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CANNES 2012: Jeff Nichols On 'Mud': "It moves unlike anything else I've made."

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire May 25, 2012 at 2:46PM

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.

Would it be wrong to label this your most lighthearted, mainstream film to date?

No! It absolutely is. I hope the buyers think it is. It has a happy ending and that's good. I was ready for one. I don't think "Shotgon Stories" or "Take Shelter" have hopeless endings. I think there's hope in both those films, no matter how hard you have to search for it. It's there. I should say, this film has its emotional punches too, they're just different. This movie follows this river and these boys, and moves like they do. It's all steadicam work, something I've never worked with before. I would say 80 percent of this movie is shot in steadicam. It's more kinetic than anything I've ever made before, in terms of camera movement and narrative drive. At the same time, there's some hand-held work in it. It just moves like a river. I'm really proud of that.

"It has a happy ending and that's good. I was ready for one. "
You've worked with kids before, but never at this capacity. What was it like having two child actors -- Tye Sheridan ("The Tree of Life") and newcomer Jacob Lofland -- leading the film?

It was daunting. I like scripts. I spend a lot of time writing them. From listening to other directors and watching other films with amazing performances from kids, I was told the first thing you do is throw out the script. I decided I wasn't going to do that and do it in a totally different way. It might be a total disaster, but why not give it a show?

I was so fortunate to find these kids that just could breathe life into my lines. Even when I watched the final cut, I marvelled at how in the moment they are. I didn't have to do a whole lot. The majority of that is just based on their raw talent and intelligence level. Sheridan had worked on "The Tree of Life" with this great cast, but it was Terrence Malick, so he was never given a script. He given this room to play. Basically I had gotten this kid who had gone to Malick bootcamp. Anytime we were on set and something felt stilted, I would say, "Hey, Tye, shake it up." And all of a sudden he would get something.

Honestly, I think the two performances from the boys are the most exciting things in the film.

This article is related to: Cannes Film Festival, Mud, Interviews, Take Shelter, Jeff Nichols

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