Poulter's character Wade is such a great creation, in terms of that mix of fictional and real attributes we were talking about, like his love of breakdancing --
Exactly. Did you get a sense of his full background in regards to that living in Austin? [Poulter, discovered for the part while homeless by Green’s casting director, passed away in March]
Green: That was what he did as a living when he was younger, was breakdancing on the street corner. That was something that was too good to resist, a perfect illustration of letting someone integrate themselves. I mean, that dude can dance like a motherfucker.
Clearly. [to Green] And it was in that slow-motion scene of him dancing that reminded me of your--in my opinion--musical qualities, not just with the score, but with editing, shot composition, performance. Do you create those moments in the writing stages, and then keep them in your head when shooting? Or is it something that's more found in post-production?
Green: Usually I have them in my head. And usually I just listen to good music and then have composers try to assess those images and create something unique with it. For this movie in particular I would listen to bands like Demdike Stare, Eluvium, music that had an electronic quality to it, had a pulse.
We were really conscious of the beat of the movie, and tried to avoid some of the languid southern clichés of music -- that folky, twangy, regional sound. It's a very gritty movie in a lot of ways but I wanted a very slick sheen to it, more so than I'd done in a lot of my other ones.
You definitely keep the regional flavor present though in the verbal interactions between characters, which had some people in my screening leaning in to catch it all.
Green: I like that. You know I had the same thing because I've just finished a movie where a lot of it is in Spanish, and so we just decided to not use subtitles at all. I think you put yourself in that environment that sometimes you do or don't understand. If it's something that needs exposition that's not illustrated with the physicality, then you can subtitle it. But we were telling the entire story we needed to on the look on the characters' faces and their inflections. Everything else is just sing-song.
How faithful were you to Hawkins' original script?
Green: We shot the entire screenplay, but we would open it up to scenes where -- I mean, like when I got to know Brian Mays, who plays the foreman of the work crew, and Gary Poulter I thought, "We're missing a huge opportunity if we don't just sic these guys on each other during a scene. So in the woods I said, 'Gary, go over on the hillside, we're about to wrap up for the day, we're gonna film you smoking a cigarette.' And then, 'Hey Brian, go over there and give him a piece of your mind for being lazy.' "
That was an entirely improvised scene. We did two takes, those guys just went at each other, and you got the strange poetry of the way that they speak. Or maybe you don't understand what the hell they're saying. [laughs] But I don't think there's any misunderstanding of what that scene's about.
[SPOILERS] Can you both talk a bit about the bookending shots of the film? As essential as they are to the structure of the film, they actually came late into the production, correct?
Green: Yeah, they weren't in the book and they weren't in the original scripts. That ending didn't even exist until halfway through production, when we really started to know the characters. It was important for me to have a moment of optimism, a moment of reflection, and it really started to become clear how this movie should end. I called up Gary Hawkins and said, 'This is what I'm feeling as I'm getting to know Gary and Joe, and I want to emotionally find this place at the end.’ And then he wrote that scene really quickly. It really did feel like a perfect parallel.
Cage: It’s amazing to me the way the movie opens with the same shot and what begins with a smack across the face ends with an angelic smile on Ty Sheridan. What becomes with tree poisoning ends with tree planting, and even the obscured actor kind of has a Joe-like quality to him. Joe and that man are cut from the same mold. [END SPOILERS]
[To Green] I read that you and Jeff Nichols both worked on the documentary about Larry Browne.
Green: Yeah, we were both production assistants on “The Rough South of Larry Browne”.
Have you two talked about the influence from Browne on both this, obviously, but also “Mud”?
Green: Oh yeah. Larry was a very inspiring person to us. There's actually a picture on IMDB of me and Jeff on the set of that movie. It was right when I graduated college, '99, when I was 22, 23. I worked on that the summer I was making my first feature, so I did that for money. Just sitting down and talking to Larry about his life was great. It was before I knew his literature, and then he just became a very inspirational voice for guys like me and Jeff, who didn't come from an industry family or have the navigation that could be very helpful to us. He just wanted the voice of a guy that came from a place a little left of center, and he gave us the confidence that we could do it too.
Cage: Larry's one of the great success stories, in that he was living where he was living and working in the fire department, then decided one day to become a writer. He writes a story and sends it to The New Yorker, it gets rejected, and he writes another and another. Fifteen years go by, nothing happens, and then all of a sudden he becomes one of the great voices of Southern literature. Just amazing willpower and tenacity.
He loved dogs. When he started making some money that's what he spent it on, he loved looking at dogs, making comparisons between people and dogs. That's one of the many things I enjoy in the movie is the relationship between Joe and his dog. I felt like Larry was in the room in some way.
Green: One of the production assistants on the movie came up to me the other day after he saw the movie at SXSW and said, "Joe is the dog and Wade is the snake. At the beginning of the movie Joe lets the snake go and says, 'Let him go, he's my friend,' and then at the end of the movie the snake asks him again 'Are you my friend?' Isn’t that interesting?
“Joe” opens in theatres and iTunes this Friday, April 11th.