So after those nine people said, no
who shows up?
His brother shows up.
And who comes through?
I come through.
And then what do I get for it?
Three months of bullying and grief on set.
Gerry was the first of
a trilogy of movies that Gus ended up making
that had a very unique style inspired by
a period in Russian filmmaking
that Tarkovsky was a part of
that Gus was interested in.
The idea for the story came about from an article
that Gus had read about two young men
who had pulled over on a road trip
on the side of the road.
And they’d followed signs
for some kind of roadside attraction,
and they got lost
as they were walking straight from the path,
accidentally, in a place where
it’s very hard to tell whether or not
you’re actually on the path or not,
one of those kinds of desert hikes,
where everything looks the same.
They were lost for three days in the desert
and dehydration can be very painful.
And one of them
was pretty sure that they were dying
and couldn’t walk anymore
and asked the other one to kill him.
We were all at a friend’s house,
Gus and Matt and I were having lunch at a friend,
a cinematographer named Bobby Bukowski’s house
and Arvo Part was playing on the stereo.
And Gus heard that music
and we think it sort of all came together for him
but maybe he would say that’s stupid.
That’s my memory of it.
And so we wrote a script
based on those two guys, it was minimalist
and it did have a lot of talking in it,
but the story
was pretty straight forward and simple.
They get out of the car, they walk
they get lost, they keep walking.
We tried to shoot it in Jordan
and there was a travel advisory at the time
and so decided not to,
we ended up in Argentina
where somehow it was overlooked that it was winter
in the Southern Hemisphere.
So we got down to the desert
and on day one it was snowing.
So we did our best to sort of fake things
until Gus decided that he wanted to just
go back to try to shoot it in the States
and we ended up in Death Valley.
The Assassination of Jesse James
by the Coward Robert Ford
The novel is almost perfect.
I mean, it’s just, it is perfect.
Describes Robert Ford in a way that
I felt like when I finished reading it,
which I had done before I even auditioned the first time,
I felt like I understood him better
than any character I’d ever played already.
It’s just a beautiful piece of writing.
And it isn’t about Jesse James.
It is about Robert Ford.
You’re the youngest of three James boys.
I’m the youngest of five Ford boys.
Between Charlie and me is another brother,
Wilbur here with six letters in his name.
And between Frank and you
is another brother, Robert also with six letters.
And my Christian name is Robert, of course.
But by working with Andrew,
he’s just a master.
I don’t know how he knows
so much about directing actors
because he had only done one other movie
before Jesse James.
He really is a genius with it.
It’s like sort of explaining the psychology
of the characters in the scenes.
So he helped a lot.
In between Andrew and the novel there was,
I didn’t have to do any other research.
But I did read a lot of these nickel and dime books,
this is what these like little cartoon books
were called in that period.
And Jesse James was someone who people only knew him
as in the way that we know him now.
He had already been sort of mythologized
in a way of, instead of, people thought of him
as this kind of glamorous,
gun fighting Robin Hood figure,
which just wasn’t the case.
He was a serial killer, basically,
very, very violent criminal.
Open that safe.
But people had this idea,
even, it didn’t even wait til he was dead,
they had already, people have been writing about him
and the sort of bank robberies
and things that were happening in the frontier
that no one had any personal experience with
back in the, you know, on the East Coast.
There was this mythologization that it happened
that Robert Ford, as a young man
he was reading those books.
And that was the idea that he had
of Jesse James in his mind.
So when he crossed paths with him for the first time,
when he met him,
I think it was confusing, disappointing
but it was also hard for him to divorce himself
from this picture that he had of him
being this larger than life hero.
He really wasn’t.
He didn’t give his money away.
He killed a lotta people.
It was selfish and violent and murderous.
As he got to know who the real Jesse James was
he became sort of bitter and disillusioned
in a sort of resentful way.
I think any story that is about fame and fans,
you know people are gonna draw parallels to Hollywood
and how they makes sense.
But Andrew wasn’t doing that overtly
and neither was Ron Hansen.
I think they were just sort of telling the story as it was
but those were ideas that came to everybody’s mind.
It was a sort of dawning of a new era of
that kind of thing.
People were becoming famous while they were alive.
There was a distortion of facts
and a misrepresentation of those personalities
through the depiction in popular media.
So it brings to mind the relationship
between fans and Hollywood stars.
You know there’s an old saying about actors that,
how does it go,
Hollywood is a place where they put people under contract
and they should be putting them under observation.
And that was sort of true for Jessie James.
He had become this hero and he was just a lunatic.
And it may be true now with certain people who get famous.
Gone Baby Gone
I was shooting Jesse James at the time,
which was kind of a big break for me.
It was a studio movie.
It was Warner Brothers and, you know, Brad Pitt was in it
and it was one of the best things I’d ever read.
So it was something that I really, really wanted.
I auditioned for it, you know, seven times.
I had to fight hard for it
because nobody knew who I was
and nobody wanted to put me as the lead
of a bigger movie like that.
When I got that part, it was a big break.
And I think that Ben had a list of about 10 people
that he was trying to cast in Gone Baby Gone.
And he went down the first nine people
and they said, no,
and then he got to me.
And I was shooting Jesse James at the time
and I think people were willing to let him cast me
because I was doing that movie
and people thought that it was going to be
kind of a successful movie.
So after those nine people said no,
who shows up?
His brother shows up.
And who comes through?
I come through.
And then what do I get for it?
Three months of bullying and grief on set.
How’s that mother[beep]
Now you know.
Your [beep] mouths closed.
Then we shot that in Boston
and it was actually a really great experience.
I knew that Ben was gonna be a good director.
Nobody else sort of knew him the way that I did.
I think people just thought of him,
they, all they knew is him as
the person they’d seen in the movies that he’d done
up to that point, he’d never directed anything.
I knew that he was a very smart guy
and super talented and it’s one of the movies
that I look back on and think that
if I could do it now, it would be a lot better.
I would like to tackle one of those other books
that’s in that series and try to do it now.
It was a first for me and it was also a first for Ben
so there was kind of a big learning curve.
I think we could do another one.
It would be great.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
No, I’m not gonna leave you.
‘Cause I will leave you first.
I’m not gonna leave you [exhales loudly]
I didn’t know anybody at all.
I didn’t know Rooney,
I didn’t know David.
I had no idea really going into it
how lucky I was to be involved in that project.
What I found was that they’re all
just incredibly talented.
Rooney’s such a special actor
and I think David will emerge as
one of the great American filmmakers.
He’s so prolific and everything he does is different.
All of his movies have a can David Lowry
signature about them as well.
Kinda reminds me of the Cohen brothers,
how they’re all different
but you can sort of tell that they made them.
I don’t know, it’s sort of a perfect fit for me.
I was glad that I took that leap of faith
because it’s true, I didn’t know anything about them.
I had seen his short film called Pioneer,
which was great.
But as if a five minute shot of somebody telling
a bedtime story,
he could’ve turned out to be
any kind of filmmaker
but he turned out to be the kind of filmmaker
that I really love working with
and I love watching his movies.
I can relate to people who are misunderstood.
I can relate to people who feel like they’re outsiders.
I’ve been living in LA for 20 years or whatever
and I feel like an outsider in the industry
and those kinds of parts are easy for me to relate to.
Out of the Furnace
So that was a character who had come back from war
and was having a hard time adjusting.
Found like these kinda backyard fights
as a way of dealing with that stress.
People kinda beating each other up
and someone videotaping it, people bet on it.
And I watched some of that stuff online
’cause it was out there.
I did talk to people who had come back
from service overseas and fighting
and I also just watched a lot of the stuff online.
You can kind of find anything online.
It makes doing research really easy,
you can just find interviews
with people who have done just about anything
in their life or
are dealing with different things.
And it was really helpful.
And I have a lot of friends who are in the military
who I was able to talk to.
It’s some weird thing that happens
where it’s really hard to be bad
around people that are really good.
They kinda make everyone better than they would be.
And that’s, I think that was the case for me
and for Zoe Saldana and Christian Bale
and Woody Harrelson it, you know,
there’s something about Christian,
who I did most of my stuff with,
that is just, he’s so good.
Whatever he’s doing it sort of rubs off
on other people around him.
When I started that movie,
I remember on my first day of shooting that movie,
we were doing a scene where I went to visit him in prison.
So we did one scene in the morning
and then I felt like it kinda sucked
and I told him that I didn’t feel
that I had done a good job.
I said, It was my first day, which is always really hard.
And then I felt sort of lost.
And he said, Oh, lost is great.
Like lost is a good thing to feel.
And that was sort of the perfect response
and it made me just relax and also gave me some insight to
how he works and how to be a better actor.
Manchester by the Sea
[dramatic orchestral music]
[dramatic orchestral music]
I really didn’t create that character.
I just sort of stepped in
and tried to do what I could.
Bring to life what Kenny would’ve created
and everything he writes is done so carefully
and with such detail.
And there are a lot of people,
writers who would like you to not change lines.
And there are some that really want you to improvise
and change things and they’re more collaborative.
I think for good reason, Kenny’s very, very, very specific.
And I don’t think that there’s one single um or uh
that I said in that movie that wasn’t scripted.
I don’t have anything big to say.
The script was.
at one time over 300 pages.
When I read it it was,
I don’t know, 180 or 90.
He has so much material and
he just compacts it into,
eventually, down into a normal size screenplay.
But the result is that it stands
with meaning and it’s really carefully done.
He’s of those people that knows every movie
back to the 1930s
and he can reference certain scenes and moments
in movies that you’ve never heard of
and you go back and you watch them
and they really help to play the scene that you’re playing
in the movie right now.
I would say that I just sort of followed his lead
as much as I could
and everyone in that movie was so good
but working with Michelle Williams
you stop thinking about yourself,
you’re just trying to
keep up with her and react to her
in the moment because she’s just incredible.
Yeah, I did watch it,
I was forced to watch it.
It was at the Sundance film festival,
which is a great festival,
but they like people to stick around.
See they sort of introduce you beforehand or whatever
and then I went and sat in a seat that had my name on it.
I wasn’t sitting with the rest of the people,
I don’t know where they were in the movie.
So I was sitting next to a stranger
who at the end of every scene,
you know, you’re shoulder to shoulder with a stranger,
she would be watching the movie
and then just sort of look at me,
turn and look at me as if to say like,
what’d you think about that?
So it was a really strange experience.
And I didn’t wanna say like, you know, whisper, like,
would you mind not looking at me
and just watching the movie?
So it just went on like that for the whole two hours.
So I did watch the movie
but I had that happening.
A Ghost Story
You know, David called me up and said,
Do you wanna do something?
Kinda make a small movie on our own for 20 days?
And I just said, Yes.
I don’t think that I read anything.
Eventually I did read something
but it was just an outline.
I think it was a 10 page outline
that describes what happened in it.
But I would’ve said yes without that.
Those are my favorite people to work with
and they’re just, I love meeting new people
and it always brings something new out of you
when you go on to a set and there’s a bunch of new people
and you can kind of leave who you were behind
and just allow yourself to be someone completely new.
It’s like going on a new summer camp or something.
But I would also say that I’d be,
I’d have no complaints if people said
you’re just gonna work with that same group
over and over from Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
and A Ghost Story
and The Old Man and the Gun,
just some of my best friends in the world.
And they’re also people who,
I always feel like I’m being challenged
in the nicest possible way
to be a little bit better than I am.
It was the best experience.
I don’t know why there’s something about making,
being able to be an actor and make choices,
that to play a scene, but not be seen.
That’s universal to humans
when they put on a mask,
they feel kind of free.
Free of being seen,
free of, something is happening psychologically
that makes you lose your self-consciousness
in a way that works as an,
it’s good for being an actor.
I loved it.
Light Of My Life
The first thing that I wrote for Light Of My Life
was a bedtime story that I had told my kids
and I thought like, oh, that’s a pretty good story.
And I went and I wrote it down.
And I think my oldest son was
So that was when, 11 years ago.
And then I started writing down other little stories.
And also other conversations that I would have with my kids.
Things spring up on you
in little moments or fights the kids get into
or things you think suddenly happen
and you think it’s supposed to be a teaching moment
and you’re supposed to teach the moment.
And you don’t always say the right thing.
And then that night you’re sitting there thinking about it
and just think, like goddammit, why didn’t I,
why did I say that?
Why didn’t I say this other thing?
Sometimes I would write down those conversations too
because I thought that they were really interesting
and I just wanted to remember them.
As I sort of collected them,
collecting them into a kind of story about
a father and two boys.
And then I pieced together a story,
I thought it’d be pretty boring
and so I wanted to give it some sort of like backdrop
that was gonna be some story with a spine
that might be kinda suspenseful or hold people’s attention.
And also I love those movies.
I love kind of a po-apocalypse movies and road warrior
and things like that.
And then I told my kids about it.
And my kids said, immediately,
they had no response for whether or not it was good or bad
or are they interested?
They were just adamant.
They said, Don’t.
They were like, You’re not gonna make that into a movie,
And I was kinda like, Well,
I was planning on it.
And they said, You cannot make a movie about us.
So I changed it then from two,
from a father and two boys to
a story about a father and a daughter thinking that
that would relieve them of their anxiety
about being embarrassed
that their dad had made a movie about them.
So then I wound up with a dad and a daughter.
In this story
about a young girl–
Don’t make it about me.
I’m not making it about you.
Then rest of the writing came out of
just imagining the circumstances of
some giant pandemic has spread across the globe
and destabilized everything
to the point of
sort of lawlessness.
But trying to imagine what that would be like realistically
in a world where people
don’t wanna give up on everything.
I just thought like,
if a pandemic came people probably wouldn’t just like
immediately make their cars look like Mad Max
and just go running into the streets in tribes.
And I think that they would probably,
there would be a certain level of normalcy
that would be sustained.
Like their comforts and their things and their houses
and their TVs and their routines that they have.
And so I started to build the story around that, sort of,
well, how do you combine those two things?
It’s a pandemic that has killed half the population
and destabilized all the governments and infrastructure
but that you’re still a parent.
You still have a kid and you’re still hoping to
kinda raise them in a way
that they can be happy, healthy people
and take care of themselves.
You know, there are some things that you get to decide
and there are some things that you don’t [bag shuffling]
But what do I decide?
You get to decide, what kinda attitude you’re gonna have
when you have to do things that you don’t wanna do.
Then I used all of those stories
and conversations that I had written
between me and my own kids
and then sort of tailored them to a world that had
just gone nuts a little bit.
I remember sort of calling David Lowery
as in the middle of a very,
of what I felt like was a very complicated sequence.
I had one day to shoot all of the action in that movie,
which takes place near the end.
And I hadn’t really worked it out.
And his advice, he said, If you make a little doll house
and you get little action figures,
you can stage all of the action
and you can shoot it with a teeny tiny,
like your phone or something.
And then you’ll know how you wanna do it.
And which I did that, the best advice I got
and the best thing I did to prepare.
It helped me, I didn’t know exactly how to
kinda piece all that stuff together.
The Old Man and the Gun
So I’d done Manchester by the Sea
and I had no,
nobody thought that we would be promoting that movie
for that long or that it would have
that kind of successful run that it did
that will require our attention.
So I was supposed to be making
Light Of My Life
and I had to go back to help promote the movie
while I was making Light Of My Life,
which was really weird.
It also meant that I wasn’t able to do either one
with the same level of sort of focus
that I would’ve liked but whatever.
When I started shooting Light Of My Life
David Lowery was gearing up to do Old Man and the Gun.
So the minute I wrapped Light Of My Life
I got on a plane and then, you know,
the next day I was in Cincinnati filming.
And I had never done that.
Usually when I work, I do a movie
and then it takes me another year to find a movie to do.
I just had never had the kinda career
where people have been waiting to work with me,
while I’m still doing something else
and that I can just kinda roll into them.
So I didn’t really know what that was like.
It was hard to adjust from just doing,
just finishing one movie that was so all consuming
because I had written it
and I was acting in it and I was directing it.
And there was only two people on the movie.
To then sort of just trying to forget about that
and go get on a plane and go to Cincinnati
and shoot The Old Man and the Gun.
And it was too bad because The Old Man and the Gun
was something I was so excited about.
Robert Redford had been,
like it was for anyone who’s ever worked in movies
and not worked in movies,
so many of them, he was a hero of mine growing up.
And for as long as I can remember.
I remember being a very little kid watching The Sting
learning all the lines and imitating his gestures
and you know, same with The Natural.
He’s just done some of my most favorite movies.
And then, you know, I get to go and work with him.
And on top of it, it’s his last movie that he said,
and on top of it, he’s playing a bank robber,
which he is maybe one of the most beloved outlaws
ever in movies.
So it was just a huge treat for me.
I was really excited and I was bummed
that I sort of felt like I had no time to prepare for it.
When I read this script
and I talked to Gabriela Cowperthwaite who directed it,
I realized that she just wanted
to make her own version of this story.
What was important to her was that
the things that were meaningful about the story
be conveyed in a way
that was effective and moving for the audience.
And that she didn’t care so much about
how similar I was to Matt Teague.
But Matt had written an article
about his experience with his wife when she had cancer
and raising his two kids
and with his friend helping them out.
And that article was pretty informative.
I mean, it was, there wasn’t a lot left out.
So I felt like I had a lot of Matt already going into it,
both in the article
and in the way that Brad Inglesby had written the screenplay
that I had plenty.
And knowing that Gabriela wanted to then,
wisely had decided that it was her responsibility
to make a movie that works with this story
and not make a movie that is as accurate as it can be
to every little thing that had happened in their life.
But that didn’t work.
No one would wanna see that.
So what she wound up making was something that was accurate
and that also is quite moving.
So she made the right choice.
But I didn’t feel like I had to mimic or portray someone
in the way that if you’re gonna play Kennedy
or something you wanna,
people are pretty familiar with what he’s like
and that playing that role is gonna require sort of
having people believe that you are him.
I didn’t have that responsibility.
It was a movie about people
who were showing up for one another.
And you know, someone said
that like a great friend is someone
who is there with you when there is,
he would rather be anywhere else in the world.
And that’s what Dane is.
This is a story of Matt Teague,
who’s losing his wife.
And it’s a story of a woman, Nicole,
who is a mom and has been so many things
and has also, there are so many things that
she didn’t get to be in life
and she knows that she only has
a certain amount of time left
and their friend who comes into their life
to help them at that time.
And that’s why it’s called Our Friend.
That was just touching to me.
I just like that, relationships are very important to me
and I liked it, what this movie said about relationships.
And it wasn’t just the character Dane,
played by Jason Siegel, who kinda shows up for everybody.
Dakota Johnson’s such a great job playing Nicole.
She’s showing up for her family.
She’s going through a really, really tough time.
And she is showing up for her kids
and for her husband too,
who kinda crumbles at times,
in a way that’s just beautiful.
I mean, I remember when I had someone in my life
who was in their nineties,
who was dying and I sat with them
and I would see that everyone
who came to say goodbye to them
ended up needing to be comforted.
And there he was, sort of frail
and in the last moments of life comforting each person,
one by one as they came to him.
And I just thought like what an amazing,
that is the strength and wisdom of somebody
who’s lived 90 years on earth.
They can’t even move a muscle in their body
but they have this great inner strength
to be there for other people
to help them through that moment of saying goodbye.
And Nicole in this story had that strength
after only four to 30 some years.
And so that’s what makes her such an incredible character
and Dakota did such a good job playing it.
She had to portray the painful journey
of having a terrible disease.
And also she had to play the character
who was by all accounts in real life,
the kind of person who just lights up a room
and reminds you of what a gift life is
without ever having to say it
and make you feel instructed or lectured.
Just by being around her people remembered
how much fun it was to be alive.
So she had to be that part
and also be showing people what it was like
to be dying of cancer, a really hard part.
And I thought she did a great job with it.
The World To Come
When I had done The Assassination of Jesse James
by the Coward Robert Ford, I met Ron Hansen,
who was the novelist that that movie was based on his novel.
And then I read all of his books
and he’s just one of my favorite writers.
And I became friends with him.
And I asked him, about eight years ago or something,
if there was, if he wanted to write a screenplay,
if there’s something else that he wanted to do.
And he sent me two stories.
One was about a baseball player in Cuba.
And the other was about two women
who fall in love in the 19th century on a farm.
Now I had been to Cuba when I was a little kid
and I’d grown up playing baseball.
I still play baseball, I love it.
And so that felt perfect to me.
But when I read the story about these two women
in the 19th century on a farm,
I’ve never lived in a farm.
I’m not from the 19th century, not a woman
but it was such a moving story that I just felt like
that was the one that I wanted to be a part of.
And I was planning on directing it.
And Ron and Jim Shepherd, who was the author of the story,
together, they wrote the screenplay.
And it took about six years cause they both have other jobs.
So they’re doing this on the side
and they’re not getting paid.
And it’s one of the best scripts that I’ve ever read.
It became clear to me that
it was a great opportunity to find a female director
and have her direct the movie
but it definitely felt like the right thing to do.
And Mona Fastvold came on.
She had made one other movie, Sleepwalker,
and she just took to it immediately.
And she made the brilliant choice of casting
Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby.
Those are the first two people cast
in really hard parts to play.
And Mona was so right.
They were just perfect for it.
So then we had to figure out
how to raise the money and for,
as just someone who’d only done one other movie
and with actresses who at that time,
it was harder to get financed.
And so now they are being recognized as for
their talents and for all the things that they are.
We just stuck with it
and finally we got the money to make it
and we went and shot it and Transylvania,
which was really interesting
because it was mostly the two of them
They had the bulk of the work.
I had days off here and there
’cause I was acting in it as well.
So I would trip around
and go look at all the vampire stuff in Transylvania.
Jacquelyn isn’t real but
he was very loosely based on some real person.
But the castle that they have for tourists
as Dracula’s castle,
isn’t even the place where that guy ever lived.
I was bummed about my Transylvania experience in that way
but it’s a really beautiful country
and it did make me wanna do a vampire movie.
Looking back I realize that the things that came my way
had something to do with the kind of person that I was.
And when I got to a point in my career
where I could choose work,
which isn’t always the case,
it sort of comes and goes,
nothing recedes like success.
There were times when I got to pick parts
that I wanted to do
and there are times when I didn’t.
When I was choosing the parts
I thought I was picking them for one reason.
But very often looking back I realize that
they were still sort of picking me
and it had to do with sort of
who I was in a way that I didn’t even really realize.