Richard Phillips Talks Lindsay Lohan and Sasha Grey Art Films (Q&A)

Richard Phillips Lindsay Lohan Portrait 2011

VIDEO: The artist speaks to THR about his two new 90-second films, running in an exhibit concurrent to the 54th Venice Biennial.

For Commercial Break, one of the most anticipated exhibitions running concurrent to the 54th Venice Biennial, artist Richard Phillips – primarily a painter - tried his hand at filmmaking, creating two short ethereal movies, one starring Lindsay Lohan and former porn star-turned-actress Sasha Grey.

Grey's film is a subdued night scene that follows her walking as if in a daydream through John Lautner's famous Chemosphere house, owned by art book publisher Benedikt Taschen; while Lohan's film shows the starlet plunging out of the crystal blue waters of an infinity pool.

Phillips, who makes bold pop paintings of celebrities usually rendered from imagery culled from magazines and the Internet, tried his first foray into collaboration with these two stars. The result has been two of the most talked about works among the show’s 150 artists, all of whom were asked to make 90 second films.

Realizing that with so many people in the exhibition he wouldn't get much airplay, Phillips released the films virally first, to maximize exposure. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with the artist in Venice at the lavish Bauer Hotel to discuss his latest body of work.

The Hollywood Reporter: Had you been thinking about film for a while?

Phillips: I had not a single thought to make a film. I had decided that I wanted to take photographs of two actors, and I had been in communication with both [Lohan and Grey] for different projects. When this came up, I said well, if we can go to the trouble of setting up a shoot, why not bring video and try to get some motion footage of that.

Realizing I had no experience, I contacted my friend Taylor Steele, who is a legendary surf filmmaker. We set up our offices in LA to begin an incredible week of filming. We had the Chemosphere House so we were shooting in a work of art. We had one day each with the talent and we had a day before to practice out of Santa Monica.

THR: Were you actually making those directorial calls when it came time to shoot?

Phillips: Yeah. I made these storyboards that were based on my experiences watching Bergman's Persona and Goddard's Contempt. Those films really matched in a lot of ways the ideas of these young actors in a transformative moment, making a decision to live their lives in art and the consequences that ultimately befall that. With Lindsay, it’s very easy to work with her because she is an extraordinarily beautiful woman. She would always get it on the first take. With Sasha, she had a huge career in adult performance and a new career in cinema and television. The melancholy that happens in her film is something that you never see in her former career. In the work she did on Entourage and with Steven Soderbergh, you're still seeing her being positioned in relationship to her past and I wanted to let her be above that.

THR: Do you think both of these women gravitated towards an art related project because they are both trying to shift the idea that people have about their past?

Phillips: I think that could be assumed but the fact really is that the way I initially got in contact with them is about painting. So if you think about it in a film way you could say yes, it was on our mind to present them independently in this state of mind as they are today, as people and not as these media characters.

THR: Was it a challenge to edit down the footage to 90 seconds?

Phillips: I worked with Haines Hall of Spot Welders who had worked with Sofia Coppola on the Virgin Suicides and Doug Aitken’s big project at MoMa. He was extremely experienced in crushing huge amounts of footage into highly communicative short bursts. We started with Lindsay and the amounts of gorgeous footage we had gave me chills.