At 33, "Mud" writer/director Jeff Nichols is the youngest filmmaker in competition for the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival. The Little Rock native slayed festivalgoers with his critically acclaimed 2007 domestic drama "Shotgun Stories" and reteamed with that film's star, Michael Shannon, to deliver "Take Shelter," an apocalyptic thriller that premiered at Sundance 2011, landed a home at Sony Pictures Classics and won both the Critics' Week Grand Prize and the FIPRESCI award at last year's Cannes.
With his latest film "Mud," a western coming-of-age tale starring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon, Nichols skipped past Cannes' Un Certain Regard sidebar to land a coveted spot in the Competition, alongside such revered auteurs as Michael Haneke, David Cronenberg, Walter Salles and Abbas Kiarostami. Indiewire caught up with Nichols prior to Cannes ("Mud" premieres on Saturday) to discuss the film's origins and what it feels like to return to the festival with this particular distinction.
You're premiering so late in the festival. When did you wrap up editing?
We just wrapped up the finishing hours in LA last night to watch it. A week before that we were doing the mixing. Nothing extremely rushed -- it was actually the schedule we set ourselves, not being presumptuous enough to assume that we would get into Cannes. We built the post schedule, just in case.
I've actually been to the festival three times in my life! The first was in 2000. I was in college and got an internship with Kodak at the American Pavillion where I waited tables. I didn't go back until last year with "Take Shelter."
That's quite the evolution.
It's a heady thing, I haven't quite wrapped my head around it. When I went in 2000, I took a tux that my mom bought me. They managed to get me some tickets to see movies in the Palais, and I remember sitting there thinking, "OK, well, that's it." I'm having trouble even pre-visualizing myself sitting on that floor watching my movie. It's great, it's insane.
"Take Shelter" didn't screen in the Palais last year, but can you bring me back to what that experience was like for you, especially considering how well the film went over with the jury...
The screening itself was a little nerve-racking. My flight was delayed and I went straight from the airport to the screening and did the introduction to the film. I remember sitting in the audience and then the lights going down, and going, "Ah, I'm going to have to watch this now with this audience." There were a lot of journalists, and everyone kind of moves around, take notes and jostles. "Take Shelter" is a tough movie because there's no humor in it, so there's really no way to judge how you're doing -- whether people are still with you or not. So I didn't know where I stood with folks. Then, slowly, as the international reviews started to come in, I was told they were positive (I don't speak French or read it). And then the awards ceremony, it was just great, fantastic.