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FUTURES: 'American Animal' Director and Star Matt D'Elia Gets Naked and Nutty

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire May 17, 2012 at 10:37AM

Why He's On Our Radar: NYU Tisch graduate Matt D'Elia caused a stir at the 2011 SXSW Film Festival with his debut feature "American Animal," a dark and completely nutty comedy he wrote, directed, produced, edited and stars in. The film didn't go on to win any awards as the festival, but it was met with some of the most passionate reviews to come out of the event. Slant Magazine called D'Elia's vision "original, gutsy, and uncompromising"; The Wall Street Journal said "American Animal" is "personal filmmaking with ambition to burn"; while HitFix said the film "deserves to launch D'Elia as a filmmaker of note." See what all the fuss is about when it hits select theaters this Friday.

So this marks your first acting gig?

Yeah, pretty much.

You're amazing in it.

Aw thanks. Well I didn't write it for me. I really didn't. We were trying to get other actors who I knew would be great, because it's such a challenging role. This movie's my baby, I didn't want to mess it up.

But trying to get a reliable, proven actor to come and do this movie for a first-time director and get naked is really a tough sell. At a certain point everyone was cast, and it was like, who's going to do this thing? Once I was doing it and made the decision it seemed very clear and made a lot of sense. It's such a specific movie, and as much me as a movie can be.

"I honestly cannot watch the movie. If I'm not picking myself apart as a writer, I'm picking myself apart as a director or as an actor. I can't win."

But how did you come to the realization that you could actually pull it off?

It was as simple as this: if I was going to give someone that responsibility to make or break my movie, I just wanted it to be me because then I can only blame myself.

Did you screen test yourself?

[Laughs] No, maybe I should of. I honestly cannot watch the movie. If I'm not picking myself apart as a writer, I'm picking myself apart as a director or as an actor. I can't win.

Or your body. You're naked, or in your underwear for most of the movie.

It's the most cringe-inducing experience, but I did it to myself.

So what do you say to folks who deem this a vanity project?

Before SXSW, I was really anxious about what that initial reaction would be. That can dictate a lot about what the public ends up thinking. We didn't win anything out there, but the initial critical reaction was positive and I was relieved after that. I was so prepared to get crushed, and anything that was the opposite felt fucking amazing. I was so, so anxious about that initial response though, as you can probably imagine.

How did the shoot go?

The actual being in it, during production, was freeing in a very unexpected way. The movie's so Jimmy-centric and everyone's so reactive to Jimmy, so anything I was doing as Jimmy was a form of directing. If I wanted certain reactions out of people, Jimmy's going to give them those reactions. It was an expedited way of getting things out of the actors without telling them.

So it helped me as a director once I got into the groove, but in the beginning I was just so self conscious. I'm in my pink underwear! It was really crazy.

This article is related to: American Animal, Futures, Interviews, Matt D'Elia

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