Prince Avalanche was one of my favorite films of SXSW and it was in large part thanks to the fantastic performances given by Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd. It was only after the screening that I remembered it was directed by David Gordon Green and understood how it so deftly combined comedy and drama in a film that couldn’t be classified as either. Getting to sit down with them to discuss it was a great opportunity.
After collecting ourselves in the hotel’s Coat Room (that’s what the room was called) and realizing that it was going to remain frigid thanks to an overactive air conditioner we got to chatting about making the film and shooting in a part of Texas that had been totally devastated by recent forest fires and drought.
[This interview was originally posted as part of our coverage of SXSW 2013. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release Prince Avalanche.]
What was it like being in that environment? It’s a very shocking environment.
Paul Rudd: It was really strange landscape. One I’d never been in before. The two things that I kept thinking about was just how far reaching that fire was. It was just endless the amount of charred trees and ground. And the smell in the air. Even though the fire had happened months before it was still there… and it was hot.
David Gordon Green: It rained a lot during production to, which we had to work into the narrative. If you were out there right now it would be bright and sun and that would contrast the darkness, but it was actually a mood that was very unique. To me it felt like you were in Eastern Europe somewhere, like a different civilization. The more time you spend in some place that feels so foreign and unfamiliar the more we created our own universe. It was very isolating, but it was only four miles away.
Emile Hirsch: It was like an alien landscape. I enjoyed it, but it was an environment I’d never been in before. We were able to enjoy ourselves and marvel at everything.
DGG: Everywhere you turned the camera it was interesting. It was like instant production value on the one hand, but it also brought a very valuable sense of a melancholy tone to the humor. I spoke about the rebirth and that was part of the beauty to me. On the one hand it’s a very devastated community, but on the other hand you have these two guys creating a friendship. You see the little buds of trees popping up under these dead pines so the forest will be reinvented by mother nature just as these characters are being reinvented by their strange internal frustrations.
What inspired you to create this film?
DGG: To be honest it was the location, and it’s the remake of this Icelandic film. To start it was the location. I’ve known Emile and Paul for a long time and I was look for that minimal vehicle that seems simple so that you can focus on performances with great actors. Sometimes you get caught up in the bigger movies. You’ve got 100 locations in 25 days and the money runs out and all those things. People talk about it as return to roots to indie movies, but it was simplified even more than that. Indie movies area pain in the but because you don’t know where the money is going to come from. There’s very little independent about making independent movies.
That was the great thing about this movie because it was reliable so we could design the process from the get go to be very contained. It was all contained in this one area and it just had these two central characters. So, you know, assuming these guys showed up to work each day we were good to go.
Did you notice a difference between reactions to the film at Sundance and at SXSW?
DGG: The beauty of Sundance is nobody knew what the film was going to be. But I think the thing at Sundance is there’s such an indie presence that everyone was going, “Is this going to be some big hip broad comedy that we’re going to make $100 dollars off of.” That’s what I think they were looking for. We went to Berlin, which I thought was amazing, because the German audiences aren’t banging down the doors for comedy so they really saw the humanity of the movie and the little nods to the language tapes that Paul’s character listens to. It felt like an American version of a European film to them so it was very interesting having that warmth there.
Yesterday, at SXSW, across the board this was the best reaction to the humor of the film. All the things that we wondered if it would work. You know, it’s not a jokey movie, but the strange little reactions and things that are said. Paul referred to it as minor-key comedy, which is perfect. Seeing that comedy work yesterday was great. We made the movie kind of self indulgently so seeing people react to our self indulgence in a good way was very exciting.
You mentioned this is a “minor-key” comedy, but you’re known for bigger, more brash comedies. What attracted you to the restrained more dramatic role?
PL: What drew me to the movie was David. I’ve been a fan of him for a long time and known him for a long time and thought this was going to be a great experience. I thought this was going to be truly artistic and get back to the root of storytelling.
In relation to the character I never saw it as being broad or being a guy who thought he was funny. In the way the opposite. I also never delineated between comedy and drama. I just played the truth of the situation and sometimes it was something strange and funny and others it was dramatic and sad. I was drawn to the idea of doing some kind of three dimensional character that doesn’t fit into any kind of box.
Was it tough to play off of each other for almost an entire movie or did you really get into sync right away?
PL: I met Emile on this, but I felt like we clicked together really quickly.
EH: Once we started rehearsing and getting into it I felt like it was clear super early that we weren’t going to have any problems getting it right.
PR: We also had the real joy of having Lance LeGault come in and throw a monkey wrench into everything. That guy is a tsunami. He’s so funny and so great. It’s sad because he passed away after shooting.
DGG: He did the greatest thing. He kissed the baby doll when he got out of the truck, which wasn’t in the script. Like there was some other story there. I want to see that movie.
Emile, what draws you to independent films more than bigger ones?
EH: I didn’t really think of this as an independent film when David called me. Even though budget wise it was small there’s still very known quantities involved. As far as making the film I was super excited because David and I were going to make a film about 9 years ago that didn’t happen and I was bummed so I’ve been waiting all this time.
Why did you set the film in the 80s?
DGG: The beauty of it was that you could really isolate these characters in that time period. Today you could just go out and get in touch with families easily. It was just a different time where your remote job would actually remove you. There’s no one to call when you’re tired of being with this jack ass. You have to look each other in the every day. That motherfucker may drive you crazy but you still need to sleep next to him in a tent while he’s jerking off.
To me the beauty of it is that they’re in this cage in a weird way. The dynamic of the situation can really change. It was fun to be able to really just engage in those two characters rather than have all the up to date communication. I wanted it to be a interesting texture and not full of technology that was going to be out of date by the time it hit theaters.
Can you talk about the older woman in the film who shows Paul’s Character around her destroyed home (Joyce Payne)?
DGG: That wasn’t even in the script. It was just something that came up when were location scouting for the film we found her digging through the ashes of her home. One of my producers ended up striking up a conversation with Joyce and it come up organically. It was really amazing how open she was about her experience. It kind of became this strange documentary. We didn’t give her lines. She just walked Paul through her home and Paul was basically directing that sequence. He followed her around and tried to keep her track. It just ended up taking on a real gravity and adding substance to the movie. It’s real transition tonally in the movie.