Tribeca 2012 Interview: "Jack And Diane" Director Bradley Rust Gray Talks His Horror-Infused Lesbian Love Story

Tribeca 2012 Interview: "Jack And Diane" Director Bradley Rust Gray Talks His Horror-Infused Lesbian Love Story
You said that Ellen Page, after Juno, got caught up in the “Hollywood machine.” Do you think Jack and Diane’s dark, edgy subject matter, from the creature to the gore to the nudity, factored into people’s decisions to steer her away from it?
Yeah, I do. I think of the film as a love story, and it’s straightforward, but there’s definitely stuff in it that’s more different than a mainstream film. I didn’t really get this until now, that I’ve seen it and experienced it through her and knowing more actors now, but you have less options, I think… Actually, I don’t think you do, but you’re told you have less options. When you’re at the point where she was before everything took off, you have more options to do whatever kinds of films that you want; like, she was a huge fan of Lynne Ramsay, so I said, “Why don’t you call Lynne Ramsay and ask her if she wants to do a film?”

 
Brokeback Mountain had just come out not too long before [I started working on the film], and people were still hesitant about Jack and Diane. I’d say, 'Well, look at Brokeback Mountain and tell me how that’s different.'
 

The films that she had done when we first started talking were stuff like Hard Candy; she was known as somebody who played really difficult, tough-edged characters. Jack and Diane was supposed to be this film where she’d play somebody who’s a surprise to that: somebody who’s really soft and sweet [the Diane character].

I think a lot of the stuff in that bigger, more mainstream world is based on fear; like, if you do this then you might lose this and this other opportunity, and people might typecast you because you’re in this film. The people who are saying that know that part of their investment is on this person’s career, and they want that person to be in a certain field. And I also think it’s more difficult for girls—there aren’t a lot of parts available for girls. If you think about it, there aren’t that many girls who transition past the age of 25; there’s always a new slew of young girls in films. But, on the other hand, if you see actress who’s doing things that she really loves, and that you respect, then that becomes part of what makes them worth something. You’re excited about seeing them again.

While researching Jack and Diane’s long history, I came across an old interview where Olivia Thirlby commented that people were “intimidated by the subject matter. So it seems like Jack and Diane has made plenty of people within the industry nervous.
Yeah. You want somebody to give a lot of themselves to the film, a lot of what’s really personal to them, and I think that requires a certain amount of commitment of what you’re going to let go of. I think that might be why I lost Alison [Pill]; I was like, “I want you to expose yourself more,” and that might of intimated her a bit too much.

So how you’d ultimately settle on Juno Temple and Riley Keough, both of whom give excellent performances in the film. And, most importantly, they totally go for it in every way possible.
Yeah, exactly. It’s that sort of blessing at the end of the story, where you find the right people for the film. Juno was recommended by a casting director; I went to L.A. and met a bunch of people, and she was the one I was most excited to meet. I think she really connected to the character, so it was then a matter of deciding whether I’d want to change the character to be an English girl or not. Yeah, we just got along right away. Then, she came to New York and met Olivia, because it was going to be her and Olivia at the time. She was super nervous, but they got along really well. It’s funny, because Olivia was nervous, too, about who we were going to get.

So we were all excited about that, but then Olivia got cast in something that she had to go for at the same time we were going to shoot, and we couldn’t change our schedule. With Riley, Jen, our producer, recommended that I look at The Runaways, because she was in that, and I thought that she was really interesting in a rather small role.

Riley looks very different than Jack—she has long blonde hair, and I think her eyes look really solid. They don’t waver, they’re really focused. Then, I met her, and I said to myself, “Oh, my god—that’s why the film had to take eight years!” She just fit the character so well, and she was totally committed to it. She had never cut her hair before in her whole life, and we cut her hair.

Did you have them spend a lot of time together prior to the film’s shoot, to help them develop a chemistry and trust amongst one another?
We didn’t have a lot of time, but they had met in Los Angeles maybe once or twice. We actually cast Riley maybe four weeks before we shot the movie. We were together for a week in New York, when we were picking out their outfits, but the main thing was that they lived together. We put them in an apartment together. So they had a week together before we shot the film, but they were together all the time—they slept in the same apartment, and I think that made a big difference.

I think they were a little hesitant about it at first. They talked about, “What if we don’t get along? That will ruin the movie.” But we decided to just go for it and hope they did get along. [Laughs.] Fortunately, that was the case, and they became really close friends really quickly. You can definitely see it.

I think we shot for a week until they had that first kiss, and they were both just so nervous about that scene. It was a big deal for them, and they were really embarrassed about it, especially because they had to continue being roommates after that kiss. But I think that’s the feeling that’s going on in the film, too. There’s a lot of kissing, they have to kiss again and again, and after the first one it was like, we’d do a million takes of the kisses and they were totally fine with it. The first one was a big deal, though.

Speaking of that “first kiss” scene, to me, that’s the moment when Jack and Diane really clicks together. Just the whole tone, with the red lights, the close-up shots, and the choice of music—it sets a hypnotic, dreamlike tone that remains for the rest of the film.
It’s based on the memory of the first kiss that I had, actually. It’s that feeling of you want to kiss somebody but you don’t know if they want to kiss you back—you don’t know what the rules are, and you’re both kind of waiting. Diane has never kissed anybody before, and then once she kisses Jack, she crawls on top of her. It’s definitely about the kiss, but Diane is more sensual and aggressive than you would think the character is going to be. And, after that, she sort of turns into this creature.

It’s this big sexual awakening for her, all in the kiss, but it’s also this feeling of “somebody likes me.” She loses control, after being the one who was initially more hesitant to kiss, I think. Jack starts off as the tougher one, but, eventually, Diane becomes the mack daddy. [Laughs.]

Juno Temple sells that perfectly, too. She’s really proving to be a fearless young actress; in addition to Jack and Diane, she also has William Friedkin’s Killer Joe, in which she has a rather graphic sex scene with Matthew McConaughey. What is that you first saw in her as an actress? Was it that sense of bravery?
She just got the character—that was the thing for me. I think that I just felt like we could trust each other, and she really understood the character. There’s a certain point where you can’t really judge or watch the acting. I hadn’t really seen her act in a movie before I had cast her; she was recommended to me by my casting director, so I had assumed that she’d acted before. [Laughs.]

For me, I was more interested in finding somebody who had a passion for the character, and she definitely did. I felt like I could trust Diane with her, because the character is really dear to me.

Tags: tribeca-film-festival, jack-and-diane, bradley-rust-gray, juno-temple, riley-keough, ellen-page, olivia-thirlby, horror
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