Gus Van Sant is not an easily predictable director. His films are always instantly identifiable, but can vary between experimental, difficult pictures like "Gerry" and "Last Days," to more nakedly commercial fare like "Finding Forrester," and, occasionally, as in "To Die For" and "Milk," a sweet spot in between. His latest, "Restless," is another left turn, a quirky teen romance from a first time screenwriter, Jason Lew, that stars Henry Hopper, son of Dennis, and "Alice in Wonderland" lead Mia Wasikowska.
For a brief moment, the release of "Restless" seemed up in the air, but when it was revealed the movie was transferring from Sony to their arthouse division Sony Pictures Classics, it made a lot of sense. The shingle took the film to Cannes this spring where it opened the Un Certain Regard sidebar, and this week, in advance of its release on Friday, it hit TIFF to keep the buzz growing. We sat down with Van Sant this week, and the director updated us on a pair of projects that he's been linked to recently, one of which is still on his dance card, one of which, it emerges, never was.
For a couple of years now, Van Sant, and "Milk" writer Dustin Lance Black, have been linked to an adaptation of Tom Wolfe's non-fiction classic "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," which follows "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" author Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters as they travel the country on a psychedelic school bus "experimenting" with LSD. At the start of the year, "Charlie Bartlett" scribe Gustin Nash came on to replace Lance Black, and the good news is that it still seems to be somewhat of an ongoing concern. The bad is that Van Sant doesn't suggest we should expect it any time soon.
"How do you tell the story?" the director asked rhetorically, acknowledging the Kesey tale has been a hard nut to crack. "I mean, I worked on it for a long time. And we still haven’t got the right sort of combination of how to sort of pick the parts of that story and make a film version of it... there’s this little block, which is the story and it’s been enough time that I don’t know how to answer the questions that exist... I’ve been trying to figure it out for three years, and I can’t really say whether or not there’s going to be three more years of trying to figure out the story, so I couldn’t really say."
One other project that Van Sant's name has been vaguely linked to in the last few years is "The Golden Suicides," a Bret Easton Ellis-penned script that tells the sad, life and death story (a haunting double suicide in quick succession) of artists Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan. Van Sant confirmed to us what we'd been told previously, however; that he was never doing more than lending a helping hand. "I was an advisor when they wrote the screenplay," he explained. "I was like a reader, advisor, and that was really the extent of my involvement."
One might have assumed that, even as only an advisor, it might have been something that he was considering directing at one stage, but he never really came close; like the drugs of 'Electric Kool-Aid,' the filmmaker said the subject matter is a tricky thing to make work on screen. "I think the story is really an amazing story to tell, but there hadn’t been a really great track record filming stories about people that suffered from schizophrenia. The closest I think is 'Eraserhead.' And it does the job, but there’s a certain way to get into the subject. I don’t think you can have your every day drama and get there. I knew that the way to do it was going to be really hard. So I never was able to say like yes on directing that."
The last report was that "Irreversible" and "Enter The Void" helmer Gaspar Noe was circling the project, although Van Sant didn't know any more than we did about the subject. As for his next film, it seems like we're a little while off from finding out what that will be, but, as ever, we're on tenterhooks until we find out. You can see "Restless" in theaters from tomorrow, September 16th, while "Boss," the Kelsey Grammer-starring Starz series which Van Sant helmed the pilot for, premieres on October 21st. We'll have more from our interview with its director tomorrow.