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20 Things We Learned From Andrew Dominik’s Candid Jesse James Revival Q&A

Written by on December 10, 2013 

With a domestic box office gross of just under $4 million and a theatrical roll-out of around 300 theaters, chances are strong only a small portion of those reading this article got to experience Andrew Dominik‘s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford on the big screen. In the six years since its release, the 2007 western is considered a masterpiece by many — including yours truly — but it was one individual that had bigger plans than simply letting its cult status slowly build in the years to come.

The creator of the Jesse James Revival, Jamieson McGonigle, finally got to see the beginning of his dream come true, when Astoria’s Museum of the Moving Image held the movement’s inaugural screening this past weekend. Attended by the director, what followed the screening was a candid, fascinating 40-minute Q&A. While most filmmakers are conditioned to speak about their recent projects in a positive light due to the press events being tied to a release, it was a no-holds-barred talk for Dominik.

Walking us through the process of development, shooting, and the extensive, troubled post-production / release, Dominik goes in-depth on the joys and heartbreak related to the film. As announced ahead of the screening, there will also be one more chance to hear Dominik talk openly about the film: another Jesse James Revival showing is set for February 15th at Los Angeles’ Egyptian theater, but today we also have an extensive recap of his Q&A. Detailing 20 notable revelations, proceed with reading below, and check back for more Jesse James Revival updates as they arrive.

1. Warner Bros. were sold on the pairing of Brad Pitt and Jesse James, not the script.

“I was just in a second-hand book store in Melbourne and I was with a friend of mine and we were looking for books to read,” Dominik said, recounting his first encounter with Ron Hansen‘s novel of the same name. He went on to say, “I read the first page and some of it was the narration in the movie and I was hooked on it. I was trying to make another movie in Hollywood at the time and I just couldn’t get it going. It sort of fell apart and I was sort of in a state of desperation and I just had read that book and said, ‘well, I just read this book about Jesse James.’ And my agent heard Jesse James like Batman — ‘I’m sure I can sell that to somebody — and you understand why Warner Bros. were excited about it. They heard Jesse James and Brad Pitt and the last thing they were expecting was that film. That’s where all the trouble began.”

Talking more about why exactly Warner Bros went for it, he went on to say, “Back then I was this guy who made Chopper, which was this cool indie movie and [now] I’m making Brad Pitt/Jesse James. Now they read the script, they don’t like it. They think, ‘oh, it’s a bit fruity.’ But Brad wants to do it and it’s going to cost less than $40 million and if we let it go and Paramount do it and they make an Oscar-winning movie, then we’ll look fucking stupid. We need Brad, really, to do the next two Ocean’s movies so fuck it, we’ll do it. Then they don’t think about it again until they see it. Then they think, ‘what the fuck did we do?'”

2. A sad Brad Pitt took a leap with Jesse James.

With Pitt jumping aboard the film not only as a producer, but as an actor, Dominik revealed what made the A-lister a perfect fit for the material. He said, “If you sit with Brad he’s got this real congenital sadness about him. I don’t know where it comes from, but that’s something that he has and that’s the quality I thought Jesse should have.” When it came to Pitt’s character he said, “He’s obviously a really depressed guy who’s just wandering around in the ashes. He’s a hunted outlaw. He seems to feel trapped and half the time he’s trying to protect himself and the other half the time, going, “what’s the use?” I see him as a guy who’s deeply depressed. His behavior all seems like that and they are surrounded by all these freaks, real bottom of the barrel wannabe dudes. And his own children did not know their father was Jesse James. They thought their father’s name was Tom Howard.”

Opening up more about Pitt’s producing path he said, “Brad wants to be in good movies. I think he has very mixed feelings about the films that made him famous. He’s a person who has impeccable taste, loves good stuff. He’s interested in cinema, so he watches all the movies that are made all around the world.” Dominik went on to say he was one of the people he reached out to, presumably after seeing his Australian break-out hit Chopper. He also talked about the formation of Pitt’s production company called Plan B and added, “what’s that about is being able to make movies that he gives a shit about. And they’ve done really well, making films with Steve McQueen and Terrence Malick. They are fantastic films. But I was kind of the first pancake in the batch. Plan B might have made other movies before, but it was the first one that Brad Pitt did as an actor. At the time, maybe it was a vanity company — that’s the way it could be viewed, but it wasn’t. It’s become a great company.”

3. Terrence Malick called Jesse James slow, but Dominik doesn’t believe that’s an adjective that can be used for Malick’s films.

Once again bringing up The Tree of Life director, he said, “Terrence’s movies aren’t slow. I think it’s a mistake. People think of Terry Malick movies as slow, but they’re not. They are cut really fast. They don’t have a lot of dialogue. People say it’s like a Terry Malick movie, but I don’t really think like it is.” Dominik went on to say, “The film I always think of it is Barry Lyndon, which is the idea of fate and everything’s inexorable and you can’t really get away from it.” Jumping back to Malick’s view, he said, “But, he did think it was slow. It’s like alcoholics — do I say, don’t do as I do. Directors are almost like the children of abusive parents that want to grow and abuse their own children. They say that directors make the worst producers.”

4. Most actors that auditioned for Robert Ford played the part like Travis Bickle, but not Casey Affleck.

Moving from Pitt to Casey Affleck, Dominik said the actor, “was certainly the only [one] hat came in and did it. All these young actors were coming in and were basically doing Travis Bickle kind of things and it was clearly not that. If you see a photo of him, Bob looks like a 14-year-old boy. It was that scared kid who lived in a fantasy land and wanted to own the spot that he stands on and that’s what I was looking for. Plus his voice is just so fantastic. In a way I was watching it and I was thinking it was sort of a coming-of-age drama. He sort of comes into his own. He’s got these fantasies about what it would be like to be famous. He discovers what it’s actually like through the course of the movie. It’s sort of horrible and humiliating. It makes a better person of him, I think. It’s the feeling I get about Bob.”

The queue shortly before Jesse James Revival kicks off at the Museum of Moving Image.

5. The cast and crew is not there to help the director make the film, according to Dominik.

When asked about his process in working with the cast and crew, Dominik said, “You have to talk to every actor differently. One of the things I learned on Chopper was that the crew and the actors, everybody is not there to help the director make the film. The director is there to help everybody else make the film. You have to be whatever each actor requires. It’s not like you can have some theory of what directing is. You can have it for some people, but some people don’t respond to that shit. You have to work out what each person needs. But as a director, first of all, what I try to do is see what’s going on for all the people. Then I try to get the actors to feel that, by whatever way we can get there.”

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