What did you take from that experience that you can apply this time around?
It's all kind of the same thing. You just go and try to speak clearly and honestly about your film. I hope people take away something from it. With this one, the experience will be entirely different. Being in Critics' Week was amazing, but the experience of screening in the Palais and walking up those steps -- I'd be lying if I didn't say I'm thrilled at the idea of it.
This year around, you're coming into the Cannes with the distinction of being the youngest director with a film in the Competition. Unlike so many filmmakers that found themsleves in your position, you got to bypass the Un Certain Regard section. What does it feel like coming into the festival with that kind of distinction among your peers?
I'm just happy to be at the party. To be invited was a huge win for me personally and career-wise, and for the film. This film is an unknown quantity. I know what I want it to be and what I think it can be. But that doesn't mean that it will be what I want it to be. Just getting into the main Competition is a huge stamp of approval. It's verficiation that we're on the right track.
Again, it hasn't computed yet. You read your name in the headlines (usually mine's a few paragraphs down, but still), and these are filmmakers that I revere. I mean, I loooove "Chopper." I consider those guys to be some of the greatest filmmakers working today. To even have my name said in the same breath -- I'm just excited to be there. And it's a little nerve-racking to think about competing. I don't really look at it that way. I don't want to embarrass myself [laughs]. I don't want people to say, "That got in?" But all that's just nervous energy. When I really sit back and look at the film, I'm so proud of it. I'm really excited to see what people think. It's a fun movie to watch. It moves unlike anything else I've made.
When I last interviewed you for "Take Shelter," you told me "Mud" was the film you've been dying to make for the past decade. What about "Mud" is so close to you?
It was an idea I had in college, around the same time I was going to Cannes. I found this book in a public library in Little Rock, Arkansas. It was photographs from the Mississippi river. I was inspired by it. I got this idea of these boys finding this man hiding out on a little island in the Mississippi River. Once I said that to myself, I knew it was a good idea. I spent the next eight, nine years slowly building the story up and building these characters up.
Every film I've made, I've tried to approach from two tracks: One of them's the plot, the other's from some kind of emotion. With "Shotgun Stories," it was the thought of something bad happening to one of my brothers -- that was such a tangible feeling for me to write from. With "Take Shelter," it was obviously anxiety. And with this, I was reaching back into high school, thinking of when I got my heart broken for the first time. I know lots has been written on that, but why not throw one more on the pile?
So it's really close to me, because it's all about the heartbreak and stuff that you experience with young love and our ability to bounce back from it and push through. They're all personal.