In "Prince Avalanche," an artsy loner (Paul Rudd) and an immature doofus (Emile Hirsch) work together to repair roads in the middle of nowhere. Adapted from an Icelandic film, it's a slow and funny drama that director David Gordon Green says splits the difference between his quieter work ("George Washington," "All the Real Girls," "Snow Angels") and more crass studio comedies ("Pineapple Express," "Your Highness," "The Sitter").
At the James Hotel, the 38-year-old filmmaker—who recently completed directing the fourth season of “Eastbound and Down” and was told by Marilyn Manson that he looked like a lesbian—talked about appreciating “the anonymity of filmmaking,” a fan surprisingly claiming “Prince Avalanche” is his new favorite film to watch while stoned and if Seth Rogen, James Franco or Jonah Hill are most likely to find themselves in a variety of situations.
Among James Franco, Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, who is most likely to have been in the following situations? If you have a corresponding story, feel free to tell that.
Pass out on your couch: Jonah. "It's not happened, but it's most likely to happen."
Stay up all night talking: Jonah. "That has happened. We spent a lot of time together in New York, and we just became really good friends. It was a very interesting time in both our lives. It was the first time we had this strange professional stability. He's a really thoughtful guy. He can be really intense and definitely has a unique worldview."
Argue with an interviewer: Jonah. "He'll call you out on your [bleep]. Did you read that Rolling Stone interview? There he goes."
Make you laugh so hard you pee in your pants: Jonah. "He just says some [bleeped]-up stuff that makes me laugh a lot. Franco does unintentionally. Franco does some [bleep] that makes me laugh. Sometimes I think he does it unintentionally. But he's funny as [bleep] whether he knows it or not."
Question something in a script: Jonah. "He's acing this exam."
Surprise you with a line reading: Seth. "On `Pineapple' I could just lean into him and say, `Let's shake it up; do something different.' Although it was funny too. He would say things and James would steal his lines. There's that scene in `Pineapple' where they're smelling the weed at the beginning at James' house. And I'd say, `Seth, let's do something different on this one. Say something else it smells like.' He's like, `I should say it smells like God's vagina or something.' We roll it and Franco steals it and uses that line. That's kind of funny, [their] odd rivalry."
Call you for help: James. "I feel like he'd get himself into some weird [bleep] and need somebody to navigate him out."
Call you to party: Jonah. "Seth would probably hang out at his house and play video games or watch movies. Jonah gets out and makes more of a social engagement of it. James has got too much studying to do."
Be found naked in a hallway: James. "Of course. He's probably ready to do that tonight."
Tip over a bong: Seth. "'Cause they're lying around his living room."
It’s interesting that you saw the “Prince Avalanche” dialogue as a conversation between different parts of yourself. Why didn’t you just play both parts?
I wonder that. I don’t think I’m good-looking enough. Those guys have a great similarity but contrast in their physical charisma. I don’t think I’d be a very good actor. I mumble too much, and I have B.O., which gets very off-putting to other actors. If you’re a director you can pull it off as just this kind of weirdo, but actors have to hang out with each other all day in front of the camera.
If you play both parts, it’s not a problem.
That’s true. I could do like they did “Social Network”-style or “Parent Trap”-style. It would be weird. Then I wouldn’t edit it because then I wouldn’t want to look at myself. So then I’d just blindly have it assembled.
Now knowing that you saw yourself in both of those characters, it’s hard not to look at the scene where Lance pleasures himself with Alvin right there and read something into that. What should I read into that, now that I know both of those people are you?
There’s gotta be a great interpretation in there somewhere. I don’t really get aroused by myself that much. But I do get off-put by myself. I cockblock myself. That’s what happens there, right? He rolls over and disturbs the masturbation process. So he gives up. He doesn’t even blow his load. He just gives up on it.
So that’s a vision of you cockblocking yourself?
Yeah, I just cockblocked myself. I’ve done that a number of times--just decided it was a bad idea, surrender.
It probably doesn’t play out the same way in reality.
No. Not as romantic. Actually, that scene was the only one that I really lifted directly from the original Icelandic film. Because they captured that moment so beautifully I was like, “There’s no way to do this other than the way they did it.”
Your films display different facets to your personality and taste, whereas you’ve said you think some others, like Paul Thomas Anderson, Christopher Nolan and David Fincher, can’t really do that type of thing—
It’s not that they can’t. They’re really smart guys that make really well-crafted cinema.
Do you think they want to do—
No! They don’t have the time or the headspace for crap. [Laughs] I don’t know any of them well enough to know. I was just talking about how interesting it would be if they would make things outside of the very thought-out and highly conceived. I could see Paul Thomas Anderson doing that easily.
It’s hard to imagine that being to such extremes, though. Part of what makes some audience members have a cognitive disconnect with your work is they’re at such opposite ends. With other filmmakers not having done that, it’s hard to imagine what that would be.
It’s a credit to those guys: I eagerly await the opening day of all their films. But there’s guys that I find myself more similar to … guys like Michael Winterbottom. There’s always something new. There’s always a “What the [bleep]?” quality to whenever you hear he’s making a movie. I like that. I think that’s interesting. Some of them are more appealing to me than others, but they’re probably all appealing to him. Otherwise he wouldn’t be doing ‘em.
And no one seems to judge him from one movie to the next.
There’s great anonymity to it. I think that’s an awesome, very ideal place to go. Altman had that off and on throughout his career where he could disappear into a genre. He could do a western like “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” and do a musical like “Popeye” and do a strange little movie like “O.C. and Stiggs.” There’s just so many interesting choices that he made along the way. “Beyond Therapy” and even “Prairie Home Companion.” There was always such a great risk and uncertainty that he took. Alan Parker’s another director I think that you don’t really think of a signature Alan Parker-type of movie. You could see things like “Evita” or “Road to Wellville” or “Midnight Express” and these things are all over the place and always very confidently made and executed. I can’t think of any I don’t like. Actually, I can’t think of any I don’t love. “Bugsy Malone.” There’s some brilliant Alan Parker movies, but he’s not a guy that brings an obvious signature to his work.
Do you envy those people at all in the way the public perceives them? You’ve done some amazing stuff but with all due respect, from one movie to the next there have been people who haven’t gone along with that same attitude like for Winterbottom, like, “He’s changing it up.” It’s more, “Why aren’t you doing more of what I want you to do?”
Yeah, but that’s baggage that the audience has or the critic has or somebody that’s wanting something different. But for a guy that gets to make what he wants to make, it’s pretty amazing. It’s very rare that you have those kind of opportunities or you have access to the money that comes together with these opportunities or the cast that sign on to these opportunities. I’m just really thankful that I get to work and I get to pay the bills with my dream job. It’s kind of amazing.
Are you surprised people have had those perceptions/biases?
Surprised that people don’t all like my movies?
Do you think the way you’ve mixed it up is something people should shrug and go along with? “All the Real Girls,” “Snow Angels,” I loved, and I’m a big fan of “Pineapple Express.” “Your Highness” and “The Sitter,” admittedly not as much. It’s interesting to see a filmmaker’s tastes and standards, and comedy is so personal and relative. When those latter movies were made, did you expect people would feel the same way about them and go along with you?
I just didn’t ever think I’d be allowed to make a movie. I don’t think of it in those analytical terms. I think there’s an audience for everything I’ve made. It may be small and cult-y. You see something like “Snow Angels” is a good example. It probably made the least amount of money of anything I’ve made, but it probably also has the most passionate fanbase for the fewest amount of people. I’d say “Your Highness” is the same thing. People that were really obsessed with the B-movies of the early ‘80s and knew what we were referencing come up to me and are obsessed about it, and other people that weren’t in on what we were doing or didn’t like what we were doing or thought we were making fun of something, then they can’t say that. To me it just goes into the greater conversation of a body of work. Again, I do most appreciate the anonymity of filmmaking and try to disappear into a movie like a character actor would disappear into a role. That means I can reach very different audiences with different types of content. But I’m a huge movie fan, too, so if I see a filmmaker stepping into a direction I wish he hadn’t, then I roll my eyes and groan and bitch about it. And if I see a filmmaker that I wish would stretch himself and do something different, I do the same thing. I can see both sides of it because I’m a huge movie fan, but I’m also a guy that leaves it up to himself and his friends to make major professional decisions and navigate the very rocky road of the industry. After “Snow Angels” it was going to be pretty impossible to finance a low-budget dramatic film, so I looked at that as a great opportunity to try something new. If I could continue working as a film director I think I was going to have to do something different and shake it up a little bit. The success of “Pineapple” really opened the doors to literally do whatever I wanted to do. So it became like, “Let’s have some fun, make some money, take care of responsibilities and make commercially minded movies.” It’s a fun chapter that I hope to keep a balance of all types of films and use success and failures within myself to think about what I would do differently or how I would perceive myself. I don’t really look to Box Office Mojo to tell me how I should feel about stuff.
When you look at those different sections of the career, do you feel equally proud of those two trios?
I look at them equally as necessary to become who I am. Certain things are more artistically satisfying, and others get me a ranch that I can live in my dream house. Those are equally necessary in my health and success: have a great environment to write in, rather than when I used to live on people’s sofas and sit on a sweaty, beer-soaked couch and that was my home and I’d sit on a laptop writing miserably on my life and not be able to afford to eat a nice dinner. Now I can look at the hill country and hang out with the deer that feed in my front yard. They all have their benefits at the end of the day, and they’ve all been really fun to make. “Snow Angels” was not a fun movie to make. I became very close to Sam Rockwell and Michael Angarano and some of the actors in the movie. Me and the actors I think really bonded, but it was a very traumatic experience going to those emotional places. Other than that, I’ve had a blast in the production process, and if the reward can either be artistic satisfaction or some sort of financial stability that I can achieve in my life, it just beats so many of the [bleepy] jobs I’ve had in my life.
Is there an extent to which “Prince Avalanche” is splitting the difference at all?
I think it totally does. [Laughs] Someone was asking me recently who it was for. Actually, it was Emile asked me who I thought the movie was for. And I said, “It’s for everybody.” I don’t know anybody that will hate this movie. And that’s the first time I can think of something I’ve made that’s not that divisive. You may be bored by it or may not think the funny parts are funny or you may not be affected by it or whatever. You can certainly find things to criticize about it, but every movie I’ve made has been very divisive and I don’t think this one’s going to have that. Polarizing reviews will come out I’m sure, but I don’t think it will be met with the highs and lows that my other films have.
When I interviewed Seth Rogen about “50/50,” a funny movie about a serious topic, I asked him how he’d make a funny movie about a serious topic. His answer was “Dr. Diarrhea.”
[Laughs] That’s brilliant.
I’m interested by that intersection, and it’s something you do well at times in “Prince Avalanche.” The movie can be very silly, but there’s a serious heart to it.
A guy came up to me last night at the screening. This was an amazing moment, actually; it was after the screening. He had me sign the DVD of “Young Guns,” which I think is incredible. He said, “’Pineapple Express’ was my favorite movie to smoke weed to until now. This is the best movie to smoke weed to.”
About “Prince Avalanche”?
Yeah. I was like, “What are you talking about?” He was like, “It’s all that little [bleep] that I laugh at when I’m stoned, and this has so much of that little [bleep] that I laugh at when I’m stoned that it’s not for me when I’m sober.” He was like, “I’m baked right now, and I can’t wait to see it again when I’m baked again.” So there’s a whole other arena that I hadn’t even thought of … but the fact that a guy that responded to “Pineapple,” and probably due to my involvement in this was inclined to go see this, and reacted to it as if it’s of similar terrain, [I] love it. Or if someone that can see some of the emotional qualities of it is reflecting some of the issues I was exposing in “All the Real Girls,” that’s even better. Let’s bring ‘em all on, I say.
Do you think the eventual/maybe/probably legalization of weed will increase or decrease the number of stoner comedies?
Oh, that’s a really good question. I just don’t think it’ll have the taboo anymore, so it’ll probably decrease. It’ll just be so much more everyday and less to make fun of.
Will there be “Pineapple 2”? Am I making that up?
I don’t know. We’ve talked about it. Every time we get together we talk about it. There’s never been anything other than half-assed ideas. I don’t think anybody likes my idea of doing the “Clear and Present Danger” version of it. Did you ever see “Cocaine Wars” starring John Schneider? Oh, man, it’s really good. I’d like to do that. Something in South America or something hard-core. “Deer Hunter.”
Do you think characters from “All the Real Girls” would like “Your Highness”?
No, probably not. I don’t think they would even know it exists. I don’t think they go to the movies much.
You talked about recognizing that some movies scratch a creative itch, and others help financially. Do you think you can put as much of your own stamp on the studio comedies as you do on the non-studio stuff?
I think so. Again, it’s totally different tools that I’m utilizing. I have a great energy on set. I have a great, positive, very enthusiastic, high level of energy on set. And I think if there’s something that I am proud of in every movie, I think there’s great characters and I think there’s great character pieces, so I feel like my stamp is giving actors freedom to exhibit their talent. And that can certainly be questioned on my end and theirs, but I think in all of my films, it’s trying to cast successfully—and I can’t say that I always have cast successfully—but try to cast successfully and then building an environment where everybody is free to let loose and take it off the page, get off the cuff, get a little wild and let the movie start to evolve. Rather than being so precise and cautious and pre-conceived that the movie is committed to what it is before we started.
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