“It’s the most rock and roll film I’ve ever made…” hmv.com talks to Demolition director Jean-Marc Vallée
Interviewing director Jean-Marc Vallée is very much akin to the experience of watching his new movie Demolition: both go off on weird and wonderful tangents but ultimately get back to the point they are trying to make.
Demolition is the Montreal native’s follow-up to 2014’s critically acclaimed Wild with Reese Witherspoon. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Davis Mitchell, an upwardly mobile yuppie whose comfortable life is shattered when his wife is killed in a car crash he survives. When he gets shortchanged by a malfunctioning hospital vending machine, Mitchell decides to write to the company, initially to demand his money back. But with each successive letter, he vents his frustration about not being able to grieve his wife’s death.
Naomi Watts co-stars as Karen Moreno, the woman who opens Mitchell’s mail and becomes his friend, and newcomer Judah Lewis plays her sexually confused son Chris who bonds with Mitchell. The title refers to Mitchell’s newfound hobby of literally demolishing or dismantling parts of his old house, often by way of sledgehammer. Yes, that is a metaphor.
hmv.com spoke to Vallée about grief, his use of music in Demolition, and working with Lewis and Gyllenhaal.
Many of your films deal with grieving. Did you relate to the script?
“I related to it a lot. And I wished I could have dealt with grief when I lost my Mum a few years ago because I thought, ‘What a special, curious journey.’ On set I had sledgehammers around me and windows and s**t to smash, and I did it, and it feels so good. There’s something about it, and you feel like a kid. I broke a window bigger than the TV set there. [Points to a large-screen television.] It was huge and I smashed the s**t out of it, and it exploded. And as soon as you’re done, you’ve got a smile on your face. Who has the opportunity to do that? Nobody.
“You get to live and you make money and then you’re paying for that material and the house, the car. And you forget, like this guy, you forget to be passionate and you forget to live and love and take care of what’s precious and what’s beautiful. So it’s nice that in the guise of a meditation on grief and loss, it’s a film that celebrates life.”
What did you like about the script?
“Its beautiful writing. Its beautiful characters, and they feel real. They feel odd. They’re lost souls. Again, that’s something else from the script. It’s layered, and it’s not in your face: ‘Oh, look at these lost souls.’ When you’re done with the script… ‘Why do I like this script? What’s going on with this? What am I about to direct? I want to direct this. It’s appealing.’ Yeah, it’s about lost souls finding things that connect to each other, and, without wanting it, they help each other out.”
Talk about the role of music in the film.
“I always try to put the music in the middle of the story, in the lives of the characters. So I make playlists for each of them: ‘This is what this character is listening to.’ They do their homework; I do my homework. And they create their backstories, I create mine, and then we share. And mine go through a playlist.
“It’s the most rock and roll film I’ve ever made, not because of the use of rock and roll music but because of the nature of the film, because of its spirit, its energy, its rhythm, its editing, its characters. It’s rock. It’s loud. It makes noise. It’s irreverent. It says ‘f--k you’ to the establishment, to how we’re supposed to feel when we grieve.”
Talk about casting Judah.
“We found a rock star there. We found a kid who was so at ease in his body. I’ve never seen – or rarely seen – a kid with that swag. I mean come on!
“The audition was three tracks. ‘I want to see you dance. And here are some empty boxes and here is a baseball bat. And I want you to dance and demolish the s**t out of these boxes.’
“So Kid 1, Kid 2, Kid 3… We met like 30 of them, and a lot of them didn’t want to come to the audition ‘cause they didn’t want to dance. Isn’t it funny, when you’re 14, you don’t want to dance in front of people? ‘Are you young actors? You don’t want to dance? You think you’re gonna look like a faggot or what?’ And this kid was a rock star. And he reminded me of [Rolling Stones guitarist] Brian Jones.
“So I went and got five, six pictures of Brian Jones, gave it to the costume designer, and I said, ‘Let’s create a young Brian Jones. We’re gonna dress this kid like Brian Jones, and he’s going to listen to old rock and roll. He’s not gonna be like the other kids; he’s going to feel different. He’s an old soul in a young body. He’s 16 but looks like 12 and acts 21.’”
Talk about working with Jake.
“I was so happy that he responded to the material, that he wanted to do it badly. I was a big fan of his films; his kind of actor, with the risks that he takes.”
Any roles specifically?
“Yeah, starting with Donnie Darko. And then Nightcrawler, Brokeback Mountain. Besides that I was respecting him for his choices in these films. And even Jarhead, he did an amazing job in that, too. Every time I see this guy there’s something.
“And then for [the character of] Davis, when I met with him, I was so happy – before he starts acting there’s a quality in his face. You put a camera on his face and there’s something. And the something is sadness. Don’t ask me why but there’s a sadness that is perfect for Davis Mitchell. There’s an intelligence and there’s a goodness. And of course he’s good-looking.”
Is there a burden of expectation now that you have had a number of Hollywood successes?
“There’s no burden of expectation, there’s no pressure, and one step at a time, one film at a time. I got a great next project called Janis Joplin with Amy Adams, and we’re doing it in the indie way. We’re doing it with not a lot of money, and it’s a rock and roll film on rock and roll. So one film at a time.”