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INT: Brad Anderson

Having demonstrated his skills in the romantic comedy and horror genres, filmmaker Brad Anderson next tries his hand at the psychological thriller with THE MACHINIST, opening this Friday.  Working for the first time with someone else’s script, Anderson takes us into the dark, eerie world of Trevor Reznick, a loner with a wicked case of insomnia and a rail-thin physique. When mysterious events begin occurring all around him, Trevor finds himself slowly consumed by his own paranoia as he desperately searches for an explanation. Good times indeed.

Anderson stopped by the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills last week to talk about his latest effort. He’s a very chill, down-to-earth guy with an unmistakable indie sensibility. That sensibility, along with Anderson’s unswerving dedication to the film’s noir tone, is what distinguishes THE MACHINIST. Check it out.

Brad Anderson

Christian Bale’s visage is pretty jarring in this film. Was this specified in the script, or was it a directorial decision?

It was in the script. I mean, the character was described as a walking skeleton, so it was implicit that whoever played the part was gonna have to lose some weight. I think Christian’s interest in it, as far as I know, is interested in the character. The weight loss was something we never even really discussed before shooting. I mean, it was just clear that he was gonna lose some weight, I always figured he would lose 10 or 15 lbs., maybe 20, and we’d put him in baggy clothes and kinda fake it. But he’s one of those actors that really needs to immerse himself into a part and transform himself, even physically if necessary, into a character. So he went well beyond the call of duty. He lost something like 63 lbs. or something, a third of his body mass. Not a lot of actors would go to those kind of lengths. But again, it wasn’t something we discussed. I think if I’d actually said, “You’re not getting the part unless you lose a third of your body mass,” I have a feeling he probably would have balked at that.

Were you alarmed when you first saw him? The first time you see him on-screen, it’s pretty shocking. 

Yeah, it’s startling. When he stepped off the plane – we shot the movie in Barcelona – when he stepped off the plane, I hadn’t seen him in a few months because we were prepping the film – yeah, my jaw dropped. It was pretty remarkable, his transformation. But part of me was also totally gratified because I knew that for this particular film, for this story, it was important that this guy look that tormented, that he wear his…you knew that something was seriously…he was punishing himself or someone was punishing (him). You knew that something was up. When you see him without his shirt, it’s clear that there’s a question that has to be answered: what is wrong with this guy? He’s asking it to himself as well. So he had to…dramatically, I thought, in the end, Christian made the right choice in terms of making himself look like that. I mean, that’s part of the…it’s an essential part of telling that story, I think. It begs the question, why is he disappearing, why is he vanishing? What’s happening to him? So it sets you off on the quest.

When you started shooting, were you concerned that he’d have the stamina and focus to make it through?

I was never, I mean I don’t think we ever really, I was never concerned that he was gonna drop dead or something. I mean, there were certainly some scenes that were more difficult than others for him, like running through the Barcelona sewage tunnels with raw sewage running across his feet. When you’re seriously underweight, it’s not an easy task. But he persevered because he’s one of the most committed guys that I’ve ever worked with, at least as an actor. You know, he just jumps into a part. He had every reason to complain. He was physically uncomfortable; it was Spain, the hottest summer on record; hot, awful. He couldn’t eat. But he never really did complain. I was good for me, because any time any member of the crew looked like they wanted to complain about something, all I had to do was look over and see Christian and it was like, what are you gonna say?  If anyone is making a sacrifice, this is the guy.

When did you guys shoot the scenes where he was healthy?

When he’s got the weight back on? It was after. He went back home and camped out at a Denny’s or something. (laughs) He put the weight back on in like two months. At least that’s what he told me. And he’d also gotten the role of Batman, so I think he knew he had to start re-training himself. So he came back afterwards and we shot this. 

If you were gonna fake it and shoot it with baggy clothing, how were you planning to shoot around the bedroom scenes, where you were going to have to see him?

I don’t know. I think in the end I wasn’t…I think it wasn’t apparent to me how important his look was gonna be in the film. It just sort of evolved as we started making it. I didn’t see him with his shirt off, but when we did…he went to the extent of not drinking any liquid the day before we shot a scene without a shirt, so his muscles would be more pronounced. (He) really pushed it. I mean, it’s also partly a performance, too. He’s not all…he’s playing it up, certainly. He is emaciated, but I think he looks more so on film than he really was.

Why did you guys choose to shoot in Spain?

It’s very simple – that’s where the money was. I mean, we…this script had been floating, Scott’s script had been floating around town for some time and there was various levels of interest in it. In the end I ended up getting attached to it…we still didn’t have the financing in place. And Christian came on board shortly after and still we had trouble finding the money here. I think American producers were put off by the dark nature of the story, the ambiguity – these aren’t things that American producers shine to. So we ended up going overseas.  My other film SESSION 9 had done fairly well in Spain, so they were aware of who I was and were interested in working with me.

We happened to have the script available. They said, “We’ll make the movie on the condition that you gotta shoot it here in Barcelona.”  And the story, Scott’s original script is all set in L.A.; it’s very specifically L.A. And I was, “How we gonna do that?” Of course, you get over there and, anytime you…anywhere you go in the world these days you just sort of get a little bit outside of the city and you find a little piece of America, you know? You go to the industrial zones. And we found areas that we thought we could maybe pull it off. And in the end I think it actually worked to our advantage, because it occurred to me as we were making it (that) this shouldn’t be a specific location; it should have some kind of a generic feel to it, you know? It’s America, but it’s not really…you really don’t know where it is, because we shot it over there. And I think that actually adds, in my mind, to a little bit of the spookiness of the story, because you’re not really, your feet aren’t planted on the ground. Just like Trevor, you’re not really sure where you are or even when you are.

Was it a real machine shop you guys shot in?

It was a real machine shop, yeah. You couldn’t have found that in LA either. Everything is probably automated here in the States, but over in Barcelona, they still have guys doing their routine in front of a machine. It was kind of cool.

Any influences for atmosphere?

Hitchcock was an inspiration, to a degree. Polanski, certainly, just in the sense of his movies often dealing with these paranoid characters. But Hitchcock, more just in the sense that—and it wasn’t a conscious attempt to emulate Hitchcock—but we did use a Bernard Herrman-esque score in the film. But I think it was more the idea of the kind of precision in his films, the simplicity of stripping out all the…and just keeping it very simple was something that interested me in this particular movie. I hadn’t really done it in my other films. I wanted to do something very pure. But I think when Scott was writing it, his influences were more literary; I mean, he was reading Dostoevsky and Kafka. That’s the world he was immersed in when he was writing the script, and I think he kind of felt like he wanted to create his own sort of existential, Eastern European parable. When I read it, that’s what I was struck by. It was set in LA, but it felt like the sunniest version of Prague, or Krakow. And we try to capture that in the movie—the dark, shadowy reality this character lives in, and walking down bad streets. That’s what was so interesting. When I was reading, I was really into Dostoevsky, and I kind of saw this movie as a Crime and Punishment sort of story.

Were you able to laugh at all on the set, considering the film’s dark tone?

You know, there’s a lot of dark comedy in the movie, too, all this weird, perverse humor. I mean, we had a fun time shooting some scenes, and other scenes were just a trial.

What was it like working with a script written by someone else?

This was the first script I directed that I didn’t write, so I felt a little bit more of an obligation to stay true to the script. I liked it, I didn’t want to change it much, and it was a fairly efficient story, a tight story; it didn’t have a lot of extra stuff, unlike, in other films, where there would’ve been more deleted scenes. What was the most difficult part of working with someone else’s script? Actually, I found it a lot easier, because I had the distance from the material. I wasn’t so caught up in it. I could be critical of it without feeling like I was criticizing my own genius. And Scott and I had a really good working relationship, in terms of him adapting certain things to meet my requests or desires. Certain things had to be changed once we realized we were shooting in Barcelona; it changed a lot of scenes in the movie. But I enjoyed it a lot. It gave me a chance to play more of a visual director, and to have that objectivity that I might not have had in my other films as much, because it’s your baby, it’s your brain child that you’re trying to direct. You lose your sense of distance. So I actually enjoyed it. I want to do it again.

Your films vary dramatically in tone. Is there a connecting theme to your work?

That’s for others to determine. My first couple films were romantic comedies, then I did SESSION 9 and this movie, which are quite dark. I consciously have sort of genre-hopped a bit, because I like dark films as much as I like the lighter, comedic stuff. It’s fun to be able to direct different things. I mean, they’re so stylistically different, but my reason for going from the romantic thing to the darker thing was because I don’t want to get pinned down as the guy who does that kind of movie, or this kind of movie. I want to be able to move into whatever stories interest me at the time. It’s more refreshing.

Anything beyond weight issues to say about working with Christian?

Other than the fact that he’s the most disciplined and committed kind of actor I’ve worked with, outside of maybe Peter Mullan — those Brits, I don’t know, they’re so focused, and he was that way. It made my life easier as a director. He was always going in the same direction I was intending to go, really. We had lots of discussions about the character before we started shooting the movie, but he got it, you know, he sort of nailed it. You don’t really often meet people in this business that are both fantastic at what they do, and also really good people.

Are you concerned people that people might be losing their appetite for supernatural/psychological thriller?

I don’t think of it as a supernatural thriller. It’s not like THE FORGOTTEN, thank God. It’s not like THE SIXTH SENSE. I mean, it has elements of that, but there’s nothing supernatural going on. It’s a story about psychosis, to a degree. I mean, it’s more like a MEMENTO, in a way, than it is like a SIXTH SENSE or THE FORGOTTEN. I think those movies are character-driven films first and foremost, and the plots are interesting but it’s not the thing itself. I don’t know, I suppose if you deliver the goods and the audience feels a sense of satisfaction at the end, then you’re succeeding. I think a lot of these jerry-rigged films, like THE FORGOTTEN or whatever, are trying to capitalize on that kind of rug-pull ending that we had in, like, THE SIXTH SENSE or THE OTHERS. With this movie, there’s a bit of a twist at the end, there is a moment of revelation, like an epiphany, but it’s not sort of like, “He’s dead!” or “He’s abducted by aliens!” I mean, it’s just that he’s waking up to who he is. It’s more of a philosophical quest than it is some kind of attempt to figure out why the aliens are abducting us.

Questions? Comments? Manifestos? Send them to me at [email protected].

Source: JoBlo.com

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