Nick Cave: Still Lawless After All These Years

It’s hard to know where to begin with Nick Cave. His music inspires a sort of devotion among fans that few other artists enjoy, a hard-earned loyalty that’s seen him from post-punk provocateur to balladeer, novelist and screenplay writer. This Bad Seed’s latest project is the script for Lawless, which he adapted from Matt Bondurant’s novel, The Wettest County in the World. Directed by longtime friend and collaborator John Hillcoat, Lawless is a strangely beautiful tale of three bootlegging brothers in Franklin County, Virginia. Cave and longtime collaborator Warren Ellis did the soundtrack, as well, under the name The Bootleggers; it’s a magnificent, eccentric collection of Lawless-era takes on songs like "White Light/White Heat" by the Velvet Underground and a must for Cave fans.

Tom Hardy stars as Forrest Bondurant, a reticent man who favors cardigans and extreme violence when necessary. He’s a myth, a man who allegedly can’t be killed, and yet a mother hen of sorts to his two screw-up brothers, Jack (Shia LaBeouf) and Howard (Jason Clarke). The Bondurants’ livelihood is threatened by a new lawman from Chicago, Charlie Rakes, who is played by a nearly unrecognizable Guy Pearce. Sporting slicked-back black hair, a shaved part, and no eyebrows, Pearce is menacing, sadistic, and unforgettable. Rounding out the cast is Jessica Chastain as a former showgirl named Maggie who’s looking for a quiet new life in Franklin County, and Mia Wasikowska as a religious young maiden who seems open to a more worldly life in the arms of Jack.

Although it’s tempting to think of Cave as a myth on par with Forrest Bondurant, he’s human and equally at the mercy of the vicissitudes of technology. The soft-spoken Australian was fighting the good fight against his dying cell phone when he called from Los Angeles to discuss his acting swansong, lyrical violence, and the slog of interviews.

I’m really interested in how Lawless seems to fit right into the world of your songs and even your novel And the Ass Saw the Angel. Was that part of the attraction to adapting the novel, or was that even conscious?
I didn’t look at it in that way. I’m happy to write about anything for screenwriting as long as it serves the director’s vision effectively and that I can write about it. We were just given this book by a couple of producers who thought that John Hillcoat and I could do a good job on it based on The Proposition, the movie we’d done before that. I guess it’s no accident that we were chosen to do it; these producers were quite savvy sort of people, but for me, it wasn’t that I felt that it kind of fitted into something that I was about, it was more that… the beautiful lyricism of the book, the beauty of the writing, the absolutely exquisite dialogue that was in the book, and the great bits of brute violence that were in there as well just made the whole thing irresistible.

Have you ever though about returning to acting, since you met John on the set of Ghosts… of the Civil Dead?
No. [Laughs] No, you’ve got to know your limitations, and acting is always unbelievably painful. I do play a dead gangster in Lawless, and I saw that as my final curtain call for acting. Three bullet holes in the face.

How much time did you spend on set? Did you have a lot of ongoing input?
I spent two days on set when I did that particular scene. The rest of the time I spent ten days working with the actors in Georgia where it was shot, going through the script with them, and rehearsing with them, and giving them the opportunity to have some sort of input into the script or discuss the script or change the script or whatever… And then I left to go back to civilization. You know what I mean. The more civilized world of being a rock singer.

I read your interview in The Observer where Tom Hardy said he wanted to play his character like "an old lesbian," and I was wondering if you could elaborate on that.
I can’t, really… He also said he wanted to play the character like the old lady in Tweetie Pie, do you know who I mean? Yeah, that was the other person that he based the character on. And at the time this was kind of a [joke], these kind of comments [laughs] but you know, I think that what he was really saying was that he wanted to play the character like a matriarch, and that he was the mother in this family, and that when Jessica Chastain’s character comes in, she isn’t a love interest so much as a direct threat on his authority as a mother figure, and I think that that’s the way he’s playing that character. He’s just amazing in the film.

My favorite line was when Chastain’s character enters the room to seduce him, and he’s so perplexed, and he says, "What are you doing?" It’s beyond him.
Yeah, well, he’s a virgin. He’s a virgin.

Aw, little Forrest!
[Laughs] He’s spent his time looking after his family and sitting on his nest, and anything like love interests and all that sort of stuff, I don’t think he’s ever, you know, he’s never had an opportunity for. That’s the way we’re looking at it.

The process is so much more—you get hamstrung by the studios or the producers or what have you. What’s the payoff in writing the screenplay when you don’t have as much freedom as you do making an album?It must be very frustrating.
In the writing of something, it’s not like that. When you first write something, it’s actually really kind of enjoyable and playful and really all you’re doing is taking a story, and you’re writing the scenes, and at least, because I’ve only written a couple of screenplays, really, maybe three or four, I’m still kind of naive enough to the process to think that what I’m actually writing is gonna get made.

I think that with Lawless, my eyes were opened up to the way films get made a lot more. It was a Hollywood movie, and it’s different, it’s a different process. But I think what makes it enjoyable for me is a kind of naiveté about the process and that you can write scenes that maybe a more experienced writer would know that these scenes will never get made. That there’s no point even putting pen to paper with these scenes because they’re never gonna get made. I think at least initially when I wrote Lawless, there were a lot of scenes like that, that were so enjoyable writing them. A lot of them, as it turned out, didn’t get made, but a lot of them did, and so it’s both. It’s extremely exciting, but it can be frustrating as well.

But there’s a huge amount of people—it’s amazing anything gets done, honestly. There’s so many people involved in the artistic decision-making of a film, and the sort of trajectory that it takes, it’s amazing that a film ever gets made at all.

I understand Crime and the City Solution is preparing to go on tour and release its first new album in years. What inspires you to revisit a certain band’s sound, like, okay, now I want to do some Bad Seeds. Now I’m feeling a little Grinderman. Now I wanna go do something with The Flaming Lips. How does that work?
They’re all different. The Flaming Lips… It was very much about the kind of irrepressible personality of Wayne Coyne. He’s, how shall I say this, he’s a very difficult person to say no to. That turned out real good, but you know, all of these other things—screenplays, novels, and all that sort of stuff—I see as just keeping the songwriting process going.

What I want to be able to do in life is just to write songs, but I know, more than anything, that if I don’t do other things, I’m not going to be able to continue to do that because you just run out of ideas. If you just made one record after another after another, it’s impossible to do. It’s impossible to keep up any quality. And I was kind of seeing that fifteen years ago or something. I understood the trajectory of the band and where it was going in some kind of way, and it was starting to decline. It was in decline, I think, and so I started doing other things just to kind of revitalize that process, and it seemed to work really well.

If I do a script, like something like Lawless, by the time I’m finished with that, I’m running screaming to get out of Hollywood and the film world and get into something more sane, like making a record. It just keeps that process alive.

How do you feel about the kind of promotion you have to do for a movie insofar as going to different festivals and talking to interviewers? Is it exhausting in a way that promoting an album or going on tour isn’t?
Promoting an album, doing interviews, and going on tour are two very different things. With all respect, doing an interview is something where you’re sitting there and selling a product. It’s always that way, and there’s a certain amount of that that I guess needs to be done, really. Going on tour is something that is an extraordinary thing to do. I love going on tour and playing concerts and watching the songs come alive in a live way.

There are actually occasions when you do an interview that makes you think about things and makes you reassess things or gives you ideas and so forth, or makes you even understand what you’re doing in a clearer kind of way, and they can be really good as well, actually. But in general, the interview thing is a bit of a slog. [Laughs] Not this one, of course. Not this one.

[Laughs] That’s very kind of you. What makes an interview not a slog? Seriously, I am always looking to learn.
Really, it’s being able to kind of honest in an interview. You know, that’s the thing about filmmaking in particular, is that no one can really be honest about a film… because so many people are involved, and the kind of destinies of so many people are involved in the outcome of the film that everyone’s just gonna kind of, you know, toe the line. If you know what I mean.

Creativity really ebbs and flows, and it seems like you’re producing work at an incredibly alarming rate. What do you do for your downtime?
I’m trying to work on that, to be honest. That’s my next project, is downtime, because it’s not something that really comes naturally to me, and it becomes worrying on some level how much work I’m doing. Not that I’m exhausted by it, because I find work energizing, but just that there needs to be downtime. There needs to be time when you don’t know what you’re doing… If you don’t have downtime, then you don’t have the epiphanies, either. You need the downtime for the epiphanies to [appear]. I think to work more on downtime. Maybe you’ve got some ideas.

Steven Soderbergh’s Stripper Epic Will Be a Hit Among Women

I have a Polaroid picture that’s nearly 20 years old of two friends and me posing with Chippendales dancers. I’m nuzzled up to the well-tanned pecs of a male stripper with a ponytail and a salacious grin, while a dancer who looks like the adopted Aryan son of Siegfried and Roy is hugging one of my friends from behind. My third friend is a genteel distance away from her companion, a fellow with some sort of ’90s hair metal situation and a gold chain dangling in his clipped chest hair. I’m pretty sure that if I were smiling like a normal person in the photo, you’d see my braces. We’d had a grand time with our moms, aunts, and a bevy of Vegas broads watching the Male Revue strip down to their skivvies, and this was our keepsake.

I don’t have photos from the second time I went to a male strip club, and that’s really for the best. It was a place in midtown Manhattan that was rented out in the early evenings for bachelorette parties before the B&T crowd was ready to booze it up. We’d assured our friend’s fiancé it would be no big deal, but we were all so grossed out by the greasy dudes hauling women out of the audiences to hump them that we spent most of our time shooing them away from the bride-to-be until we left for greener pastures.

The third male strip club I’ve been to was Magic Mike. And it was the nicest one of them all.

In some circles, Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike has drummed up the sort of anticipation that’s unlike the usual buzz surrounding the Oscar-winner’s work. The brouhaha over Magic Mike is a heady mixture of bachelorette party giggles and cinephilic curiosity, similar to the tittering that accompanied Michael Fassbender’s revealing performance in Shame. But there’s no shame in the Magic Mike game; we’re meant to look, and look hard at the parade of perfectly pumped and primped male dancers starring in Soderbergh’s newest movie. Judging from the reception of trailers, photos, and media appearances that Warner Bros. has been releasing like Salome’s veils (as well as the post-screening ladies room chatter I overheard), the female audience is ready for our turn at some public male gazing, much as I was at the age of, uh, whatever I was when that Polaroid was first shaken.

When the trailer popped up online in mid-April, some friends and I began an impressively long email chain about the merits of Magic Mike. Hyperbole and The Dark Knight Rises be damned, this would indubitably be the best film of the summer, if not the year. Emails flew through the ether, and our Twitter timelines grew bloated with links to stories, animated GIFs, and snickers. We picked out our favorites; Channing Tatum won some of us over with his turn in 21 Jump Street ("Fuck science!"), while others preferred True Blood‘s Joe Manganiello. Matthew McConaughey holds a certain appeal with his kinky cowboy outfits and "Awright, awright, awright" Texan drawl. We were a bit sour on Alex Pettyfer for his off-screen attitude, and Adam Rodriguez, Matt Bomer, and Kevin Nash got lost in the shuffle (sorry, guys).

The guilty emailing parties were not just friends but work colleagues, almost all of them journalists who write about film, usually from a feminist point of view, or are otherwise involved in media. We deal with these people, well, not every day, but often enough that we’re supposed to be immune, dammit. We are professionals. We don’t wear tiaras with tiny penises on them on the weekends. So our titters are mixed with a touch of professional embarrassment, the same sort of reaction most had over Fassbender taking a leisurely leak in Steve McQueen’s dark drama from last year.

Once I began polling my other friends about the movie via email, almost all of them admitted their curiosity was piqued. These women are not generally the type to drool over Channing Tatum and his sweet Step Up moves or ogle dudes at the gym. Judy McGuire, Seattle Weeklycolumnist and the author of The Official Book of Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll Lists, describes her type as "tall, sunken-chested, sullen, and scrawny." Another writer friend who shall remain anonymous prefers her men to be "skinny and Jewish, mostly, so Magic Mike is more like Magic Beefcake to me." She added, "This kind of presentation of male sexuality isn’t my bag or my thing at all. I get more fluttery watching a cute beta choirboy-type sing indie rock songs about birds." I don’t have a physical type that I can tell; if you lined up all the fellows I’ve been infatuated with over the years, it would be a rogues’ gallery of weirdoes, and the only one who could pass for one of Mike’s pals is my high school boyfriend, a football playing vegetarian metal head. Lux Alptraum, the editor and publisher of Fleshbot (link NSFW), put it bluntly: "I think Channing Tatum is pretty unattractive, honestly." Conversely, porn star, model, and badass-of-all-trades Bella Vendetta (link also NSFW, obviously) made no bones about it. "I’m sure women are excited because it’s Channing Tatum, and he’s mostly naked, what’s not to like?" The convergence of Channing Tatum’s rising stardom and the release of Magic Mike can’t be underestimated here, either. Our interests in the movie itself also are a mixed bag; while some are actually psyched to see the rate at which Tatum can pistol his pelvis per second, McGuire responded, "Because it looks hilarious! I went to see Glitter in the theater for the exact same reason."

Most of us are not actually looking at any of the dancers as "that dreamboat guy that never came along," as McConaughey puts it in the trailer. "Their appeal is not about a desired relationship, it’s about sex and fantasy,” wrote Kristy Puchko, a twenty-something movie blogger. “It’s Erica Jong’s zipless fuck.” And that zipless fuck isn’t easy to come by, either. "There aren’t that many pieces of pop culture that explicitly sexualize the male body in a way that isn’t codified as for gay men," Alptraum wrote. "I think women who are attracted to men appreciate the creation of a film that is overtly about male bodies sexualized or commodified for female consumption."

While plenty of love scenes have modest male butt shots, they’re rarely lingered upon as long as they are in Magic Mike. On the flip side, the naked male body is also a figure of fun, as in Jason Segel’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall or whenever Will Ferrell drops his pants. As my friend Kathleen, 37, wrote, "It’s easier for straight men to accept it if the character is either funny (‘Haha, he’s naked! Hilarious!’) or pathetic (‘Look at that naked dumbass!’) than if the character is otherwise a regular, likeable character." Although Magic Mike is definitely funny, the humor doesn’t have the same timbre; we’re not laughing at how pathetic Jason Segel’s character is, we’re laughing at the surreal dance numbers—"It’s Raining Men," anyone?—or Mike’s flirtatious banter. It will probably be hard to get heterosexual men into the theater for this one, unless they’re serious about their Soderbergh. As my friend and colleague Jordan Hoffman wrote, "I am ‘assigned’ this movie as a working critic, but even if I was in a different line of work I would see it because I greatly admire Steven Soderbergh and never miss anything he does. K Street forever!" The guys who skip Magic Mike because they fear it will only be an endless vision of glossy glutes will be missing out on much more than McConaughey playing the bongos.

Watching Magic Mike in the context of a media screening made me feel self-conscious; I was always trying to gauge the reactions of those around me. Was I laughing too much? Too loud? At the wrong time? Oh god, did I just chuckle and snort?! Come on, let’s be professionals here. They’re just guys gyrating in thongs, y’all. This is why publicists like us to watch horror movies with people who are psyched to get into a preview screening, even if that screening is at midnight and you’ve got to turn in a review by 10 AM; ostensibly, the excitement of the crowd catches like a cough. (This can also backfire terribly if the crowd hates the movie as much or more than the journalists attending.) But it’s so cheesy!" the adult in me moans, while the pre-sulk teenager in me squeals and claps her hands. It’s easy and maybe safer to put on a smirk and sit back with your arms crossed in case your editor is nearby, but where’s the fun in that?

‘Splice’ Director Vincenzo Natali on His New Film and the Future of ‘Neuromancer’

Director Vincenzo Natali has been making inventive movies for decades, but none managed to capture his audience’s imagination the way his sci-fi thriller Cube did, back 1997. That all changed when Splice premiered at Sundance, shocking audiences. Warner Bros. decided it was a movie people needed to see and are giving it a nationwide release on June 4th. In it, Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley play unusually good-looking geneticists who let their ambitions get the better of them when they create Dren, a strangely beautiful creature of mixed human and animal DNA. Things get wacky, and, well, you’ll have to see the thing to find out what we mean by that. It’s by far Natali’s biggest movie (Guillermo del Toro is a producer), and things are only looking up for the director, who’s slated to helm the long-in-gestation adaptation of Neuromancer. Here he is on the status of that project, the strange experiment that inspired Splice, and taking things too far.

What about science fiction first attracted you to the genre? It’s just been a life-long obsession. I consider my life to be very dull, so I was always attracted to fantasy of various kinds. Star Wars was a huge influence on me. My mom used to take me to this old theater when I was a kid, where every Tuesday they would have a Universal horror film. So I remember seeing the original Frankenstein and the original Bride of Frankenstein in a movie theater and those films always stayed with me. They’re definitely part of the DNA of Splice, for sure.

It seems so natural that Guillermo del Toro is one of the producers. How did he get involved? I met Guillermo at a film festival and he expressed a desire to produce a film for me, which I was very happy about because I was a tremendous fan of his work. I immediately thought of Splice, which was a script I already had and that had been gathering dust on my shelf in my office. I felt intuitively that he would respond to the theme of the creature—of discovering humanity in the creature— and just thought it would appeal to him, and it did. He was wonderful. He’s basically Dren’s godfather. He really helped shepherd her into the world and he lent us his name, which opened a lot of doors and legitimized what we were doing. I see him as the great impresario of fantastic art. I think he’s done this for me and for many other people as well.

I understand that your point of inspiration was the Vacanti mouse experiment. The Vacanti mouse was such a shocking image because it was basically a naked mouse with what appeared to be a human ear growing out of its back. It wasn’t a real ear. In fact, it wasn’t even a genetic experiment, but it was such a powerful image, and I think part of its power came from how vulnerable the mouse looked. I immediately identified with it. I really felt for it. It was speaking to some pretty strange avenues that are now opening up to us with the advent of this new technology, so I really think from its very earliest stages, Splice always put the emphasis, the emotional connection, on the creature. We were always going to be suspect and dubious of the humans and, in fact, in the making of this creature, we discover the monster lurking within the humans. In other words, I never thought this should be a story of a monster going on the loose and wreaking havoc and killing people. That was just not the story I wanted to tell. I was much more interested in how the people would end up smothering their own creation. It becomes kind of a hostage story. That’s the road we followed. So the mouse was a very influential mouse.

I read that George Charames, your technical consultant on genetics, actually said that this type of experimentation is occurring clandestinely around the world, that these human-hybrid chimeras were being created. Do you think that’s true? Well, they are. They absolutely are. Not like what we have in the film, but in the UK they legalized the creation of human-animal chimeras for medical research. They destroy them after, I don’t know, a few days or a week or something, so they never go beyond the embryo stage. That’s what Clive and Elsa at the start of the film plan to do: destroy it before it grows. But it grows a little bit quickly and once it’s born, they don’t have the heart to kill it, so you can easily see how life often trumps the best-laid plans and how things can go horribly, horribly wrong.

You’re currently attached to Neuromancer as both writer and director. Have you already started working on the adaptation? Well, this is another example of technology out of control because I haven’t even signed a deal yet. That information leaked out on the Internet somewhat unexpectedly and it’s just amazing to me how fast it traveled. I mean, now it just seems like common knowledge. It’s amazing. But I have every intention of doing it. I’m very, very excited and honored to be given such a seminal and important book to adapt.

How do you envision creating the Neuromancer universe? Like Splice, I think the way to do it is to make it real. A lot of people will tell you that after The Matrix, there’s no point in making Neuromancer, because The Matrix borrowed so much from the book, and the Wachowskis will be the first to admit this, but I think that’s actually not right. I think The Matrix films were, in the best possible way, comic books, whereas Gibson’s book is a much more serious work of fiction. So I want to make it real. Actually, even though a lot of people have borrowed from it, there’s a lot in there that has not been explored. To me, it’s a treatise about the post-human world. Unlike Splice, it’s not quite as much about physical transformation as it is about the transformation of our consciousness and how we’re going to merge with our machine consciousnesses.

Have you ever talked to William Gibson? Yes. One of the great thrills of my life was when I had a very lively conversation with him on the phone prior to all this happening. He’s everything I hoped he would be. He’s a lovely man and he really supported the idea of me doing the book, so I feel like I got the blessing to move forward. He wrote the script. I’m working from his script and I want to do it with his approval.

You’re also attached to an adaptation of the J. G. Ballard book High Rise, which is more about a devolution, a breakdown of humanity. It sounds like Cronenberg’s Shivers. He [Cronenberg] must have read High Rise before he made the film, the difference being, in High Rise, there’s no parasite or chemical or external force that causes this breakdown. It really comes from within; it’s the psychology of the society. I call it a social disaster film. It’s about a society in collapse, but like all of Ballard’s fiction, it’s somewhat ambiguous. Like, it doesn’t really condemn what’s happening. It doesn’t really couch it within the terms of it being a devolution. It’s more open-ended. I think that what makes Ballard so special is that he is an author of dystopian fiction, but the dystopias may just be a necessary step. You feel like he’s not implying any kind of moral judgment on what’s happening and that’s what makes it rich. That’s what makes it really interesting.

Returning to Splice, were you ever concerned that you were going too far and that you’d lose the audience? Well, I think we do lose some people. That’s the litmus test. There are some people who just can’t go there and that’s fine, because that’s the movie I wanted to make. That’s why I’m so delighted and amazed that the film is getting a mainstream release; it was never intended to be mainstream. It was made as an independent film, but I think that overall, audiences are smarter and more desirous of innovative films than studios often give them credit for. I’m willing to believe that if the film is a success, it will be because it pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable. And that’s consistent with many of the great films in the horror canon, like you think about Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Alien, these are movies that put things on the screen that shocked people and truly frightened them and I think that’s why people go to see horror films. There’s no question, not everyone will make the leap.

Over the ‘Moon’ with Duncan Jones & Sam Rockwell

In Duncan Jones’ directing debut Moon, Sam Rockwell is a hard-working moon miner about to finish up his contract working for the government. His only companions are tapes from home and a talking computer, GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey in an eerie HAL-like voice). Sam whiles his time away sending videos back to his wife and child on Earth and building elaborate matchstick buildings when he’s not retrieving precious resources from the moon for the folks back home. His tour of duty is so close to ending, he can taste it — but of course, that’s when things start going awry. It’s hard to discuss Moon without giving away surprises. So beware — Spoilers Ahead! — as we talk with Rockwell and Jones about their trippy, old-school science-fiction flick. We get down to brass tacks about video games, futurism, Sam’s refusal to get a computer, therapy, Twittering, and many other topics besides Duncan Jones’ dad (who is David Bowie, fine, so let’s move on).

Tell me about meeting each other, and Duncan, about your interest in Sam. Sam Rockwell: We met at a coffee shop. We were set up through my agent, and we were supposed to meet on another project, and that didn’t feel like it was the right one, but then … it came up somehow that we both were sci-fi fans. Duncan Jones: We got on well. I didn’t want to let it go because I wanted to work with him. And he was like, “I’m through with this! I’m outta here.” And I was like, “Stay! Please, Sam, stay! What can I do? What can I do?” And he was like, “I wanna play a blue collar guy. What can you do about that?” And I was like, “Well, I’ll write something for you.” So about nine months later I gave him the script [for Moon].

And, Duncan, your interest in sci-fi goes way, way back. Your thesis in college was … DJ: Batshit. Crazy. [laughs]


Batshit crazy, yeah. And amazing. It was “How to Kill Your Computer Friend: An Investigation of the Mind/Body Problem and How It Relates to the Hypothetical Creation of a Thinking Machine.” And it ties into Moon and GERTY and all that. DJ: It’s all about thinking machines.

You’ve been interested in sci-fi for a really long time, since you were a child … DJ: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

What attracts you to the genre? DJ: You know, when I was a kid growing up, I was a only kid and we traveled an awful lot, and one of the few things that made me feel at home was movies, whether they were on old U-matic tapes or VHS. But we had Star Wars before anyone else had it. We had the first pirate copy of Star Wars, and it was on these three big U-matic tapes, so I used to get all the kids round my house and we used to watch Star Wars. So films were a big deal for me, and science fiction was obviously a big deal as well. And I was kinda geeky, so …

What attracts you to science fiction? DJ: At that age, I think it was just the whole escapism of it, the fact that you were in this whole different world, and it was just exciting to be somewhere so different. I think that was part of it, at that age. As I got older, my appreciation for science fiction changed, and I became more interested in the fact that you would hear or read these stories that involved very human things but done in such a way that you could appreciate the human elements of the story, but not feel like you were being lectured to, because again, you had this distance because it was science fiction.

What’s your take on science fiction, Sam? Like, which authors and movies inspired you, especially for this project? SR: I guess, well, Blade Runner, Alien, Outland, Silent Running, and 2001Alien might have been the first one we talked about. DJ: That’s true. Well, that kind of tied with the whole blue-collar thing, didn’t it. SR: Yeah, we were trying to do a combination of science fiction and — well, a lot of science fiction movies in the past 10 or 15 years have been about incredibly good-looking people up in space, and they sort of save the universe from a monster or something, and back then it was like, they’ve got these really great character actors like Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton and Veronica Cartwright and all these people. The mix of English and American actors in Alien was interesting, and the fact that the acting was so realistic, and it was about these blue-collar people. Or a movie like The Thing, where you’ve got these blue -collar people up in this isolated working environment, like regular joes, and they’re ordinary people forced into extraordinary circumstances. So you relate to them, and the acting was so real. In Alien, it was so real it was like a Cassavetes movie, actually. You know, you have Harry Dean Stanton improvising with Ian Holm and stuff like that, and these incredibly skilled actors like Tom Skerritt, and they throw this monster into the mix. And the monster seems very real. So I think the reason you get pulled in, if you take Alien, just that movie, is that they have a very naturalistic, kitchen-sink movie in space, and then all of a sudden they start introducing more extraordinary things, and so because you’re sucked in through the reality of the acting, you start to buy the monster. You become afraid just like they are. So it’s a very effective movie, and I think we might have talked about that movie in particular along with Outland and other ones, Bruce Dern in Silent Running, and that’s the thing that I … I said, “Why don’t they make sci-fi movies like that any more? Where’s that movie?” So I think we bonded on that, so that was our aesthetic with Moon, I think. At least it was mine, and I think it was yours, too. DJ: Yeah, definitely.

Has the future become much more boring now that JG Ballard died? DJ: Oh, absolutely! JG Ballard passing was a big deal for me because I was a huge fan of his, and I don’t know if it’s more boring, but I just think that now we’re lacking one of the really interesting minds as far as it comes to futurism and looking at what our situation is in the world, and how we’re going to be affected by the technologies we’re inventing and the changes that we’re sort of creating for ourselves. So it’s a shame that he’s gone. SR: What did he write? DJ: He wrote Crash and a bunch of books like High RiseSR: Crash? Which one?

The good one. SR: The one with the car accidents? DJ: And Empire of the Sun. That was about his childhood. About his real childhood. SR: Wow.

In the Japanese internment camps. SR: But those don’t sound like sci-fi stories … DJ: I should give you some of his short stories because he has some amazing stuff. He did this really, really interesting short story about a laboratory where they were doing experiments and not allowing people to sleep. It’s just really weird. And it’s great ’cause he would take, rather than go into crazy sci-fi, what he would do is he would take the world as it is and he’d make one subtle change. He’d just make one little change. And then the story would be about, what does that change do to the world? Really good stuff.

You could compare him to William Gibson … DJ: William Gibson and Philip K. Dick, though, they both kind of made big changes. Ballard’s beauty was that it was small changes.

Right, but they were no less prescient. SR: So he was like Kurt Vonnegut too, a little bit. DJ: Yeah, yeah. SR: There’s a Kurt Vonnegut story about what if the Japanese and Germans had won World War II. I think it’s a whole novel, not just a short story. DJ: There’s a great Philip K. Dick story about that as well. SR: He did Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, right? DJ: Yeah, Blade Runner. But there’s a book that he did that I’d love to make into a film, but I just don’t think if it’s politically acceptable. It’s called The Man in the High Castle. I think that would be an amazing film. It’s, again, the same thing, if the Germans and Japanese had won WWII and the Germans had basically owned the East Coast and the Japanese had won the West Coast, and it’s all about these, they’re kind of like antiques dealers who live in the Midwest who basically sell Americana to these Nazis and Japanese. It’s great. Amazing story.

So do you want stick with science fiction, as far as movie-making goes? DJ: Well, my next film is probably gonna be a sci-fi, but no, not forever. I want to do some different genres; there are some things I’d love to do, but not just sci-fi.

Your next project, I read, is similar to a sequel to Blade Runner. DJ: It’s not a sequel. It’s a thriller that would take place in the world, if Blade Runner’s going on in LA, this is a story that’s going on in Berlin. So they’re not related in any other way except for the fact that it could be from the same world.

Video games and sci-fi are all part of a geek culture, if you will, that is becoming far more mainstream as an extension of these alternate realities that movies Moon are presenting. What’s your take on that? DJ: Games, films, literature — it’s all about creating worlds and stories in those worlds. I used to work in the games industry as well. I was a games designer about 10 years ago or so … It was a terrible game. It was called “Republic.” It was at a company called Elixir Studios, and they were like the European equivalent of Ion Storm, so you know what happened to Ion Storm — basically, the same thing happened to Elixir Studios.

Do you still play video games? DJ: I do play them, yeah. [laughs and turns to Sam] Sorry, this is so boring. SR: No, go ahead, man. I’m taking a break. DJ: Call of Duty 5 … PC. Only PC. Yeah, I hate consoles. I have an Xbox, don’t use it. I have a Wii, don’t use that. I need a keyboard and a mouse. I’m old school.

You’re old school like GERTY. DJ: Yeah, exactly.

And Sam, you don’t play video games. SR: I don’t. DJ: He believes in living life. I hide from life. SR: I’m a bit of a technophobe, yeah … I have a cell phone. That’s about it. I text. That’s about it. DJ: Thank God for texting. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to get ahold of you. I wouldn’t know how to interface. SR: It’s true. I don’t have email. I don’t have any of that.

You don’t have email? SR: I don’t have a computer. DJ: See what I had to deal with?

I don’t know how to respond to that. SR: It’s possible. You can do it, if you want.

But why? SR: It’s just not necessary for me. Once in a while, I would like to do the research you can get on a computer. That, I think, might come in handy. I might get an iPhone, eventually, just to do some of the research. But I’m not a letter-writer, so I don’t really care. I’ll write some texts. The text thing is already too much. It’s like, enough with this thing. I wanna throw it out the window. It’s like every two seconds I’m texting, almost get hit by a car texting. It’s ridiculous.

But you’re in a science fiction movie. SR: Yes, but I’m an actor. I’m not a space technician. [all laugh] Technically, it was challenging, making the movie, but for different reasons. There are a lot of people who don’t have computers, you know. A lot of cool people … Tom Stoppard doesn’t have a computer, did you know that? Tom Stoppard. I heard that David Mamet doesn’t have a computer, but he probably has an assistant who has a computer. DJ: Russell Crowe hates computers. If he sees a computer, he breaks it. SR: I heard Viggo Mortensen doesn’t have a computer. DJ: That makes sense. SR: He’s the coolest guy around … He doesn’t need a computer. DJ: He just looks at them, and they know. SR: I know Patricia Clarkson does not have a computer, and I’m a big fan of hers. We’re friends. DJ: But actors need to be able to relate to people and understand people, whereas we don’t. [laughs] We just have to use computers.

It’s hard to even talk about the movie without revealing spoilers, so Sam, talk to me about your research. Did you go to a therapist for that, or what? SR: I do go to therapy, but that’s something entirely different. All actors should go to therapy.

I think all people should. SR: I think all people should too.

What about you, Duncan? DJ: I don’t go to therapy. SR: The English aren’t big on therapy. DJ: But I need the interior conflict in order to make stuff … and then get him to act it out. SR: The British aren’t big on therapy … It’s too self-conscious. DJ: No, not really. We’ve got to catch up on dentistry. SR: I think they think it’s like you’re feeling sorry for yourself, which is actually, it’s not, but I think there’s a sort of … it’s that phrase “Get on with it.” DJ: Yeah, absolutely … When I grew up, we had this phrase that was always thrown around, “character building.” So if anything happened to you, or any shit you happened to deal with … SR: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. DJ: Yeah, character building. SR: I agree with that. Sometimes you do sort of have to get on with it. But anyway, yes … It was intense. For a lot of reasons. Technically, it was mind-boggling. It was a never-ending challenge, technically. It was a lot about timing, and we talked about dance, and I think that there is a kind of timing to it, and I think I do have good timing. I think that was … I mean, I’m being very vague here, but … DJ: We knew up front, there’s no point in getting you to play the same guy the same way multiple times. There’s no drama or conflict or anything interesting in that … We spent a lot of time trying to find ways to split these Sams up and make them into different people. SR: A few months before, we had time to sort of work on this, and he flew to New York, and I got an actor friend of mine, Yul Vazquez, who I studied acting with, and we would read a scene and we’d read it one way, and then we’d switch parts and do it the other way. And then we would improvise and riff, and he would incorporate some of the improvs and film it on video, and then he would go back to London and incorporate some of that into the script. And then I went to London and we found another actor, and we rehearsed with him, and it was just a process where we found we were going for two very broad strokes of archetypes for the two different clones — one was maybe a tough guy, the other was more sensitive. And then slowly we got more specific on really crafting out three dimensional human beings.

DJ: That’s why the script kind of made it clear what the difference was — there was this difference in experience between the different Sams. One guy’s been on his own for three years. One of them has just woken up into this absurd, bizarre situation. SR: You know, if you spend three years in prison, or three years in Auschwitz, it’s different than spending three years in New York City, you know what I mean? So three years on the moon, I think, affected this guy in a way that made him different. It’s a different experience. It’s like ten years on Earth, in a way. It’s a Robinson Crusoe castaway experience that’s going to change you. And we discussed a back story of how he was before he was there; he was more selfish and narcissistic, and then this experience kind of changed him a little bit.

So Sam, Iron Man 2? How’s that going? Fun? SR: Iron Man 2. Very fun.

Awesome. Jon Favreau’s Twittering about it. SR: I’m Twittering about him … Twittering in my pants!

Where are your favorite places to go in New York and London? SR: I like Avenue C Espresso. Esperanto’s over there. I like Zum Schneider, the German place, although it’s crowded, but I like the beer. Good beer during the day. DJ: In New York, I like K-town, just because I love Korean food, so anything, any bibimbap, just throw it in front of me, I’ll eat it. And in London, there’s a place called The Big Easy, which is basically an overload of Americana. So, because I live in London, I sort of get all the London I need, but whenever I need a little bit of America, I go to The Big Easy.

Why do you want a little bit of America in London? DJ: Well, because I’m cosmopolitan. [laughs]

Greg Mottola’s Ticket to ‘Adventureland’

Superbad director Greg Mottola is poised to pop the bromance bubble with Adventureland, a movie he wrote and directed based on his experiences as an underpaid carny one college summer. Starring Jesse Eisenberg as James Brennan, Mottola’s fictionalized alter ego, and Twilight’s Kristen Stewart as Em, his troubled love interest, Adventureland is a sweeter, slightly more serious, and definitely more stoned version of Superbad. After the jump, Mottola talks with us about who might be the awkward king of America, Twilight madness, getting mistaken for Moby, and his upcoming stab at sci-fi with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

Is it hard to direct something that you’ve written that’s personal, as opposed to something you haven’t written … that you’re one step away from emotionally? I started out wanting out to be an auteur like my heroes, naively — people like Woody Allen or Fellini or whoever, the people who made me wanna make movies, Truffaut … American Graffiti, which George Lucas wrote and directed … You know, people telling their own stories and writing their own stuff. I wanted to be a writer as much as I wanted to be a director, somewhat, but I always like the directing part better, and I finally got out of my own way and decided I should direct more and work on good scripts. And [when] Superbad came my way — and I did a lot of TV before that — it was liberating, actually, having done one little indie movie (The Daytrippers) a long time ago, to work on something that I hadn’t written.

You have a different perspective. When you’ve written it yourself and it’s personal, in particular, you’re so caught up in not just worrying about, “Is this good? Is this funny? Is it working?” You’re just worried about, “Am I expressing this the right way? Is this really how it happened? Should I be putting this out in the world? Why would anyone want to know this about me?” [laughs] You know, there’s a lot of self-doubt that comes into it.

With Superbad, because Seth and Evan Goldberg wrote it, and it was about their lives at a certain age — they started a version of it when they were actually still in high school — it was their story, and they had transformed it into a totally fictional thing, but it had the authenticity of being somebody’s story. It didn’t feel like, to me, Corporate Product Teen Movie, so I could relate to it, but it was nice that I didn’t have to think about that stuff. And that they were people I could work with, and if I had ideas about the writing that they would listen to me, that they weren’t rigid writers who would quit every time you would suggest a change.

Since James is a fictionalized account of your experiences, and who you were — Unfortunately, yeah.

Who is Em? Em is definitely a composite of a few exes. The story is ostensibly about that first relationship where you look back and go, “Oh yeah, that’s the first time I was actually falling in love with someone for who they were, not just for childish infatuation or pure horniness or whatever.” It’s the kind of relationship that happens in stages of life, one of those plateaus where you go, “Oh, that’s different. That was closer to intimacy; I was moving towards a different relationship with that person.” That person in my life was around that age, but she was nothing like Em’s character. The person who was more like Em’s character [was] based a little bit more on someone I knew in my twenties, someone I dated in my twenties, and was in the middle of a lot of pain about her life and, you know, is one of those things where I realized that to love somebody, you have to love them for everything — you have to love their flaws as well as the great things about them. And so you know when you’re young, especially, it’s unlikely you’re gonna meet someone who’s got everything all worked out, and what Jesse’s character needs to do is meet someone who doesn’t have everything worked out and make the decision that it’s OK to move towards someone like that, even if they have the ability to hurt me badly, but that’s just part of it. That’s just part of what love’s about.

So there were people I went through that learning curve with, that informed writing that character.

Do you think they’re going to recognize themselves? Um, my lawyer hopes they don’t. No, I don’t think so because I think I actually changed all the details enough that there’s nothing you could trace back. And I probably have enough of a history of falling in love with people who are complicated that there are a couple of people in there. I mean, I personally like people who are complicated. I think they’re more fun, at the end of the day. Simple people, eh.


It’s hard to avoid some comparisons with Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg. Who would win in a cage match? A cage match of awkwardness? Who’s the awkward king of America? Of young adult America?

Well, I knew of Jesse before I knew of Michael Cera, actually, because I had seen [Jesse’s] first film Roger Dodger when it came out because I was friends with Campbell Scott. I really liked him and I liked the movie, and that came out before I did Arrested Development. When I did Arrested Development, I was very excited because I was already a fan of Jason Bateman and Jeffrey Tambor and the whole cast, pretty much, and Michael was the only person I didn’t know, and he was the one who I was like, “I can’t believe this fifteen-year-old kid is the funniest person in the room.” It kind of blew my mind.

Michael is a very specific … He’s unique. I mean, there’s no one like Michael Cera. He’s his own thing, and I feel the same way about Jesse. I mean, Jesse has a slightly more neurotic New York Jewish energy to him, but Jesse, I think, is a little more sexualized than Michael. Michael is so sweet that some of the stuff, some of the yearning in Adventureland I wanted to have something of a sexual component, and I think that felt better, that felt more correct with Jesse, although Jesse has a lot of the sincerity and sweetness. You know, I’m glad that there are two actors like that out in the world because there’s not a lot of young people who could have played parts like that, in either Superbad or this, so I’d say it’s a toss-up. I love them equally.

So Kristen Stewart and Twilight madness. Were you guys in the throes of that while you were filming Adventureland? No, we actually shot this before she even got the part, so we were shooting, and one day I heard that Catherine Hardwicke, who I had met years ago, I heard she was visiting Kristen to audition her for a movie. I knew she used to be a production designer, I knew she was directing, I had seen Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown, and I said, “Oh, that’s cool. She makes cool movies. She’s a cool person.” And Kristen is so mellow, she was just like, “Yeah, it’s a vampire movie. It’s cool.” And then one day she’s like, “Yeah, I got that part. You know, could be pretty cool.” [laughs] Like, not a big deal about it at all. I thought, “Oh you know, it’s probably some indie vampire movie — Catherine Hardwicke does indie films. It’ll be an interesting movie, you know, some people will see it.”

I had no idea, not until months later, that she was going to explode into the culture this way. It’s lucky for me, of course … Kristen’s a very serious young person. She takes the work really seriously, so I know she applied herself to that. ‘Cause Adventureland was lower budget and shorter schedule, it’s not like she’d be like, “Ugh, this dumb little movie.” She’d work really, really hard. So it didn’t surprise me that Catherine Hardwicke chose her, because she’s really interesting to watch. Kristen is great. But it is, yeah, it’s cool and strange — I mean, she’s handling it really well, but the first time I’d seen her in a long time was at Sundance, and she’s being followed down the street by gangs of girls yelling, “Bella!” So, that’s her life for the next decade. [laughs]

Yeah, well, I know how that is. Not really. I know. They won’t leave me alone. But they’re yelling, “Moby!” so they’re confused.

Speaking of budget, you guys spent a tremendous amount of effort getting the songs for the movie, which were amazing. Was there anything that you were dying to get that you weren’t able to get? Not that much. There was a Smiths song and a Brian Eno song that had sentimental value that I wanted to get in there, but I’m amazed that we got as many songs as we did. And it’s not like those songs were so unaffordable, but in the bigger picture there were things I had to have. There were a lot of things I felt I had to have, and I got the things I had to have. I mean, once Lou Reed signed on to do it — the fact that we mention him in the movie made it slightly trickier to approach. We were saying, “Hey, we wanna use two Velvet Underground songs and one of your solo songs, and full disclosure, we talk about you as a human being in the movie.” And I also made a decision that if Lou Reed said no, I would take that out of the script. We had to figure that out in prep, because I wasn’t going to go down the list of rock stars until I ended up at, like, Billy Squire or something. It had to be someone that meant something to me, and whose music would mean something in the movie, and is great, so once his people said okay, it did help us ’cause we made deals that we could then say, “Okay this is what we got Lou Reed’s songs for, so will you be nice to us also?” And so we could start to put together a manageable budget. Because in Superbad we have one Van Halen song that cost almost as much as the entire music budget for Adventureland, so my music supervisor pulled off some unbelievable deals. But we went after the Rolling Stones — it’s a more obscure Rolling Stones song, but it’s from Tattoo You, which was their ’80s stuff, you know, ’79, ’80 — I really wanted that. I wrote that song into that scene. When I was writing that scene, I heard that song in my head. And I got a lot of the stuff. And then of course there’s the music James and Em listen to that’s all indie rock, we called it college radio back then … there was no indie rock label yet. But The Replacements, Husker Du, Jesus and Mary Chain, the stuff that kept me sane through college and being unemployed after college, kept me from slitting my wrists.

Tell me about Paul and how you got involved with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The Superbad DVD has a fake interview with Michael Cera and Jonah Hill and Edgar Wright on it, so were you guys all friends? We were all Simon Pegg fans, and then going to places like Comic-Con, I met Edgar pretty early on. I met Edgar before I met Simon, and just because he was at Comic-Con at the same time as Jonah and Michael, they stayed in touch and did that thing [on the DVD], which I think is really funny — Edgar’s a good actor! My agents called me one day and said, “Simon Pegg wants to meet you about a project.” He liked my little indie film The Daytrippers; he hadn’t seen Superbad yet. We met the day Superbad opened; he had just finished shooting How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, so he’d been up all night; he was really out of it, and we met at his hotel restaurant — we went to the Bowery — and he told me about Paul. And I loved Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and I said, “I’m in, if you’ll take me.” I’m so glad Edgar was too busy, because I wanted to do this so badly. And he said, “Well, we haven’t even written yet; we’re just starting it. I’ll call you when it’s done.” And I knew that I’d be one of some list of directors they’d have, and much to my amazement, eight months later, he called me up and said the script is done — and we’d stayed in touch, and he’d loved Superbad — he called me up and said, “Do you want to do it?” And I said, “You mean me? Or am I on a list?” And he said, “Nah, I’ve decided I want you to do it.” And I was like, “Holy shit! This is so cool!” And the script was fantastic and so incredibly smart.

And it’s sci-fi? It’s ostensibly sci-fi. The most I can say about it — ’cause we don’t wanna give away too many of the things, ’cause Simon and Nick in particular are so beloved in the world of the blogosphere and Comic-Con and all that, we just don’t wanna spoil the fun by giving too much away — it’s two sci-fi nerds from the UK who come to the United States, their first trip ever to the United States, and for them, their dream vision of going to the US is to go to Comic-Con and then take a road trip to Area 51 because they’re obsessed with aliens. And somewhere along the way, they actually meet an alien. But it’s kind of like Easy Rider with an alien. I mean it’s a road trip. It goes into all strange directions and the writing, it’s not the mainstream Hollywood take … it sounds like a high-concept movie, but it’s just such a smart script.

Why do you think that Comic-Con and SXSW and Apple stores are becoming venues for people to promote their movies? I mean, like Comic-Con … Was like, yeah, you wouldn’t be caught dead at Comic-Con. [laughs]

Well, maybe you wouldn’t … No, believe me, I went to comic conventions … The movie studios were hardly there, ten years ago, five years ago … I mean, obviously there must be money to be made. That’s why they’re there. But, you know, it’s a passionate culture. These are people who really, really love what they love, and it’s not like, a blasé consumer culture of people who are just like, “Yeah, that movie was cool, that was good.”

These people are passionate, having been to Comic-Con, and people like myself — you know, before I became obsessed with foreign films, I was obsessed with horror films, I was obsessed with science-fiction movies, I was obsessed with Star Wars like everyone else, every other boy, and you know, these people are lovers, not fighters. Obviously because of the Internet now, there’s an entire way of talking about movies and getting the word out that just didn’t exist before. And Hollywood came to them … They realized things just started to become successful because of that environment at Comic-Con, that world, that community, and Hollywood started paying attention, like, “Wow! Ain’t It Cool News can talk about something and more people will go.” It’s like somebody’s actually … those website hits mean something. You know, of course it will be abused and twisted and destroyed by the machine, and it’s already happening, and you know, it’s gonna be corporatized and all that shit just like everything else, but then something else will take its place, or they’ll find another use for it. You know, someone came up with Twitter.

Where do you like to go in NYC and Brooklyn? The places I love to go are music venues — my favorite still is Bowery Ballroom. I still think it’s the best place to hear music, although a lot of the bands I would see there are too big to play there any more, and I’d have to go to Terminal 5, which I hate. It’s not a good place. That place in Brooklyn is much better — the Music Hall of Williamsburg, I like that place. And I love, even though it has terrible acoustics, I love the crazy Polish Warsaw.

I love to eat out in Williamsburg because I feel like the restaurants are more fun in Brooklyn than they are in Manhattan now … That tiny little wine and tapas place? Marlow & Sons. You know, the truth is, I have a kid and I don’t go out any more. I really like Macao Trading Co. in my neighborhood in Tribeca. It’s a new hip restaurant that makes me feel like I’m in Brooklyn.