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Tim Blake Nelson and Quint chat about LEAVES OF GRASS, a Slim Pickens-ish Richard Dreyfuss and The Leader's return in HULK 2!!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a small chat I had last week with Tim Blake Nelson regarding his upcoming flick LEAVES OF GRASS. You might remember we posted the first image from the film, Edward Norton portraying twins. If you don’t, just scroll down and check it out here. I’m a big fan of Tim Blake Nelson’s work as an actor, especially in O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? and the criminally underseen FIDO, but I’m not very familiar with his work as a writer/director. Nelson wrote, directed and co-stars in LEAVES OF GRASS. I went into this interview knowing very little about this movie, so I won’t front-load this interview with a ton of info. Read along and discover more about this movie… if you’re anything like me you’ll be dying to see it by the time you finish the short 20 minute chat. Do keep a look-out at the end of the interview for some talk about HULK 2 and return of THE LEADER! Enjoy!

Tim Blake Nelson: Hi Eric, how are you?

Quint: Hey Tim. I’m fine. How are you doing?

Tim Blake Nelson: I’m well.

Quint: Nice. Are you guys still shooting?

Tim Blake Nelson: You’re Quint?

Quint: Yeah, that’s right.

Tim Blake Nelson: Fantastic. Okay. What was your question? I’m sorry.

Quint: Oh, are you still shooting?

Tim Blake Nelson: Oh no. Finished last Thursday and I’m actually in the process of moving apartments in New York. Are you in Austin?

Quint: Yeah, I am in Austin and it’s really nice out here now until we get our three and a half weeks or so of Fall in between Summer and winter. So, yeah man, I’m looking forward to the movie. I don’t know too much about it so you’re going to have to fill me in.

Tim Blake Nelson: Alright, what could I tell you?

Quint: Well, I think the big selling point is that you have Ed Norton playing dual roles in the movie. I imagine you intended for the role to be played by the same actor when you wrote the movie, right?

Tim Blake Nelson: Right. I had met Edward because he had read another script of mine, called SEASONS OF DUST, and he had considered doing that at one point. So we met and I wrote this new script LEAVES OF GRASS after SEASONS OF DUST had fallen apart and when I wrote it I had Edward absolutely in mind. I think that really not only is Edward the best actor to play the two roles, but he’s also the best actor to play either role and that’s an extraordinary combination, because I’m not having to compromise either role with Edward playing them because he’s so extraordinary in each.

Quint: And was he attracted to it right away?

Tim Blake Nelson: Yeah! Well conceptually he wasn’t interested in doing another indie film at that moment in his life and so he resisted reading it. I pressured him a bit and kind of insisted that I felt he would like it and I let it go for about three weeks, then suddenly I started getting calls first from his agent and then from him saying that he was extremely interested and then he went the extra mile and said he’d like to help me produce it which he ended up doing.

Quint: Nice, nice. It’s interesting looking at his career, which has a very strong theme of him playing roles about duality. Going back to PRIMAL FEAR and FIGHT CLUB and HULK. It’s fascinating to me.

Tim Blake Nelson: Yeah, it absolutely is and I think that Edward is a gorgeously complicated guy and I think that like any brilliant person he’s got conversations going on in his own head with himself, different aspects of himself and I think an exploration of duality as an actor is not only a logical extension of that but a very productive outlet as well in those discussions within one’s brain, which can get a bit out of hand. I think that happens inside of Edward’s head and in this movie the characters pit Platonism against Hedonism in a sense, and that counter-point I think was very appealing to Edward and what occurs between the two characters and as a result between the people around those characters in the movie, I think is going to be very exciting and a lot of fun to watch.

Quint: Cool. So what’s the basic set-up? He plays two brothers…

Tim Blake Nelson: Yeah, identical twins. And the lead character is a classicist in the Ivy league who has rejected his background and completely cut off all ties with his family and is pursuing an extremely successful life in academia. He’s teaching at Brown and being wooed by Harvard and he’s recognized in the insular world of classical philosophy as the new face of classical thought. He’s an academic superstar. He’s kind of loosely based on a professor I had at Brown. I’m sure your readers will be really interested. (laughs) Anyway so… he has a brother who has remained in Oklahoma who’s actually the more brilliant of the two, but the brother who has remained in Oklahoma grows hydroponic pot and it’s conceivably some of the best pot grown in the world. His brother, the pot grower, lures the ivy league professor home to help him out of a life threatening jam and that sort of launches the story.

Quint: Does IMDB have the right information? Do you have Richard Dreyfuss playing a drug lord?

Tim Blake Nelson: Yeah, he’s a drug lord, but he’s a… clandestine drug lord. He actually… he’s known as a guy in the pipe business in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but that’s a subterfuge. He’s a pipe seller. He’s in the pipe business in Tulsa, but he uses his fleet of trucks and the guys who work for him to move marijuana around the state.

Quint: Well, I don’t need to hear anymore. I’d want to see the movie even if that was all you had. I love Richard Dreyfuss so much.

Tim Blake Nelson: Yeah, so he’s basically playing a Tulsa Jew and he’s kind of… he hybridizes Slim Pickens and Roy D. Mercer if you know the reference.

Quint: Wow, I can’t even fathom that, with his voice and…

Tim Blake Nelson: And I gave him tapes of just so to drive it home, I gave him tapes of T. Boone Pickens for the dialect. It’s a voracious performance.

Quint: Oh man, I can’t wait. I can’t wait to see that. Who else is in the movie? You have is Susan Sarandon is that right?

Tim Blake Nelson: Susan Sarandon plays the twins’ mom. I play the sidekick of the drug dealer, the hydroponics pot grower, and Kerri Russell plays… to say that she’s a love interest soft sells what she does in the movie. Do you know what “noodling” is?

Quint: Like “Okie noodling”? Where you catch catfish with your arm? Yeah.

Tim Blake Nelson: Yeah. She’s a Walt Whitman quoting noodler. Which is where you get the title is obviously a double-entoundre… marijuana… grass and then there’s Walt Whitman, and I’m going to get sort of serious now…

Quint: Please do.

Tim Blake Nelson: I apologize, but he sort of serves as a middle ground between a life of structure and a life of anarchy. In that in his poetry he allowed for each poem to determine its own structure and its own mood and that’s what sort of the journey that the main character, that classics professor, goes on in the movie.

Quint: Yeah. Sounds fascinating, man. It sounds like you have a very serious backbone to almost an absurd structure.

Tim Blake Nelson: Yeah, well I hope anyway, and what I’ll be trying to accomplish in the edit is that to apply a very… what we want is an extremely entertaining movie that’s also sneaking in some pretty heady ideas and whether that’s going to succeed or not will be up to you guys who see and write about it, but I’m very optimistic. And I think that to start with I can tell you that at the center of the film you’re going to watch Edward Norton having the time of his life. He really had a lot of fun. We’ve also got Lucy Devito in it, in her first film and that’s Danny Devito and Rhea Perlman’s daughter. Steve Earle has a really nice role.

Quint: Is Melanie Lynskey in the movie as well?

Tim Blake Nelson: Melanie Lynskey, I was about to talk about her…

Quint: I’ve got such an abnormal crush on her.

Tim Blake Nelson: Oh yeah, no she’s hilarious and she came in and auditioned for me and then…(in accent) she opened with her mouth and started talking in a New Zealand accent (end accent) and I just couldn’t believe it, because her south-eastern Oklahoma accent was so spot on, and it’s a very specific accent. She had gone online and really studied it for the audition and she is really, really funny.

Quint: Well, let’s talk a little bit before you go about how you’re incorporating Edward into scenes. The interview’s going out there after this picture’s being released of him playing both brothers in one shot and so was there a lot of special effects considerations that you had to do or do you kind of go like an old school trickster approach to it?

Tim Blake Nelson: You know I have got to tell you it’s fairly old school. We’re using motion control and we’re using split screen. That said we got Gray Marshall to help us with the twin stuff and he’s the guy who did ADAPTATION and he’s doing YOUTH IN REVOLT with Miguel Arteta. He has become, the go-to “twins effects” supervisor in film and he was extremely helpful, because this was terra incognita for me… and what’s remarkable and what I really hadn’t expected in accomplishing is the interplay that’s going to occur in this movie between the two characters in terms of them interrupting one another and even some of the physical stuff that’s going to occur between them, but really rhythmically I think largely because the really meticulous work that Edward was so eager to do. There’s a sort of an astonishing rhythmic integrity to the interplay between the characters that absolutely defies the limit that this kind of work should place on a film. Just with him interrupting himself, with him finishing the sentences of himself, with the really mercurial responses to himself… that he was able to time out… just because he has such a good mind. He was really on top of it, and it allowed us to go really, really far with the technology.

Quint: Of course I’d hope that you guys flawlessly incorporate everything, but I have to say… I’d love it if you had one shot that’s like an old school STAR TREK episode or PARENT TRAP type thing where you can kind of see the split screen difference where the lines don’t line up. That would be something that I would love to see in the movie.

Tim Blake Nelson: (laughs)

Quint: Just one shot! Just one shot!

Tim Blake Nelson: We’ll work on that! I’m actually… there’s technical virtuosity to be sure and that’s one thing, but I really there’s a human element here which has everything to do with really how meticulous… because of Edward and his ambitions for this, we were able to get really meticulous with the interplay between the characters and that isn’t technical, that’s really all about the acting…

Quint: Do you have a release date?

Tim Blake Nelson: Yeah I’m posting now and… I don’t know. It’ll be either next Fall or early 2010. That will sort of be up to the people who distribute it… and I don’t know who that is yet.

Quint: Oh so it’s… this is still without distribution?

Tim Blake Nelson: Yeah, yeah. Absolute indie film.

Quint: Are you planning on trying to get in some festivals or…

Tim Blake Nelson: Are we trying to what?

Quint: Get into some festivals? Aiming for a big festival release like Toronto or something maybe?

Tim Blake Nelson: Yeah I think so, but it’s such a marquee cast I’d be surprised if we didn’t have a distributor well in advance.

Quint: What else do you have cooking? Do you have something else either that you’re writing or…

Tim Blake Nelson: POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS, the Tim Robbins show about the pharmaceutical industry…and then I’m editing this.

Quint: Alright fantastic.

Tim Blake Nelson: That’s my near future.

Quint: Great well what about a potential HULK sequel? Gale Anne Hurd’s been going around talking about how you might be The Leader and the main villain of the next one.

Tim Blake Nelson: That’s the plan. That’s what they tell me, but I don’t know when that’s happening or what the details are but I am eager to do it and I hear that’s in the works. I would tell you if I knew more, but I honestly don’t.

Quint: Yeah, but you haven’t played a comic-book villain yet right?

Tim Blake Nelson: No, but I had a great time doing HULK, so if they want me for HULK 2 I’m there, it certainly was the plan going into HULK 1. When I met with them they said this is where it’s headed so I’m eager to do it.

Quint: Alright, fantastic man, thank you so much for your time.

Tim Blake Nelson: Nice meeting you.

Quint: Yeah, yeah don’t throw your back out moving apartments.

Tim Blake Nelson: (laughs) Okay, take care.

How crazy does Richard Dreyfuss sound in this role? Like I told the man, if the movie had nothing else going for it, that alone would get my ass in the seat. Hope you guys dug the chat! Now it’s time to catch some sleep so I can keep chipping away at the massive Holiday Gift Guide in the morning! Look for that to hit Thanksgiving! -Quint

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