Well you start by casting someone who is the most handsome person working in Hollywood. Youve got to start there. Right there by itself youre distinguishing yourself from him. I think thats a really good plan.
I think a lot of that distancing work took place in the writing. The characters difficult. I think hes the most difficult character in the film, I think without question, because hes the least externally interesting character in the film. Yet hes clearly the protagonist because the journey that plays out, plays out in him.
I would say if this movie could be summed up its a movie about a young man finding it in his heart to accept the wrongs of his father. Thats what the movies about. Thats the journey Im attempting to take. Whether he does that or doesnt is the drama of the film. But if theres a drama being played out, it is is this adult man played by Josh Lucas going to receive this visitor - metaphorically - in his home, in his heart? Is he going to receive him? Its his film, in that sense.
Obviously other characters have as rich and complicated emotional lives, but theyre not the center of the film. So because hes the center of the film, hes obviously the most complicated character and took the most time to get it right because, you know, intentionally Ive introduced you to a character - played by Chris Walken - whos the absentee father who shows up on the doorstep. Hes highly charismatic and fascinating and interesting. Instantly youre fascinated and drawn to him. Not just because hes played by Chris, but because hes this compelling figure in this otherwise odd little family. Theres a ring at the door and suddenly theres this compelling black-cloaked figure in the courtyard. He just carries with him great iconography. Hes a powerful presence and the audience instantly is riveted by Chris performance and Chris character. And so you have a protagonist who is keeping himself apart from the most interesting character in the film.
It was a great challenge, both as a writer and as a director and as an editor - with my editor Francoise Bonnot to make this story work because you had to be very careful not to make the protagonist too far behind the audience. Because we like [Walkens character] Turner, hes fascinating. Hes great. And yet you have this son who appears to be holding onto this almost abstract grudge, which if you take a moment and think about, it makes perfect sense why he would be hostile to this schmuck who shows up after 30 years for a night. It makes sense why hes pissed off. But from an audience point of view, you dont like it when someone doesnt like the character you like. It was very tricky, very tricky.
But to have somebody play me? I think ultimately, because I think this is a part of the writing process, Im as much of Turner as I am of Jason. I couldnt write about what it felt like for my father to be ashamed of having done horrible things. I wrote about what I feel like because I dont know what my father experienced. I can imagine but I had to write about that from the point of view of what are the terrible things that Ive done. Why do I avoid those things? Why do I not want to go to the scene of the crime of those things? Why do I not want to face up to those acts of horror? So in a sense all the characters are me.
How much did you allow your actors to play with your words while they were trying to develop these characters?
Again, the luckiest writer in the world, my three actors decided that they didnt want to veer from the text. That was their decision and its never going to happen again (laughing). They all made the decision that they believed the text should not be messed with. They all understood going into it that it was an extremely delicate piece of machinery.
Any film that deals this much in relationships Theres not a lot of plot in our movie. The plot is defined by relationships. Its defined by proximity and distance between characters. Thats really it. Thats usually subtext in other films, but thats the plot of my film. Theres some other machinations of storytelling that exist, but the journey is sort of defined by how proximate these two central characters are to one another. I think everybody has been around long enough the actors to recognize that those are really the hardest stories to tell and the easiest to mess up. You change one line and you change the dynamic.
The film is so economical and because of the narrowness of its scope and what its attempting to explore, I think thats a very deep theme but its a narrow piece of narrative. We wanted to keep the film economical and because it was economical, if you change a line arbitrarily you might lose a piece of exposition thats going to really mess you up. So, no, they did not want to improvise. The little boy liked to improvise (laughing).