SXSW 2015 Interview: David Gordon Green Talks MANGLEHORN And Casting Polar Opposites Al Pacino And Harmony Korine

If you are reading TwitchFilm, hopefully King David Gordon Green's career isn't unfamiliar territory. If it's your first stop here, I'll catch you up to speed: 

 

He first burst on the film scene in 2000 with George Washington, which is now a Criterion Collection release -- one of the highest honors a film can get these days. He made that film at 25. Think about that that when you reflect on what you've done with your life. 

 

Then he wrote and directed a few more superb independent films: All the Real GirlsUndertow, and Snow Angels. A little after that, he was suckered into the studio system, where he made two comedies we are all going to pretend do not exist. (I liked Pineapple Express.)

 

After the studio mumbo jumbo, he returned to his roots, the good shit. He made a film in secret with Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch called Prince AvalancheThis film gloriously let us know he's back to making films on his own merit and terms. This is the DGG we loved and missed so dearly, and he's been on a roll since then. Last year he made Joe -- which featured one of Nicolas Cage's best performances ever -- and here we are, with his new film, which stars Al Pacino as Manglehorn, an aging keysmith who's lost, broken, unfriendly, and looking for love in all the wrong places. 

 

Manglehorn screened during the SXSW film festival and I caught up with Green to talk about the film and casting oddball director Harmony Korine (Spring Breakers) as one of the main characters. We also kind of got real on real struggles we see in movies and why they are so relatable. (It was more for me to use him as my unofficial shrink since I can't afford one.) (That was sarcasm.)

 

I could talk to DGG for hours but here's what I got with the time I was given. Enjoy. 

 

David Green:    What's up Chase, good to see you!

Chase Whale:    Good to see you too, dude! Long time. 

You got new glasses. 

I did, got them just for this interview.

Does your shirt have... 

Yes, it's a Philip Seymour Hoffman tribute shirt.

It's a very interesting ... the Happiness figure is the one I like best. 

I think mine's the one from MAGNOLIA since it's my favorite film. This company Sex & Death made it, and I bought one immediately. I will need to buy a second soon because I wear it too damn much. 

He was the greatest actor of our generation.

Yes. I agree. I could talk about him for hours but you know, I have 10 minutes and then I have to run 11 blocks to another interview.

Shit!

Hopefully I don't die. 

You'll get your exercise, it's good for you.

Yeah. So first off, I was going to first congratulate you on making the first badass Al Pacino character without a gun.

[Laughter.]

But you ruined it.

There's a gun, there's a gun.

You ruined it, so thank you for that. (Laughs.) So now let's go ahead and kick-start this interview. One of the reasons why I love your movies so much is your affinity for characters who are down on their luck or don't have any luck at all -- just broken people. What do you find fascinating about these type of characters?

Meeting somebody that has everything going for them is a lot less interesting than someone that has a few broken pieces. 

I have this weird philosophy that if you put me on a road trip for three days with anybody, I would love them. Like anybody. I kind of fall in love with people. And you can put me in a van with a total asshole and we're going to go to Missouri and you know, go see a Jubilee and Branson I'm going to love them if we're taking this trip. If they're willing to talk to me, you know I've ... I've encountered some despicable people in my life and some douchebags and dickheads and over time if I give them a chance and if they let their guard down I know how to get in there.

Like I do really thrive off the psychology of people. Like I think there's people ... like you look in someone's eyes and you know if they're resisting or if they're inviting. You know if you're talking to a girl if she's interested or if she is repulsed. And those ... all of those reactions are very entertaining to me and so I'm ... I'm definitely a guy that's the thrill of the hunt. I want ... if I meet an a**hole I want to not hate him. Like that's, you know, if I meet a girl and she doesn't like me, I want her to like me. 

You know, like I have that type of a drive and so ... and that's just in life, so in a professional world where I find a subject matter, a character or an actor that has these qualities, I want to show the vulnerability of strong characters or asshole characters or people that, you know ... it could be [Eastbound & Down's] Kenny Powers, who's this vulgar seemingly hateful obnoxious jock athlete drug addict that is eastbound and down, I want you to feel sorry for him. I want you to, then, love him. 

I want you to find that he's like your cousin that you're routing for that has problems. If you're Manglehorn, a guy that ... we're meeting a guy that's heartbroken and that's why he makes things uncomfortable for people or says things he shouldn't be saying out loud. He has no filter. 

You know, trying to challenge the viewer's vision of masculinity or of celebrity... Oftentimes, I'm taking a famous recognizable -- or in this case, an icon --- and trying to show some layers that may or not be relatable to you, but if I've done my job right we meet somebody that is this melancholy figure that you start to really hope for and root for.

I'm glad you started bringing up the character and everything about him, because it hit really close to home for me because of the love aspect and missing someone that's not going to be in your life ever again, even though you want them to be. I don't know if this might be a strange question but I'm going to ask anyway. In real life, someone who is carrying a hard burden or is heartbroken, do you truly believe it's possible to move on?

I think it's essential to move on. Like I think that, you know ... I also have these weird philosophies that ... I think a lot about shit, I spend a lot of time on airplanes before takeoffs staring out the window, umm ... and I think about things like how valuable our youth is from age 10 to 20. Ten to 20 is when ... of every generation that's when you're really putting together these emotional realities that are going to carry you the rest of your life and so for some people that's ... for me it's like traditional cinema going experience was a big part of that so now I'm ... or anybody that like groans about a remake, it's because those movies that were probably important to them between being 10 and 20 years old. 

Or the love, when love is new and affection and attraction is something that's hormonally so brilliant because it's new, imagine if you pushed pause on some of those feelings and you never evolved beyond them, you never get over that heart break. That's kind of where the design of this character came from; he's a 14 year old who is in love with the girl across the classroom and for whatever reason they haven't ... they're going to break up in the hallway near the cafeteria at school or recess or whatever it and then he's aged and aged and never gotten over that because he's romanticized ... he's built it up to be this non-reality of a romance because he's almost psychotic about it, you know.

Put it in a unhealthy light. He's put romance and love and femininity on a pedestal while he's just struggled with every other piece and compromised every other piece because he's fabricated. It's never going to be that good anyway, but it's all bulls***. It's all in his mind, it's all a romanticized dream, you know...

I mean, I assume Claire really existed, he's gotta love ... he's got a letter that basically calls it quits on her end, so she's true, she's not part of his imagination but I think everything that he's obsessed over and continues seeking is just him looking to put the pieces of his heart back together.

Yeah. And that's why it really hit home for me... kind of a similar situation.The ending did give me umm ... you know I'm still in the last stage of what he is going through and well, the ending gave me hope.

Yup.

And I was just like...

You just got a clean house. Put it all on a boat and dump it in the garbage. [Laughter.] But, see, there's a lot of ways to go about it. You know, he could have set it at sea romantically but I thought that...

Yeah I thought that was going to happen and I was like, "please don't, please David don't do that, please David don't do that."

Just put it out with the trash. I've been there.

Sucks.

David Green:    [Laughter.]

Yeah. Umm ... so I want to talk about another great element of the film, Harmony Korine. I actually know Harmony personally because he stayed with me for one night at SXSW 2011 for TRASH HUMPERS because he didn't book his hotel in time.

That's incredible. 

And weird. Since you've worked with him, you know how his brain works and I've had lots of conversations with him, I've interviewed him for every movie since MISTER LONELY. I just found it so amazing that you put him in there. I did feel like it was Harmony playing Harmony but it was like...

Most people don't see that. Most people don't know that.

Yeah. That's what I liked about it. But that said, though, it's Harmony being Harmony but turned up to 1,000.

Yeah! [Laughter].

So talk about getting him involved and then the next question about it which is super important, where can I get a Tan Man business card?

David Green:    Oh shit, I have a bunch of them. I wish I would have thought of bringing them.

Really!? That was a joke. But you really have one? I want one.             

They're sitting on my desk. I'll get you one. I have them next to all my Garbage...

Holy shit, they're fucking amazing.

Literally I have a tackle box with Garbage Pale Kids and Tan Man business cards.

I definitely want a Tan Man business card. So yeah, talk about bringing on Harmony.

So I was at Spring Breakers, the one that played at the Paramount here two years ago and I just remember ... and Franco invited me to the screening and then I go there and I know Harmony a little bit but I don't know him well enough to bum a ticket off of him. 

And then after the show I was just like ... it was when we were casting, I had just gotten Al for the movie and then I emailed [Harmony] after the show and I was like, I want to put you in the movie. Would you ever be up for acting, you know I'm going to try to do this movie next fall with Pacino. And he just writes back, "Sounds dope."

[Laughter.]

It was just fun as hell as you can imagine. It's the kind of thing, usually between set ups when you're re-lighting, everybody kind of takes some time getting ready for the next scene you get ... I get really antsy, I just want to start filming again, I want to hurry it up. 

But in this case with me and Harmony and Pacino sitting around shooting the shit it's just ... you could not have enough time in the day to do that. It was beautiful because we were all just geeking out about 70s movies or things that we loved or people that we knew or the eccentric qualities that...

His mind and stories blow my mind.

Yeah, I was just emailing with him yesterday. He was trying to come out for this but he's getting this other movie hopefully up and running here in the next few weeks.

He's really been busy since SPRING BREAKER, which is great.

It's cool. There's one scene where he has kind of a southern accent, that was weird but I just kind of let it fly.

Yeah. That's so awesome. Did he, did he have an influence on any of his scenes, like as far as his style?

I mean, what he's wearing? Absolutely.

Well, just like the way the scene plays out or did you already have it like written and everything or did his demeanor, did that kind of have an influence on his scenes? 

Oh yeah. Oh absolutely. I mean, with the whole script every actor was like, okay here's the script and then ... but that's the idea, you know. And then Harmony could just riff and ramble and we would do one ... we did one thing where I put an earwig in his ear and I would be off camera and say something strange to him and then he'd go on a tangent about it, almost like some sort of odd Robin Williams performance.

Amazing.

He could just keep talking and talking and talking, and then you can't do the same thing twice really because he's ... he's pulling it out of his ass trying to be the most annoying guy to piss off Manglehorn that he can. So then by necessity, because of the lack of continuity, it takes on this odd editing style. So we really amplified it. 

There's a scene when Manglehorn goes to the tanning salon for the first time and the Gary character just appears. There's an empty doorway and then the next moment he's there, like some 1943s special effect. Just ... he's just there. You know what I mean? It felt like that's the character, that's the way he appears like he's just this guy that takes you off guard and appears out of nowhere and is larger than life.

Awesome.

Letting Harmony loose is one of the pleasure of the last few films I've worked on.

Amazing. Well I just got the...

Got the F U.

Yep. So I gotta go. Great chat, dude.

 

You too -- see you around soon, Chase.
 

IFC Films will release Manglehorn on June 19, 2015.