Director Kelly Reichardt (“Wendy and Lucy,” “Meek’s Cutoff’) has an eye for vast American landscapes, in which she deliberately places lonesome, trudging souls who are continuously searching—for connections, for new lives, for meaning.
In her latest film, “Night Moves,” a ragtag triumvirate of determined activists-cum-eco-terrorists, played by Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard, decide to make a grand statement about over-consumption and the destruction of natural resources by blowing up a hydroelectric dam on the Oregon river near where they live. Afterwards, the trio is forced to confront the depth of their beliefs and the strength of their idealism, and the film becomes a dark psychological exploration (read our review here).
When we caught up with Reichardt at the Toronto International Film Festival, she had recently learned that “Night Moves” had won the Grand Prize at the Deauville Film Festival. (The film premiered in Venice the week before.) We learned that she believes the corporations have won, Jesse Eisenberg will keep you on your toes, and Dakota Fanning is decidedly not a diva.
“Night Moves” is a different genre for you, in a way. What attracted you to this story? At the premiere you said you weren’t necessarily interested in making a movie about eco-terrorism.
I’m super interested in direct activists. I’m interested in anybody who puts themselves at risk and stands up against the powers that be. I don’t have that in me, so I find it interesting, and part of what’s interesting is also part of what’s sad. It’s often young people, and they make certain decisions that end up affecting their whole life.
You know, I’m mad about all the crap in this country. The corporations won; I get it. They own everything and they’ve got the air, the ocean, the forest—they’ve got it all. Whatever. It feels so much like a lost battle that anybody who can still get up every day and fight for an environmental cause to me is quite heroic. I’m glad they’re there.
Are they all young?
We’ve met people all different ages really committed to a small footprint, and not using more then they need to. And then we met people who are more active, and there’s just a lot of room in between.
I want to talk about actors. You have a real eye for young talent. For “Wendy and Lucy,” you found Michelle Williams. Well, not that she needed to be found.
Yeah. [laughs] When I found her, she was living in a car.
But you have an eye for talent, and now Dakota Fanning and Jesse Eisenberg have joined your crew. I’m thinking about Jesse Eisenberg and how he’s kind of known for his fast talking ways, but he’s quite taciturn in “Night Moves.” What did you see in him?
It’s funny: everyone talks about that since we’ve been out with the movie. But I’ve always thought of him as having this face—he can’t settle his face. You can just see his brain working through his face all the time, and that’s sort of what appealed to me.
Is he intense on set?
He’s very fun—and I’m not just saying that—he’s very funny and quick-witted. But he’s also a super inquisitive person, so you have to know what you’re doing. You can’t bullshit your way through anything with Jesse, because he’s going to call you on it. He’s so analytical—he goes through everything with such a fine-toothed comb, and I’m the same way, I can’t turn my brain off. But it keeps you on your toes, and the process is so long, you come to know things in a way that it’s almost like you forget them, you know what I mean? It was an epiphany at one point, but then it’s something you know, and it goes to other waters, but I had to just sort of be on my toes for him, because he’s a thinker.
What about Dakota?
Dakota’s a complete mystery to me. I have no idea. She’s totally down for anything.
Do you think it’s because she’s grown up acting?
I don’t know. I can’t figure out Dakota. She’s grown up acting, so I would think she wouldn’t be the person who’s like, “Oh, I’ll stay where the crew’s staying,” in our crappy motel, and walk down to the Taco Bell and get herself dinner every night. She’s a very self-sufficient person. You cannot do something for her.
She’s 19, but she’s so absolute. She works in a really private way; she does not like to talk about process. You can ask her to do something differently, and she will adjust, but she does not want to have a long conversation about the why of it. That’s all personal to her; it’s sort of like, “That’s my business. How I get there will be my business.”
They really couldn’t be more polar opposites for the way they work, but they were also total buds on the movie. And also—we don’t really have a separation from cast and crew. Our cast has to be, like Michelle always was: “I understand what you’re saying. Hey, while you’re talking, pick up that apple box and walk over here.” Jesse had to drive this old truck that was really hard to manage, pulling a boat on small roads. And Dakota—you know, it was freezing and wet and she was just totally down for everything.
Not a diva.
At all. I had no idea what to expect, but she was also just so super with us—part of the group—but as far as the process goes, totally private about it.
What about Peter Sarsgaard? He’s so fascinating.
We talked on the phone before he came there, but we didn’t have any time together—he was on another movie before, and I was out in Oregon. So he came while we were already shooting, and I think it was pouring rain the night I met him, and I was like, “Do you know how to drive a boat? You’re going to be driving a boat. Nice to meet you.” And just talking over the boat engine about how we saw this character; we were already driving out to where we were going to shoot. We were thrown into it together and so you’re finding it on the way. It’s tense. You have to start trusting someone, and you know you’re asking for someone’s trust who doesn’t know you at all. I mean, all these actors, they have to trust you. I have a totally amazing crew—a really, really together crew—but we were stretching our means quite thin.
So how do you and your co-writer Jon Raymond work? What’s your process?
Jon probably has a different way of answering. Jon’s a writer; he wakes up every day and he writes. That’s not what I do. So we’ve made four films together, and we’re friends, and we talk every day, so it’s very hard for me to exactly say when something started and when something didn’t. It’s sort of in the flow of life at this point.
What ultimately fascinates you about this world?
It’s interesting, but as you dive into this, I think it would have been easier for Jon and I to make a film about some of the dogmas of the right, than it is for us to go in and judge some of the dogmas of the left, you know?
But this world [Oregon, environmentalists, activism] is really interesting to us; over the course of time we probably went and saw 30 or 40 dams. And we’d go with this painter friend of mine, Michael Brophy, who’s been doing storyboards for me for a while. He’s an Oregonian—as is Neil Kopp—so they are people who spend a lot of time camping, and out in the woods. So at first it’s camping trips and talking about and visiting stuff, and wondering: “How did this water get here?” or “What used to be here?” So it really is harder and harder to say, here’s the starting point. But if you live in Oregon, you’ll eventually be thinking about the forest and the dams. It’s sort of easy to understand why a culture of environmental activism has come from there.
Do you have an idea what you’re going to do next?
I can hardly handle that question right now. I’m swimming around some ideas. I’m working with a different writer than Jon Raymond.
Is it someone you know?
We’re just meeting, and we’ve been talking… [laughs] I haven’t even talked about it with people I know, so I don’t want to talk about it into a microphone.