"The Oscars feels like the last rung of a circuit, because you're at all of these things together."
So you said that this was just kind of an adventure and you didn't really have lots of expectations going in. What has life post-Sundance been like then, after the movie became this sensation? How were the Oscars, for example?
The Oscars feels like the last rung of a circuit, because you're at all of these things together. You're with the same movies. I don't even want to say in contention, because from the inside it just feels like a theater festival, like a film festival. "How to Survive a Plague" and "Searching for Sugar Man" were both with us at Sundance. We've been together for so long. At this point the most exciting - I got the opportunity to meet Tony Mendez, who "Argo" was based on, and then Peter Staley, who was one of the key characters in "How to Survive a Plague." Those more than anything were the experiences where I was really star struck. And Michelle Obama! Chris Terrio, who wrote "Argo," was staying in the same hotel as us and we became really good friends and once he came down to the restaurant and he was with these two people and I thought they were his parents and I was like, "Mr. Terrio!" and I went in to hug this guy and he said, "that's Tony Mendez..." I felt so stupid, I was just like, "Wow! Oh shit! Oh shit! You're a hero!" But he was really sweet about it.
So there are the real life heroes, and the artistic heroes too. Being in the same room as Tony Kushner and talking to Tony Kushner about work ethic and artistic integrity... I can think of no stronger, more fierce artist. He's unbelievable, and he's so humble and kind.
That's really cool too, that that was someone that you looked up to growing up and then suddenly you're nominated for an Oscar in the same category as him.
Yeah! The first thing that my mom said when they announced the nominations, when my mom stopped screaming, was [in a southern accent], "Maybe now you can meet Tony Kushner!" And then our local paper did this big spread on me and it was all an interview with my mom, and she just talked about how cool it was that I could finally meet Tony Kushner. I wrote him this really awe-struck, really stupid three paged letter of admiration our last night before the actual ceremony. And all of the writers became friends.
Did you go to all of the parties together and everything?
I did go to the parties. At some point nobody feels... the idea of fame just sort of evaporates, because everyone's so nice. And also because we were the underdogs. Or not even the underdogs; for us the win was just being there, so everyone was really supportive of us.
It's a movie too that everyone has been championing for so long, and everyone likes to see a small, independent movie succeed. So I'm sure everyone loved you guys, because everyone loves that movie, too. I’m curious as to what you think is the kind of universal, overwhelming thing about "Beasts" that brought everyone together and made them say, "this is the movie. This is the movie for 2012."
I think if you ask me and Benh we might say different things. Benh talks about the community and holding on to what's yours, and I really respect that, but to me it's always so much about a parent, and losing your parent. Especially your relationship with your dad, which is so specific and so sort of uncharted territory for everyone. I think people really respond to that because everyone has a relationship with their dad that's strange and unique, even if you never knew your dad. If you never knew your dad you still have this relationship that's like, "what the hell is wrong with you?" or "can I ever be good enough for you?"
But your father didn't pass away, right?
No, he didn't! He was going to, but he had this incredible lifesaving surgery that still was very dicey and I think he has this new lease on life - He loves his work, he does pro-bono defense law and he's suing the private prison system in Florida and he loves fighting the man. He's pretty much like Wink in the movie, he doesn't want to go unless it's on his terms.
What was his response to the movie?
I was nervous about it at first.
Yeah, I can imagine!
He saw it in Tallahassee and I got a call on the phone and thought, "Oh, Jesus, what's going to happen?" and he just says, "Boss, I'm a goddamn legend!"