. I have a whole archive of influences that went into. Same way the pictures were evolved, the way the head was designed. I feel like if you do that work in preparing a film what you end up with is a very solid thing that you can look at from different angles.
Some people just get the comedy, some people are very moved by it, and some people a combination of both. It also resonates, even though it’s a film about a musician and musicians. All of us have, in some aspects of our life, huge desires which we know we can never fulfill. The things we would have loved to have been. Given that we live in a culture that says you can be anything you want, which is painfully untrue, people are very conflicted about those choices they make. People are encouraged not to be realistic about themselves. I think that’s very negative. The film interrogates a person, a person desperate to be something they’re not really cut out to be, and it lets them try, and in a pretty humane way it tracks what it feels like and what that person learns. I think that’s pretty relevant to us.
Frank hits theaters on Friday, August 15th.
In town for the Fantasia Festival world premiere of the horror-comedy Suburban Gothic, we got a chance to sit down with Ray Wise for a brief chat. Wise, a seasoned character actor, has, over the course of more than thirty years, naturally done a variety of work in film and television, but on the occasion of its forthcoming mega-Blu-ray set (available this week), we mostly discussed what’s easily his most iconic role, Leland Palmer of Twin Peaks. Wise seems eternally eager to field questions about him.
One can see our conversation below, and it should be noted that the following contains spoilers for the Twin Peaks series.
The Film Stage: You previously worked with the director of this film, Richard Bates, on his first film Excision. Did you notice a difference working with him on this title — the way he worked with actors and ran the set?
Ray Wise: He’s a little more experienced, and I think he ran things a little more smoothly, but it was basically the same approach. He tries to keep his set a kind of a happy place, a little bit laidback, very relaxed, nothing uptight about the situation, and I think he’s able to get the best from his actors that way. He allows the actors a certain space to experiment, improvise, and some great things happen that way. I like the way he works a lot, and I think he’ll only get better and better as time goes on. He’s a fine filmmaker and he’s got a great future.
This film is a blend of many genres, one of them being comedy. Have you felt an inclination towards working in comedy lately? You were really great on Reaper, as well as in your work with Tim & Eric.
Yeah, I’ve done a lot of Funny or Die stuff, too. Yeah, it’s something I’ve gravitated towards later in life, I guess. I’m kind of honing my comic chops right now, and I’ve found myself to be funny in a lot of situations and I really enjoy it. I like making people laugh and I can understand how stand-up comedians get off on it because that’s a great feeling, to say something and make people laugh. Of course, my devil was very good at that on Reaper — he was very good at making you feel good about him and yourself, which I think a true evil person has to do. A true con man has to do that: he has to make you feel good about yourself, feel confident in yourself and in him. Comedy is now something I like to experience in everything, so even now if I play a heavily dramatic character in a very sombre piece, I’ll probably try to bring humor to it.
Are Tim & Eric anything like working with David Lynch?
Yes, they are, in the sense that they have vivid imaginations, and all of their images are a bit skewed, a bit off-kilter, to make them endlessly fascinating and incredibly effective. They share that kind of sensibility, and also anything goes with him, with Tim & Eric and with David; as long as he’s in on the joke, just about anything goes. They don’t limit themselves by anything, and if you do something and it seems to fit the program, it’s great.
Speaking of David, can you talk about the difficulty of playing Leland Palmer? Because thinking of the arc that character went through, in season one you’d have your character down and then, in season two, everything changes. Was that kind of a roller coaster ride playing that role?
It really was. I couldn’t wait to get the script for the next week’s episode to see what I was going to do, because I knew that it would be challenging, it would be different, and that it would be something that I hadn’t experienced before — at least at that degree. That was always the case on Twin Peaks. I did things on that show that had never been done on television before or since.
That episode, “Lonely Souls” — the one where you kill Maddie — I still can’t believe they got away with that.
On ABC! Can you believe that? I mean, that’s hard to take even in a movie theater, where you can do anything. I think that today, if Twin Peaks were to exist, it would be on HBO or Showtime, or something that wouldn’t be limited by those restrictions of censorship.
What about acting in the film? I imagine there was a whiplash acting between possessed and non-possessed states; was that very difficult, like more of a challenge than the show?
Yeah, sure; always when I went from being possessed to non-possessed, I had to use various ways and techniques to put myself in the right state of mind for that possessed side of Leland Palmer. Whatever it took, be in a corner and talk to myself in darkness. Always, once the scene began, and if I was working with another actor in the scene, it kind of took over.
The big Twin Peaks box set is coming out, and one of the special features has you doing an interview with David Lynch in-character. Being that it’s been over twenty years since you played Leland, as an actor, can you just kind of pull the character out of your back pocket, or is it a process of having to remember who that was and what you did?
Well, I was sitting at a table with David, with Grace Zabriskie, Sheryl Lee (my wife and my daughter on the show), and David sitting across from me, and that’s all that it took. He asked me the question “Leland, you’ve been dead for 25 years, how it’s been for you?” And I just started talking and it was like I hadn’t skipped a beat and 25 years hadn’t happened. I was Leland again. Yeah, it was funny; very strange. David wrote that piece that morning and gave it to us to do and I think it’s a pretty special feature on the DVD.
You’ve done a lot a television. Is it a strange experience because you’re working at such a quick pace and with a different director every episode?
Well, it’s very different from making a movie; a movie has more time, you’re working with one director who has a vision and he communicates it to you and you do the story. But in the case of Twin Peaks, we had movie directors on just about every episode. But after we did the first episode, we all knew what we were doing, it didn’t matter.
I imagine from the first day of shooting you must’ve thought, “This is different than any TV I’ve ever done.”
It didn’t matter who the director was — it could’ve been Santa Claus — we knew what we were doing, and every week just rolled out. But in television it’s a very fast process, but I think, in Twin Peaks, we took eight days to make an episode so we even took longer than the average television shoot. Everything about Twin Peaks was very well thought-out, well-plotted, well-written. So every line that everyone said had three different layers, so it was a puzzle that only David and Mark knew the answers to, and it was all put together rather brilliantly, so it was a show unlike any other up until that time and since.
Suburban Gothic is now screening at Fantasia Film Festival and Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery is available on Blu-ray this week.
Today we have a special episode of our official podcast, The Film Stage Show. In honor of James Gray‘s The Immigrant arriving on Netflix this week, we have an audio version of our full interview with the director, published in text form on the site during the film’s theatrical release. Conducted by co-host Nick Newman in New York City, it’s a fantastic listen after watching the feature, along with checking out our review episode.
See below to stream or download (right-click and save as…) or subscribe on iTunes.
Hal Hartley’s latest, My America, began in collaboration with Baltimore-based Center Stage as a series of monologues written by 50 American playwrights called to create new work around a central theme of “My America” circa 2012. Filmed and edited by Hartley, the series can be consumed in a number of ways — it’s screening theatrically and online via Fandor (which fittingly bowed the film on July 4th), and had previously screened at the IFC Center. Hartley talked with us about his direction of these monologues, trends of downsizing amongst other 90s indie luminaries, and how the new models of distribution and consumption are shaping his work.
Thank you so much for talking with us. Can you tell me how My America came about? It structurally bares some similarities to other films you’ve made.
Well, in 2012 I was hired by Center Stage — which is the state theatre of Maryland — to direct 50 of these small monologues. They had commissioned 50 American playwrights to tackle this issue of what is my America or where is my America? So they had all these monologues and they were going to perform them at the theatre, and they were also going to tape them. I’m friendly with Susan Geller whose a producer there; she’s also the producer of the film and I did it. We shot about six or seven days over the course of a month in rehearsal studio. As we were editing them I got the idea that I could put them together in a line and it would be something interesting and different.
That wasn’t the job. When I was editing the monologues together I asked Center Stage if I could edit a few together and create a feature-length film, and they were all for it. Then it was a matter of talking to the individual play writes and actors involved, that was the hardest part of the process and took the longest. It was satisfying to see that my hunch was correct. There was a lot of great monologues, but some of them were too particular, their subject matter wasn’t appropriate for this kind of entertainment, but they were terrific all by themselves. So creating a 75-minute entertainment of this nature I felt it was important to get at more general concerns. And it’s interesting, 50 playwrights all answering that question, what is my America or where is my America? It was a pretty accurate reading of the nation at that time.
What year was this staged?
They were originally shot in the summer of 2012.
In terms of how they were constructed and edited it feels very cinematic. One thing I’ve noticed is that many filmmakers of the 1990’s including Neil LaBute (whose work is featured in My America) have downsized. His last film Some Velvet Morning was shot in an apartment with two actors verses working with his previous budgets and scope. Can you comment on this trend filmmakers going back to more contained films?
All of these things play into that, technology, new economic model. I’ve never worked within the studio system, and I’ve always made small films before, during, and between my feature films that tended to be more experimental, just because I like to work. I know a certain 90-minute feature film has certain expectations and a short film is a way to play with these ideas.
Technology has changed because people are watching more work on their devices and I really believe people prefer shorter pieces. The notion that a film has be 90 minutes is going away. When I started out the festivals and distributors classified a feature film 90-100 minutes long and now festivals are classifying features as 60 minutes long. My film from a few years ago Meanwhile took advantage of that and its 60 minutes and a feature.
There’s also, of course, experience and aging. When you get older you get curious. If you’re lucky enough – and I consider myself lucky – to have made a living a this, I can pursue my artist aims in the manner I feel is appropriate without shackling myself to the commercial restraints.
What are you working on now?
I just finished a feature called Ned Rifle, which is the third and final part of the Henry Fool trilogy. We’re mixing the audio now.
I know Fey Grim was released day and date by Magnolia while Henry Fool had a more traditional theatrical release [via Sony Classics]. How is your work adapting to these new models. Is theatrical important?
I’ve been working for a long time with adapting these new technologies, or trying make the technologies adapt to my ideas. Back in 2004 that was our idea with The Girl From Monday. We said, ‘let’s make a movie people will watch on a website we design.’ Unfortunately the technology hadn’t quite caught up so we decided to go with a limited theatrical release. I traveled all over the country showing it at art house theaters and then it showed on Netflix.
Now with streaming and the internet being so fluid, it’s a real easy fit for something like My America which is smaller film. Ted Hope and I used Girl From Monday as a kind of reference. It was a successful limited release in selected art house release and followed up by an internet release. That’s the Fandor model. Even distributors like Sony Picture Classics, whom I’ve had a good experience with in the past on Henry Fool and Amateur, we talk and they also believe theatrical release is advertising. The real revenue comes from various kinds of transactional video on demand and subscription video on demand.
I’m not a purest, I think the theater will always be here, but it’ll be more like going to a museum or something. People are comfortable consuming media in new ways.
Is the festival circuit then the “new” theatrical release?
It is fun to go spend a week watching the new films from around the world. I think that will remain. Although most of the time I’m working if I have a film at a festival. If I’m not working then I can go spend a week with other enthusiasts — that’s very cool. Smaller festivals are easier to organize because the costs of prints and shipping have declined. A few ambitious people can put together a really great festival in town.
Alright, thank you so much for your time.
My America is now streaming on Fandor.
One of the most enjoyable features I saw at Sundance this year was Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens‘ Iceland-set road trip comedy, Land Ho!. Tracking the journey of two men (perfectly cast as Paul Eenhoorn and Earl Lynn Nelson), I said in my review, “As our aging characters reflect on life, boredom, Facebook, Jewish mysticism, and all things in between, the film blissfully rolls by, touting the importance of friendship in any period of life.”
Soon after its Sundance premiere and moments after it got acquired by Sony Pictures Classics (who are distributing it this weekend) I had a chance to sit down with the leading duo for a candid conversation. We discussed if they knew each other before filming, producer David Gordon Green, filming in Iceland, day jobs, fellatio, crying at the premiere, and much more. Check out it in full below.
Can you talk about the initial steps of the project and how you came aboard?
Paul Eenhoorn: Well, we can paraphrase Aaron. Aaron and Martha are North Carolina alumni and they’ve known each other for a long time and they’re making their own films…
Earl Lynn Nelson: Martha came up with the idea after she get Paul and me to commit to go to Iceland. Then they wrote the script.
Eenhoorn: Yeah, they had 20 pages and we shot the first 20 two days in Kentucky. Then the next three months they had everything done and we were ready to go.
You guys have such natural chemistry.
Nelson: We met the day we started the film.
That’s amazing. Wow. Was there time to rehearse?
Eenhoorn: Earl and I ran lines where we had to just to stay on track. As Martha says, 50% of the script we stuck to, 25% is loose, and 25% is just improv.
Did you see the film for the first time at Sundance?
Eenhoorn: First time.
Were you surprised at things they maybe kept or took out of your conversations?
Nelson: I actually cried a couple times during the movie. Not because I was sad or not because I was happy. I just couldn’t believe how well they put it together, how it went together.
It’s a beautifully shot movie, too.
Eenhoorn: Yeah, Iceland is definitely the third character.
Was there time when you were in Iceland to see the sights outside of shooting?
Eenhoorn: We saw everything! We saw like half of the island.
Nelson: We saw the geysers, we saw the waterfalls, we saw the glacier, we saw the hot springs, we saw the blue lagoon. We shot all over the place.
Eenhoorn: We shot everywhere. Then we went back Reykjavík.
Nelson: The thing that was tough was that we shot the end of the movie first and the first part of the movie last. One time we were doing something and Martha say that hadn’t happened yet because the continuity. It was basically me, because this was only the third movie I’ve ever done but Paul was my pro.
Eenhoorn: It worked really well, the way the characters are set up. They’re pretty straight-forward. I think I’ve said this many time, but I don’t remember shooting a comedy. [Laughs] Because it was a demanding film, a physically demanding film for both of us. It was out in the wilderness and long drives and really bumpy roads to get to some of the locations.
Nelson: You think you’ve seen potholes, but you haven’t seen an interstate with nothing but potholes.
Working with two directors, what was the divide?
Eenhoorn: I see the film and see the hand that Martha put on it and the same with Aaron. You can see the paths where I remember talking to him about it. They both directed the film really well. It wasn’t a loose shoot, it was a tight shoot.
Nelson: There was no hostility there. It seems like everybody is trying to suggest there was friction.
Nelson: I don’t mean you. Of course, I don’t know these things but they say when you have co-directors there might be friction. And there wasn’t any.
I know the Coen brothers, one of them will talk to the actors and the other will work out more of the technical aspects of the movie so I wonder if anything like that was happening here.
Nelson: They both talked to us.
Eenhoorn: Yeah, they both set up shots. There was an open discussion on set ups, which they resolved together and went with. Of course you had [cinematographer] Andrew Reed and Benjamin Kasulke on second camera, so it was a two-camera shoot. They really, really worked beautifully.
Nelson: Whether you know it or not, the scene at the lighthouse, when you focus in, Andrew actually shot through that Kodak camera. That was actually through my camera. Seriously. I couldn’t believe that, that he could do that.
Have you seen the movie The Trip? Has anyone brought this up yet?
Because I called this movie The Trip to Iceland. It’s just about two guys going out discussing culture, life, etc. That film has a sequel where they go to Italy. I would love to see a sequel to Land Ho! Where would you go if you could?
Eenhoorn: Well, Martha and Aaron both love The Trip and Planes, Trains & Automobiles –two of the films that they really wanted it to feel like.
Nelson: Uncle Buck. They both love Uncle Buck.
Eenhoorn: So, where would we go next?
Nelson: Warmer weather. [Laughs] Hawaii.
Eenhoorn: Lei Ho! [Laughs]
Nelson: We were talking about the next one Land Ho, Ho, Ho in the North Pole. [Laughs] So we can try to find Santa Claus.
Is this your first Sundance?
Nelson: First time. I hadn’t been to Park City in 30 years.
Have you been able to see any other movies?
Nelson: We haven’t had a chance to do anything.
Eenhoorn: Yesterday we had the night and we just chilled. We were tired.
Nelson: When you’re going 18 hours today. When you’re going down the street up, down the street, across the street, etc.
Eenhoorn: Yeah, I’ve been to so many festivals and all I’ve seen is This is Martin Bonner and Land Ho!.
[Laughs] You just need to go to one without one of your movies there.
Eenhoorn: Yeah, it’d be nice to just go to a festival and just go and see the films. I mean I catch up with the ones I can on cable and things like Frances Ha, which is such a beautiful film. I’d love to see them all in a theater. It would be so cool.
Some of the movies you reference in the film. Is that scripted or does that come from your history?
Eenhoorn: Yeah, the film references kind of got dropped in after our first couple of shoots. I didn’t realize there was going to be film references all the way through. Some of that is improv.
Nelson: Could you hear during the waterfall when I said, ‘Have you seen Last of the Mohicans?’
Nelson: You heard that?
Nelson: See, a lot of people didn’t even hear it.
I picked up on it, yeah.
Eenhoorn: I think that’s one of the funniest gags in the film. It doesn’t get the major laughs because…
..it’s during a transition, kind of.
Eenhoorn: Yeah, it’s kind of during a transition and it’s just funny. You can just see it.
Nelson: Well, the thing is, did you realize how many facial expressions got laughs?
Nelson: With no dialogue whatsoever, his face or my face. The look that we had on our faces that they helped us get on our faces. I enjoy comedies and I couldn’t see how many facial expressions got laughs.
You said they helped you get them. What kind of things did they say to do so?
Nelson: They would either come up and whisper in our ear or like the night before one of them would come to the room and discuss the feeling and…
Eenhoorn: ..the character arc.
Nelson: The feeling of the scene. The thing that gets me is that in all of our interviews people want to talk about how this is about two guys retiring but the thing about it is is that I think it’s a lot deeper than that. Because young people can lose their jobs. Young people can get divorced. Young people can lose a loved one and have these same problems and you find a friend that helps you through that. So they’ve got the big stamp that it’s only old people, but that’s not the way this movie. It’s all ages.
Yeah, it’s universal.
Nelson: The thing about it is is the movie, to me, was fun doing even though it was hard work. What made you feel good was people laughing and having a good time during the movie.
There’s a brief moment of conflict, but it was pleasant to see a film this relaxed. Was there anything in the script that inserted more conflict?
Eenhoorn: It stayed pretty true to the bones of the script all the way through. I think Colin is one of those guys that sucks it up until he can’t suck it up any more and he has to say something.
What did you find most relatable in the script?
Eenhoorn: From my point of view, as an actor, I’m not a backstory guy. I strictly go with the words of the script and they lead me to the character. Always. that’s the way I work. And Colin’s character was a good, solid backbone for me. It was well-written, a beautiful script.
I love the dynamic when your cousins come. During that dinner conversation, was that a much longer conversation?
Nelson. Oh, God. Yes.
How long did you shoot that for?
Nelson: Two days.
Eenhoorn: It was a lot of pages and then it was trimmed down. I don’t think half the footage is there.
How many Q&A’s have you done so far?
Nelson: Just two so far.
How has the response been so far?
Nelson: You can’t imagine the people that didn’t leave. That’s what everybody was amazed about.
Eenhoorn: That’s the first clue I saw when I did the premiere. I was amazed.
Nelson: I was amazed by the applause we got. It was thrilling for me to see people the really enjoyed the movie.
Eenhoorn: The real compliment was a question in Salt Lake City and it’s been repeated. He said, “I was watching it and I drifted into this feeling that I was watching a documentary about these two guys.” I think that’s a compliment to both of us, to get that far into a character that they think they’re absolutely real. For me, as an actor, that’s what I’m trying to achieve.
This morning, with it being acquired, how was that news?
Nelson: I didn’t know what that meant. See I’m a surgeon. I’m not an actor. I do surgery three days a week.
Wow. You’ll have to be on the press tour, when it’s released. Right?
Nelson: I didn’t operate for a month when we were up on in Iceland.
Eenhoorn: That’s yet to be sorted out. We’re kind of deliberately out of the loop.
Nelson: We don’t want to know the ins and outs and so forth because, number one, I don’t know how to explain them.
Eenhoorn: You’re the face of the film, but there’s a team that’s behind this film that’s indomitable. From when we shot those 20 pages in Kentucky to David Gordon Green coming on..
When did he come on?
Eenhoorn: The money had been arranged, but the time between pitching and actually shooting in Iceland was amazing. I thought this was a forced to be reckoned with, Gamechanger Films had such an incredibly slick act.
This is their first feature, right?
Nelson: That what’s they said. Yeah. I did an episode of Eastbound & Down. I was an Uncle Al and I had the four nieces and the crazy nephew on that show. I don’t if you watch that show.
Yeah, I’ve watched every episode. I love it.
Nelson: They said I might be in two or three episodes, but I only ended up being in one because David, when Martha went to him, to ask him about how to get funds for our movie, he said, let me see what you’ve done. I was in Martha’s first two movies — see I’m Martha’s cousin — and he saw her two movies and said, ‘Whose the guy with the voice?’ He said, ”I’ve never heard that voice. I want that man’s voice on my show.” Then he flew me to North Carolina.
Have you seen your work on it?
Nelson: No, I don’t have HBO.
I bet you can call David Gordon Green. I’m sure he can arrange that.
Nelson: Well, I feel like I’m an inadequate indian and he’s one of the chiefs. [Laughs] I’m glad you enjoyed the film. That’s what’s important to me. You’ve got to laugh. There’s so many movies now that are so damn depressing and so many people killed and lasered and shot and blown up. When the F word is used a thousand times…
Eenhoorn: It turns you off. It’s not dialogue. It’s not two people talking.
Nelson: It’s trash, as far as I’m concerned.
Eenhoorn: I’m with you totally on that. That’s why I think this film is liked so much.
Nelson: It was done in good taste.
Eenhoorn: If we can talk about pussy in good taste, it was done in good taste. [Laughs]
Nelson: Well, if you’ve never eaten any pussy, you wouldn’t know. [Laughs] Remind me to use that one some day.
Eenhoorn: It’s just a fun film and I’m proud of it and so is this man.
Land Ho! hits theaters on Friday, July 11th and will expand throughout the summer.
Thanks to the combined efforts of Richard Linklater and Ellar Coltrane, those who see Boyhood — and I’m of the mind that anybody with so much as the slightest passing interest must buy a ticket — will be witness to one of the most unique performances ever captured on film. This sounds hyperbolic, I know, but few other qualifications are as immediately applicable to a 160-minute-long, 12-year-spanning journey that wears many different hats with aplomb. At its heart is just one person: Mason, who we meet as a young boy and leave as… well, if not exactly a man, someone with whom we’ve nevertheless experienced more than any normal-length film would seem capable of capturing.
I was pleased to meet Coltrane at SoHo’s Crosby Street Hotel earlier this week, where we talked about both project and performance — though that’s hardly the entirety of it. Boyhood reaches in so many different directions in any given scene — historical, cultural, personal, tonal — that any worthwhile discussion with one of its main creative forces can’t help but bring us many places. With this overlap between title and talk in mind, it’s my hope that what’s provided below will offer some additional insight into a complicated work of art.
The Film Stage: How many interviews have you done today?
Ellar Coltrane: I just did three phone interviews, and I was on The Today Show this morning.
I was hoping to look at that and make sure there wasn’t any overlap between my questions and their own, but I had to rush out the door. We’ll see.
Well, no worries.
Are you tired of talking about yourself? Or at least the whole press thing?
It’s very bizarre; it is. I think I’m coming to terms with it. It was just overwhelming at first, and it’s weird to analyze myself this much — but I also kind of do that all the time, anyways. But I’m becoming more comfortable with it and kind of establishing just, you know, what I want to do, I guess, and being able to be more vulnerable. Because it’s easy to kind of… like you said, I get asked a lot of the same questions, so it’s kind of easy to just slip into giving scripted answers, which I really don’t like. It feels very ingenuine to just kind of regurgitate the same answer over and over again, so I think I’m just getting better at just kind of keeping my mind clear and, you know, being able to just kind of try to be surprised.
How long have you been in New York for?
I just got in last night.
When I boarded a subway to come here, there was an ad hanging at the station.
It was just one of those weird moments. I don’t know if you’ve seen ads for it around town, or…
Yeah. There are a couple of posters up in Austin, which is very, very strange.
Watching this film, it’s interesting how you not only become more prominent as a figure in the film, but — and I say this as a compliment — you become a better presence, as in, a better actor.
Oh, thank you.
To the point where, by the end, I thought it was such a perfectly sustained turn. I’m wondering if you feel the same way — if you felt yourself growing into this role over the years.
Definitely, and I think as the character grew up and, you know, became more of a person and had more to say — and the character required more input — I was also growing up and becoming a person and had more input to give. I definitely think there was a point where I became an active participant as opposed to just a subject.
Was there ever the feeling of wanting to stick around longer, seeing as you’re growing into it more and more?
Yeah. Rick and I have talked a lot about that — just, really, from the second half on, it seemed like every year was the best year we had done. It kind of just got better and better as we all became closer to each other and closer to the project and gained confidence. Maybe me, most of all, as far as gaining confidence, but we all grew — they’re better actors than they were twelve years ago, and I think Rick’s better at making movies. We all kind of grew into ourselves. Definitely. It was sad; as exciting as it was to be done, it was also kind of sad to think that we’re not going to go back and do it this year.
When you get to the final moments, I’d be curious, when you’re shooting the final scene, if there was sort of a pressure to get it right in one take — this moment that’s been led up to for twelve years.
Yeah, and because we needed the sunset. So there was. But I never really felt pressured. By that point, it was so comfortable that… I mean, Rick’s comfort and Rick’s confidence is very infectious. It’s a very relaxed kind of dynamic on the set. But it was — I mean, it was intense. It definitely was to just, simultaneously, what we were doing on camera and just, what I just said — the knowledge that it was coming to an end — and this very important part of my life was just kind of being wrapped-up at that moment, and struggling to appreciate it. Struggling to be there in the moment and, you know, appreciate what I had just done. So it was a bizarre moment.
A viewer has this 160-minute lead-up to the final bit of dialogue, which I already think is one of the great closing lines from any movie.
[Laughs] I like it. It’s good.
It’s almost, at the last second, Linklater acknowledging that this was all very strange, this twelve-year thing. And you started shooting in 2002, playing six, but you’re actually nineteen. So, when it starts, you’re really playing younger.
Yeah. I think the idea was that I was usually about a year — the character was about a year younger than I was. I mean, it was never very specific, but I think that was usually the idea.
So that never had some sort of impact on your performance, playing slightly younger?
Not really. I mean, I was home-schooled growing up, so I think a lot of the, like, divisions between ages that are just really a couple of years apart, I think public school kind of instills that in you. “You are very different and separate from someone who’s a year older than you.” I mean, I always had friends that were all different ages. I never really thought about it, and I think it also kind of helped; part of what Rick thought about, I think, was kind of not having me do anything on camera that I hadn’t already experienced in real life. Just a slight bit ahead, so I had kind of a head start to understand what the character might be going through.
Can you talk a bit about the evolution of how we worked with you, from a kid to basically an adult?
I mean, when I was young, I think a lot of what Rick was doing was kind of just trying to create an environment where me and Lorelei would be comfortable to just be ourselves, because most kinds aren’t, like, super-dramatic. Dramatic, in ways, but they’re not fully formed people yet, and so it’s just kind of capturing these little things about them. As far as the script-writing process: when I was young, I think it was more a matter of Rick just asking me questions and trying to get a feel, sort of vicariously, for what I might be and what kind of experiences he could kind of pull from my life to supplement the character with.
But as I got older — somewhere around halfway through — I became more of an active participant in that process. It was more of a collaboration, where he would kind of come to me with what was going to happen that year, and he very rarely had dialogue written ahead of time. Sometimes. He had his outline, and we would take that and compare it to what I was going through — what things I could reference, and what dynamics were like between me and girlfriends, or my family, or friends. That kind of thing. So I was able to use my experiences to flesh out the character and make him more of a real person.
Were there things you felt uncomfortable sharing and wished to withhold, for the sake of privacy?
Not consciously, really. I’m a pretty open person; I’ve always had a really respectful relationship with my parents, so I never… I don’t know, I never really felt the need to close myself off. But certainly, watching it back, there are things — especially kind of in the teenage years — that I maybe didn’t know I was expressing at the time. You know, just certain aspects of myself and my emotional state that I didn’t know how, like, obvious they were. [Laughs] So that’s a little interesting, to go, “Oh, I didn’t know anybody could see that.”
And do you think other people can see it, or is it just you?
I don’t know, I mean… I mean, definitely, but it’s kind of under the surface. You know, it’s self-conscious, so I definitely think other people see it, and I think that’s why so many people connect to it in such a meaningful way: because there is so much that’s unsaid — there’s just so much that’s just under the surface. Which is amazing. That’s an amazing thing that Rick did, making it — making us comfortable enough to express the same things.
We’re right around the same age, so I was thinking of small signifiers: if his hair’s growing longer, maybe that’s a sign of… not exactly rebellion, but a lot of friends around that time would —
Let their hair grow longer.
You notice personality changes which come with that.
Or if they’re skateboarding, or something, that’s a new facet of their personality which comes around. I feel like these things happened around similar times for my friends. For instance, I was able to place one part as 2007 because of the Soulja Boy cue.
Did you have a lot of say in the music?
No, actually. Rick did a lot of consulting for all of the music, and he asked me & Lorelei [Linklater, the writer-director's daughter and actress portraying Mason's sister], but I don’t think we were much help, because he wanted, you know… I mean, kind of a timestamp. That’s really one of the biggest timestamps that any of the years have, is the music — it kind of lets you know. And neither of us ever really listened to current music. There was an interview with me from the first year, when I’m seven, and he asked me what my favorite bands are, and it’s, like, Tool and System of a Down and Rage Against the Machine. Later it was Pink Floyd and Radiohead and stuff like that. I love all the music. Some of those songs are songs that I like now; I’d never heard of them before and I… but, yeah, I wasn’t quite “on the pulse” of what most kids were into.
So you did home-schooling from 1st to 8th grade, then attended a public high school?
I went to half a year of sixth grade, and, yeah, then I went to two-and-a-half years of high school.
One thing I’ve been curious about: when I first read about this film — in maybe 2007 or so — I was just searching around to learn a bit more, and, in the process, came across your IMDb page. When you were in public school, did friends ever Google your name, for whatever reason, and then found out you were doing this film —
And then you get questions: “what is this thing I found?”
Right. I mean, I don’t know. I mean, the only people that thought to do that were people I had already told about it. But it was weird. I mean, as big a part of my life as it was, it was also, like, a week out of the year, so a lot of times I would forget about it and, like, forget to tell my friends about it. Then I go off to do it, and they’re like, “What are you talking about? What are you doing?” And I’m like, “Oh, right: there’s this weird thing I’m a part of.” My first girlfriend, actually: I was dating her for months, and then I went to go do it, and she was like, “What the fuck are you talking about?” But that’s happening now, you know? I mean, I get texts, every day, with pictures of myself from the Internet, and I’m just… you think I want to see that? I know. Believe me: I really know. But, yeah, people freak out about it. It’s bizarre.
I know you also did a role in Fast Food Nation.
Yeah, real small.
Did that come about from… were they shooting around the same time, or was it just a matter of Linklater calling you up?
Yeah, I think Rick just kind of wanted to just do something with me — just give me a chance to come see a different set. I’m not really sure; maybe I have to ask him. But I think it was just kind of just a little thing to do.
Do you have favorite films by him? I assume you’ve seen most of them by now.
The only ones I haven’t seen are the Before series.
Yeah, amazingly, I haven’t seen any of those. But I’ve seen all the other ones, and I think Waking Life has always been my favorite; that’s a very special film to me. And Slacker, also. I mean, that’s right around the time I was born, and it’s a love letter to Austin. Austin’s home, I know a lot people in that film, and it’s very surreal to watch.
Well, doesn’t an actor from Slacker appear in the film? Later on, when you’re in the Tex-Mex cafe with your girlfriend?
Oh… yeah, I think so. Yeah, maybe the guy that’s talking to himself?
Yeah. Yeah, I remember him; I remember that.
I’d thought, “Maybe these exist in the same universe.”
That’s sort of lovely.
I mean, yeah, Rick has constructed his own little world, and some of us get to inhabit it. [Laughs] Definitely. I think he has his own universe.
And where Mason is at Boyhood’s conclusion kind of dovetails neatly with Slacker. I remember many saying it felt like he could just walk into it by film’s end.
I don’t know if you ever felt that connection.
I mean, never specifically, but even though I haven’t seen the Before series, we also talked about that: that it’s like, maybe Mason gets on a train and goes to Europe and meets a woman. So I certainly have thought about that. It’s kind of this bizarre meta reflection of the other films.
Now that it’s coming out… I had read you were considering pursuing an acting career. Boyhood is a pretty good piece on your résumé, but do you ever feel like this is a good “cap” to the career, too, just because it’s one of the most unique roles any actor has ever had?
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I mean, I don’t feel desperate or pressured to start some kind of career. I think, more than anything, what this has taught me and inspired me to do is just make art, in general. I definitely can be acting — I enjoy acting — but it’s also all kinds of other things, you know, but yeah, it is weird. It would be hard to “top” this experience, so we’ll see.
Really I just want to be lost in the creative process, more than anything, and that’s kind of what I found over the last twelve years, is that that’s really the thing that makes me the happiest: to just be submerged in the process of making something and kind not concerned with the outcome. Working over that long, that’s kind of how it became. I think we, in a way, forgot that it was ever going to come out — it was ever going to be a movie. It was just this experience that we were having, and that’s a beautiful thing.
And then it finally hits you that we’re here.
This movie I’d known about for years and could find hide nor hair of, and now —
[Raises hands] Now it’s a thing. Now everybody knows about it. It’s crazy. It’s crazy.
Boyhood will enter limited release on July 11 and expand from the week of July 18. See the full roll-out plans here.
Capturing the final, heartbreaking months of Roger Ebert’s life and going into the archive to tell his life’s journey, Steve James has crafted a stunning, balanced documentary that’s a must-see for anyone who loves going to the movies — but, more importantly, discussing them afterward. Upon the theatrical and VOD release of Life Itself I was able to speak with the director about creating the film.
We discusses the critic’s legacy, why it was important for him to tell the story the way he did, Ebert‘s relationship with critics, and if that mirrors James‘ own, being in production when Ebert passed, the new cut premiering at Cannes, Chaz Ebert‘s involvement, and much more. Check out the conversation in full below.
Congrats on the movie. I haven’t seen it Sundance, but it was quite a screening. It was a press screening, so it was all critics. I was curious if you’ve sat in on any screenings where it was just critics and what that reaction has been, perhaps different to regular audiences.
Have I sat in on a screening with critics?
No, I haven’t. There have been some critics in screenings that were general public screenings, but I don’t think I’ve been anywhere where they encourage the filmmaker to be in the same room. [Laughs] I would love to. I would to unobtrusively be observing. I heard that press screening at Sundance was very well attended and it went quite well. That’s the word I heard back, but I wasn’t there.
Yeah, it was pretty incredible. How Ebert effected so many of our lives and seeing it with a group that was so effected by him. It’s a very balanced look at his life and that truth and honest takes the film to another level. How important for you was it to show that complete portrait?
I feel like in all the films I do, my goal is to follow someone’s life in some way or understand someone’s life in some way, but I’m not trying to ever do, I hope, a kind of hagiography on someone’s life. That’s not usually what make it interesting, to me. In the case of Roger, when I read his memoir, what I loved about it was the candor, the circuitous journey his life had taken him, the ups and downs, the glory of his drinking days and then having to give it up. The glory of fame, and the importance, that came from the Siskel & Ebert show and the often torturous relationship at the center of it that made it such a success. The way in which different people viewed him. Some people viewed him as a man with too much hubris and other people would say he was the most humane and understanding and humble person they’d ever met. All of that interested me and it was important to show and the fact that he was as candid as he was in his own memoir was a really good sign that he wanted the same thing. In fact, he more than lived up to that.
He obviously had a wonderful relationship with some directors, a few of which are in the film. As a director, I know he championed Hoop Dreams, but I’m curious if you have a similar mindset as him when it comes to critics? Do you read reviews?
Yeah, I only had a friendly, courteous, but professional relationship with Roger over the years even though we were both in Chicago, but I did continue to read him, and I read other critics. I like reading criticism. I’m careful about reading criticism of movies not mine own of movies I want to go see. I’m careful about reading too many of them or even reading the whole review because I really don’t want to have my own opinion influenced by what a critic might say, especially a critic I like. Oftentimes I really go back and read the reviews much more after a movie if the movie warrants it for me, like I really wanted to know what other people thought. I feel like reading criticism over the years, of my own work, has informed it. There are reviews that you read that are positive that have great insight. There are reviews that you read that are positive that don’t have much insight, but I’ll take them anyway. There are reviews that are negative that you feel like the critic completely missed the point. Then there are reviews, sometimes you read them that or more or less negative and you kind of go, well, they are kind of right about that. They put their finger on something that doesn’t quite work. So I have a lot of respect for critics. I probably have too much respect which is why I always remember the negative reviews and the positive ones seem to go out of my head very quickly.
Scorsese is in this, and he also produced this, and you have a few other filmmakers, Ramin Bahrani and Herzog. When the documentary was announced — I’m sure many directors were affected by Ebert and his championing of their films. Was there any requests to you that filmmakers that said they were curious and you had to decline them?
That’s a good question. I don’t remember anyone reaching out to me specifically to say, “Hey, would you please interview me.” Which I’m glad, because it could have been hard because Roger had such a profound influence on so many filmmakers, particularly on filmmakers in the independent world. It’s true. I could have probably interviewed a couple of dozen. You could have made the strong case for a couple of dozen filmmakers that I could have interviewed that he really had an impact on their career, but the bar for me became not just that he had an impact on a filmmaker’s career, but that they had either, at the very least, had had a kind of really significant encounter with him and the way in which he came to their work was extremely meaningful in terms of telling us something about Roger. That’s why Ava Duvernay is in there. Or in the case of Scorsese, it was a real friendship. Or Gregory Nava. These were two filmmakers whose work Roger championed, but also become close friends of Roger. So there had to be more to talk to a filmmaker about then just, he loved my work and why.
In his last years, it was incredible to see him embrace this social media front. He became a source for things that were interesting online related to film criticism. One of my best moments was when he shared an article I wrote early on in my days. This documentary seems like it’s coming at a transition period for criticism and I wonder if you could comment about that and his legacy that is still alive with his website.
Yeah, I think when you look at Roger’s reign from 1967 until last year, in many ways he was very fortunate to have come into reviewing films when he did and then been able to be a part of it and help shape it and define it for so long. I mean, 1967 was a watershed year in American cinema. Mark Harris wrote a book about the five films, which Bonnie and Clyde was one of them, In the Heat of the Night, and there are several others which are escaping me at the moment. The Graduate was one of them. It was watershed year as it was identified as the birth of the New American Cinema and then it was also, though, the rise of a cinephile culture in the states. We started to get and see the works of Truffaut and Antonioni and Fellini and Kurosawa and all these iconic European and Asian directors. So it was a thrilling time to fall in love with movies and Roger was able to traverse that time as a film critic and teach himself to be a scholar at the same time. He started out as anything but. He was just a guy that loved to go to the movies.
So for him to be part of that and then also transform the art of film criticism; first of all, being the first critic to win the Pulitzer, and then he got to the show and transformed the whole idea of what film criticism could mean in the larger culture, was amazing, and then to have this last act where he reinvented and transformed himself again on the internet. It’s pretty remarkable. And one of things I always loved about Roger was that he both looked back with great fondness — and I tried to put this in the movie — on the beauty of appreciating film and all its glory in a theater with 1,000 people and a 10-story high screen. He loved that, as all of us who love movies do, but he didn’t cast dispersions on the reality of where we find ourselves today, where people are going to encounter movies and encounter criticism on the internet, and download movies. He realized that even though that may not be the ideal way to see movies, it is a way in which movies can stay alive and thrive and prosper and we have to embrace it.
You went to Cannes with this film and there was a section added. Is that also going to be on the release or was that strictly for Cannes?
Yes, it is. It’s just a little five-minute section, but I’m really happy with it. We had had a Cannes section in the movie and then I cut it out at a certain point, just because I was trying to shorten the movie and I liked it, but it just kind of went away. Then we kind of retooled it for Cannes and I really like it because it’s very entertaining, but it also allows to feature another review like we do of Bonnie and Clyde and Cries and Whispers and a Bresson film, L’Argent. Even beyond that, it allows us to further define why Gene was so afraid that Roger would leave the show because at Cannes, as his producer tells us in the section, Roger really came into his own and realized he could create television and do media by himself and be very happy with that. It helps to reinforce why Gene was so afraid Roger would give up on the show and leave.
Yes, it’ll eventually be on CNN but it’s not going to be on either at the end of the year or the beginning of next year. It was always our intention, even when CNN came on early, that this film would be a theatrical film first and foremost. Because, number one, it’s about Roger and it’s about the movies, but number two — and you saw, in the press screening, it sounds like you had a bit of this experience — I’ve seen it a number of times with audiences. It’s a really wonderful viewing experience in the theater with other people, because of the humor and because of the poignancy. I’m not saying it’s Lawrence of Arabia.
But I think it’s a film that plays well in a communal setting with other people because it’s what Roger loved and so many people loved Roger.
Absolutely. When Ebert passed, you were already deep into making this movie. Is that correct?
He passed away four months into the making of the movie.
OK, so you hadn’t started editing or anything.
No, I actually begin editing right on the heels of his passing. We had done about two-thirds or more of the interviews at that point so I still had some to go. But I started right after he passed away. I sat down and started to carve out the movie the movie while I collected the remaining interviews.
For the structure, did you mostly use the memoir or did have your own ideas for the flow of it?
The memoir informed the movie in a lot of ways, including the idea of the structure, which was to sort of see life in the present and see it as a springboard in the past, because that’s what he does in the memoir. But the devil is in the details about how you go from one thing to another. That’s always a bit of a trial and error process, but I know, like the memoir, I wanted it to be largely chronological, but I didn’t want to be bound by the chronology because Roger’s life doesn’t fit that box so neatly. For 40 years he went to Cannes. For 40 years he want to the conference on world affairs. He devoted chapters to each of them. So I wanted the film to have that kind of feeling of when we deal with the conference or Cannes we just dive in and deal with it, even though it spanned his lifetime. I love the freedom of that, as someone who edits my own films, I loved the freedom of not, frankly, always being a slave to the narrative chronology of someone’s life.
Just wrapping up, Chaz Ebert has been such a champion of this film and it’s great to see her continue Roger’s legacy. Her strength and stamina must be such an integral part of this process. Can you talk about going on the press tour with her?
First of all, we couldn’t have made the movie without her. She was instrumental in everything that happened in order to get the film made and not just the filming of her and Roger, but access to archival sources and clips from shows. She was just phenomenal. Then, yes, it took several viewings of the film for her to finally really allow herself to watch the film that’s there. But she’s completely embraced it and like you said, she’s been an incredible trooper. She really likes the movie, loves the movie. I think she sees this movie as a part of Roger’s legacy and that’s very important to her.
That’s great. That’s all I have. Thank you so much for talking with me and best of luck with the film. It’s a great work.
Thank you very much. Take care.
Life Itself is now in limited release and available on VOD.
At least every other day when I’m walking around Los Angeles I overhear someone on their phone saying, “I got an audition tomorrow,” “I don’t think the audition went very well,” and plenty of other audition-related conversations. Most of the time their tone isn’t exactly upbeat. After facing rejection and after rejection, it makes sense for aspiring actors — or anyone else trying to make it in the industry, for that matter — to be a little down on themselves. Plus, sometimes Los Angeles feels like a city constantly poking you in the eye with stick.
And yet, there’s plenty to love about this city, especially when the right people manage to break into the industry. Writer/Director Lorene Scafaria is one of those people, but, like most aspiring filmmakers without connections, it wasn’t an easy journey. Although the co-star of a new sci-fi drama, Coherence, makes her living off screenwriting, she’s had past acting experiences that have been inspiring, or, in the worst cases, draining.
Scafaria recently discussed these experiences with us, in addition to her disappointment with modern comedies, how she became involved with Coherence, and America’s desire to see beautiful people on film.
Here’s what the writer/director behind Seeking a Friend for the End of the World had to say in part two of our interview with her (read part one here):
Do you enjoy acting?
I like it. I couldn’t call myself an actor, though. I don’t audition or hit the pavement. I feel like I would insult actors if I called myself an actor. This was such a great opportunity, though. I met [director] Jim [Byrkit] because I did this roundtable for Rango with [director] Gore Verbinski. We basically sat around a table for a week with Jim and all these Simpsons writers. I was the only girl there, which is usually the case for a lot of roundtables. It was the most fun I’ve had doing something like that. You wanted to impress Gore Verbinski so bad. There was a bell in the middle of the table, which he’d ding if he particularly loved a joke. I just wanted that bell to ring so bad [Laughs].
[Laughs] He’s a quiet guy, so you know if you got a big reaction out of him, it must’ve been a good joke.
Totally. I kept calling Jim the wrong name at the roundtable, because I thought he was the screenwriter. Anyway, he did so much story writing on it and did some character voices on it. He was really Gore’s righthand man. I was impressed with how his mind worked. We stayed in touch, but it was at least a year after that when he asked if I wanted to be in this film. It sounded more like an experimental thing than anything else. He had shot a shorter version of it with the same seven people, but his wife played the part that I played. She was nine months pregnant by the time he was about to shoot the film, so he asked if I would play the the part.
Everyone had met, except for me. When he told me I was going to play Nicholas Brendon‘s wife I was in. I was the biggest Buffy fan ever. I used to have a Xander trading card. All I needed to hear is I’d be Xander’s wife. That guy’s a riot. He did not disappoint. I wish I could tell 16-year-old me, “Listen, you’re going to get to play his wife in a low-budget sci-fi drama!”
I showed up at this house and they shot it on these little cameras. All I remember is we had to take our shoes off, because there’s no shoes allowed in the house. We were all in our socks, making it feel like it wasn’t really happening [Laughs]. I really didn’t know what was going on. He didn’t really let us know many details as the film was going. We just knew we were having a casual conversation and what we’d have to mention. It was so fun to keep everything natural and loose. I certainly preferred filming those first two days best, before the mania of the film takes over and then I’m saying, “Oh my God.” [Laughs]
I read another acting experience of yours was playing an extra on Stuart Little 2. Is that correct?
I really was. I was a struggling actor in New York. I wanted my SAG card so badly and was doing extra work for the money. Weirdly all the movies I was in have numbers in the title. Did you see 15 Minutes with Robert De Niro?
It sounds familiar.
I had a really weird time there. I was an extra on The Sopranos and had the time of my life. James Gandolfini was the nicest person I had ever come across. He was actually responsible for getting me my SAG card. I forget how, but he got me an audition. With Stuart Little 2 I remember they said we had to wear Fall colors. It’s a scene where in Central Park Stuart is chased by a hawk. Basically a tennis ball was moving through central park and we all had to move out of the way and go, “Whoa!” [Laughs]
[Laughs] That’s a very convincing “whoa.”
[Laughs] Pretty good, right? It was hysterical. I did 10 or 15 extra work jobs in New York before I moved to Los Angeles. It’s interesting, because at that time it felt like everybody wanted to be an actor. There’s so much competition, so you feel like it’ll never work out. Truly being an extra made me feel terrible about myself, but it made me look around and say, “Is this the competition? Because I feel like 20% of these people are homeless and here for the food.” I was there for the food too, but doing Stuart Little 2 made me feel I could get ahead.
My worst and last experience was on 13 Going on 30. I had a meeting with the director six months before about a script I wrote. Gary Winik, who passed away, was very nice to me and passed on my script. Six months later I was on the set and I turn around and see him and two producer women. They were looking at my ass, deciding if it was good enough for me to be upgraded to “thong girl.” The answer was: no [Laughs].
[Laughs] That’s terrible. Were they speaking loudly enough for you to hear them?
They were speaking loudly enough for me to know what was happening. Now when I watch the movie that scene starts with the girl wearing the thong practically over her ribs. I remember that day when it happened I thought, “This is my last day of extra work.” I didn’t go back the next day, even though it was a big dance number. I thought I was all set. It put some hair on my chest. It was pretty bad [Laughs].
[Laughs] I hope you treat your extras better.
I don’t treat the extras that way. I look at them and think, “This isn’t easy.” Out here everyone is dead serious. People are trying. I can’t say the most trained actors in the world are out here in L.A., but they’re people with dreams. I couldn’t possibly feel more for extras and bit players and all of that. Also, I would be nervous. When there’s that moment where they have one line to get right, it’s just, “Oh man, get it right…” I’m rooting for everybody. I feel bad for people in every role.
The greatest thing about a movie set is it’s 100 people with different sets of skills. For me, that’s what made it less scary: I could look around and see there was all kinds of specialists in everything I don’t know about.
[Laughs] It’s funny hearing that 13 Going on 30 story, because in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Norah has that line about not wanting to go into the music business, because she’s worried she’ll stop loving music. Is it the same for film?
Yeah. I think it’s come back around for me, but for a while it was hard not to watch a movie without pulling it apart, knowing what’s suppose to happen or rewriting it yourself. At first, I was losing my love for storytelling. Seeing what gets rewarded is hard. Sometimes I feel ambition is something that gets squashed. Even with the movies that get praise I think, “Oh, that was so down the middle! It’s so easy!”
When you’re making a film stars have to align. Then after marketing, which is where I think dreams go to die, and it’s released into the wild, I think, “Is this of the moment?” I have gotten that love back, though. I love movies so much. After Seeking a Friend I was so sad thinking the kind of movies I like weren’t getting made anymore. I dream of the 1990s.
I saw Pulp Fiction six times in the theater. My mind was blown by David Fincher and Sam Mendes. Now I think it’s coming back. Like, with Steve McQueen, I can’t fucking wait to see what he does next. I’m too excited about different filmmakers and getting surprised. With actors we’ve imported a lot of great ones, which is also inspiring.
It’s not always about what wins or does the best, for sure. I get excited to see movies like Locke or Under the Skin that inspire you, and the same goes for television. I just watched Breaking Bad in all of two weeks. In one day we watched 12 episodes. When it was over, I thought, “I don’t know who I’m going to be anymore! I’m like Hank with his minerals!” [Laughs] There’s too much good stuff to be put off by shit being pushed to the top.
It’s sad what’s happened to some of those ’90s filmmakers. I mean, now Nick Cassavetes has to make The Other Woman.
Was that good? I love Leslie Mann.
It’s so bizarrely bad, you gotta see it. It’s really mean-spirited and misogynistic.
That’s what I guessed it’d be like. Obviously I want woman stories and woman comedies to come out, but I mean…what are we saying [with those kind of films]? Everything is so mean-spirited. I’ve never enjoyed that so much. I think I was the one person who didn’t like Ted. Of course it crushed Seeking a Friend six days after it came out, so maybe that had something to do with it [Laughs].
There has to be another way to make people laugh. I think of all genres comedy is what’s lacking most. I’m proud and impressed by people like Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who help us keep comedy alive. It may not even be the kind of comedy I would be doing, but it’s good for human beings, young parents, and the manchilds of the world [Laughs].
[Laughs] I really miss Albert Brooks’ tone for comedies. When you mentioned the script about your mother, the first thing I thought of was Albert Brooks’ Mother.
He’s the one. I meant to say his name before. That’s the person whose movies I miss the most. I couldn’t watch Broadcast News more often. It’s really bizarre how much I watch that movie. I feel like all the movies I love would never get made today, and that’s hard for me. I do think romantic comedies have been ruined by: let’s put two giant stars in this 40 million dollar high-concept movie about newspaper against newspaper. At the same time, what happened to talking about relationships? I miss romantic films and comedies, so there has to be a way to bring that genre back, without dumbing down or saying the wrong things. I think what a movie says isn’t something we think about too often [Laughs]. I think about… not necessarily the themes of what I’m writing, but the whole of whatever it’s trying to say.
It’s funny you say that, because when I interviewed Rob Corddry for Seeking a Friend he tore the ending of Grease apart. The moral of that movie is basically: if you dress a certain way, everybody will love you. It’s weird to be shown that as a kid.
Exactly. You’re not really thinking about what that means as a kid. She puts on those tight leather pants and everything works out.
[Laughs] I think that is the most valuable lesson.
Especially in Hollywood.
Well, not even Hollywood. Hollywood is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot. I saw this article recently that was blaming casting directors for casting exclusively beautiful women. First of all, the casting directors have very little to do with that. They certainly make suggestions and have input, but they are not responsible for how beautiful an actress in your film is. That’s certainly from studio heads, but, to me, that’s America. America wants to see beautiful people. Sometimes you hear people say how the images of beauty in Hollywood are corrupting America, but I think it might be the other way around.
I’ve lived in Los Angeles long enough to know insecurity is running rampant here [Laughs]. I think Hollywood is trying to keep up with America’s demands for beauty. I don’t know how much you can blame Hollywood. It seems like a worldwide epidemic, that women are valued for their beauty and male actors are paid more. That’s just how it is, but obviously it deserves to be fought. I think Hollywood being used as a curse word is pretty funny, because I think it may just be the representation of a larger problem.
This is a sad note to end this interview on.
[Laughs] Totally depressing! Women will never get ahead! No, women just have to fight twice as hard. That’s all…
Coherence opens in limited release on June 20th.