Few films in 2010 packed the heat and intensity of “Animal Kingdom,” David Michod’s intense crime saga about a family on the wrong side of the gun. We reviewed it earlier this year, and recently sat down with the friendly and talented Michod to discuss the particulars of the film as it gains heat in the awards race (particularly for the performance by Jacki Weaver). The talented Aussie director chatted with us about the Australian film industry, being compared to “Goodfellas,” and mustaches.
Beware of “Animal Kingdom” spoilers…
“Animal Kingdom” is generating serious awards attention in the last few weeks. How does this feel for a first time filmmaker, and has it affected your next project?
It’s exciting. Which is kind of a boring answer. But it’s true. This whole year has been kind of wonderful. It started at Sundance, which to me was kind of incredible, and the tide hasn’t stopped yet. I’ve been waiting for this “Animal Kingdom” circus to leave town, and it hasn’t yet. But I can feel it ending. I feel excited again to throw myself into something. There are a couple of ideas I’m interested in. But there’s a whole range of projects to look at, and different ways of making them, different places, different scales. I need to get some clarity and see what makes the most sense.
Have you gotten praise from any fellow filmmakers you look up to?
One of the great feelings this year we when I was in America earlier in the year promoting the film. I was in LA for a couple of months, and I found myself spending quite a lot of time with another Australian filmmaker, one I didn’t actually know, Andrew Dominik, who made “The Assassination of Jesse James.” Which I think is one of the greatest movies of the last ten years. And it was really great to spend time with him, he had very kind things to say.
Joel Edgerton has a prominent role in the first act of the film and then disappears. Did you have any reservations about eliminating him from the narrative despite the distinct impression he makes on audiences?
When you introduce a character of that strength, you don’t want to remove him so soon. But I really liked the idea of having that character take that place and then take him away, it makes the audience miss him. And now they know that only bad things can come to these characters. I wanted that to feel like an earthquake in the movie. I feel lucky to have known Joel for a number of years, he’s quite a good friend of mine. It’s interesting to me how he’s generally rising in the US, he has a couple of upcoming films that will only further that trajectory. It feels nice to have him so firmly planted in the movie. Hopefully the movie continues to lift his profile.
Jacki Weaver recently won the Best Supporting Actress from the National Board of Review, congratulations.
Oh, thanks very much.
She’s been generating a lot of Oscar talk. Most of it stems from the strength of her character’s transformation in the third act. How were you able to pull that off?
The key is to make sure that her motivations feel immersed in something true. She gets described so frequently as evil, which bugs me. What she does is despicable, and yet, what she does is pure cold pragmatism. She’s a woman who’s led a very hard life, she’s been surrounded by violence and loss her whole life. She is capable of making difficult emotional decisions. The change is dramatic, but to me it’s consistent with where she began.
“Animal Kingdom” is loaded with lots of tense action sequences. Are you interested in featuring more extensive, intense action beats in future films?
It’s not inconceivable. I’d like to believe that in the future I would do whatever those films require. It certainly felt for me in “Animal Kingdom” that I didn’t want to make an action crime film. I wanted it to feel like it had this brooding menace punctuated by brooding violence. There are certain moments that require that energy, but I never thought of them as action sequences.
I wanted to talk about… Guy Peace’s mustache. It is… an awesome mustache.
Where did you get the idea for that mustache?
I had read an interview with Guy, he was giving me all the credit, all the blame for the mustache. But I remember in previous conversations that we agreed we wanted his character to be subtle in his oddness, slightly removed from his intimidating gang of colleagues. To me the mustache is a textbook movie cop mustache. But at the same time in Australia, mustaches are quite rare. So for him to have it in the movie, I felt, was quite anachronistic and lends him the presence of an oddity, like he’s clinging to something from another era. It separates him from his coworkers. When I spoke to him during preproduction, he was in Melbourne doing a play, and I had suggested a mustache to him. And he said, it’s funny that you say that. He was adamant that he grow a mustache. But I was watching that play and really wondering how a mustache would work, I really couldn‘t see it. But he was insistent, and he made it work.
There’s an increased exposure for the Australian film industry. What’s caused this sudden interest?
I’m not entirely sure. The industry is not that big, we only make 50-60 films a year. What we have seen in the last couple of years is a new generation of filmmakers making their first films. And seemingly more willing to embrace genre in different forms, some want to take it back to its most basic roots, some want to elevate it within the conventions. But these filmmakers mostly want to make the films they grew up loving. It does feel like Australian cinema hasn’t had this presence internationally for some time.
“Animal Kingdom” has been compared, by more than one critic, to “Goodfellas.” How do you feel about that comparison?
It’s incredibly flattering, but at the same time it’s seems odd to me. I think it’s a very different film than “Goodfellas.” If someone went to “Animal Kingdom” expecting “Goodfellas,” they would be disappointing. “Goodfellas” is replete with a kind of energy and levity that “Animal Kingdom” is never supposed to have. I wanted it to be a brooding, menacing crime film, where you could feel fear and violence bubbling under the surface. Which is not how I would describe “Goodfellas.” To have any kind of comparison to Scorsese is obviously flattering.
A few weeks ago, you were one of several directors linked to a Warner Bros. project, “Tales From The Gangster Squad.” Is this a project you’ve talked about with the studio?
I didn’t realize I was mentioned for that. Well, you know how these things work. I think I recall reading that script, but my head is swimming with this whole world of stuff, you know, all these opportunities and possibilities. I saw something all over the internet a couple of weeks ago saying the guy who wrote “The Departed,” it was between him and me for some movie called “Once Were Cops” or something. It’s a New York thing and I think they were contemplating moving it to Boston. The story was everywhere saying it was between [William Monahan] and me for the project, and I had never heard of it. And then I read the internet and saw that he had never heard of it either. So it’s kinda weird how that becomes news. It’s a wish list.