The US director discusses his return to indie cinema, why he prefers the South and his admiration for Australian filmmakers.
6 Jun 2013 - 3:05 PM  UPDATED 21 May 2020 - 3:00 PM

Hollywood funnyman and romantic lead Paul Rudd reminds us of his natural lovability in his unusual dorky turn in the feelgood comedy Prince Avalanche, the story of two men (Rudd and Emile Hirsch) who bond and talk about women as they paint the yellow lines on roads in fire-ravaged Bastrop State Park in rural Texas. Based on Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson's 2001 Icelandic film, Either Way, the movie marks the welcome return of George Washington and All the Real Girls director David Gordon Green to the independent realm following his stint in Hollywood making the likes of Pineapple Express and Your Highness. The 38-year-old American deserved his Berlin Festival directing award for the film.

There is an awesome group of talented filmmakers and actors coming out of Australia right now

“Generally, directors prepare and like to know exactly what they are doing but for me it's about creative freedom, having a great crew and actors and letting everyone bring their own creative value to the table,” he says. Green's process is an amalgamation of his 13 years of making films, be they big or small like Prince Avalanche.

“I've made an aggressive attempt to streamline all the things I love, all the values I hold dear. You just need two characters, a backdrop and a crew who believe in the project, and you can fill it up as grand as you want or strip it down naked on the road.”

How did you adapt the screenplay from the original Icelandic film?

Either Way was a specific, smart well-crafted movie from which we could take the framework and go in our own direction. We utilised some shots from their film, added characters, and I made Prince Avalanche have more impact for me personally. The original movie is not that emotional and I really heightened that and based the screenplay on some stuff I was going through. I got a break up letter from a girl and it made me sad and I integrated that into this movie. I transcribed a phone call I had with her so it's really about owning it a little bit. Writing the screenplay was pretty fast.

You started off with small movies, then you went into big budget territory and now you've come back to small movies. What have you learnt from the big movies that you can bring to small movies?

I've become far more confident in my relationships with actors. I can't think of an example in the last few years when I've been intimidated with an actor or a situation where I was trying to get something out of an actor and I wasn't able to get that. Outside of perhaps maybe making a mistake in casting, I've been able to communicate with actors because directing comedies is incredibly technical. It's difficult trying to get something across that makes people laugh, especially when getting an actor to physically do something that makes the other actor respond physically.

I've now done nine movies and dozens of episodes on TV series and a hundred commercials. So having that experience allows me to be efficient and has somehow not reduced my enthusiasm for what I do.

Is Prince Avalanche a buddy movie?

I think it's an old interpretation of a buddy film. It's like an '80s Russian buddy movie. It feels like it's from another time period. The risk of this movie is I've got two guys in a movie and if they don't both work for 90 minutes then the movie is going to suck. I don't have explosions and robots to take care of inviting people into the movie; I have these two guys and people have to like their dynamic and I have to do my job right.

How did you get the actors to work together so well?

It's just good casting. I knew I wanted Paul because we'd been talking about the movie for a while. I just went through my phone and I was like, “Who would torture Paul and have fun with Paul and make me laugh?” Then I got Emile. The first time I introduced them to each other, I'd known both of them for a long time. We were at a seafood restaurant and I just watched them talk and it was totally professional and civilised and I couldn't stop laughing and I was like, "This is perfect. I want to watch this movie right now."

How do you respond to reviews? (His 2011 studio movies The Sitter and Your Highness were poorly received.)

I used to read my reviews but I don't as much now. My mum sends me some really nice reviews sometimes; I read those. My mum is incredibly smart and she won't just send me the dumb good reviews, she sends me something that has an insight to it or an academic perspective on something that I might find interesting or she finds fascinating and she wants me to read it.

What does she do for a living? Why is she so smart?

She is just smart. She helps people have babies.

A midwife.

Yeah. She is just really intuitive and emotional and interesting.

What did she say about this movie?

She loves it. I'll tell you what I did for my mum: I took out all the bad words from the script. There is no profanity in this movie because my mum was like, “Can you even try to make a movie that doesn't have bad words in it?” But I also think it's funnier that way when they are calling each other dummies and saying, “You are a stupid piece of crap,” rather than “You are an asshole motherfucker”. It just becomes more innocent.

This innocence is endearing and it's what makes this movie a success. So your mum was on the right track.

Yeah, she is going to be my new producer. I'd say some of my favourite directors are screwed because they are so smart all the time that they are not allowed to be dumb, whereas I am pretty smart but I get to be dumb too, so it's fun. If I make a movie that a critic doesn't like nobody really cares, but if Christopher Nolan makes a movie a critic doesn't like then everybody is going to be like, “What the fuck happened to this guy?” It'd be great if he'd make a raunchy, funny, absurd, drunken comedy. I would love to see that movie.

You were born in Little Rock, Arkansas. Australians say we get along well with American Southerners because they're close to nature like we are.


Richard Linklater said he'd only live in Austin.

Yeah, and Rick lives in one direction about an hour out of Austin, I live in another direction about an hour out of Austin. I have this weird thing where I don't like to go very far north in the States, because people stop being sweet. At the restaurant they start being like, “What do ya want?” instead of being “How 'ya goin' darlin'? What can I get for you today?” I like to be a "darling", not a “Whaddo I want?” There is a Southern sweetness. So I like the South and I've always lived in Texas or Arkansas or North Carolina or Louisiana. I moved from New Orleans a few years ago, that was awesome that was a great, great place.

Patricia Clarkson land.

I love Patty. I used to go down to Mandina's [restaurant] with Patty and her mum [local politician Jackie Clarkson] and get some great seafood there. To me, it's just a great region that's got great nature, it's got great culture and personalities and crazy people. Sure, there are some prehistoric attitudes but I think you need those to have the opposite to start to thrive. I think you need to be kicked down to get back up twice as strong. So I do really believe in those cultures really accepting each other and I think a lot of it happens in Australia too.

I want to remake Prince Avalanche in Australia with two aggressive ex-prisoners working on the side of the road, but it's not a comedy. It's called Hit the Road Jack and is more of an action movie where they beat the crap out of each other. It's more of an aggressive masculine thing because Australia is where all the men live. Men have disappeared across the planet except in Australia.

The Coens looked closely at Australians for Josh Brolin's role in No Country for Old Men.

We need all our movie stars; we need our Chris Hemsworths and our Russell Crowes and our Joel Edgertons. There is an awesome group of talented filmmakers and actors coming out of Australia right now. Nash Edgerton, I just want him to make movies every day. His shorts are incredible and yet he should be in them as well. So we'll see. [Nash Edgerton has just appeared in Julius Avery's recently completed Australian film, Son of a Gun.]


Watch 'Prince Avalanche'

Thursday 28 May, 12:20am on SBS VICELAND (now streaming at SBS On Demand)

USA, 2013
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Language: English
Director: David Gordon Green
Starring: Gina Grande, Joyce Payne, Lance LeGault, Lynn Shelton, Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch
What's it about?
An odd couple of sorts, Alvin (Rudd), meditative and stern, and his girlfriend’s brother Lance (Hirsch), dopey and insecure, leave the city behind to spend the summer in solitude repainting traffic lines down the center of a country highway ravaged by wildfire. As the two begin their gradual journey across the landscape, swapping stories and butting heads, what unfolds is a humorous yet moving examination of an unlikely friendship. From David Gordon Green, director of George Washington and Pineapple Express.

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