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David Gordon Green Talks ‘Joe’ & Reveals How He Convinced Nicolas Cage To Star In His Dark, Tiny Indie Drama

The Playlist By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist April 10, 2014 at 5:55PM

While he stated early on that the eclectic careers of Danny Boyle, Steven Soderbergh and Gus Van Sant were the ones he strove to emulate, the career of David Gordon Green has nevertheless puzzled those who expected him to follow a singular track. Perhaps because he was touted as the heir apparent to Terrence Malick in his early indie filmmaking days a preconception was formed, but regardless, much has been made about Green's "about face" turn toward studio comedies (three in a row: "Pineapple Express," "Your Highness" and "The Sitter"). Perhaps settling into a pattern audiences and pundits alike are more comfortable with, Green has returned to his roots and quickly knocked out a succession of indie films. The latest is "Joe" a dark drama, but one that continues to defy genre and expectation.
Joe, Nicolas Cage

Aside from Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan from “The Tree of Life” and “Mud,” Green’s “Joe” is populated with unknowns. A young sheriff in the film is Green’s next door neighbor, the foreman of the day laborers in the film runs Sam's Bar-B-Cue in Austin, one of the antagonists in the film the director saw as a garbage truck driver in “The Dark Knight Rises” and so on. The main “villain” in the film was meant to be actor/director Tim Blake Nelson, but he was busy. Nelson had to reject the offer and said, “‘I’m already making this weird movie with James Franco.’ So Franco cockblocked me on that one,” Green joked.

"Trying to find that balance between the beauty and ugly and funny and sad, it’s just something I’m always exploring."

Instead, they gave the third biggest role in the movie — Tye Sheridan’s drunken, degenerate father — to a homeless man in Austin that the casting directors met at a bus stop, Gary Poulter. He initially read for a smaller role, but impressed Green so much that he had him audition for the part of the abusive and indigent father who leads the family into ruin because of his alcoholism. Green thought he should okay it with Cage first. “I talked to Cage about it, I said, ‘Are you comfortable with taking on a wildcard chance like this?,’” Green recalled. “And we all had breakfast together, and Gary got up and did this long monologue from an Alice Cooper album. And that really impressed Cage.”

Unfortunately, a month after production wrapped, Poulter passed away (he essentially fell off the wagon hard). Poulter sadly did not live long enough to even see a cut of the film. “The last conversation Nic had with him was, Nic putting a hand on his shoulder and saying, ‘Just keep it together for one year, and I guarantee you, this movie is going to come out and people are going to start calling you,’” Green remembered. “‘You’re gonna be a saloon keeper in a Western, you’re gonna be a Civil War general, you just gotta keep your shit straight.’ But it just didn’t work out for him unfortunately.”

Joe, Nicolas Cage

Green’s career is notable for its ping-ponging and zig-zagging. Once an indie darling, he then did three studio comedies in a row, ostensibly forsaking his indie roots only to return to make three indie films in a row. His next one, “Manglehorn” starring Al Pacino is already finished, and will likely turn up during the film festival circuit this fall. Green said his taste vacillates especially when it’s time to start flexing new creative muscles and keeping himself fresh. To that end, the eclectic filmmaker says he's shifting gears again.

“The idea is that I can jump back and forth,” he said. “All the projects I'm developing now are larger budget, not quite so indie – but still independent minded. Some are comedies and some are dramatic works.”

Something that helps is directing episodes of “Eastbound & Down,” a show created by his producing partners Danny McBride and Jody Hill. Green said he would shoot episodes of ‘Eastbound’ in between his recent spate of indie dramas. “I think that was really helpful to all these dramatic efforts, because I get to do the funniest stupid shit that I want do on that show. So then you're exhausted of doing funny stuff because you put 100% into making Daniel McBride say stupid stuff.”

“Joe” hits theaters in limited release this weekend.

This article is related to: David Gordon Green, Interviews, Interviews, Interviews, BAMcinematek, Joe, Nicolas Cage

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