Kevin Smith: Silent Bob No More

Kevin Smith is coming back to Montreal to show his thriller Red State and talk up a storm (August 11, 2011)

It’s been a great summer for local Kevin Smith fans, one that started when his latest movie, Red State, opened Fantasia in mid-July. “I’m so fucking mad that I missed that screening,” says the filmmaker. “You watch any movie in Canada, you always get a better reaction than you do in America, and I haven’t seen any of my shit in Montreal since way back in the day, in 1994, when the World Film Festival showed Clerks.”

After doing a live recording of SModcast at Just for Laughs on July 28, Smith will finally get a chance to see Red State in Montreal this weekend during the kick-off of the Red Province Tour, a pan-Canadian series of screenings followed by Q&A sessions. He also plans to come back here more regularly in the future. “I’ll be honest with you, and it’s kind of a shameful thing to admit,” says Smith, giggling over the phone, “but it wasn’t until recently that I realized how fucking close Montreal is to Toronto. I’ve been going to Toronto all these years, my friend Malcolm [Ingram] lives there, and one day I was talking about Montreal and I was like, ‘We’d need, like, a day to go.’ And he’s like, ‘What do you mean, a day? You get on the 401 and you’re there in five or six hours.’ I said, ‘You’re kidding me! Why haven’t we been going all this time?'”

 

“Now with the proximity to Toronto revealed and my huge love of hockey, I can tell you I’ll be spending a lot of time in Montreal in the coming year,” he assures. “You know, I’m making Hit Somebody next, it’s a hockey movie set in Canada and, when you talk about Canada and hockey, you can’t not talk about Montreal. So I got to spend time up there so I can get the feel, soak it in and whatnot.”

CHURCH AND STATE

Inspired by Fred Phelps, the Westboro Baptist Church and their bullshit “God Hates Fags” campaign, but also by the Waco siege and the U.S. government’s post-9/11 excesses, Red State is a violently nihilistic film that goes back and forth between horror, action and black comedy, all the while blasting away at religion and politics.

“Since Red State was going to be about satirizing religious fundamentalism and all the other extremisms that we deal with down here, it wasn’t going to be the same approach that I would take for Clerks or Mallrats,” explains Kevin Smith. “Suddenly it’s like, ‘Okay, it’s not going to look like anything else I do, what should it look like?’ And then I started thinking, ‘Hey! I always wanted to make a grown-up movie – that’s what I call Quentin [Tarantino]’s movies and the Coen brothers’ stuff – maybe this is the framework for that.’ It came at a time when I was like, ‘I’ve made enough Kevin Smith movies, I’d love to try to make one that’s not a Kevin Smith movie.'”

Red State also marks the return of Smith to the world of truly independent filmmaking; it’s the first picture since Clerks that he’s made without studio backing. And after the film’s controversial premiere at Sundance last January, he brandished a hockey stick that once belonged to his hero Wayne Gretzy and announced that he would self-distribute it, starting with a 15-city U.S. tour, not unlike the one he’s about to embark on in Canada.

“[I figured that] if I just take it to my audience, I think I can play this game financially smarter for this movie and come out ahead of things,” Smith says. “I know how to reach my audience. I reach them on Twitter, I reach them through my podcasts, and I reach them when I tour and do Q&As all the time.” And it worked – between the U.S. tour, foreign sales (including to Phase 4 Films in Canada) and a video-on-demand deal with Lionsgate, Red State is already in the black. “We don’t have a marketing budget, so all we had to make back is the $4-million [production budget], and we made over that. That means every dollar we make from here on out is profit on the movie.”

The 41-year-old writer-director also hopes to drum up Oscar buzz for Michael Parks and his riveting portrayal of Pastor Abin Cooper, the main antagonist of Red State. As such, he set up an Academy qualifying run of the film at the Tarantino-owned New Beverly Theatre in L.A. “If you can show me five better performances [in the Best Supporting Actor category] than Michael Parks’ this year, I’ll eat my fucking hat,” promises Smith. “Come on! That’s acting of the highest calibre. Unfortunately it’s stuck in a Kevin Smith movie! But even if you don’t like that movie, you’ve got to respect the work that went into his performance, as well as John Goodman’s performance, Melissa Leo, the kids [Michael Angarano, Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun], Kerry Bishé… You can’t deny this cast.”

TALKING HEAD

Up next, Kevin Smith will be shooting what he claims will be his final film, the aforementioned Hit Somebody, which will reunite much of the Red State cast, including Michael Parks as a French-Canadian coach. “If you ever saw Twin Peaks, [Parks] played one of the Renault brothers and he had this beautiful French-Canadian accent,” he says. “So I told him, ‘Dude, I have a role for you, you’re a tough-as-nails, ice-cold coach with this low rumbling French-Canadian accent.’ He put it on for me and it was fucking beautiful.”

Smith also has a new book, with the working title Tough Shit: Life Advice From a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good, and two TV pilots in the pipeline – one for a syndicated talk show and another for a reality series set in the Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash comic book store in Red Bank, New Jersey. And through all that, he continues to host something like 25 hours a week of podcasts and live radio on SModcast.com. Doesn’t the onetime Silent Bob ever worry about eventually running out of things to talk about?

“I’m wondering if that happens,” admits Smith. “I’m kind of wondering if sooner or later I’ll be like, ‘That’s it, I’ve said everything I need to say.’ Either that or the voice is going to go. I’ve got to start eating a lot of honey!”

ASGHAR FARHADI: A SEPARATION

A Separation has won the Golden Bear in Berlin as well as various other awards, and it’s the frontrunner to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. What do you think is connecting so much with people about this particular film?

“I can’t respond with any certainty but I have some guesses,” says Asghar Farhadi via a translator. “It seems that the story the film contains is one that is tangible and doesn’t seem distant to audiences in different parts of the world. And the aspects that are more local, that specifically have to do with my culture and country, are still understandable to [foreign] audiences. Maybe it’s also that the kind of viewer that the film requires and creates is not merely a passive viewer but one that needs to be involved in the film, which makes a greater connection exist.”

I’ve read that the film was partly inspired by your personal experiences? Can you elaborate on that?

“Yes, part of the film comes from my personal experience. For example, the old man with Alzheimer’s, this was something that I experienced, my own grandfather had Alzheimer’s and some of the events that befall the old man are things that happened to my own grandfather. Also, my relationship with my daughter [Sarina Farhadi], who actually plays the part of Termeh in the film – it’s not as though the relationship between Nader and her is the same as mine with my daughter, but it still was something that prompted me to include that relationship and develop it.”

One thing I loved about the film is that there are no good guys or bad guys, we can understand the point of view and feelings of each of them. Was that important for you?

“One of the most important things for me to maintain in all the films I’ve worked on so far is this very thing. In none of my films to date have I had a negative character, not in my minor nor in my principal characters. I can’t provide a portrayal of a character and say, ‘This person is always good’ or on the other hand, ‘This person is always bad and in every circumstance their conduct reflects that.’ I believe that an account of the character of a person is possible only within a description of the circumstances in which they are to be found.”

While the adults fight, their children have to witness the whole mess, powerless. Did you want to show how each generation suffers from the actions of its elders?

“In my view, children are the most important judges in this film. They are constantly looking around to try and reach a conclusion, a judgement as to who it is who is right, and their conclusion changes constantly, just like the audience’s. They are practicing for entering the society of grown-ups and they understand how complex the world of adults is.”

What can you tell us about the actors you cast?

“As far as the cast goes, some of these actors had worked with me in the past, some of them were ones with whom it was our first working experience. Most of them are among the best and most able actors in Iran. One or two of them, this would be their first or second film. I was very fortunate that all my actors were very patient and willing to go to the long and difficult rehearsals we had. Because of my experience, what I did was to work [with them] on a series of etudes (study scenes), which were not scenes present in the film itself or in the story, and to gradually move the actors out of the real day-to-day world into the world of the film.”

You did not get government support to make the film. Even with private financing, do you have to deal with a form of censorship?

“It doesn’t matter where you are getting your financing from. The laws are applied to all the films [in Iran]. But if you do receive your financing from government sources, then they would apply those laws even more strictly.”

I’ve heard that you plan to shoot your next film abroad, with foreign producers?

“It’s true, I’m writing and developing a screenplay, and the reason I’m working outside the country is that the story that I’m doing actually takes place outside the country. My expectation is that this film will be a continuation of my previous work, I don’t expect it to be something really different.”

The Disappearance of Gemma Arterton

Hello!
Hi, hi how are you?

Pretty good, yourself?
I’m very well, thank you very much.

I’m Kevin, I’m calling from Montreal
Oh, lovely!

Are you in Toronto, is that it?
That’s right.

Ok, so we’re here to talk about The Disappearance of Alice Creed… You must get this a lot, but what made you want to make such a harsh movie?
I think that was precisely the reason. At the time when I decided to make this film, I’d just come off a big budget movie [Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time] and I was feeling a little bit like I hadn’t really exercised my acting ability for a while, so I was a little bit frustrated. And I wanted to do something that was scary for me, that I didn’t know I could do, you know? I wanted to do something that was raw, all about the acting, and a real departure from what I had done. So, yeah, it was a daunting prospect making this film, but that’s exactly why I did it. I think it’s very important to challenge yourself, and to challenge the audience as well.

I read that you really went all out with it, that even when the camera didn’t show your whole body, you still wanted to be completely tied up?
It wasn’t really that I wanted to be tied up to stay in the zone, it was just than getting untied and tied again and again!

It was a rather short shoot from what I understand, so you didn’t have time to get comfortable I guess.
Exactly. I’m glad it was a short shoot as well, because it was so demanding, for me particularly. If it was any longer than four weeks, I would have gone out of my mind! We shot in sequence, which is very unusual, and the first week was really a kind of heavy week for me, because I got kidnapped, and I did all of the nudity, the peeing scene. (laughs) Everything in that first week! And I remember at the end of the week just feeling like: “Oh my god, what have I got myself in for?” I was absolutely exhausted, then I had three more weeks to do and, because the film is so relentless, it never got any easier for my character! But even though I was exhausted, I was really exhilarated at the end of the day, because I felt we were doing really good work.

It’s a very physical performance, we don’t learn much about Alice, but as an actress, did you make up your own back-story about her?
Yeah, yeah, because you don’t really know anything about the character, so I was important that I did that groundwork, just to root myself, to know who she was. I even made little films as if I was Alice, I got dressed up as Alice, me in the coffee shop, me going shopping, you know, just little things like that.

What was it like working with Eddie Marsan and Martin Compston? Were you able to relax and have fun together between takes?
Absolutely. I think it’s the most important thing on a film like this, that you do take yourself out of it and enjoy yourself as much as you can. I know it doesn’t look like it from watching the movie, but we did actually had loads of fun and we were always laughing. Of course, they were very respectful of me, but I wanted them to feel comfortable as well. You know, we only met a week before we started shooting, then all of a sudden, we were doing those first 15 minutes of the film, which are quite brutal. But we were all kinda similar, we’re quite normal, we take the work seriously but we don’t take ourselves seriously, so we’d joke and we had fun. They were amazing, Eddie and Martin, because when cut was called, they would snap right out of character and joke. I think that’s the sign of a really good actor, that can just go into it when it’s necessary, but not carry it with them all day long. Because in my opinion, if you do that, it takes its toll on you, it’s not very good for you. But, you know, it was amazing to watch Eddie being the most frightening man on the planet, then take it off and be the sweetest man ever!

Since it’s all you three actors and the action takes place almost entirely in one location, it’s kind of like a play. I know that you have a background in theatre, so did you see it like that?
Very much so! The whole experience was closer to being in a play than on a film. There weren’t many people on set, you knew everybody, you had a relationship with everybody. Plus we shot in sequence so that we could really experience the whole film in order rather than doing the end first or whatever. And as I said, it was all about the acting, there were no special effects to distract or anything like that. It was really satisfying for me, because that’s how I like to work.

So are you not gonna make any other big Hollywood blockbusters like Quantum of Solace, Clash of the Titans and Prince of Persia?
Oh yeah! I don’t rule it out, because they’re very much fun to do, it’s good to do these films too, and I think it’s important for the development of an actor to do that sort work.

This is J Blakeson’s first film. How did you find him as a director?
It was actually really amazing working with a first-time director, because he was learning from us as much as we were learning from him. It felt very collaborative, it didn’t feel like there was the big boss at the top telling us what to do. It felt very much like everybody on set was equal, again, like in theatre. I think it’s the best way to work, it felt like a very creative environment.

Still, I’m wondering how J Blakeson is as a person, to have written and directed a movie like this. Because the line is often thin between showing a woman being exploited and the film itself being exploitative, you know? Is the guy a weirdo?
(laughs) He’s not a weirdo, he’s the sweetest guy in real life! When we were making the film, he always was like: “I’m so sorry that I’m making this happen!” And I said: “You’re so sick that you came up with it!” But he’s got a wife, he’s about to have a little baby… Oh, I’m being told we have to finish now.

Ok, well, thank you for your time!
Thank you, Kevin! Take care, bye bye!

Jay Baruchel is… The Trotsky

Last time we met, you were just about to star in “The Trotsky”, and you seemed really happy that you were gonna get to shoot a movie in Montreal again.
“Very much so, very much so. It’s the first time I got to work at home in 10 years, man. It’s been a long long long time. And it was such a neat way for me to return, being directed by Jacob [Tierney], I’ve known him and his family since I was 5 years old. And to play the part that I got to play, it’s the coolest part I ever got to play! And then my friend Ricky Mabe, who I’ve known since I was 12, he’s in it, and all the crew is people I’ve worked with since I was a little kid. So for a myriad of different reasons, it was a really important film for me.”

Having seen the film now, I was pleased by how it’s not just shot in Montreal, it’s a very Montreal film in many ways, like how there’s both French and English in it.
“That’s it, that’s the thing I’m most proud of about this movie: it’s authentically Montreal, it doesn’t pretend to not be. And it’s a way of life you haven’t really seen in movies before. And now the fact that I’ve gotten to make two movies with Jacob in two years [Ed. note: Tierney also directed Baruchel in the upcoming ” Notre-Dame-de-Grâce”], both of which take place in NDG in Montreal West… It’s the happiest point in my career.

If it were up to me, every job I have would be here. But for whatever reason, when I started working in the States, I couldn’t get hired up here to save my life, nobody would hire me in French or English or anything. It’s weird, I had a fair bit of success down in the States, I had Clint Eastwood thank me at the Oscars! But a lot of people here had no idea who I was. It was just amazing to me because I live here and I’ve always lived here, I never left! Hopefully, with this movie, they’ll have no choice but to acknowledge me.”

In “The Trotsky”, you share the screen with many great Canadian actors like Anne-Marie Cadieux, Saul Rubinek, Colm Feore, Geneviève Bujold…
“For me personally, the thing that got me the most excited and nervous was working with Colm Feore. He’s been one of my heroes for a long time, I remember that after I got to do one scene with him, I told him that it felt like I just got to go 5 rounds with Tyson! So yeah, it was a huge honor to get to be on screen with Colm Feore and also Anne-Marie Cadieux, Saul Rubinek, Geneviève Bujold… It was pretty special.”

You said this was the coolest part you ever got to play, and it’s true that this Leon Bronstein quite an incredible character.
“It’s very specific, it’s very definitive. Jacob had in his mind a very clear idea of who this guy is, and that’s the stuff I respond to the best. When I read the script, I also got scared kinda, because the character was written in such a specific way that there was obviously a right way to do him and a wrong way to do him. I had to figure out with Jacob my way in, to figure out who that character is, because it’s as different a guy from me personally than I ever got to play in my life. I just wish every job was like that, that’s when it’s the most fun as an actor.”

What’s interesting is that, beyond the crazy stuff about how this kid thinks he’s the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky, he’s actually a smart guy, who’s very driven and determined to make things better for people around him.
“He’s very passionate, he really gives a shit about what’s happening. He’s kinda meant to be a love letter to that period in your teenage years when you care about things stronger than you’ll ever care about them ever again. The first time that you start to have your own causes and your own beliefs, the first time you start thinking about politics, about stuff that isn’t just food and hockey and homework… In that time, your heart beats louder than it ever will, you go on these rants, you care about things more than you ever will… So Leon is that in a character and for me, I remembered very clearly what it was to be that age and to be doing that stuff.

At the same time, he’s a crazy, very unique individual. He wouldn’t have fit in any more in the 1920s or the 1910s. People think he’s a relic from a different era: no! Leon is in his own universe. There’s no world in which he seems normal or fits in.”

Did you do research about Trotsky? Did you play the character as if you were truly playing the reincarnation of Trotsky?
“Yeah, I played him like I knew I was Trotsky. But in terms of knowing about Trotsky and Trotsky data and all that stuff, Jacob himself is a walking encyclopaedia about all things Trotsky and all things Bolshevik Revolution, so I could just ask him, I had him as a reference point. The bulk of my research consisted of going on YouTube and watching speeches from him in Russian, to see what gestures he would use, where he would use them and how he would use them. So in my speech scenes in the movie, I’m doing a very specific reference to the late Trotsky, that’s as close to me doing an impersonation of the real Trotsky that there is the movie.”

Are you now looking for the next part that’s as complex and interesting to play?
“I am, but I’m not holding my breath! Parts like that don’t come along every day. I’ve been super lucky that I got to make two movies with Jacob in the past two years, and my character in “Notre-Dame-de-Grâce” is pretty awesome as well. I just got to wait for Jacob to hire me to get to do some cool stuff!”

You’ve also got “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” coming out this summer, which looks like it might be the biggest movie you’ve been in so far.
“Yeah, that and “Tropic Thunder”. It’s a crazy, thundering 60 million dollar special effects movie… That movie is the epitome of a mid-summer event flick: you go in, you pay your 12 bucks, you sit and you go on a ride.”

How was it to act with Nicolas Cage?
“So cool! He’s a guy like me that made a career of it. Guys like us, we’re character actors that get to be movie stars. Also, he’s someone I got along with really well, he’s a really great guy that I learned a lot from.”

Pineapple Express Interview

A few hours before the premiere of Pineapple Express at the Festival du Film de Juste pour rire, I got to interview Danny McBride, who pretty much steals the movie as far as I’m concerned. I wanted to interview Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow as well, naturally, but was turned down (James Franco and David Gordon Green didn’t make the trip to Montreal). Still, I got to ask them a few questions at the press conference, which went as follows:

Pineapple Express is a Freaks and Geeks reunion for you and James Franco, but with you as kind of the straight man and Franco as the funny sidekick. How did that come along?
SETH ROGEN: “You know, me and James always got along well, I always thought he was really funny and I was kinda shocked that, after Freaks and Geeks, he took this more dramatic direction career-wise. We kinda lost touch for a few years, and I just assumed he was really happy making Tristan & Isolde, Annapolis, Flyboys… I didn’t know that he also thought that Flyboys, Annapolis and Tristan & Isolde were not great films. Then I ran into him and he was like, “I don’t like any of these movies!” I went like, “Oh, that’s good to hear.”, and he expressed that he kinda wanted to work with us again. So we sent him the script, we wanted him to play Dale, the role that I ultimately played, because we had written his role for me, but when he read it, he said something to the effect that, “I like it, but I wanna play the other guy, that’s the funny part, I don’t wanna play the straight guy.” So that’s what we did, we switched roles and I thought it worked out great.”

Was it The Foot Fist Way that made you wanna work with Danny McBride?
JUDD APATOW: “Well, I got Foot Fist Way, one of his agents gave me a DVD, but I get a lot of DVDs, I had this big stack, and Foot Fist Way did not stick out of the stack. It was just written in marker on the DVD, there was no label… So I did not watch it for a very long time, and then finally I looked at it and I was like, “Holy shit, this is the funniest movie I’ve ever seen! Who’s doing it?” And they’re like, “Will [Ferrell] and Adam [McKay] just bought it.” So I was like, “Shit, I should have looked at the stack!” And then we invited Danny to come to the set of Knocked Up, we were trying to find him something to do, and it worked out that we were like, “Why don’t you be a drug dealer [in Pineapple Express]?”

I know Danny and David Gordon Green are old friends, did he also bring him along with him?
S.R.: “He actually did. It’s like the first time ever in movies, I think, where a guy who’s like the third biggest part in the movie got the director hired. That doesn’t happen very often! But yeah, we met Danny and Jody [Hill, the director of The Foot Fist Way], we became good friends and they started saying, “You know, David Gordon Green is a really funny guy, if you guys are looking for a director for this movie.” And we met him and he was a real funny guy. He’s like the weirdest guy ever, he’s really strange, he looks like he’s 11 year old… But he’s a really funny guy and we thought, visually, he’s clearly talented, he will be able to bring a sensibility to this that we don’t have. It worked out great, and we were very thankful to these guys to turn us on him, cause we would have never thought, “Yeah, that’s the guy to make this movie!”

At some point during the press conference, before anyone had asked anything to Danny McBride, Judd Apatow asked whether anyone there had seen The Foot Fist Way. I was the only one to say yes, which led me to me asking Apatow that question above about whether that was the film that got him interested in working with McBride. So when I walked into the room later on for my one-on-one interview with McBride, he recognized me as seemingly the only guy in Montreal who had seen him in that movie:

DANNY MCBRIDE: “Hey man, you’re the one that saw Foot Fist Way! I had no clue that we had reached the great city of Montreal! You know, we made that film for next to nothing, came to Sundance and we didn’t have a domestic distribution deal, and Will Ferrell and Adam McKay saw us, so they picked up for Paramount Vantage, which then just… I think Vantage was waiting for other things I’d done to hit… Honestly, I don’t really know what the plan was, but then, it’s kind of like, all right, the plan is to release the movie a week after Indiana Jones comes out, in the middle of the summer, and not to do any advertising for it. Which is a pretty good plan! But you know, it was made for so little, that even just being out for 2 or 3 weeks, everyone has made their money back. And it’s given us careers and jobs and, with an independent film, that’s all you can ask for, and I just kinda hope that it’s one of those things that when it comes out on DVD, it finds its audience.”

Going back before that, I had seen you in All the Real Girls and, you know, when they say that David Gordon Green’s movies before Pineapple Express weren’t funny, I think there was funny stuff in them; your character Bust-Ass was funny!
“I think that’s the beauty. Even in Snow Angels, which is one of David’s heaviest films, there’s definitely points in that movie where some of the characters, like Nicky Katt’s character, where you still find this humor, and that’s what’s amazing about it.”

I thought that Katt’s character was kind of a Danny McBride part, you could have played that part!
“That would have been fun! So, you know, that’s why I knew when I met Judd and these guys that they would get along so well with David because, really, how he approaches his dramas is really similar to how these guys approach comedy, where it’s just, you find people that you trust and believe in and then you just get out there on the day and make it happen. You let the cameras roll and let people go where they’re really not expecting to go and just kind of sort out all the pieces in the editing room. When I went and visited those guys on Knocked Up and saw them working, it was just like, ah, this is great, this is exactly how we work on David’s films. And you know, a lot of David’s movies in college were comedies. They were pretty weird movies, but they were all really funny. And then George Washington, we actually shot that literally the week after I graduated film school, David graduated a year before me, and I was a 2nd unit director on that, and that thing just really took off for him in a way that I don’t think anyone had anticipated and kind of put him in this sort of dramatic area, you know, where people were looking at him as like a Terrence Malick or something like that. But I knew that he was always itching to get his hands on something like Pineapple Express, so it was great that it was able to work out.”

And in Pineapple Express, the fact that it’s a stoner comedy, it fits with his style, which is whimsical, kind of quirky–
“Dreamy, yeah. The first time I saw that scene where Seth and James were leapfrogging over each other at sunset with that nice music playing, that was really when I was like, god damn, this is what David brings to this. A lot of people wouldn’t take the time to show you these sort of moments, and that’s what David is so brilliant at. That really just elevates the film.”

In many of the films I’ve seen you in, you have smaller parts, but you steal every little scene you’re in!
“You know, it’s one of those things where that’s just the size of role, honestly, those are like the easiest roles to do, because you don’t have the burden like Seth and James of having to carry exposition along. You literally just come in and deliver jokes.”

Beside getting the director hired, did you get to add a lot color to your character?
“These guys are completely collaborative, and that’s one of the things that’s also awesome to work with them. They literally just said, “What do you wanna do with this guy?” And David and I just looked at all this costume stuff and, for some reason I felt like he’d wear Rocawear jeans and sandals… David’s only direction that he was really serious about was that he was like, “Your character is going to have his armpits shaved.” And I was like, “What? That’s kinda weird, why is that?” He said, “That’s what you have to figure out, that’s really the essence of Red.” Well, that’s an interesting place to start things off. But yeah, Seth and these guys, they’re not precious about any of the words, it’s like, get that stuff out in the first take and then just take it wherever. They embrace that kind of stuff.”

Your character seems to die early in the film, and I had the feeling that he was supposed to originally, but then they just wanted to have more of you in the movie so they brought him back.
“You know, that’s what they told me, it was just supposed to be like a really violent death that would kinda shock the audience, but yeah, I guess that they wanted to keep me in. I can remember when Seth was telling me about the script, saying he’d love me to play this part of Red. Then I got the script and read and I was like, oh, this is cool, I die in 5 pages. So I was excited to know that Red does come back.”

When you shot the action scenes, was David at ease?
“He was completely at ease, it was cool. A lot of the guys that were on the crew, from the cinematographer Tim Orr to the sound guy, are all guys we went to college with and that have worked on all of David’s films. So when we were on the set, and there was like a fight choreographer and stuff, it was pretty surreal when you’re looking around and it’s just these guys you went to film school with, when you all were doing this for nothing, peanut butter sandwiches, and now everyone is getting paid, it’s on a lot and there’s Seth Rogen and James Franco in it and Judd’s producing it. It was definitely surreal. And you know, that big fight scene in the apartment? We shot that for a week, it was a pretty sloppy fight, and kind of the way David talked about it was that he just wanted to cover it with big masters, so it would look even sloppier, just like a bunch of guys who don’t know how to fight, who don’t have the ability to knock each other out, so the fight just keeps going on and on. Seth actually got a hairline fracture on his hand, and I got my head fractured by Franco with a bong! It was a breakaway glass bong, but they put a little water in it so there was some weight to it, so when it hit… And that’s the shot they use in the movie!”

One thing I love about all these Judd Apatow / Seth Rogen movies is that, ultimately, they’re oddly heartfelt. Like, Pineapple Express is really about friendship.
“Yeah, this just appears to be a weed movie, but there’s these relationships that are taken seriously underneath, which is ultimately why it can translate to people who aren’t into pot culture. It can really appeal to anyone who wants to go have a good time, not just if they wanna come after they’ve smoked a big blunt. It works with blunts or without blunts.”

Well, I saw it at 10 in the morning with just coffee and I laughed my ass off. It made me think of some of my favorite films, like Pulp Fiction or The Big Lebowski.
“They talked about those on the set, they were definitely inspirations for those guys. It’s an odd cross-section, I’ve heard Seth say Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and then things like Tango & Cash and other 1980s action movies! And you can see, it’s all in there.”

So who are you, Tango or Cash?
“I think Seth and James are Tango & Cash, I’m just the weird bad guy!”

I heard you wrote a script that David will direct?
“Yeah, we wrote this script Your Highness that we’re trying to do next year. It’s kind of our take on movies like Krull or Clash of the Titans, just some sort of fantasy film that doesn’t really make fun of those movies but kinda becomes one of those movies. It’s pretty wild, and David says he’d love to try to play around with special effects, but he’s more interested in like the old school methods as opposed to CG stuff. It will be kinda refreshing to see.”

And you have a TV series coming up?
“Yeah, the guys that I developed and shot Foot Fist Way with, Jody Hill and Ben Best, who are also college mates, with those guys, we sold a TV show to HBO called East Bound and Down that we’re writing now and that we start shooting this fall down in North Carolina. So that’s gonna be keeping us pretty busy trying to get that out.”

***

CO-WRITER EVAN GOLDBERG ON…

The random Godspeed You! Black Emperor reference:
EVAN GOLDBERG: “It’s because Jay Baruchel is from Montreal and loooooves Godspeed, so we dit it to poke at Jay. But I like Godspeed, Godspeed’s good.”

How Pineapple Express is to action movies what The Big Lebowski was to film noir:
“We realized as we we’re doing, what movie is like this, with weed? And I realized that The Big Lebowski was the one. When you think about it, how many joints does The Dude smoke in that movie? He smokes weed non-stop: he’s smoking weed in the bathtub, he’s smoking weed in his car, he’s smoking before he goes bowling… He’s smoking weed the whole movie! So if Pineapple Express is a weed movie, so is The Big Lebowski.”

Being a huge action movie fan:
“I like action movies more than comedies. Nothing’s better than a good action movie, or a bad action movie, I don’t care, I just love action movies. I specifically seek out bad ones, I get a huge kick out of bad action flicks. I loooooove that shit. Pineapple Express is largely influenced from bad 1980s action movies. David Gordon Green, the director, has all these crazy great ideas for bad action movies to make… That guy loves action flicks.”

Repo! The Genetic Opera

Rebecca: Wow, this is so bad, it’s almost good.
Enid: This is so bad, it’s gone past good and back to bad again.
(from “Ghost World”)

This movie is beyond anything you could imagine. As such, it might grow into a cult classic… Or just be remembered as a spectacularly misguided venture, who knows?

To give you an idea, it’s as if Troma produced the movie adaptation of an alternately catchy and noxious Tokio Hotel/Evanescence emo-metal comic book Broadway musical that was like a blendered version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Rent, and Moulin Rouge!, set in Joel Schumacher’s Gotham City and helmed by the director of three of the Saw sequels!

Entirely sung, with barely a story to connect what feels like a series of disconnected music videos, with a cast that includes Paul Sorvino, Skinny Puppy’s Nivek Ogre, Sarah Brightman and, of all people, Paris Hilton. I know, who wants to see her act and sing, right? Well, Repo! is so trashy that she fits right in, heh. I wouldn’t dare recommend it but, I have to say, I’m glad I saw it and got to talk about it with director Darren Lynn Bousman and star Alexa Vega, a few hours before Repo!’s world premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival.

From what I understand, finally getting the film ready to be shown to an audience has been a struggle, right?
DARREN LYNN BOUSMAN: “Repo! is something we’ve been trying to get made for a long time. It’s been an uphill battle, it’s been a very hard road, so we’re breathing a sight of relief that it’s finally being seen. I’ve been with it 8 years now.”

So you’ve been working on it since even before you started doing all those Saw movies?
D.L.B.: “I directed the stage version of it back in 2001 and finally, with the success of the Saw films, I was able to turn it into a movie. It’s like you putting your heart out there, and now we’ll see what they will do with it. They might squish it, they might kiss it, they might pee all over it…”

You mean, the studio?
D.L.B.: “The fans, I don’t really care about the studio”

But you need the studio to release it–
ALEXA VEGA: “It comes down to the fans. If the fans like it, then the studio will pump it. But if we don’t have a fanbase for it, the studio is not gonna stand behind it. It’s such a different, raw film, that we really need people to get a buzz on this movie in order to get the proper backing.”
D.L.B.: “Yeah, it comes down to the reactions. I don’t expect everyone to like it, in fact, it’s a movie that will alienate a lot of people–”

For sure!
D.L.B.: “But, that being said, there is a market for it and I think that, tonight, we’ll show them that. We sold out the screening last week, which is awesome.”

You said that it will alienate a lot of people but I think that, whether you like it or not, people will be curious about it.
D.L.B.: “Yeah, I think that people are interested to see it, because it’s got that kind of weird factor to it. I mean, to have a movie that stars Sarah Brightman and Paris Hilton and Alexa Vega, it’s such a weird, eclectic group of people, and they’re singing! It’s like, the guy who did Saw is doing a musical with Paris Hilton, why? I wanna exploit that curiosity factor.”

Have you always been a musical fan?
D.L.B.: “I’m a huge musical fan, I think that my favourite movies are musicals. I love Jesus Christ Superstar, the music still holds up today. I love Tommy, because it’s so psychedelic and trippy. I love Rocky Horror Picture Show, because it’s really got that, what the fuck am I watching? factor, and I love that. Hopefully, Repo! will hit people like those movies have.”

The thing is, a lot of people are turned off by musicals, and musical fans might be turned off by the gore…
D.L.B.: “Yeah, musical fans really don’t embrace horror, and horror fans really don’t embrace musicals. We basically punch them both in the face. You like musicals? Well, it’s a horror film. You like horror films? Well, it’s a musical. It’s a very niche movie, but our hope is that once the movie gets out there, it will appeal to a much bigger audience, because at the heart of the movie, it’s a very beautiful father-daughter love story.”
A.V.: “It’s a beautiful film, it has a lot of heart.”
D.L.B.: “It does. It’s easy to look at it and saw, aw, it’s about organ repossession, oh, it’s about organs being ripped out… But it’s really about selling your soul to the devil. Every character sells their soul, except for Alexas’s character, Shiloh. It’s about the purity and innocence of Shiloh, it’s a coming of age movie.”

I thought Alexa, you were really good in it. I’d heard you sing in one of the Spy Kids movies and I was like, oh, she can sing. But here, we really get to see and hear a lot more–
A.V.: “(giggles) Thank you! It really was exciting, and so different and unique. I really feel that this film will inspire a lot of other filmmakers, and you’re gonna see more movies doing things like Repo!, because of Repo!. And I’m just happy to be a part of that.”
D.L.B.: “I’m sick of seeing the same movies redone, rehashed, sequelized, remade… I wanted to do something completely original, that people hadn’t seen before. I wanna see new, original pieces of art. I wanted to do something completely crazy and, again, that will alienate a lot of people. If you walk in thinking gonna see a Saw movie, you’re wrong, you’re gonna hate it. But if you walk knowing it’s something different, something you haven’t seen before, it’s a whole other experience… I don’t care if people hate the movie, but I want people to talk about it.”

Now, I have to ask: Paris Hilton. How did that happen?
D.L.B.: “I don’t remember how her name came up but at first, I was like, no, this movie has credibility, we can’t put Paris Hilton in it! But then she met with us and she was so not what I expected that it made me stop, and I was like, she’s kinda cool. And she was perfect for what the character is. I don’t think that you can watch the movie and say: Paris Hilton sucks! She doesn’t suck, she’s good in the movie. She transforms and blends in the movie.”
A.V.: “She was really good. I think a lot of people are gonna be shocked by her performance, because they know the glammed up Paris Hilton, the blonde, (doing a dead-on Paris impression), that’s hot, Paris Hilton. But this–”
D.L.B.: “This is the down and dirty Paris Hilton!”

What about you, Alexa, what do you hope this movie will do for you?
A.V.: “I feel like it’s opened up a completely new world. It tested a lot of, like, what I was capable of as an actress, because it really was nothing I had done before.”

It really breaks your image, because we’ve pretty much only seen you in kids movies.–
A.V.: “Yeah! Most people know me as, like, that little girl, and what’s really great about this film is that it does a transition, not only on screen, but for me as an actress. When you watch Shiloh, she starts out as this sweet, innocent little girl, who goes through her teenage experience and, at the end of the film, becomes a young woman having to make these really difficult decisions. And if you watch her transition, that’s exactly what I hope for. Usually, it takes 3 or 4 movies to get people to go oh, she’s not a little girl anymore. Well, in this movie, I had it all in one, it’s all done in Repo! for me. The audience gets to watch me become a young woman, and that’s exactly what I was looking for.”

It’s funny, when I was telling people I was gonna interview you, they all said, oh, you’re gonna meet the little girl from the Spy Kids movies? But having seen Repo!, I was like, um–
A.V.: “(laughing) she’s not as little!”
D.L.B.: “She’s damn sexy in that movie!”

***

Repo! premieres Friday, July 18th at the Fantasia Film Festival and should open across North America on November 7th.

Deepa Mehta’s Heaven on Earth

So this is your third time coming to Montreal to show one of your films at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma?
“Yes. I love this city and I love this festival. It’s a very intelligent festival, it has edge and they’ve got good taste in movies.”

Well, they’ve selected Heaven on Earth, and it is indeed an interesting movie, not to flatter you–
“No-no, please flatter me, I like it!”

Ok! One of the things that’s interesting about your film, right from the start, is how you create that contrast between Chand’s life back home in India, as seen in those early scenes which are very festive and colourful, almost Bollywoodish, but once Chand is sent to Canada to get married, it becomes much bleaker…
“There’s no question that it’s more colourful and far more warm in India than here in the winter… When I came to Canada as an immigrant, it was in January. It was so cold, and everything was grey. I thought, where has the color gone?”

The film becomes this very realistic domestic drama, but then things shift again as some fantastic elements are introduced… I read that this was inspired from an Indian play?
“More or less. The play itself is based on a very old Indian folk tale, about the myth of the cobra. In that sense, it’s about mythology; it’s about the power of imagination to help us, like it does for Chand. Her imagination helps to deal with a situation that’s very unpleasant. And when she’s done with it, when it’s taken her to the other side, she doesn’t need it anymore. It’s served its purpose. For me, that was very interesting. For me, the reason to make this film was not just to portray domestic violence in the immigrant community; it was more about the use of the imagination, and myth. It’s fascinating, and when you read Joseph Campbell, you realize that it’s in all the cultures, whether it’s Egyptian or Norse or Indian… Myths inform us as people.”

But, with most of the film being almost like this kitchen-sink drama, those fantastic, mythical elements come as kind of a shock, no?
“The whole thing is that you have to be in Chand’s head… Slowly, as she starts slipping, as she gets into another reality, you have to be like her; you don’t know what’s going on. Like, she questions herself: “Am I going mad? Am I dreaming? How is this possible?” You have to become like her. I think that it’s very important that the audience goes through this journey with her.”

In that regard, it was crucial for the lead actress to be utterly convincing, as is the case here with Preity Zinta, right?
“Yes, absolutely! One of the real joys for me was to work with Preity, because she really nailed it, and with such ease… I mean, she worked very hard, but it never showed, it never shows on film that she’s working very hard to be this person.”

This is very different from what we’re used to see from Preity Zinta, who’s usually all made up and goofy–
“Funny and laughing and so cool… She’s always the cool chick in Bollywood movies.”

So how did you know that she had that depth, that vulnerability?
“I saw it… I met her by accident in England, I was talking to her and suddenly, it hit me that she would make a perfect Chand. It’s all about instinct. I didn’t think for a second that she couldn’t do it. I knew she could, I had absolute complete conviction that she would really nail Chand.”

How was it for to work with a superstar like her for you and your crew?
“Most of the crew didn’t even know who she was! But I think that if you’re really a big star, you don’t care about stuff like this. Preity is too secure in her stardom to want to be recognized or anything. She ate with us, she travelled with the rest of the actors, she didn’t have a car for herself, she didn’t have her own hair and make-up… I told her that I really wanted her to get to know the other actors, I didn’t want them to feel that she was anybody different, because it’s a very intimate film… And she got it, she never made a fuss and she got along with everybody.”

It’s funny how Bollywood actors can be these huge stars in half of the world, but practically unknown here…
“Totally — in many countries, if you have Shahrukh Khan and Brad Pitt next to each other, nobody would look at Brad Pitt! They know who Amitabh Bachchan is, but they don’t know who Al Pacino is, and they don’t care! The only group of people that can challenge Hollywood and stand on their own in half the world is Bollywood.”

Going back to the film, it seems that, with immigrant women being so isolated and so far from their family, it’s even worse for them to be stuck in abusive relationships. At least if you’re in your own country, close to your family–
“There’s a network, you have support, which you don’t if you’re in another country. Plus, if you’re not fluent in the language… That’s why many people don’t even call 911, they’re too ashamed to; they don’t know how to say that they need help. And women like Chand, they never heard of shelters. How would she know that there’s a place she can go to?”

So escaping in her imagination, in fantasy, is pretty much the only thing she can do?
“There’s no other alternative. Either that or you die, you kill yourself. To find the freedom, you have to be open to the idea that there is a course that you believe in that can take you out of it… Many people believe in God, and that to me is very fantastical! Whether you’re talking to a cobra or to God, what’s the difference? Whatever helps you…”

You mentioned earlier that, in regards to casting, instinct is key for you. I get the feeling that through your career in general, that’s also been the case.
“Absolutely. I don’t have a five year plan or anything… Like, after Water was nominated for the Oscar, every studio that had a script that had to do with strong women wanted me to do it. I was getting all these offers by big studios, $60 million dollar films, $80 million dollar films… I was really tempted; my God, can you imagine, all this money? But none of the stories totally and completely inspired me the way Heaven on Earth did… There was something about it that I said, yeah, I’m learning something as I’m writing it… Hopefully, I’m gonna challenge my audience, I’m not gonna give easy answers. I want to grow as a filmmaker, I want to experiment with style, I want to experiment with content. That, you cannot get in Hollywood.”

Really?
“I mean, I am doing a project that is a Hollywood project, with Miramax… It’s called Reading Lolita in Teheran, it’s based on a fabulous book.”

***

Never say never, I guess!

Heaven on Earth open in Montreal on October 31st.

Jay Baruchel: Canada’s proudest son

When I meet Jay Baruchel for our interview, on the terrace of the Studio Juste pour rire, he’s coming back from across the street, where he was posing for a photographer who asked him to get into all kind of odd positions while lying atop a bunch of old cardboard boxes.

That guy had you do some pretty crazy stuff, eh?
“Oh my God… They had me doing the Ferris Bueller poster on a pile of garbage!”

So you still live here in Montreal?
“In NDG, yeah, where I grew up. I live a block away from my mother and my sister, I live with two of my friends from high school that I’ve known since I was 15… It’s the best city in the world, I’ve never been anywhere else I’d rather live. Maybe Halifax, Nova Scotia.”

Around where you shot Just Buried?
“Yeah, that’s it.”

Was that the first time you went there?
“It was, although my mother’s family comes from there. So all of a sudden, it put my family into context: I understood why they talked the way the talked, pourquoi ils mangent les choses qu’ils mangent, pourquoi ils fument les marques de cigarettes qu’ils fument…[Ed. note: like every good Montrealer, Baruchel sometimes casually switches back and forth between English and French.] It was like coming chez-moi and I’d never been there before, it was beautiful.”

So it’s important for you to keep shooting films in Canada, in this county you seem to love?
“Oh, it’s my favourite. I have a tattoo of a maple leaf over my heart!”

I saw that in Knocked Up, but I thought it was a joke for the film!
“Everybody does! But it’s fucking real, I got it done in California, on a particularly homesick trip.”

It’s a bit ironic, but fitting that you had to go to California to get Canada tattooed on your heart!
“No kidding, right? It speaks volumes about the English Canadian actor, who has to go to America before he can get work in Canada. It’s weird, I would be the lead in an American TV series, on an American network, but Canadian casting directors in Toronto or Vancouver would have no idea who I was, it just made no sense to me. Finally, I was on the radar enough that they started hiring me again up here, which is good.”

It’s true that you didn’t star in Canadian films at the beginning of your career, not even after you got your break in Undeclared.
“Well, when I was a little kid, I started when I was 12 and I did a bunch of Canadian children’s TV here. Then I stopped, and I got another career basically down south, and I had to make enough of my name in L.A. before I started getting work in Hamilton, Toronto, Vancouver… And now, my next job is in Montreal, I’m doing a movie here in August. It’s called The Trotsky, Kevin Tierney is producing it, and his son Jacob wrote and will be directing it. I’ve known that family since I was a little kid… I play this kid who’s convinced he’s the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky, it’s awesome, really really funny.”

You often go towards projects that have twisted premises like that or Just Buried, or Fetching Cody
“Oh, you saw that?”

Yeah, I liked it a lot.
“Thank you, man, it’s one of my favorites!”

I thought it was kinda like Back to the Future
“But on heroin!”

That was shot in Vancouver, right?
“Yes, in East Hastings.”

So you’ve shot films through the whole country, basically.
“Yeah man, everywhere, East Coast to West Coast!”

So, as I was saying, you often go towards twisted projects.
“For me, I try as best as I can to be in movies that I would go see, movies that I would be excited about when I saw the trailer. I guess, especially in the independent world, with movies like Fetching Cody or Just Buried, or this movie that will show at the Toronto Film Festival called Real Time, that I did with Randy Quaid… They’re all a bit dark, they’re dark comedies. That’s just always been my taste, and the happiest part about my career so far, is having a résumé that reflects my tastes, my opinions, what I find funny, what I find interesting… I guess I am a bit dark, maybe it’s because my parents showed me Monty Python when I was 9 years old, but the stuff I find funny has always been a bit weird.”

Just Buried, in particular–
“It’s pretty fucking dark! I love that fucking bit, the tug of war in front of the unicycle with the seat off… I shot the fucking movie, and the first time I watched it, I went like, “Oh my… Fuck!” There are a few moments like that in the film.”

Especially since the setup is almost…
“Cute”

Yeah, you got this nervous kid, he inherits the funeral home, he meets this girl…
“And then you see the evolution of his character. There’s a subtle thing, that not everybody will notice, where by the end of Just Buried, he dresses different, his hair is a bit different, he’s a bit more confident, he becomes a man and, most importantly, his nose isn’t bleeding anymore, he’s not nervous. And that’s the scary part, how somebody goes from that to a coldblooded killer!”

The way Chaz Thorne directs the film, too, you see this shift where, at first, it feels a bit like Six Feet Under or something and, by the end, it’s almost like something out of Sweeney Todd!
“It also reminded me of those old Warner Brothers cartoons, or Tom & Jerry, it’s very cartoon. It starts off like, I hate this word, they use it too much in English, but quirky… And then it becomes this fucking dark, violent cartoon… I really love that movie, I can’t wait to see it with an audience.”

Is it premiering in Montreal?
“No, it showed at the Toronto Film Festival, but I was in Hawaii working, so this will be my first time seeing it with an audience, and it’s really fucking cool that it’ll happen in Montreal. This is my city, this is where I sleep at night, this is where I pay taxes, it would mean a lot to me to have a movie that people from Montreal go see.”

Most people here have seen you in Million Dollar Baby, no?
“You’d be surprised, a lot of people have no idea that I’m in Million Dollar Baby, they still recognize me from, like, Popular Mechanics for Kids! Even if they’ve seen Million Dollar Baby and I say, “You know, I was in that”, they’ll be like, “Who were you?” “The retarded boxer from Texas that gets his ass kicked.” And then they’re like, “Ooooh!”

But isn’t that a good thing for an actor? It means that you were good enough that they forgot about you and they just saw–
“They only saw the kid, yeah. I have to say, as much as I complain, those are the happiest moments as an actors, that’s a testament to the character.”

As opposed to Knocked Up, where you’re basically playing yourself?
“Essentially, a crazier version of myself.”

I actually only noticed the second time I saw the movie that all the actors playing the roommates keep their own names in the film.
“Jonah [Hill], Jason [Segel], Martin [Starr] and me, yeah…. It’s ridiculous, at a certain point during rehearsals, I think it was Judd [Apatow] and Seth [Rogen] that both said, like, “That’d be kind of funny if you guys’ names were literally your names?” I don’t know what that joke is, but it’s a joke, it’s a weird little joke.”

You’ve known those guys for a long time, since Undeclared, I guess?
“I’ve known Jason, Martin and Seth for 8 years, I met Jonah a little bit before Knocked Up… Seth, I lived with him for a while, he’s one of my best friends in the whole world. When I got Undeclared, I didn’t know anybody in Los Angeles at all, those were the first people I met in L.A. And Seth being exactly my age or, actually, five days younger than me, and him being another Canadian in L.A., I guess I just gravitated towards him… And to see all the stuff that’s happened to him, I’m so proud of him, it couldn’t happen to a better guy.”

And you’re gonna work together again soon, in Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse, right?
“Yeah, we’re gonna shoot next summer. It’s basically based on our real lives, when we were roommates, but set during the apocalypse!”

It’s great how, even though Seth is this big star now, he’s still loyal to his friends, he’s not like “Oh, I’m only gonna do movies with Jim Carrey or Eddie Murphy now!”
“It’s just because, when we were coming up, we always said that, if we make it, it’s gonna mean so much more if we all make it, to come up as a gang, to come up as a posse. So for Seth and I to both go off and do things on our own, then to reconvene next year and do Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse, it’s pretty fucking special.”

And I think it relates to how you still have this attachment to Canada and keep making movies here, even though you’re quite in demand in Hollywood now, it’s about not forgetting where you came from.
“Because this is the best country in the world, and this is the best city in the world. The way of life in Montreal, there’s nothing like it anywhere else. A lot of people grow up here and leave, I never will. Really, the only things I give a shit about in my life are my family, my friends, my country, my city and my heart.”

And hockey?
“And hockey, that’s the other thing! [At this point, Jay pulls out his wallet, which has the Montreal Canadiens logo on it] I was a season ticketholder at the Bell Center for 2 years, but not this last year which, of course, is the season we start winning. That’s the year I don’t have my fucking tickets!”

You speak French, would you like to star in a Québécois movie?
“I would love to, it would be the greatest honor to work on Québécois stuff, I can’t tell you what that would mean. Colm Feore [who works in both French and English Canadian movies] is one of my heroes. If I got the chance to do what he does, that would be the greatest. You know, I actually worked with Érik Canuel [who directed Feore in the bilingual smash hit Bon Cop Bad Cop] when I was 16 or 17 years old, he directed me in a TV movie called Matthew Blackheart Monster Smasher

Really? I haven’t seen that.
“Of course not, nobody has! It was before Érik was Érik… I got along with him so well, he’s a big horror movie nerd, like me. I still have his copy of Hellraiser 2: Hellbound that he gave to me when we were shooting, he was like, “Watch this, it’s better than Hellraiser 1” And it is!”

It’s funny how you mention Canuel because his latest, Cadavres, looks like it would fit well on a double-bill with Just Buried, as it’s another dark comedy involving lots of corpses!
“No kidding, it comes from the same place! That’s Érik, that’s awesome.”

You should give him a call, he’ll show it to you!
“I’ll show him Just Buried, see what he thinks!”

You also have Tropic Thunder coming out this summer, right?
“August 15th, yes. Man, this was the biggest dichotomy I ever had on a job: it was the single most difficult job, yet the most fun I’ve ever had, ever. To get to have an M-16 in my hands every day for 5 months, running around in the jungle, jumping in the water, and then to be able to make jokes while you’re doing it… And then to be on screen with Jack Black and fucking Robert Downey Jr. and Nick Nolte and Ben Stiller… I had such an amazing time! I saw in that movie by far the coolest shit I’ve ever seen in any movie. I’ll just give you this as an example: when were shooting in Hawaii, the new Indiana Jones was shooting on one of the other islands, and they had 25 stuntmen. We had 50! When you have twice as many stuntguys as Indiana Jones, what does that tell you about the movie? I just showed up every day to work, and there was fucking 50 extras and 50 stuntguys and 3 helicopters, and they napalmed the treeline, and they did it old-school, like Apocalypse Now, no CGI, it’s 1200 gallons of fuel, man. As funny as it is, it also kicks you in the fucking teeth! Between that and Pineapple Express, it’s a great summer for action comedy.”

JUST BURIED will have its Montreal premiere at the Just For Laughs Film Festival on Saturday, July 12th at 9:30 PM, at the Imperial, before coming out in theatres on July 25th. Don’t miss it, it’s bloody good fun!

Mike Newell: An Englishman in Colombia

I saw Love in the Time of Cholera yesterday and, once again, you surprise us. From film to film, we never know where to expect you to go.
“Good! Keep moving and they can’t hit you!”

(laughs) But is it conscious, do you try to tackle every genre?
“No-no-no. To start with, what I do seems to me to be completely consistent, because what I always respond to is the script. I think a lot of it has to do with being English, because we are brought up with a particular kind of writing, dramatic writing, plays and so forth, the same is true with novels… In which character is one of the big, big things that you go for. Dickens, Shakespeare, it’s all characters, they’re all great characters. And so what I would tend to do is to look for interesting characters, and I would then look for those characters to be in an original kind of fix. You could say what I look for is a good man in a bad jam. Everything that I make is like that. Harry Potter was a good guy in a bad fix. Hugh Grant is a good guy in a bad fix. Love in the Time of Cholera is somewhat different to that, actually, but it still has these wonderful, powerful characters in it.”

It’s true, but as a filmmaker, you’re still flexing different muscles when you’re making Four Weddings and a Funeral, Donnie Brasco or this.
Of course you are. An awful lot of what I do, but I think it’s true of all directors, is that you go to the movies when you’re a kid, and what you try to do I suppose, is to recreate the experiences that you had when you were young. The very first film that I saw that I can remember seeing was a movie called Bad Day at Black Rock, which is a great film, about sort of a modern cowboy. Spencer Tracy plays a one-armed war veteran who comes to this little desert town because somebody has murdered a Japanese. And it’s all about the aftermath for the Americans of the war in the Pacific. It’s about war guilt, and retribution, and revenge… A marvellous film. And I remember this like yesterday, and I was only 11 years old when I saw it. And the same is true of Ben Hur, which I saw when I was about 19, and you would sit back in the cinema and you’d think, Aww, man! This is like the biggest, lushest limousine you’ve ever rode! And you try to recreate these experiences, you know, wouldn’t it be great if you could feel like that, the way you felt at Ben Hur.”

So with Love in the Time of Cholera, is this what you were aiming for?
“No, it wasn’t, I think it’s just what happens unconsciously. What I was aiming for was that, I’d read the book, and I chased it very hard because I loved what the book said. Here are the things that really interested me: it’s very, very rare that you’re given in the movies the shape of somebody’s whole life, from young and naïve, 16 years old, to 75 years old, at the end of your life. And everything in between is covered, there’s a huge span of years. My parents had recently died when I made the film, and I’d be clearing out their house, and I would see pictures of my dad at 10 years old, and then I remembered him as he was the week before he died at 87. I wanted to get that sense of whole lives, but the glorious thing about the book is that it says that we’re all heading one way, we’re heading into the dark. You can be frightened of that and you can let that depress and scare you and pull down the joy that you might feel in life. Or you can say, no! I’m gonna live every moment that is given to me, in optimism and in positiveness. That of course is what Florentino does. He falls in love at 16 and never stops being in love with that woman. He’s depressed along the way, because it seems to be so difficult, but at the end, as an old, old man, he refuses to say, we are going into the night. He says, no, we’re gonna start to live again. And that’s fantastic, that kind of optimism is extraordinary.”

It’s interesting that you say that what attracted you was that span of time, because I thought that was the challenge of this book, which is so epic and depicts more than half a century, I thought it’d be scary to try and make this into a film.
“Of course it’s scary, making any film is scary! But the movie is that, so if you’re not doing that, you’re not doing it. You’ve got this great novel, and that’s what the novel is saying. There are glorious things in it, Florentino saying, right at the end of his life, “I have never been happier in my life”, and you believe him. That character is not heading into the dark. The very last words in the book, he says, “At last, I’ve got there and I’ve discovered that the most important thing is living and not preparing yourself for dying.”

You’ve mentioned the words and quotes from the book, that’s another challenge, I guess, because it’s a very literary book, rooted in poetry and the written word, characters writing love letters to each other and so on.
“Yes, that was a big big thing. And when Gabriel García Márquez, who was involved all the way through but always kept kind of a distance from it, because I think he thought we were gonna screw it up. He gave us some notes on the first draft of the script, he said two things: “Why are you so respectful of the book? For God’s sake, chuck stuff out!” The other thing that he said is, “Where’s my stitch work?” We weren’t sure what this phrase meant, it was obviously a literal translation from Spanish, but nonetheless we didn’t understand quite what he meant. Then I realised that the way the book is written, you can have an incident, for instance there’s a character called the Widow Nazareth, one of Florentino’s early loves, you meet her between pages 50 and 70, then life goes on, she falls away and she’s not mentioned again… Until page 370, when suddenly you got this little chunk about the Widow Nazareth. And the Widow Nazareth, by this time, is 50 years ago! And so what he does, it’s like embroidery or making a quilt: he sows it, embroiders it and then he folds it, and it goes away, but then he comes back and embroiders it a little bit more, and then he folds it again. That’s what he meant by stitch work. But of course, you can’t do that in a movie, it would take ages and you would have an 8 hour movie, and it simply would become turgid. I had to say to myself, what could I do? I had to find an equivalent to that, and I said that the equivalent of a sentence was the frame, so what was I going to do with the frame that would be as rich as what García Márquez would do when he was writing a sentence? So I tried to pack the frames with all sorts of contrast, with light and dark, with activity in the foreground while in the background there’s some extraordinary piece of country, for instance. Those details… You get this tremendous sense of, sort of super-life. That was my equivalent for stitch work, and also in a way, for magic realism. Everybody talks about magic realism, but with this book it’s not very helpful, because this book is realer than it is magic. One Hundred Years of Solitude absolutely is magic realism, blood runs uphill, all sorts of weird things happen. But in this story, the magic isn’t as elaborate, but there is a kind of super-realism, and it’s partly to do with the place, and how energetic the place is, because the people are so energetic, and also how hot it is, and how vivid it is, and how strong the colors are.”

You shot in Colombia, right?
“Yes, we shot in the town of Cartagena, which is never named in the novel, but it is in fact where it’s set, right on the coast, it’s a coastal city in Colombia. And there’s this extraordinary thing, of a kind of classical 16th century Spanish city, dropped into a tropical marshland, it’s the most extraordinary thing. So we tried to make this sort of super reality.”

Maybe the magic or the super reality, as you say, comes from the over the top feelings, the grand desperate romantic gestures and everything.
“That’s absolutely right. Their blood is hot and their spirits are very high, and they do feel with great intensity.”

I like to see that kind of stuff, it’s rare in theses cynical times… It’s kind of brave to make a film that’s so–
“What’s really brave is to write the book. It’s a fabulous book, it’s one of the great books. For me, it’s like War and Peace, it’s so generous towards human beings. Not stupid, not sentimental, because at times, García Márquez is very surprising about the way he writes his characters. You think that you’re cruising along with Florentino as your hero, he’s got a good heart, and then suddenly, García Márquez will say that he was really mean, mean with money. And you think, ooh, I don’t like that! But García Márquez absolutely sticks it to you and says, if you’ve got the good, you’re gonna have the bad.”

Like how Fiorentino is so pure about his lifelong love for Fermina…
“…and he fucks 622 other women! (laughs)”

How about this international cast you put together, they’re not all Colombians, there are some Spanish actors, some Italian…
“Because it was American money, an American studio, New Line, for distribution, what we tried to do, as we always do with Hollywood, you try to cast in that very narrow range in which the audience has demonstrated that it likes to see these actors, it feels safe with these actors. So if you have Brad Pitt, they’re going to go see this movie because it’s a Brad Pitt movie. We couldn’t quite do that with this, it’s crap doing it this way. What we should be doing is cast Latin throughout, no matter where they come from, whether they’re Italian, Spanish, Portugese or Brazilian or whatever. They’re going to have a foreign language as their first language. Even Ben Bratt, his mother is Peruvian, Laura Harring, her mother is Mexican… We had the whole world to cast from, rather than this tiny little suburb of an industrial city in California! The possibilites were infinite, you could have Fernanda Montenegro from Brazil, who’s a great, great actress… It’s an enormous international cast, and the thing that unified them was the language that they spoke, they had to speak English with a very particular accent. I was very nervous about the English speaking trick, but I’d seen it work really well with a movie by a guy called Julian Schnabel, called Before Night Falls. And what they did was to speak English with a Cuban accent, and I felt within five minutes, I thought they were speaking Spanish, I forgot about it.”

Was it also when you saw Before Night Falls that you had the idea to cast Javier Bardem in the lead?
“Oddly enough, not, I’d gone about him before that. I was watching his other work in order to get acquainted with him, and up popped this movie and it was very useful. And then I was nervous about that, because I felt that if South Americans didn’t like it, then we’d really fail, we were taking a risk by making it in English, but I couldn’t direct it in Spanish…”

Has García Márquez seen the film?
“Yes, he has. He thinks it’s terrific. It would be horrible if he hadn’t. I was very frightened of him, and of the South Americans, that they would think that it wasn’t authentic. But they love it, and they love it in English. García Márquez, at the end of the screening, he went kind of, “Whoa! You did it!” So, now here we are, off we go. We’ll see whether anybody else likes it, but it was great to know that he did and that the South Americans did.”

Interview conducted by Kevin Laforest at the St-James Hotel, in Montreal.

Wes Anderson: Once Upon a Time in India

Before seeing “The Darjeeling Limited”, you have advised audiences to watch “Hotel Chevalier”, a short film which introduces the character Jason Schwartzman plays in “Darjeeling”. Was it planned all along to make a short first and then a feature?
“No, it wasn’t. The two sort of came about at the same time. I started writing the feature and then I wrote the short, and then Jason, Roman Coppola and I got together and continued writing the feature. So the two sort of grew separately but simultaneously, and they’re gonna be shown in various different ways.”

You actually went to India with Roman and Jason while you were writing the film, right?
“That’s right, we went on a train journey around India, we travelled, we stayed in the desert for a period of time and we wrote there, we went into the mountains and we wrote there, too.”

Did some of the crazy things that happen in the film happen to you guys too?
“Well, we tried to make the movie as personal as we could, so we always tried to use our own experiences and share our experiences with each other, and then try to use our imagination to make them into a story, which is fictional, but there’s always a link to our own stories, I think.”

I heard that the three main characters (who are called Jack, Francis and Peter) are inspired from Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola and Peter Bogdanovitch. Is there any truth to that?
“No, no. We used Francis’ name and we also used the name of Jason’s father, Jack Schwartzman. The characters are drawn from all kinds of different sources, but they’re ultimately invented characters.”

One of the best things in the film is the dynamic between those three brothers. Do you have brothers yourself?
“Yes, I have an older brother and a younger brother.”

Was that the first thing you wanted to make this movie about, or was it India, or the train?
“Well, I don’t remember which was first, but it was those three things: brothers, India, train. I had all those things in mind. And then it was really when I started to write with Roman and Jason that the real process began, because the story we ended up telling was invented by the three of us together. The other thing was, this movie by John Cassavetes, Husbands. That was an inspiration that we had in mind from the very beginning and that was something we all felt we could relate to.”

Did Indian cinema inspire you at all?
“Very much. The films of Satyajit Ray were part of what inspired me to wanna make movies in the first place, and then they certainly inspired me to wanna go to India. And then also, Louis Malle’s documentaries about India and Jean Renoir’s movie The River were an inspiration to me. And with Satyajit Ray, he composed the music to many of his movies himself, and we use a lot of his music in our film.”

I’m a big fan of Bollywood and while your film is obviously not a Bollywood film per se, it does share with it a way of using vibrant colors, a tendency to hop casually between comedy, drama and action, the thematic importance of family…
“Hmm. I think that, with the colors in particular, that’s really about the place. We went to India to see what we could discover, not to see what we could invent. We had our story that we invented, but the visuals of the movie are all based on what we found there, what surprised us there and what we learned as foreigners there.”

What about the fact that most of the film takes place in a train? One of the most characteristic things about your movies is the wonderful widescreen composition, but here you’re often in this narrow environment.
“I think that the widescreen frame is very good for photographing actors. In particular, if you have three actors, you can get very close to three people at once when you have a frame that’s that wide. So we tried to take advantage of that.”

India almost becomes another character in the film. Is that something you intentionally tried to achieve?
“I think with this movie, India is not so much the backdrop as it is the subject matter of the movie. And that happened very naturally because it’s such a complex place, and for a foreigner, it’s filled with mystery. It’s a place where there are so many things that on the outside you don’t understand, and you learn so much so quickly while you’re there, and there’s so much more to learn about it, there’s so much religion, such depths to their culture, such antiquity and so many people that it’s overwhelming and, otherwise, tremendously inspiring.”

It’s my favourite of your movies in great part, I think, because India is such a fascinating place.
“Oh, I’m glad. Have you ever been to India?”

No, I’ve only seen it in lots of films!
“Well, that’s the way I got interested in India, it was through films, too. I felt that the movies that I’ve seen that were set in India or made by Indian filmmakers, when I went to India, I felt familiar with the place, because they really had shown me a lot. Although then you just see how much more there is beyond that.”

To go back to your movies in general, I feel that out of all the filmmakers of your generation, you might have the most unique style. You see one frame of one of your films and you can tell it’s Wes Anderson. How did you develop such a particular style?
“That may just be, very simply, my own point of view. I feel like, if that’s the case, and people see my movies and say that they have a lot of similarities to each other, and can see the connection, I don’t mind that, I don’t mind that my movies follow a train of thought. That’s not something I feel the desire to resist, I’m comfortable with that.”

Oh, it’s a great thing. It’s better than if people looked at your films and said, that looks like Scorsese.
“Right!”

How did you choose these three actors, who are great, but you wouldn’t think of them as brothers.
“No, you wouldn’t. I think Jason and Adrien, these two would be more likely to be brothers, but Owen is so different from them. In fact, it’s just because we were all friends, Jason, Owen and I, and we wanted to work together. And Adrien is somebody who I’ve wanted to work with for a long time. So no, they don’t seem like they would be likely to be brothers at all, but they all just sort of clicked. They’re good actors, and they know how to do that.”

Another thing I love in your movies is the use of music. Here, I was particularly surprised to hear a Joe Dassin song, who’s a legend here in Quebec (and in France of course), but you rarely hear French music in American films.
“Well, there’s a French connection that goes on in this movie. We wrote a lot of it in Paris, before going to write in India, and we made the short in Paris. It ends up being connected to France as well as India.”

There’s a lot of British music as well, with the Rolling Stones and The Kinks, but nothing American. Is that because you have a more European sensibility?
“I wouldn’t think so, because I come from Texas and my point of view is shaped a lot by that place, and by New York, too. But certainly I have lots of influence from Europe.”

“The Darjeeling Limited” will be released in Montreal on October 12th.