The year is still young, but there’s already a contender for 2011’s most unexpected breakthrough star: Robert the tire.

That’s right—we’re talking about a tire, and its name is Robert. And if that sounds crazy, just wait until Robert starts using psychokinetic powers to make people’s heads explode. When Robert’s not going all Scanners on scorpions, water bottles, and human skulls, he’s (or “it’s”?) watching lustfully as a beautiful woman takes a shower and befriending a young kid like he was E.T., and not, you know, a tire.

If this all sounds bizarre, you’re about halfway prepared for Rubber, a new meta-comedy/thriller/what-the-fuck from French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux. In select theaters this Friday, Rubber is part “killer tire movie” and part film-within-a-film, though it’s all strange and refreshingly original.

Fans of electro-house music might know Dupieux by his pseudonym, Mr. Oizo, a moniker under which he’s produced records for Uffie (check out Uffie's Hot Complex gallery, video, and interview) and released his own instrumental albums. With Rubber, though, Dupieux’s cinematic game has taken center-stage, and the reactions garnered at various film festivals have ranged from utter confusion to outright hatred to claims of eccentric brilliance.

Complex recently caught up with Dupieux to chat about Robert’s memorable performance, the lameness of CGI, why it’s OK to not be smart all of the time, and what Rubber has in common with the sappy romance Love Story.

rubber-tire-fireComplex: When someone hears the description “killer tire movie,” they might think they have a handle on Rubber, but the movie is so much stranger than just that. Have you noticed that happening?

Quentin Dupieux: Yeah, I’m aware that the trailers are showing something different. We just decided to only show some aspects of the movie, and probably that’s why. Usually, you see a trailer and you have seen all of the good bits, and when you watch the movie you just wait, basically, for the good bits you saw in the trailer. Sometimes that's what happens; this time, the good thing is you still have a good surprise when you watch it, because you discover another side of it, and it’s not just a slasher movie.

And I think, yeah, for a lot of people that’s a good surprise. I’m sure for other people it’s disappointing, because it’s a self-conscious movie talking about movies, and it’s probably disappointing if you’re expecting a lot of blood and scary moments. But for a lot of people, it seems to be a good surprise, and I’m glad about that. I think the communication around the movie is pretty good.

Does the reputation of “killer tire movie” bother you at all?

Quentin Dupieux: It’s OK, because it’s a good, easy way to describe the movie, you know? I’m pretty sure it’s the only movie about a tire. [Laughs.] So it will be forever like, “Oh, have you seen the movie with the tire?” And that’s cool.

It’s a nice way to describe the movie, because obviously that was the initial idea for the movie. I thought, “OK, I’m going to do a movie with a living tire.” So, I’m pretty happy with this. It’s going to be the only movie with a tire, and that’s what the poster is about—it’s a tire with an eye. And it’s OK. There’s something easy and light about it. I don’t want to spread some kind of intelligent romance or anything false; it has to stay a simple movie, and even if it contains reflections and stuff like that, I’m super happy if people see it as a simple movie.

Where did the idea to make a movie about a living tire come from in the first place?

Quentin Dupieux: The process is complicated. I was writing another movie called Reality, and it’s a very different script. In that script, there’s a character with a director, and the director is trying to make a science fiction movie. We never see the movie; he’s just talking about it, and it’s a movie about a cube invasion. Like, cubes floating in the air everywhere, and people get attacked by cubes. These cubes make people’s heads explode.

So I was writing the script, and we realized that Reality was too expensive. It would be super good, it’s really an exciting movie and I’m dying to do it, but it was too expensive. So, my producer and I decided, OK, let’s do something cheap, something we can shoot quickly. I had this idea where I said, “OK, we should do this movie about the cubes.” So I continued to write the movie about the cubes and after 10 or 15 pages, I realized the cube stuff was funny but was too complicated to shoot. We did some CGI tests and I was super bored with the idea of shooting an empty space and then working on a computer to put some cubes in and create the movie, basically.

So, from this point, I decided, OK, I should do something different. I just replaced the cubes with a tire, and don’t ask me why, because I don’t know. [Laughs.] At that point, I was trying to avoid doing CGI. I needed a simple idea, and I just transformed the whole script, and it became one character—one tire, instead of an army of cubes.

You took a really interesting approach to how the tire kills people. I’d think that the first thought would be to just have the tire run people over, but you go a step further and give the tire psychokinetic powers. People have compared Rubber to Christine, but that’s not a fair comparison when you see your tire making people’s heads explode.

Quentin Dupieux: The idea was to give the tire a mind. I knew very early into the process that a tire was harder to animate, and I knew it was complicated to give it life. So, I knew it was important to give him some kind of consciousness, like a mind. I had this idea to do it like Scanners, the Cronenberg movie. Make him shake a little bit to make something explode. Then, suddenly, you think it has a mind.

If it’s just rolling over stuff, or it’s just aggressive and trying to crush stuff, you wouldn’t think the thing has a mind. I think that’s why I decided to give the thing special powers. It’s because you’ll think it has a mind when you see him concentrating and rumbling. After that first rabbit explosion, you think it has a mind. That was the idea.

It’s kind of goofy to say, but the tire gives a great performance.

Quentin Dupieux: [Laughs.] I agree.

Was it difficult to shoot a tire and have it do all kinds of emotive things without any CGI?

Quentin Dupieux: Yeah, that was not that hard. The effects we did are all very simple; there are no crazy effects. It’s just basically a tire rolling. Nothing too complicated about it, but, yes, giving life to a tire was a good challenge for a director. That’s why I think I’ve been so excited about it, but it was a big challenge. Every shot was a challenge because we had no money and I didn’t want to use CGI, so I had to be creative. I had to find some easy solutions. As a filmmaker, looking for the right angle to give him life—that was exciting.

How’d you get people to back this project, as far as actors, finances, and distribution? It doesn’t seem like the easiest sell in the world.

Quentin Dupieux: When we tried at first to get some money to do it in France, everybody rejected it, of course. But then when we started the prep, everybody, from the technical crew to the actors, was excited by the script. The script was easy to read, and I think it was funny. So as soon as the script was done, nobody was asking stupid questions. It was clear for everyone; everyone knew it was a fun project, something you do once in your lifetime.

Finding money was a bit humiliating, though, because they’d keep saying, “OK, this is a good idea for a short film, but we don’t want to see a whole movie about a tire. It’s ridiculous.” So I was humiliated in France, but then we just found someone to finance for a tiny amount of money, but who cares—that was enough to shoot. And after that, it’s been only pure pleasure and fun. Since the movie was ready, we’ve had, again, some troubles to sell it in France. No distribution guy was interested. But we’ve been lucky to have the movie in Cannes.

How’d that premiere go?

Quentin Dupieux: Well, the day after it premiered, we sold the movie to 20 countries. So it went pretty well. [Laughs.]

Rubber has some pretty strong comedic elements to it, which is somewhat unexpected but makes perfect sense when you’re dealing with a movie about a tire. Did you intend to make a funny movie from day one?

quentin-dupieux-rubberQuentin Dupieux: Yes. That’s my spirit. I’ve never been serious about movies or music. I’m just having fun. That’s my goal; when I make music, I want people to dance to it, which is really simple, and when I make movies, I want people to laugh. I don’t want to create something different.

I don’t want people to think, I don’t want them to cry, or care. I just want to make them laugh, because I think that’s the most important thing in life. When you laugh, it’s pure emotion and it’s good for your health. So yes, that’s my only concern. I don’t want to be too smart.

That’s a refreshing outlook. Some people might have had this idea and tried to make it totally scary and coldhearted. But I’d think it’d be incredibly tough to sustain tension with just a tire killing people for 90 minutes.

Quentin Dupieux: Yeah, and that same thought crossed my mind when I started writing the script. I realized very quickly that a killer tire was not enough; it was weak, like doing a slasher movie but with a tire, and that’s not really interesting. We have too many movies like that, and some are really good, so we don’t need to do that again. That’s why I created the whole thing about the audience within the movie—that was to distract myself from the tire. I was already bored by the idea of a killer tire.

Rubber takes quite a few shots at Hollywood for its many clichés. What made you want to take such an unabashed anti-Hollywood stance?

Quentin Dupieux: Yeah, I had a lot of fun doing that. [Laughs.] I just think it’s just funny to be as small as I am and this movie is and to reference movies like E.T., JFK, Love Story, and The Pianist. It seemed like a crazy thing to do, to joke about Hollywood while being so much smaller.

I’m really small; I’m so small that the idea of me, right now, talking about these movies like I’m some kind of authority is so funny. [Laughs.] I’m just a guy who made a funny movie about a tire.