“The tortoise was very responsive to strawberry juice.” John Carroll Lynch ‘Lucky’ Interview (THN)

Out today is Lucky, a very personal comedy-drama about a man at the end of his years coming to terms with life in a remote part of America. Playing the title character is the man who inspired it, the late great Harry Dean Stanton, in his final starring role.

Actor-turned-director John Carroll Lynch was tasked with bringing Lucky’s story to the screen. Lynch is well known as Norm Gunderson from the Coen BrothersFargo, as well as Twisty the Clown in American Horror Story. He’s worked with the best in the industry for decades, from Michael Keaton (The Founder) to Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino). We sat down with John to talk about this ambitious directorial debut and what it was like working with Harry Dean, as well as supporting actor and namesake David Lynch

THN: What brought you to Lucky’s door?

John Carroll Lynch: My friend Drago (Sumonja) was one of the writers, I had known Logan (Sparks, co-writer) as well and the two of them approached me as an actor to play one of the roles in the film as they were trying to put it together. Then a couple of months later, because Drago knew I had wanted to direct for quite a while, they came back to me and asked if I would direct the film. I really loved the script, I thought it was really good and Harry was already attached to play Lucky, which is not surprising because they based it on him. It didn’t take me long to say yes.

You’ve worked with many great directors over the years. For your directorial debut, you had Harry Dean Stanton, who’s worked with everyone, and David Lynch on top of that… you must have been very confident or very nervous, or both! What was it like…?

The opportunity to work with great people has always been attractive to me, and it’s been true since I started out as an actor. Great people, being great at their jobs make you better, in terms of how they come to the set or the stage to work, but they also teach you about how you could do that too. All of that was attractive to me, not distracting.

The film was shot at a rapid pace of eighteen days. When you’re doing your directorial debut, try to find an actor as good as Harry Dean Stanton to play your lead… do that first! See if that doesn’t cover a lot of your problems. That being said, I knew I had a leg up, once the cast came together and once David said yes I turned to Ira Steven Behr one of the producers and said: “Now I’m the only person who can f*ck this up!”

Gratefully it came out the way it did and people have responded…so many people get an opportunity to do their first film and they’re very good but nobody sees them. And with this one, it’s played all over the world, particularly in Europe because of Harry and David’s fan association there. In terms of how the movie unfolds, it’s a very European film.

Let’s talk about David Lynch… he’s known as an actor but in his own projects. What was it like directing him outside of his own universe?

Well, he loved Harry, he was one of his best friends. They had met when Harry was doing a film… interestingly enough Terrence Malick was in the first class at the American Film Institute and David Lynch was in the second. Terrence Malick had gotten more notes than Harry Dean Stanton to do his student film, which is shocking, the idea of that makes me laugh. They met when David came to observe one of Terrence’s shooting days, so they’d known each other since 1970. He had been in, I think, seven of his projects, and that’s the reason he’s in the film. We had been looking for somebody to play Howard and it was Harry who suggested him.

When he came to the set we were barely able to get him for any amount of time. But he agreed to it, he came to the set and it was the first time I had spoken to him directly. He came so well prepared and so steeped in the material. He had done a bit of adjusting to make it easier for him to read and it was a beautiful adjustment he had made. I know I should have been more worried, more intimidated, but he made it easy not to be. And also because it was close to the end of the picture and my focus was on Harry he really made it so simple. He came, and he made a Howard who was so disarming and innocent, which I thought was surprising given the rest of his work! (Laughs)

In the opening shot, a tortoise has to crawl across the frame. I was thinking that must have been either quite easy or extremely difficult to shoot. What’s it like to direct a tortoise?

The tortoise was very responsive to strawberry juice. (Laughs) So we tried to bribe the tortoise by putting strawberry juice on various rocks that it would smell and move towards. It didn’t always do that, so we have a lot of extra material where we’re resetting the tortoise and resetting the tortoise and resetting the tortoise! That choice of shot is important because it teaches the audience how to watch the movie. Almost all first shots in movies teach you how to watch them, and that was no exception.

 

This interview first appeared on THN.

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“My next picture could be a remake of Howard’s End…” Greg McLean ‘Jungle’ Interview (THN)

Out to own is Jungle, the knuckle-gnawing true story of adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg. Ghinsberg was stranded in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, where he faced a terrifying ordeal battling the elements for his very survival.

Daniel Radcliffe plays Yossi in the movie, which is directed by Wolf Creek‘s Greg McLean. We sat down for a chat about raging rapids, rugged Radcliffes and the inhospitable climes of Wolf Creek Season 2…

THN: The film is something of a departure for you. What drew you to the project?

Greg McLean: I wanted to make a movie where people were trying to save a life rather than take it. (Laughs) A lot of my films have been horror films. I thought the true story was incredible, it was very inspiring. When I first read it I thought what these guys did and how it happened was very moving and it was something worth trying to capture on film and share it with audiences.

What involvement did Yossi Ghinsberg have with the production?

He was very involved. He came down to Colombia and Australia where we shot it and was there the whole time. We spent the day together at first, getting to know each other and talking through everything in great detail. Then we went through the script line by line with me saying “Okay this is what the script says. What actually happened?” Just so I knew that going into the film I was completely armed with everything I could possibly get to give us the reality. Then often I would change things, back to his book. Because the book is a virtual telling of the story, obviously from Yossi’s point of view. But it’s a very clear telling of what went down. I was trying to be as accurate as I could.

How did Daniel Radcliffe come to be cast?

Someone mentioned Daniel and we looked at the movies he’d been doing. He’d been giving some fantastic performances and was seeking out different roles. He loved the character and what the movie presented as an acting challenge. He’s someone who’s looking for challenging projects and this was one!

What scenes were the most difficult to film?

The scene with the guys stuck on the rock and then going down the rapids was pretty massive. It was really dangerous, we didn’t have a green screen. We were clinging to a rock in a raging river, I was just very, very anxious about that. Because if you fell in that water you wouldn’t be coming out. I didn’t want to lose actors in that river or I’d’ve been in trouble! (Laughs) That was hard work. It was necessary to make it feel as real as we could, short of chucking them in the water and seeing if they survived or not.

How long did you have to spend in the jungle each day?

The sun would come up, then we’d work all day till it went down. We’d rehearse then drive up to the mountains, to these villages around Bogotá (Colombian capital). It was a three hour bus drive along these tiny little roads. We’d get up before dawn and go out to these remote locations. It was fairly crazy! Pretty rugged.

If you were shooting there again, is there anything you would do differently?

No, we were pretty lucky with our cast and crew, they were all incredible troupers, throwing themselves into everything. For such a complex, challenging shoot I think we did pretty damned well to get out of it all alive with no casualties. The opportunity for danger was around us all the time, especially with the rafting sequence.

Your movies are generally set in inhospitable environments. Will you ever make something set in, say, a coffee shop?

I really want to! My goal is to make a movie set in like a Downton Abbey-style location. That would be my dream. (Laughs) I do love being outdoors and using the elements to tell stories but I certainly am drawn to telling other stories as well. So maybe my next picture could be a remake of Howard’s End or something.

That I would like to see.

I could throw in some zombies to beef it up a bit.

Indeed! Crucially, what did Yossi and the guys make of the finished product?

Yossi and Kevin saw it and loved it. They thought that the portrayal of them was really accurate. I think they were impressed with it. My intention was to tell their story as truthfully as I knew how to. What those guys went through was pretty amazing and I think they were happy with the result.

What was it like working with James Gunn on The Belko Experiment, which was a long-gestating project?

That was a script he wrote many years ago when he was first starting out. Everyone loved it but they were too scared of it. He was called about it later on but was busy doing Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2 so he went out to look for a director. I pitched to him and he really loved it. He’s a great collaborator. He’s basically a film fanatic, which I am as well. I think being a director himself he was cool in terms of what that role needs. If you gel with someone you kind of just leave them alone. You help them but ultimately you let them make the movie.

I’d like to move on briefly to talk about Wolf Creek. What can you tell us about Season 2?

It’s a completely new storyline from scratch. It starts a bigger story arc that may continue if we go into a new season. The basic concept is about an international tours coach in the Outback. They encounter Mick Taylor and all sorts of craziness happens from there! It’s a character-based thriller and incredibly fun.

Mick Taylor is a well-developed character, which you’ve expanded from movies into TV and also books. What is the secret behind his longevity?

There’s the true crime element… a lot of it is drawn from true life cases. His psychology is fairly accurate to real serial killers from Australia. Also I feel people are fascinated by the nature of evil and he is a purely evil character. We’re drawn to try and understand that. Plus he’s a character audiences love to hate!

 

This interview appeared on THN.

“I love watching old movies…” Stephen Woolley Interview, ‘Their Finest’ (THN)

Their Finest is out to buy this week. Starring Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin and Bill Nighy, it tells the story of British propaganda during the Second World War and the strong bond developed between people from all walks of life in the face of conflict.

This warm-hearted and intelligent film is co-produced by the legendary Stephen Woolley (A Company Of Wolves and The Crying Game amongst others), who with Amanda Posey and Elizabeth Karlsen delved into the archives and uncovered the fascinating truth behind the celluloid war effort. We caught up with Stephen for an in-depth chat about the production…

THN: How did the project come to your attention?

Stephen Woolley: I was given the book (Their Finest Hour And A Half by Lissa Evans) and I loved it. The humour of it was exactly on my level. People were saying “You’d love it because it’s about old movies”, which is true. The BBC came on board, we’d produced Made In Dagenham and Great Expectations with them, and it really just blossomed from there.

We took a long time trying to get to the heart of the script because it was the story of a few characters, like a tapestry. It was a question of trying to find the right scenes for them. And the important thing as well was a lot of research went into it. I started to get quite fascinated myself! I realized that despite my enthusiasm I hadn’t seen these many of the films. So I set off…there were around 250-300 made during this period and I tried to watch every one of them, going into the archives. A lot of them were taped off the TV in the Eighties and Nineties, they were really hard to find. I was having collectors send them in… comedies and action pictures. Material about the Home Guard. It was a great process – I had a brilliant time to be honest, I love watching old movies.

So this was a combination of theatrical movies made at the time and propaganda pieces?

Well everything made at that time had to go across the desk of the Ministry of Information, which had to be approved. And they set up this company of filmmakers and producers… for example they made a film in 1943 called The Demi-Paradise with Laurence Olivier as a lovely Russian! Because Russia had just joined the war and they needed some propaganda to endorse them, everything before had been very anti-Russian. It’s very funny. Actually one of my favourites is Millions Like Us (also 1943), which was made to encourage women to go and work in factories, that’s a fantastic film.

They made all these short films which were pure propaganda, informational films. And they didn’t work. People thought they were boring. They didn’t want to be told what to do by people who were stars or who talked in very posh accents. The filmmakers had to realign what they were doing, and all these people like Michael Powell and Anthony Asquith, Sidney Gilliat jumped on board to create these films that would entertain and at the same time put out a message.

It was so different from propaganda in that sense, as we know it now. In those days it wasn’t really a dirty word. It became a dirty word during and after the war because of the way Germans used propaganda, it used to be an honest word. In fact, regarding the use of Dunkirk in the film, Churchill actually didn’t want anything made about that at the time. They were worried it was viewed as a retreat. Our film took the premise that they did decide to make a film about Dunkirk.

Was Millions Like Us, with its pro-female message, an inspiration for your film?

There is a short film that inspired The Nancy Starling (the fictional movie within Their Finest), which is a short film about a woman played by Peggy Ashcroft, who goes to help rescue her husband from Dunkirk (Channel Incident, 1940). It was interesting when Christopher Nolan’s movie opened because there are strong similarities, not that… our beach is less ambitious than his beach! But the idea of how Dunkirk became propagandized, to say it was a victory.

In the publicity the film looks bright and breezy but I found it quite subtle and intelligent. Is that down to the director Lone Scherfig?

Yeah. Lone did an amazing job, I think the fact she’s from Denmark and not the UK meant she was trying to make it from her perspective and pay tribute to those old movies she loved. Our great inspiration, apart from the script, was the cinema of that time, and that idea that no matter how bad things got you had to dig yourself out. The final act of the film – which I won’t talk too much about! – of what Gemma (Arterton)’s character had to go through, captures what was happening to people at the time.

We were trying to make a film that audiences today would like, but also one that might have been made at that time as well. There’s a parallel thing going on, the film within the film, and then our film. We got away with a lot of humour with the character of Ambrose (Bill Nighy) in that situation. A lot of those scenes look like they were made in 1943…

The footage from The Nancy Starling looks very authentic. Did you have fun recreating that era of moviemaking and those methods of production?

I enjoyed it very much. I read a lot of books about filmmaking during that period. We embraced the closeness of strangers, a group of people making something while there was a bloody war going on. They were away from the conflict but there was a spirit of camaraderie that was going through the country at the time. What people maybe don’t understand is that the war was terrible but it brought together all classes, all sexes. Everyone was saying things like “I don’t care if you’re a woman and you drive a truck”.

The film is an ensemble but it has three big names at the top – Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin and Bill Nighy. How did you come to cast the lead characters?

Well I’d worked with Gemma before on Made In Dagenham The Musical and also Byzantium. I’ve always been a fan of hers. Lone had wanted to cast Gemma in a few movies but it had never worked out. I knew Bill a bit socially and I love Bill, I was desperate to work with him so he was my number one choice for Ambrose. I was thrilled he loved the script. And Sam… I really liked The Riot Club, the film Lone had made and I suggested him to her. She thought he was maybe too young but even though he’s a young guy Sam has one of those faces. He’s got this weight in his eyes… he’s a bit of a bloke. He’s not like Benedict Cumberbatch, he’s a different type of actor, more in that Forties mould. We lucked out, we got all the people we wanted. And of course we had a great supporting cast: Jeremy Irons, Helen McCrory, Richard E. Grant, Paul Ritter…

How has your view of the industry, particularly the UK film industry, changed over the decades…?

We’re still making films, which is good news! People are still going to the cinema. But television is being watched more than ever, it’s come of age. Many movie directors are now working for Netflix, Amazon… there’s not the same delineation that there was. I think a lot of the films that I’ve made, like A Company Of Wolves and The Crying Game, would probably be made for TV now. In those days you had the ‘X’ certificate. Imagine A Company Of Wolves now… you could show it to a twelve year-old, without them even blinking! So there’s been a big sea change and we’ve got to fight really hard to really preserve cinematic drama, like with The Limehouse Golem, which I’ve got coming up with Bill Nighy again. You have to remember that you’re making cinema and not television. You need money for period film and to make it work in the cinema. I’m always conscious of that medium. You’ve got to make your mark. There’s still a big audience for it.

 

This interview first appeared on THN.