'Knight of Cups' Cast Recalls Terrence Malick On Set: "It's Like Working With the Great Oz"

Thomas Lennon, Wes Bentley, Teresa Palmer, Freida Pinto, and Christian Bale - H 2016
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Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki said of the film: "The whole movie is memory, fragmented and imperfect — and that’s what Terry wants, so it feels like life."

At a star-studded premiere in Los Angeles, the castmembers of Knight of Cups elaborated on their experience working with director Terrence Malick during filming.

Christian Bale, along with Wes Bentley, Freida Pinto, Teresa Palmer and Thomas Lennon, were on hand Tuesday night at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown L.A. Other attendees of the event included James Franco, Kim Gordon, Zoe Kravitz, Sissy Spacek, Phil Lord and Megan Ellison.

“My character, Rick, is a screenwriter, a man of words, who’s lost all use and love of words, and that’s how Terry wanted it,” explained Bale. “He is a man who’s tired of his own voice.”

The story centers on Rick, who serves as the basis of the overall film, which THR’s Todd McCarthy described in a Berlin review last year as “more partial to free association and stream-of-consciousness notations than to conventional storytelling.”

Knight of Cups is divided into chapters that are named after tarot cards, including The Moon, Death, The Hanged Man and The High Priestess. The film title itself is based on a tarot card as well, referring to a romantic adventurer guided by his emotions.

Clifton Collins Jr., who also will star in Malick’s next film, Weightless, enthused about the director: “It’s like working with the great Oz. He has this beautiful, childlike outlook on the world. Just magic!”

Filming began in 2012 without a script, which producer Sarah Green said is part of Malick’s process: “We like to take our time in post, and we build that into the schedule so that Terry has the opportunity to experiment and try a lot of things.”

Regarding the absence of a script, she said: “We work with a treatment, and we work with a very definite storyline. And then Terry works with the actors on a day-to-day basis for the actual dialogue.”

For actor Wes Bentley, who portrays Rick’s troubled brother Barry in the film, he found working with Malick to be “a freeing process.”

“The rules of conventional moviemaking — you let all that go,” Bentley said. “You live in the character and the moment.”

In terms of what the film meant to him, Bentley explained: “It’s a story about losing where you came from and who you are and what brings you to a place like Los Angeles to express your art … and then how do you lose that?”

For Knight of Cups, many of the actors improvised their lines, which Bale told THR: “With Terry, it’s not like to improvise it means, ‘Quick, talk a lot.’ Improvise could be actually saying nothing. It’s not like you had to be really funny or on it. He’s the anti of that. He’s [like,] ‘Please don’t try. Stop trying. Just be and see what happens.’”

During the Q&A, which was moderated by actor-director Scott Cooper, Palmer said of the process, “I was given six pages and they were taken away from me. I ask Christian, ‘Will you help me out and give me a few lines?’ And he goes, ‘I don’t think you got the memo, but I don’t speak.’ It was liberating because truly you’re forced to be moment to moment, to be present, to listen and observe. I’m so used to preparing for a role, and there was no preparation at all.”

Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who also shot Malick’s 2011 film Tree of Life, said of his work on Knight of Cups: “I was trying to capture the scenes from the perspective of Christian’s character, trying to create a feeling of memory. The whole movie is memory, fragmented and imperfect — and that’s what Terry wants, so it feels like life. He’s trying to capture a certain emotion.”

Knight of Cups opens in limited release on Friday, March 4.