Capone chats with Rian Johnson about BROTHERS BLOOM, and has details on post-screening Q&As in Chicago, D.C., and Dallas!!!
Published at: May 20, 2009, 9:44 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey folks. Capone in Chicago here.
First off, some exciting news for select cities that will be showing THE BROTHERS BLOOM beginning this weekend. Much as he did last weekend at a couple of screenings in L.A., writer-director Rian Johnson will be doing post-screening Q&As in a few cities, beginning with Chicago on Saturday night, May 23 after the 7:00 pm showing at the Landmark Century Center Cinema; as a bonus, Rian will be sticking around to introduce the 10:10 showing as well. I’ll be there to do the Q&A with Rian, and it promises to be an entertaining evening. I’m expecting a capacity crowd for the 7:00 pm show, so get your tickets early if you can; this is not a free screening, but tickets will probably sell out.
Next stop on the BLOOM mini-tour is Sunday, May 24 in Washington, D.C., at the Landmark E Street Cinema, with appearances at the 7:00 and 9:45 pm shows; followed by Dallas on Monday, May 25 at the Landmark Magnolia Cinemas, with appearances at the 7:10 and 9:45 pm shows.
One of my first full-length interviews for AICN was with writer-director Rian Johnson back in October 2005, when his first film BRICK was stirring shit up on the festival circuit. I loved the movie intensely from the first time I saw it, and revisiting it over the years reminds me what a terrifically detail-oriented writer Johnson was even then, and what a startling grip on his visuals he already possessed. When I look at some of the things I said about him after our first meeting, I still stand by them after the handful of times I've seen him since--intelligent, well-spoken, a true fan of film, and so young it makes me want to heave.
He's also one of the lucky, lucky filmmakers to be double-teamed for AICN writers...twice! Quint and I both spoke to Johnson at very different points in the promotion of BRICK, and we both talked to him again concerning THE BROTHERS BLOOM. In fact, Quint spent some time on the set of the film. Quint's very fun and conversational chat with Johnson is right here. My interview took place in Chicago back in October just hours before BLOOM opened the Chicago International Film Festival. As always seems to be the case with the interviews that Quint and I double-book, we cover completely different things. That's why Quint and I are soul mates, distant lovers, and brothers from another mother. Or maybe we just care about different things. Whatever the case, Rian is a great interview and getting to spend time with him at BNAT in December was a real treat as well.
Enjoy Rian Johnson talking about BROTHERS BLOOM and many other things…
Capone: In watching the film, and I definitely will see it again at some point, I couldn't stop thinking that this film isn't about con artists--this is about an actor and a writer.
Rian Johnson: [laughs] Yeah, yeah.
Capone: Many of the dilemmas that Bloom [played by Adrien Brody] is having are the classic actor problems. The life that is written for him and the characters that his brother [played by Mark Ruffalo] are so much more interesting and complete and real than his own life. Am I totally off base with this?
RJ: No, no, that is their relationship. Steven is the mastermind and Bloom is the actor. It's weird because that's definitely the closest and neatest analogy you could have. To me, what is more interesting and a lot more pretentious is…the movie is about storytelling to me. It takes the whole con man genre, and instead of going the gritty procedural route, it turns it into a bit of a fairy tale and romanticizes it. It's more about the con man as storyteller. To me, one of the interesting things about it is how we all use storytelling in our lives. You can see Bloom's dilemma as the actor's dilemma, but I know lots of people in my live--and me myself, we've all been in situations where you find yourself playing a role and you look around and realize you didn't write it and you don't really like, whether it's a shitty job you don't like, or a relationship that isn't working. Any situation in your life where you're going through the motions and playing this part and you want to get out of it, and there's this glass wall. There's this unknown of you're not enjoying this role that you're playing, but you now how to play it and you show up to work everyday. So for me, that was the more interesting connection.
Capone: Were you always looking to do something funnier than BRICK, which actually wouldn't be that hard?
RJ: [laugh] Well, yeah. That definitely appealed to me. Although when I watch BRICK with Steve, my D.P., we laugh our asses off. But I always feel like we're the only ones laughing. But yeah, that was something that always appealed to me, that idea of doing something that felt a little like a carnival, felt like letting the dog off the leach in a way and letting insane stuff happen and getting a bit of that chaotic Marx Brothers-type humor. And having the expanded pallet to do that, and having the expanded resources to have one-legged cats and juggling chainsaws and unicycles and Lamborghini's crashing, to be able to create that kind of large-scale humor and chaos was really appealing.
Capone: The character of Penelope [played by Rachel Weisz] was to me the biggest mystery in the film. She doesn't talk that much and we know the least about her, but that makes us pay attention to her more. Everything she says and does is a clue. I've never seen a character like her in a Marx Brothers movie or a con movie. Where does she hearken from?
RJ: That's one of the fun things about her, and that's one of the thing's I've heard Rachel say that she loved about the character, that she's a character that doesn't belong in a con man movie. She's kind of a nerd stuck in the middle of a con man movie. For me, she's the antithesis of Steven--Mark Ruffalo's character--who writes the cons and is the grand architect. And Penelope has no sense of planning at all, she doesn't realize she's being conned, she doesn't care if she's being conned. She's just having fun. She's having an experience, and she's all about collecting experiences. If Steven builds the hedge maze, she's smelling the flowers on it, that's the contrast, and that's what makes her so appealing to Bloom, the idea of this escape from the structure and from the maze.
Capone: I'm sure I'm an idiot for asking, but explain the title of this film to me, because Bloom is someone's first name in the film…
RJ: Well, it's their last name, but because the brothers were in and out of foster homes all their lives and never had any real authority figure, it was always just the two them, Steven just always called his brother Bloom.
Capone: So we aren't meant to know Bloom's first name.
RJ: No. I like to think it's something humiliating [laughs], but I don't know. But that's kind of his thing--Bloom doesn't have his own identity; he's just part of this partnership.
Capone: Did you approach the writing of BLOOM any differently than BRICK?
RJ: Um, no. I don't think so. Well, yes, because it's a totally different thing in terms of…I typed with the same fingers [laughs]. Because I'm a fundamentally lazy writer, I come up with an idea and think about it for a few years, and that was the same with BRICK and this. It kind of sits in the back of your head and collects things from your life in the course of a few years. That give you a lot of time to collect interesting things from trips you take or people you meet or movies you see or book you read.
Capone: I was going to ask you about the trips you've taken, because BRICK is pretty is pretty much set in one little place, and this film is almost going out of its way to go as many places as you can.
RJ: Part of that is, because I spent most of my 20s trying to get BRICK made, and I didn't travel at all until later in life, so I think I've always had this Romanticized armchair tourist view of Europe, and in a way I'm probably guilty of writing a bunch of exotic locations because I wanted to visit them. And, hey, it worked. I conned them!
Capone: There are a lot of visual cues…when you look at the clothes and the historical setting, it's difficult sometimes to figure out when this is supposed to take place. The film felt like something that was made in the '70s.
RJ: Nice. I'll take that.
Capone: I'm wondering, with the way the brothers dress and the hats, were you deliberately blurring your timelines?
RJ: It felt right to elevate the whole thing in terms of the style of it. It seemed very important to create this sense, when you're with the brothers, you're in a created world that Steven has written. It seemed that that would be easier to buy and a little more pointed if everything you saw was a little above everyday reality. Creating this notion that when you're going along on this adventure, you're inside the notebook that Steven is always scribbling in, that everything you see is a creation of his mind, tailored to a specific end of having this effect on this woman. So, that kind of served that function. And in terms of the actual style of it, I think it just looks cool [laughs]. At the end of the day, it's beautiful stuff.
Capone: It's fun to play dress up every now and then.
Capone: Going back to what I said about the actor/writer metaphor I saw in this movie, I don't think I've ever seen a con movie where the con is storyboarded.
RJ: [laughs] Exactly! There's a scene where they're planning the heist on the castle in Prague, and there's a scale model of what they're supposed to be robbing. We just grabbed that from the production designer's office, his model of the set. But because there was that correlation, we could do that. I forget if we slipped some of our actual storyboards in there in terms of what was in Steven's notebook. It might have been there. There was a fine line between the production art and what we used for Steven's book, and it all feeds into blurring that line.
Capone: It goes with saying that your writing has not been diminished at all since BRICK. A few the critics I saw the film with just turned to each other after the screening and said, "Okay, what Oscars could this be up for?" And I said, "Writing." It's so different than BRICK, but it's just as rich and smart. It floored me. And I've seen a lot of con movie that haven't been very smart.
RJ: That's really nice of you to say. A big part of that is that I was seven years older when I wrote it. That probably had a big impact on it. Also, it might go without saying, but you learn quite a bit from each experience that you have, and I've had a lot of experiences between when I wrote BRICK and when I made BLOOM, and I feel like I learned a lot making BLOOM and that's influencing the writing of this next thing that I'm doing, it's all feeding into that. I'm a real firm believer that the only way you learn to make movies is by watching them and making them. Every time you make one, you're aware of what you did wrong and you build upon that.
Capone: Let's talk about Mark Ruffalo. He's a great actor that I always enjoy seeing, but I can't remember him every popping off the screen the way he does here. He's playing the most outgoing guy in the movie here.
RJ: The showman. When first met with him, it was for the part of Bloom. I don't know if you've interviewed Mark before or if you've met him, he's like Steven in real life. He's not a brooding character. He is like a big showman. He's a family man, he's hugging everybody, he's everybody's favorite uncle on set. He's that kind of guy. Once I met him, it automatically clicked for him to play Steven. On the surface, it may look like casting against type, but to me it seems like everybody else has cast him against type. I personally think the guy should be in Apatow comedies. He's hilarious and he's got a really great comic sense and sense of fun. On the page, Steven maybe reads or could be seen as more of a cool-as-ice kind of character, and the fact that Ruffalo brought this lopsidedness to him and this soulfulness to it, in terms of what the movie actually ends up being about at the end, I felt like that could help add to the whole thing.
Capone: And then Rinko Kikuchi [as explosives expert Bang Bang] is an inspired choice. I guess what I'm just now realizing is that there are four very different styles of acting going on here.
RJ: [laughs] It's so true.
Capone: It totally works; don't get me wrong. But it really does feel like a square made up of four squares.
RJ: It's funny because just in terms of the actors and their approach to acting--and this is one of the things as a relatively new director that was a real challenge to me--I had to bring everybody together and get all the gears working together. And they did, but each of these actors has a very different approach to their craft. And you're right, now that I think about it. You have Harpo Marx in one corner, Rachel in outer space in the other corner, Mark doing Marcello Mastroianni in the other corner, and Adrien being soulful in the other corner. You're right. That's funny. I'm glad the corners lined up.
Capone: Did I see a couple of your BRICK cast members in that scene at the beginning. I know I saw Joseph Gordon-Levitt just standing there.
RJ: Oh yeah. Joseph just came out to Belgrade to hang out while we were shooting, for a few weeks, just because he wanted to be hanging out. And I told him, well if you're going to come, come this week and I'll put you in there. For me, any excuse to get Nora, Noah, and Joe in the movie is great. Also it's funny because that's supposed to be the wrap party for the brothers' last con, so the fact that the BRICK cast is there…
Capone: That could become your trademark, one cast transitioning into the next film you do.
RJ: That's right, the first scene in the next film I'll have Rachel and Adrien there.
Capone: You mentioned the next thing you're doing, is that still the science fiction piece?
RJ: Yeah, yeah. I'm in the middle of writing it right now, and it's completely different than BLOOM. It's a tonal 180. It's very dark science fiction story, but it's not like I, ROBOT science fiction; it's more near-future CHILDREN OF MEN/BLADE RUNNER science fiction. I'm really excited about it actually; it's fun. It's got time travel in it, but I think it keeps a leach on time travel to a certain extent, kind of like the first TERMINATOR, in that it only uses time travel as part of the set up, but it's not an active part of the plot. So, it's a whole different set of challenges and a completely different bag of worms that BLOOM. I'm really having fun trying to figure out how to not ruin it [laughs].
Capone: Have you done an research on time travel theories and movies so you don’t' repeat what others have done before you?
RJ: I have a bit. I kind of just know them enough…well, the ones that really work for me…
Capone: If you haven't seen it already, you need to see TIMECRIMES.
RJ: I do need to see that. I've had so many people tell me how great it is. It played at Fantastic Fest. I was a big fan of PRIMER too.
Capone: Their approach is fairly similar, but I think TIMECRIMES has a better story.
RJ: Really? I've got to check it out.
Capone: In the grand spectrum of con films, BLOOM didn't remind me of something as elaborate as, say, THE STING. But it did remind me of some of what Mamet did early on.
RJ: In my mind, PAPER MOON, at least tonally, was one of the first things that got me thinking of the notion of pulling it into a more Romanticized world and using it as more of a fable. It doesn't have a lot else in common with that film, but…
Capone: If you'd told me you shot this on another planet, I'd believe you.
RJ: [laughs] Have you ever been to Serbia?
RJ: Then we shot it on another planet. [laughs]
Capone: Great seeing you again.
RJ: Yeah, good to see you again. This festival will be our three-year marker. I'll meet you again here in three years with the next film.
Capone: It's already in my calendar. Thanks.