CANNES Q&A: Gus Van Sant Introduces 'Restless' to Fest

6:34 AM PST 05/11/2011 by Gregg Kilday
AFP

The director won Cannes' Palme d'Or prize in 2003 for "Elephant"; his latest unspools Thursday.

Gus Van Sant, a Cannes veteran and past Palme d’Or winner for 2003’s Elephant, is making his first appearance in Un Certain Regard with that sidebar’s opening night film Restless. Based on an original screenplay by Jason Lew, the Sony Pictures Classics release, which was developed and produced by Bryce Dallas Howard, stars Mia Wasikowska as a terminally ill teenager who falls in love with a boy, played by newcomer Henry Hopper, who likes hanging out at funerals. Van Sant talked with THR film editor Gregg Kilday about striking the right tone, selecting a young cast, sticking to the script and not having to worry about donning a tuxedo for opening night.

The Hollywood Reporter: Restless sounds like an off-beat movie. How do you describe its basic premise?

Gus Van Sant: To me, the movie is about somebody who is facing some very hard medical problems, but her own family isn’t really able to support her and she finds a friend elsewhere to help her deal with it. It’s very character driven.

THR: It also sounds somewhat whimsical.

Van Sant: Yeah, it has a certain fantasy element to it. The tone is very light in face of very dark adversity, but the characters are kind of making most of their life while they have it, so it has a kind of light story. It’s light because the characters are making it that way. They don’t really see a reason to become disenchanted with their lives. They’re looking on the bright side.

THR: How did you become involved in the project?

Van Sant: It was something Imagine had sent over that Bryce Dallas Howard had developed for a number of years. Pretty much right when read it, I thought it was a really interesting story and I said yeah I would do it if we could find the financing. We went to Columbia to find the money.

THR: This is the first movie Bryce Dallas Howard has produced. How did she make the transition from actress to producer?

Van Sant: Bryce was there the whole time we were shooting. She was raised in the Howard family, and I think learned a lot of things from her family. She was super professional and level-headed. She always wanted to be part of whatever was going on. She was pretty much the spearhead.

THR: How much of Mia Wasikowska’s work had you seen when you cast her?

Van Sant: The only thing I knew of that she had done was In Treatment. She had been cast and they had shot Alice in Wonderland, but it was too soon to see anything from that. But she was well known for that episode of In Treatment. She was very amazing in that particular show, and when we met her in person and I read the script with her, she was a really great embodiment of the character.

THR: And how did you discover Henry Hopper?

Van Sant: He was actually living in Berlin. He is Dennis Hopper’s son and somebody my casting agent had been in touch with. He had tried out for a couple of movies. He wasn’t really on the circuit, trying to find acting jobs, but she convinced him to come in and talk to us, and he and Mia read together, and they just seemed like a really great combination.

THR: Watching him work, can you tell he’s Hopper’s son?

Van Sant: Yeah, very strongly. He resembles his father. There were a lot of things that reminded me of Dennis, especially Dennis Hopper’s early career.

THR: You filmed in Portland, where you’ve done a number of your movies. Was the script specific to any particular place?

Van Sant: Jason, the writer, had written it originally about Orono, Maine. He is from there. His stories stem from some real life characters and experiences. Since I live in Portland, Oregon, I really wanted to change the location. It didn’t particularly affect the screenplay. Both states are in kind of on opposite ends of the northern United States, so they are interchangeable in certain ways. And we didn’t play up the location very much. We just have it as a generic city.

THR: Your movies sometimes stray from the script. Was that the case here?

Van Sant: No, we didn’t stray at all. I think because of the way the actors were working. A lot of times, it depends on the interest of the actors themselves in straying from the material. When you do stray and start to improv, it becomes completely about the actors’ desire and imagination. In this case, we pretty much stuck strictly to the material. I don’t think we improvised one time. That happened on Milk as well. On other films, I’ve been used to going completely off the script. But in this case, that didn’t happen.

THR: While you’ve walked the red carpet in Cannes as part of the main competition before, Un Certain Regard is more informal. Are you looking forward to that?

Van Sant: Yeah, I hope it’s like that still. I don’t think we’re supposed to wear tuxedoes. It’s in the same building as the main event, so it’s kind of interesting. You turn the corner and there’s the Certain Regard showing. I imagine we don’t have to get as dressed up.

Vital Stats: Gus Van Sant
Festival film: Restless, Un Certain Regard opening night
Nationality: American
Born: July 24, 1952
Selected filmography: Male Noche (1986); Drugstore Cowboy (1989); To Die For (1995); Good Will Hunting (1997); Elephant (2003); Milk (2008)
Notable awards: Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or, Elephant (2003); Deauville Film Festival Critics Award, My Own Private Idaho (1991); Film Independent Spirit Award, best screenplay, Drugstore Cowboy (1990); National Society of Film Critics, best director, best screenplay, Drugstore Cowboy (1990).

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