I walked out of Sam Mendes‘ new film, Away We Go, starring Maya Rudolph and John Krasinki feeling awe-inspired and in desperate need of travel. I have long been a fan of Mendes’ work, so a chance to sit down talk to him one on one about a film I truly loved was a wonderful experience.
Mendes is was how I expected him to be. He takes his time to really think about what he wants to say and how he wants to say it. A good director is a good story-teller and I was more than willing to sit back and let him tell me his stories. He is thoughtful and thought provoking all at once.
Being around him, you get the feeling that he is, in many ways, an artist, who uses the medium of film (and stage) to tell stories, although himself in a variety of ways.
Check out what he had to say about his new film below…
When I walked out of this movie I was reminded how much traveling effects who you are. In a different place you can be an entirely different person. How did the locations help you with the story and what they meant to you?
I think you’re right. I think travel takes you out of yourself and makes you more aware of who you are under the surface of the relationships that become a little dull or a routine. For me, the travel aspect of it, it’s smoke and mirrors. When you are making a film you don’t really travel to those places; you travel and also make a movie there. Your experience of it is very odd. Now, I wish I could go out and enjoy the locations that we shot it, and treat it as a tourist, but you spend the whole time trying to look for ways of expressing the place in film. You don’t walk through the desert and see the sun come up and enjoy it the way that you would like. It’s more like “The sun’s coming up, let’s shoot!” You know? You don’t see it in a way.
What made you want to shoot a film that kept moving?
The on the road movie aspect of it, there is something beautifully simple about a road film, and I’ve always loved that as a genre. You set off on a journey from A to B, and you know you are going to meet certain people that you are going to pass through in order to get somewhere else and there are chapters within it. I think everyone secretly wants to go on a road trip and see what they discovers.
It is a mythic landscape; we live in a country that has this huge landscape. You really can get lost in America. I remember that time when they were looking for Bin Laden, and someone on CNN said, “I don’t know how you think you’re going to find this guy in a cave in Afghanistan, you know there’s like 40 people on the CIA most wanted list, and 30 of them are over in the states and nobody can find them here, so how the hell do you think you’re going to find him.” And you forget how vast the country is, and how completely untouched so much of it is. And how alone and yet, released you can feel in this landscape. That is sort of part of what the film is.
Every time they went to a new place, the people in each place was completely different. Were you able to relate to in one of them in a different way?
You bring your own associations to every story, but these where properly original characters written by original writers. I didn’t try to draw them from my own experience; I tried to render them as written and unlock them in a way, you know, I haven’t met anyone quite as extreme as Maggie Gyllenhaal characters’ about her parenting, but she has elements of certain people that I know. And so you bring little things in, but really you are trying to create original characters that stand on their own.
What was it like to have to jump from Revolutionary Road to this film Away We Go? Why did you make this film so quickly?
I needed to make this film After the bleakness of Revolutionary Road, I wanted to make something that was closer to how I felt about love. Although I’m very proud of Revolutionary Road, and loved making it. It was a very unflinching view of the world- very tough. And here is a much more hopeful film; full of joy and very funny. And it just felt absolutely right that I should go from one to the other. Sort of the flip side
It is in a way it is a similar story to Revolutionary Road; A husband and wife dealing with having children, and what are they doing with their lives. And yet it is completely and entirely different. Was it similar for you to shoot, or was it a complete new thing?
There are all sorts of echoes around. Certainly obvious ones: A couple wanting to change their lives as in the case of Revolutionary Road, can’t, and here they can. A couple that fall out of love or at least can’t stay together even though they love each other, and here they fall deeper in love. But this is the big difference: Revolutionary Road is about a couple who turns in on each other, and this is about a couple who unified and are looking out at the world. There is the usual traditional thing that you find in a romantic comedy of somebody that in a crisis and their going to split up, and then he finds through the rain to find her, or the other way around- whatever, none of that. It’s about them looking out at the world. It’s about togetherness in a way and what that means. So that is the big difference.
But in every other respect, the challenge for me was to break –I’ve done this in every movie as much as I can– to break the patterns that I got into in a previous film. Revolutionary Road was a very still; meticulous style of film-making. But the movie I did before that Jarhead was, you know, completely unplanned in a way and much looser.
Here I wanted to be loose and warm.I wanted warm tones and colors in order to feel human, and I wanted to tell a story that was just seemingly effortless; an unconventional story structure. There’s not quite nowhere we are headed and find somehow magically to arrive there at the end. And I also wanted to– And I worked with a new crew, I worked with a new cinematographer, a new editor. I didn’t work with my usual composer. I used songs. It’s one of those things- deliberate. “Wake up, do something totally different!” And it was really, really enjoyable.
What was behind the choice of not using Thomas Newton?
I didn’t feel I needed a score. I wanted a singer songwriter. I wanted something mellower, and I wanted to feel like– Music is a very sophisticated manipulation in movies. I didn’t want any level of manipulation in this film. I wanted to have a freedom from that. I didn’t want to be steering the audience in a particular direction. The music for me brings a kind of melancholy to the film that might not be available with a score because of the voice and the lyrics. I just felt like I would give it another level.
Was Thom mad at you?
[Laughs] No he’s too experienced. I just told him, “I’m doing a movie with songs.”
Every place that they went they had dinner…
[Laughs] Or a meal!
And always soup?
That’s true! Very observant.
Did you could classify them by what type of soup they were eating. Is the way one sits around a dinner important to you?
Well I didn’t write it. These guys wrote it and they wrote dinner scenes, and I really liked the fact that they stopped in every place and looked across the table at someone. And I shot them in a very similar way, deliberately, and then everything else was different. The location was different, the lighting was different, the colors were different, but the way we shot them was quite similar. I wanted for that to sort of form a spine through the movie, of the dinner scenes.
I made them eat soup, and they ate soup on three different occasions. I don’t know why, it just amused me that they had to keep eating soup! Beyond that it was really because that’s way Dave and Vendela (the writers) wrote it. And I always liked it.
I read that John was the only one that you were thinking of, for this role, nobody else. Is that true?
Well yeah. He was the first person I thought of. You obviously go, “oh what about him” and you think about other people. I’m not crazy. But he did come into my head when I read this for the first time. And I’ve worked with John before in Jarhead, before he did “The Office,” so I’ve known him a long time, and I thought he was really special then. And when I read that kind of description; the sort of gangly, loosely, and a bit crazy. That’s actually like John in life, but it’s a clean-cut image that I needed to get rid of. As an actor, I felt he had to do it. So yeah, he was the first person that came into my mind.
And Maya, I so use to seeing her do much more comedy. She is so beautiful. How did you see through her comedy exterior and know she could pull this off so well?
Yeah, I did. I mean, I never met her, I just saw her on SNL, but I loved her as a comedian, obviously. But I didn’t know she had it in her. It was one of the writers of the film, Dave Eggers, that said, “have you thought about Maya Rudolph,” and I said, “okay, I’ll meet her.” And I met her, and she came in and she read. And I turned to Dave, and said, “Well, that’s it, that’s the character!” But she didn’t push at all, she just was. She’s brought that unto the screen and really for me, it was just about making sure that the balance between them was right because John is use to being the guy in The Office, that when all the crazy things are going on, he kind of turns to the camera and goes, “Look at these crazy people.” Cause he is sort of sea level, and she is like the crazy person. Basically, high definition caricature comedy or whatever, however you want to put it. And I had to sort of re-balance it because he, of course, in the movie he is the crazier character, and she is the calm, still center of the movie.
That’s why I needed to rehearse them for a couple of weeks, I needed them to sort of shift over and make them comfortable in areas that they are not use to being in. Off camera they got along like a house on fire, and they made each other laugh the whole time and they are very, very similar in their sense of humor which was great. John was very admiring of Maya’s work, and that really helped, you know other things, lucky things. Maya had a baby so she knows how it feels like to be pregnant, and had recently been pregnant. So that feeling, both external, how you walk, how you sit, how you feel, your self-consciousness, your embarrassment about your body, all of those things. And also what happens to your heart during that period, you know what I mean, those things were still available to her. Not to say that you can’t act being pregnant if you haven’t been, but it just added another dimension that self-ness of worth that she brought.
Even for me, you know, I had the highest regards for her she even blew me away. I think she’s just magical, I think they both are. They both are amazing. Because the movie is about a couple as a union; they are one really, looking at the world. And that is sort of what is so moving about it.
The sex scene at the beginning, was not necessarily graphic, but extremely realistic. Was that awkward for them or did you shoot that at the beginning?
We shot it right at the beginning. I made a decision, which was that sometimes it is good to just confront those things at the beginning. And once you’ve done them, it’s like, there’s nothing left to be embarrassed about, you know what I mean. If you wait until the end, let’s wait a couple of weeks ’til they’re comfortable with each other, it hangs over people, you know, “oh shoot we’ve got to do that scene in the beginning.” So I did it, and self-consciousness goes out the window. You’d have to ask Maya, she’s very funny about it, she’s like, “I can’t believe it’s two days into my first movie, I’m playing a lead role and he’s going down on me.” I thought it was fantastic, and they were great, but that was also because we rehearsed a lot and I prepared them for it. They felt pretty relaxed.
I don’t know if you can talk at all about any future projects? I saw that you had two in possible pre-production?
The dreaded IMBD that lists, and it’s all about five years out of date. At one point they listed that I was going to co-direct The Phantom of The Opera with Shakur Kapur.
Did you just think, “I am?” Do you ever have to make any phone calls?
I think I said “What?” But, no, basically two movies and two plays and I’m just coming up for air now, and having the summer off. And I’ll kind of work it out, but I’ve learned not to predict anything and do something that surprises me.
Do you like to approach film the same way that you like to approach theater, because normally you rehearse more in theater, but you like to rehearse a lot with your films as well.
I just tend to factor in working with the actors in my pre-production. I rehearse for a long time, and yes, it feels comfortable to me, and that is how I like to work. I find it easier to work with actors when I am shooting, when I rehearsed with them first. You save so much time. They know what you want, and you learn about them, and how they work.
Do you prefer one of the other, theater or movies?
When I finished the play, I’m desperate to make a movie, and when I make a movie, I can’t wait to get back to the theater. It’s very nice to have the option of doing both.
It doesn’t happen very often.
No, I mean, one day they’ll take the money away, but for the moment I’m all right.
You’re going to keep going with it….
Until they say, Stop!
Sam’s new film, Away We Go, starring Maya Rudolph and John Krasinki will be in theaters this Friday, June 5th! And for a chance to win the soundtrack and free tickets check out our Away We Go Caption Contest!