After walking into the Hotel Monaco, I met up with David from kaffeinebuzz.com who was covering the interview alongside me. As we walked into the room, actress Amy Adams and director Phil Morrison were already seated at the end of a large conference table. Denver-native Amy looked darling, while Phil, being noticeably shorter than her, sat calmly with a sly smirk on his face. This duo is partly responsible for Junebug , an independent feature film arriving August 19th at local art-houses near you. The film features a city-mouse, country-mouse plot; providing dump-trucks full of character drama that is consistently unloaded upon the audience.
As we were setting up, David leaned over and joked, "So, you’ll be the good cop, I’ll be the bad cop?" I nodded and told him to fire when ready. The interview started harmless enough; but tension between the pretty actress and uneasy director started to grow, and I soon realized that the two were more of a danger to each other than "bad cop" David.
David Joaquin Soto : So, Amy, where’s the Denver Zoo?
Amy Adams : By the Natural History Museum and also where my senior ditch-day took place. I didn’t do the first one, so me and my friends drank wine-coolers, got dressed up in weird clothes, and went to the Denver Zoo. (laughs)
Phil Morrison : I’ll just say: she did really well in Washington D.C. when she was faking them out about claiming to be from there.
AA : (laughing) I grew up in Castle Rock.
DJS : Castle Rock?
AA : Yeah, I graduated from Douglas County.
DJS : Cool... Boy, not much there... I mean, Castle Rock? It’s kind of boring, isn’t it?
AA : Well, it didn’t use to be boring. When I was there — when I graduated — it was nothing but open land to get in trouble with your friends, it was awesome! It was such a great place to grow up. We would hike up behind houses, sneak our cigarettes down at Village Inn and drink coffee. I sort of had an indie-film upbringing! (laughs) Lots of dysfunction and teen angst. I had a long-blonde-haired boyfriend who drove a Camaro. He was the perfect high school boyfriend.
DJS [to Morrison] : And where did you grow up?
PM : In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which is where we shot the movie.
Round One... DING !
Nick Reed : You’ve worked with writer Angus MacLachlan before on earlier projects, what was it like collaborating with him again for a feature film?
PM : He’s from the same town and I’ve known him all my life. He wrote a short that I directed a long time ago, it was my student film at NYU. I’ve known him for a long time. When he writes, he is pursuing feelings and ideas that aren’t necessarily the same ones as I have, but I think they’re congruent. I really like that the history of movies is one of writers and directors. I think that, more and more, we honor the writer/director; it’s assumed that good movies are made by writer/directors because increasingly, that is so, but I think it’s a shame if it becomes completely that way. Howard Hawks didn’t write his movies; Jonathan Demme doesn’t; Scorsese doesn’t write his movies. That kind of fusion of points of view... Angus and I don’t think the same way, but we think about the same stuff. That’s what that was.
NR : So would you, in your career, want to be known as an auteur filmmaker?
PM : Well I’m happy with that word in the sense of the responsibility that it forces you to take. I think that idea, auteur, is something that — the part that’s most important to remember, I think in that it isn’t about credit — which is how in the United States of course, we start from there — "Look! It’s credit!" — I think it’s about the responsibility that you take making a movie in that movie-making is writing. Take responsibility for the fact that where the camera is creates meaning. And what [the character] Ashley does at a given moment; and where she is in the frame; and who she’s looking at or not; and every single element is writing. It’s creating meaning, that’s a better way of putting it. That to me was what — when that word auteur become an idea — is the most important thing — to think about there — in that it’s about a responsibility you have to take as a director, rather than a credit. The credit only comes if you have taken that responsibility. So the movies that I love certainly, that idea of auteurism applies appropriately to those movies. So if I would hope to ever — so sure, I’ll accept that. But it’s terrifying. (Everyone else laughs.)
PM : No! Not really, I mean, actually no, it’s not terrifying, because it shouldn’t be a big deal! It’s like — do you take responsibility for this shelf unit that you just built? Can you promise me that it won’t fall down? Can you promise me you chose the wood for a reason? Yeah! You ought to be able to do that, otherwise you’re a jerk. (To Amy) I mean, you take responsibility for your characters, right?
AA : (smiling at Phil)
PM : You’re an actor. You allow yourself to be called an actor, right?
AA : (still smiling at Phil)
PM : Don’t you? What? What?!
AA : I’m just smiling.
PM : Oh okay (chuckles).
AA : I take responsibility for my characters, but I think its different in that I don’t have as much intentional responsibility.
PM : Yeah. Sure you do.
(few seconds of awkward silence)
AA : You know what? I don’t think that in the film, the actor should direct themselves. I think that’s a mistake. I think that it happens, and I think there is a reason it happens because not all the directors do take the responsibility, and therefore, an actor having worked more — but with a character like Ashley, it’s different because she is an emotional character not an intellectual character. An intellectual-like-Ashley would have gotten in my way...
PM : I think you have a responsibility to never say, "Okay, fuck it! If that’s what that director’s saying, then—"
AA : (loud) Oh yeah, Okay! "I definitely have a responsibility to the honesty that I..." Yeah, no! I definitely do.
NR : (coughs)
AA : But you know what I’m saying: I’m not going to do everything intentionally to create something because I think that would create a falseness to the emotional honesty to the character...
PM : Yeah.
AA : ...unless the person is, in fact, intentional. But it’s a very different thing being the director and being the actor. You have to take those considerations, relay them to me, and I have to execute. Do you see what I’m saying?!
PM : Yeah, yeah. Well because being the director, its sort of about [senses?] and trying to...
AA : We end up debating all the time!
PM : No! I don’t think it’s debating, I mean, its, um...
AA : No, I do take responsibility. I take emotional responsibility. If there is a false or untrue something, its ungrounded...
The Cynning in Junebug
Round Two... DING !
DJS : So you’re not out to be cynical?
PM : Well... I kinda feel like, "Well yeah, duh!" But I’m only mentioning that because in a way, the subject matter in this movie is, I think, is something that is easily dismissed by the very audience that this movie is most likely to be seen by. And I think there could be plenty legitimate reasons for the audience to dismiss the movie. One thing I wanted to do was to make something that the subject matter, in a way, is about what happens when we bring our self-justifying preconceptions to an experience, and to create characters in circumstances that, at first, completely conform to the audience’s sense of stereotype, and in a way, do one of two things, depending on the audience member: either create pleasure in the audience member, because it conforms to their stereotype; or — and there is a risk in both of these things, actually — to make the person feel superior to the movie because the movie has created these basic stereotypes, and then hopefully, if it happens right, and who knows if it does, it dismantles or explores the stereotypes. The characters in the family conform to what Madeline’s preconceptions — you know, most character preconceptions might be. Madeline conforms to what their most character preconceptions might be. And then, by the end of the movie, hopefully, something else has happened.
Round Three... DING !
NR : In the press release, Phil, you say in your statement, "Just a couple of transcendent moments are enough to make a movie worthwhile for me; and if there are more, and they work together in some mysterious way to create the moral-mystical-delirious experience that’s unique to movies, then I’m inspired." Do you think you achieved these moments in Junebug?
PM : I have no idea, because the only movie that does not have the capacity — the only movie in the world, that has no potential to do it for me — is Junebug . I mean, it could have happened. Those moments can happen for me on the set or during the making of it, but that’s life experience, so that doesn’t count. I think that movie experience can only be the product of experiencing somebody else’s work. So, you do it and hope that somebody might experience that. Um, and I think people won’t. (!)
I know I experience it all the time in movies that other people I’m with have no experience with it. (laughs) At all! But I do think it depends upon caring about — I might have said something in there like, the way that that happens is you plan and plan and plan and then let those plans fall apart, or let something happen that’s a result of having planned, as opposed to the theme result that you did plan. But, I do think that if you care about moments more than machines, more than everything adding up to a complete sort of narrative, maybe its sort of the difference in movies of whether there’s a certain kind of — and I mean this in a generic way not like in a lame achieving something — like your thinking about poems or prose. We did think more in terms of poems and stories. A lot of the movies that I love, to me, remind me more of the experience of reading poems then they do reading a book.
AA : Phil gave us poems that he had pulled for Junebug . There are a couple that he separated and that I loved that he gave to me for Ashley. He also then pulled poems for each character for us to read. It was really great.
PM : And for the other people too! For the DP and the Press Designer...
AA : He was thorough! Like, for real...
Films in 4-D
NR : What were the poems you liked?
PM : I tend to like poets that are pretty direct. I’m more likely to enjoy D.H. Lawrence for example, like simple, but are focused around direct experiences. I like the idea of movies kind of doing what drugs ought to do; if they didn’t mess up your body, start to fail to work, and all of the things that’s wrong with drugs. I think being able to get that out of movies is thrilling, but that’s more inspiring. Then, you just cross your fingers about your own...
NR : When you say "the idea of movies are doing what drugs ought to do," do you mean that film exists as sort of fourth dimensional art?
PM : Yeah! Yeah. And in that way it’s sort of mystical. Movies can, like I said, be poisonous; they really can do bad stuff. It’s kind of what Colin Wilson writes about, it’s kind of transcendence that can happen. That’s what’s personal; people all have different types of methods for it. Movies do it for me, but just that kind of —whatever that thing is, it is hard to articulate, where you are reminded of a sense of the divine.
The same way people make practice of the Bible or whatever, and are able to find that kind of stuff in certain movies. It’s worth exploring to me, and there people that make a serious practice out of it. You know, the same way a Buddhist makes a practice of chanting, or whatever, that there might some standard texts, and try to find it in there. For me it works. And it happened to me yesterday, when I saw Hustle & Flow , cause you recognize something.
NR : [to Adams] Before you go, I’d like to ask you about your character: What kind of motivation or inspiration did you have for playing such a unique role?
AA : I think a lot of it was about cynicism and I think Ashley was inspiration enough. She is so full of love and life and acceptance and all of these things that I think our smarter self protects us, because it can leave you open and vulnerable. For me, it was exciting for me to get to that part of myself and honor it in a way that I don’t get to in everyday life. It’s always hard to intellectualize a emotional prospect, but the great thing was I did get to go earlier with Phil and spend time in North Carolina together. He gave it such a personal sense being from the south, and he really infused us with the sensibility and provided the poems. He was also really great about encouraging me to be Ashley as Amy. There would be times where it would feel a little scary or... I didn’t trust her, and I think Phil helped me to trust her.
PM : Well, I—
AA : Do you know what I’m saying, Phil?!
PM : Yeah, I guess so. Well I don’t know how much I helped... but good! I’m glad if I did, but…
AA : …I wouldn’t have gone to the places I went to!
PM : There is plenty stuff about her character, I think, that one might think would, in terms of the script, one might think would be fixed. Like, applying a rational idea of what we think a person might behave, like say, "Oh, no one would ask ten questions in a row, without giving an answer!" And that’s kinda what I mean about naturalism.
AA : And I think that it helped in a way that Angus was a playwright, I have done theater and have come from theater. I sort of understand that... that...
PM : Like that forth dimension thing you were talking about.
AA : Yeah! It never scared me [as] something that maybe seemed unnatural. I embrace it, because I don’t think any of us are natural. I think what’s created as naturalism in films is actually false. You could sit here and listen to Phil and I talk and it definitely doesn’t seem natural. (laughs hysterically)
PM : But she basically just committed herself to stuff that’s kinda bananas. I was really grateful for her, what she was willing to do to smooth it out and fix it.
AA : I think the roughness and imperfections in people is what we do fall in love with. We very rarely fall in love with the presentation of a person. I think it was important for Ashley to show her imperfections.
Pulling My Punches
Morrison’s unique way at looking at film is unquestionably expressed in his relationship with the project. Providing the with crew poetry and taking them to shooting locations for inspiration demonstrates how powerful his ambition for Junebug truly was. While Morrison feels that he has a certain obligation to his crew, being the director, this ambition towards motivating the cast may be misguided. Adams’ seems to have a different way of looking at her responsibility as an artist than the young, inspired director does.
These sort of creative differences are potentially dangerous for any director and his leading actor, not only during the filming, but also for the final outcome of the project. Yet, despite the disconnection, things went well for the two at Sundance, as well as the positive criticism from many critics across the nation.
Morrison’s apparent success with Junebug has kept him humble. His thoughts about the film are truthful, and although contradicting himself often, isn’t afraid to say what he feels about the industry. Adams’ drive towards her performance was fueled by a personal connection with her character, while she also seems to have taken a lot from this experience.