some Thrill-Seeking Thing
Phillippe has the new Wyclef cd on the coffee table in his hotel room. He likes
the album, especially the Mary J. Blige track, but thinks the Kenny Rogers is a
little silly. I like him already. Though he's been on the road for days, talking
to too many people about his new movie, The Way of the Gun, Phillippe
says he volunteered for the job because he "believes in it." Looking
sharp in his tight black designer t-shirt, he leans back into the sofa, plainly
a very nice person, and quite unlike his character, Parker, who, with his
partner Longbaugh (played brilliantly by Benicio del Toro), kidnaps a very
pregnant surrogate mother (Juliette Lewis), hoping to extract millions from the
gangster/tycoon who's paying her to carry the child. All are soon entangled in a
ferocious and violent struggle for power, money, and some kind of respect.
Fuchs: You're picking some offbeat projects (Cruel Intentions, 54),
but it probably would be easy for you to go the Freddie Prinze Jr. route, into
romantic teen comedies.
Phillippe: Sure, I'm offered that stuff, and they offer a lot of money
too, but I don't even think twice about it.
Why is that?
Because I don't want to see it. There was a time -- before I made movies -- when
I was more forgiving, but now that I've learned as much as I have, I want to do
movies that I want to see, that have their own unique flavor. The idea of doing
something that you've seen a thousand times before doesn't appeal to me.
Granted, there are times when, for business reasons, you do something that's
more mainstream. But even then, I try to find something that has a dark or
subversive aspect. I'm drawn to things that make me feel like I'm taking a risk,
that scare me, or make me worry about the way that my mom's going to react. It's
like some thrill-seeking thing.
You could say that the neo-violent, indie-guy genre that Way of the Gun
appears to fit -- superficially anyway -- is not so subversive anymore.
To me there's a distinct difference between this movie and those that
clearly fit the genre. I can understand the aesthetic similarities, but I think
Chris's dialogue is better, personally. Tarantino's movies, I really enjoy,
certainly, and when I was 19 and 20, I was really into them. But I think Chris
has more of a message, not so much glorification. It's pretty raw and
challenging, sometimes uncomfortably so. Chris doesn't insult the intelligence
of the audience. To me, this movie is more like a modern Western, like Peckinpah.
Chris calls it a Western with cell phones. We don't do any of the double-fisted
gun moves, we stayed away from all the BS that looks cool; we wanted it to look
like surveillance footage rather than some of those movies that tend to get
masturbatory, just in coolness.
What are some of the thematic differences you see?
Tarantino's stuff in its inception was all about finding a way for him
to break into Hollywood. This movie, to me, is very anti-Hollywood and un-PC.
None of the characters are dressed really snappy, nobody has perfectly done hair
and makeup. There's a glossiness in those movies that I didn't see in them then,
but do see now. They were entertaining but somehow superficial. It's not that
this movie is a cinematic revelation, but I know it was born out of Chris's
frustration with this business, and the fact that he was pigeonholed and studios
only wanted to hire him if he could give them the Disney version of Usual
Suspects. Knowing that he was writing it as a kind of resignation and also
defiance to a fate, it has a distinctly different theme.
Some viewers won't like it because it's raw and offensive.
Yeah, I think you have to be attracted to this kind of tone to enjoy it
on every level. But it has moments throughout, and performances -- particularly
Benicio del Toro's -- that I think are eminently worth watching. It's got a
really diverse cast and has a lot of forward-thinking ideas about contract
fertility and some racial underpinnings. It's an honesty thing. You should in no
way emulate these guys, but at the same time, everybody's heard the comments
they make, or has experience with these stifled ideas about the world, about
gays, or whatever. Benicio's character has no development: he's like a child. So
many studio movies beg you to love the lead character instantly. This one lets
you make up your own mind.
That calls up the current concern about pop culture icons expressing
rage and frustration and a sense of victimization, without a moral resolution.
Here Parker, at least, through his voice over, spells out his anger and his
Right. Parker and Longbaugh have a history, a reason why they are the
way they are. Benicio and I, we never call each other by name, but these names,
Parker and Longbaugh -- they're taken from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,
their real names -- indicate the friendship, and we have an unspoken connection,
Along with the Western theme, there's a noir angle, in the voice over
and Parker and Longbaugh's hard attitudes.
Yes, and in the movie's pace too. There's not a lot of fast cuts or
fancy camerawork. It's told mostly from a distance. It's unique to our time
period, but not original, because the film has clear influences. I'd like to see
more of this kind of visual and tonal change in movies.
Were you able to bring some of that desire to this set? Was Chris open
to your ideas?
He was. And that's unusual with a writer-director, because they're
usually so married to every bit of punctuation. Chris is really unselfish that
way, and understands film as a collaborative process, that cannot be one man's
vision. At the same time, Chris was directing his first film, I'd been in nine,
Benicio in ten or twelve, Juliette [has experience], and of course, James Caan.
So Chris did wisely defer to some of our experience, but I think that makes a
great filmmaker. Benicio in particular spent time with him developing the story.
Do you think the "way of the gun" -- as an basic concept --
challenges conventions of masculinity, maybe through the variations on
"male buddy" team?
The guys are all pretty well defined [by each other]. I think that mine
and Benicio's is the purest bond, though Sarno and Abner have something really
great. Taye Diggs and Nicky Katt, they're together just out of circumstances,
though they develop into a kind of husband-wife relationship. You know, even
though we don't have that many scenes together -- they are broken down into
pairs -- we spent so much time on the set together that it felt like more of an
ensemble piece. I feel like I really worked a lot with Jimmy Caan, but we only
had one scene together.
Do you look for movies where you're not the only star?
It's way too much pressure. And usually star vehicles are sub-par
quality, because they're "insert actor" projects. I learn so much more
in an ensemble movie. I really respond to diversity, a broader landscape, with
actors of different ages and races and backgrounds.
I know that you're doing some producing.
Yes, with a company called Intermedia. I've got about five projects in
development, one based on a novel I optioned, White Boy Shuffle, and
another on a news story. It's so much more fulfilling. A film goes through so
many hands, that by the time it's done, it might not resemble what you thought
you were making. To be more involved and more aware is appealing to me. There
are a lot of good stories out there, but I haven't found too many great scripts.
I want to be able to effect some sort of change in the business, by being a more
decent producer, making more positively-themed movies.
It sounds like you're going to be a very hands-on producer.
Yes, I'm not doing it to make money, I'm doing it to make interesting
films. A lot of producers cookie cut movies one after another, but I'll be a
little more careful, and have the opportunity to be, because I have the acting
career to subsidize the producing.
When you say you want to make "positively-themed" movies, you
don't mean "happy" or conventionally moralistic.
No. But at the same time, I think there are some messages: Way of the
Gun is anti-gun in a lot of ways. But in a broader sense, when I have more
control, I want to expose people to new ideas. I know that when I grew up I was
pretty sheltered, and didn't come to understand much about the world until I was
in my really late teens and early twenties, and that process continues. I want
to make movies that people talk about when they leave the theater, that aren't
clear-cut, but effective and fulfilling in some sense. And I've seen a lot of
women get passed over for jobs in this business, and so the person I hired to
write White Boy Shuffle is a black woman, Elizabeth Hunter. I want to be
able to give people opportunities that they don't usually get. Being able to do
those sorts of things is important to me. I happened to be born in such a way
that I don't face those prejudices, but I should use what comes easier to me
because of that, to help. And I want to, in a non-preachy sense, enlighten
people. There are ways to do it. Look at music: I've always loved hiphop and
rap, and now there's this whole progressive movement, with De La Soul and Mos
Def, Common. It's some of the best stuff around.
Hiphop is a good example of a movement -- and industry -- that continues
to adapt and expand.
And that's something we're going to see more of. People are afraid of
the new technologies, [like] the internet, but it's going to create a more free
market for ideas. If people have more choices and start to spend money on things
that mean a little bit more, the market might change. The internet allows for
that: it's not about being told what you should like. Kids'll have a chance to
hear musicians they haven't heard before and short films will have venues.
Do you worry about industry categories, like "black films" or
RP: That's one of the things I'd like to help change. To me, White Boy Shuffle is sort of like Catcher in the Rye, the story is so universal. The point is to expand the scope of what a movie can possibly mean or be, to get people involved because they're artistic or understand the point of the material, not just because they fit a certain bill aesthetically.
Click here to read Cynthia Fuch's review.