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'Mud' Director Jeff Nichols on Being Compared to Terrence Malick (Video)

"Malick is so unique. I wouldn't ever claim to compare myself to him or to even be following in his footsteps," says the director, who shares a producer and also one of his film's stars with the auteur.

Jeff Nichols' third directorial effort, Mud, is a charming and engrossing tale about two 14-year-old boys in the South who discover a mysterious man named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) living in hiding. They agree to help him reunite with the love of his life and escape the authorities who are trying to track him down.

Nichols, 34, whose first two projects -- 2007's Shotgun Stories and 2011's Take Shelter -- received strong critical praise, says he came up with the story long before making his earlier films, but wasn't ready to take on the project.

"This one's been with me for a long time," he tells The Hollywood Reporter.

FILM REVIEW: Mud

The writer-director reveals to THR that he had sent to the script to McConaughey -- for whom he wrote the part of Mud -- several years ago, and was fully prepared with a sales pitch.

"I remember sending the script to his agent in 2008, and I had this speech prepared and I had rehearsed it," he tells THR while visiting the cover lounge. "And I said, 'The only Academy Award John Wayne ever won was for Rooster Cogburn in True Grit and that's because it took advantage of everything about John Wayne but it allowed him to funnel that into a real character.' "

"Cut to two years later, they still hadn't returned my phone call," says Nichols. "I wasn't ready to make Mud, and maybe they knew that, I don't know."

When he finally was ready, McConaughey met with Nichols in Austin, and then signed on, along with Reese Witherspoon, who plays Mud's one true love. The young boy characters are played by Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland.

Nichols has some connections to filmmaker Terrence Malick, including Sheridan, who starred in Malick's Tree of Life. Nichols and Malick both work with producer Sarah Green, who was the one who suggested Sheridan to Nichols. Also, both filmmakers currently live in Austin, Texas, and have some similarities in their themes, including an emphasis on nature.

While Nichols has heard the comparisons before and says he's flattered by them, he says his filmmaking is quite different.

"Terrence Malick is one of our greatest filmmakers and I don't think I'm doing what Malick's doing," he says. "Malick is so unique. I wouldn't ever claim to compare myself to him or to even be following in his footsteps. I think he is a truly unique voice. I'm just trying to tell a good story."

VIDEO: Matthew McConaughey Is a Dangerous Mystery in First 'Mud' Trailer

One thing Nichols does have in common with Malick (whom Nichols says he has met, but is not social with) is the ability to make the films he wants to make.

"I think the trick for me was I didn't get lost getting here," says Nichols of his filmmaking journey. "After my first film I could have directed a horror film here or there, and it fell through. Because I needed the work, I would have done it. But luckily, with my first three films, I've maintained control of them and I was able to have the support around me to help make the movie that I set out to make."

"I reserve the right to sell out at any time," he adds with a smile. "Because who knows? Maybe my kid needs braces or something."

But don't expect that to happen anytime soon. Nichols tells THR that he's currently writing his next project, titled Midnight Special, and plans to challenge himself in new ways with his fourth film. He labels it a "drama, sci-fi chase movie, kind of."

"I've always been intimidated by light, by lighting," he says. "And my next film will speak to that."

Watch THR's interview with Nichols above.

Mud opened in theaters on April 26.

Email: Rebecca.Ford@thr.com; Twitter: @Beccamford