Pineapple Express and George Washington director David Gordon Green’s newest film is a surreal and surprising look at the dangers of holding on to and idolizing the past. During a recent visit to New York, the director spoke to The Mary Sue about putting femininity on a pedestal, working with Pacino, and his one and only foray into acting.
The Mary Sue: I read that you wanted the movie to initially be a Grimms’ Fairy Tales kind of fable. I feel like the movie obviously has a fairy tale element in terms of Manglehorn’s profession and all the kind of magical realism stuff that’s in it, but what initially drew you to the idea of doing a fable?
David Gordon Green: At one point it was going to be a kid’s movie! I mean, kind of I wanted it to be a G rated movie, which is kind of interesting because I just had to fight the MPA to get it PG13 and not rated R. I was successful on that, it’s good, but I wanted to make a kid’s movie about aging and love and, like, retaining the naïve perspective of youth in relationships. So that’s where it started out, was like, we’re going to make a kid’s movie, not necessarily…a child-like fable.
TMS: It’s interesting, the idea of making a movie for children about aging, but I guess if you’re going to have someone who retains all these infantile qualities…
Green: I think I had just seen Up you know like, thinking about it. It’s one of the first Pixar movies I had seen. I was a little late to that game, but I really liked it and I thought “that’s interesting.” It’s kind of disguised as a family film, but really heartbreaking and beautiful.
TMS: Yeah, from like the get-go!
Green: I know, like bam.
TMS: I’m sure everyone’s asking you about this, but you’re directing Pacino, who is such an iconic man on his own. I was wondering how, as a director, you developed the intimacy necessary with someone like that so they’re not just a figurehead—they’re an actor who can surprise you and the audience.
Green: Yeah, we hang out a lot. I’m his friend [laughs]. No, I mean I say that it’s amazing. That is true, but he has to trust you and you have to be able to raise your voice and say “not now, let’s do that some other time let’s figure this out and let’s not,” you know, but he’s the greatest collaborator in the world and has a beautiful authenticity that is in everything he invests himself in. And one of the things about this project that I think he really responded to was the opportunity of the intimacy.
TMS: The intimacy with his collaborators or of the movie?
Green: Well, initially with the character and the exploration of that kind of intimacy…I mean it’s not a high concept movie, it’s really going into the subjective perspective of a kind of twisted old man. And then being able to look to each other and challenge each other and ask questions of each other and strangely just have fun, it was great. In the middle of a hard day, he’d be deep into character and be like “Dave after today we just need to go out and have dinner and have fun. I need to get out of this for tonight, let’s have some drinks.” And you’re just like…ok, where am I going to take Pacino to get drinks?
If I dropped my books in a high school hallway and she ran into me, yeah. Hell yeah, you know? So this is just wanting to challenge the definition of that, and what is obsession love? And where does it become ill? You know, he’s constantly talking about someone he loves, but it doesn’t seem like a good, healthy love. But then maybe the most beautiful love is in the awkward places, you know the ones where there’s actually substance and connection.
TMS: Going to the awkward love thing, he is putting…I read an interview where you were talking about how you felt he’s putting femininity on a pedestal with Clara, which I thought was really interesting since that’s absolutely a societal thing. I was wondering if you could talk a bit more about exploring that in the movie.
Green: Yeah, it’s something I’ve always been fascinated, and guilty of, in some ways. Like, there’s this beautiful pure something that I’m going to pretend is this goddess and that’s…and you know what? She’s got a salty side with some spit and will kick me in the nuts, and you need to appreciate that rather than, you know. What I mean…it’s just an, I don’t know, a weird form of sexism? I guess if you think about it, I guess and how, you know, typically people get over their heartbreak with time. And some people don’t. And the lingering, like, it was one of the early thoughts of the movie was like what if he just never got over that ‘what if’ like most people do. And they get on with it and they think the ‘what if ‘ is a fun novelty in their life and every now and then they’ll get a FB or email from somebody and be like “Oh, glad I didn’t go down that path” or “shit I wish I had, I think he did pretty well for himself.”
I mean usually it can be longing, and that can be reciprocated, or longing that can be appreciated but here, it’s like longing that “I don’t know if you should be longing anymore, you should be over that shit.”
TMS: And it’s, you know, it’s preserved in a lot of ways. I was wondering, obviously the ways we see movies have changed so much over the last couple of decades and your movies have always felt romantic. Not in the way that they’re about love, but romantic about falling in love with a character or a place. Do you feel that that it’s a lot harder to do now that the romance in movies is is gone a little bit? You can’t walk into a video store and be surrounded by videos anymore.
Green: [Laughs] You found that romantic?
TMS: Something about it!
Green: What about my Netflix queue?
TMS: Not as much I guess
Green: You know what? Here it is though, it’s like, I’m not going to ask your age, but I think that between 12 and 17, the age fluctuates depending on when you ask me, but that is the approximate age of where everyone’s sentiment is really established and the connections of who they’re going to fall in love with, and their family and the romance of movies or art or school or whatever really drives you. Like, so, I grew up loving seeing shitty movies at the dollar theater on promenade six in Richardson, Texas.
Like, I have a great romance for seeing some pretty trashy movies at the dollar theater, those kind of rejected films, and I love that. So, I was the second member of the first Blockbuster movie store ever in Dallas Village in Richardson, Texas and I remember walking into it and being overwhelmed by the opportunity, but that’s my sentiment. That’s in that vulnerable time period of my youth, and now it’s just people and, you know, they’ll look back at whatever, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are going to be whatever my kids are gonna look to, “remember back when we had Hulu” and for my parents it was when they had hula hoops, you know?
TMS: I was curious because you’ve had so many non-actors in your movies, do you have any interest in appearing in a movie? Either yours, or someone else’s?
Green: Me appearing in a movie? No, that would be horrible. One time Danny McBride made a short film in college and he couldn’t get anyone to appear nude. He wanted a naked guy in a locker room and I volunteered for that.
TMS: Oh my god!
Green: And so I feel like I think I’ve said everything that needs to be said.
TMS: Yeah, you were pretty vulnerable on your first try.
Green: That was my research to see if I had what it takes. I had a good time and I’ll never do it again. I don’t wanna say that. I mean, there might be something weird out there, I’ll just get drunk and crazy and do it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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