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by Eric Kohn
August 6, 2012 9:00 AM
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Roger Avary's First Post-Prison Interview: Where His Career Will Take Him Next

"The Rules of Attraction."
Asked about his state of mind over the course of his prison experience, Avary flashed back to 2000. Around that time, he was involved in developing an unrealized HBO series entitled "Medal of Honor" about soldiers who received that prize. Over the course of his research, Avary befriended Vietnam vet James Stockdale, an American pilot who was imprisoned for several years in the Hanoi Hilton, the torture center most recently known for housing John McCain. Stockdale was kept there the longest -- seven years -- and subsisted on a diet of pumpkin soup in between torture sessions.

Read more on Avary's current television work here.

"I asked him how you survive something like this," Avary said. "I cannot stress to you how strong and noble this man was."

Avary said Stockdale turned to his position as a Stanford professor, where he specialized in the stoic principles of the Greek philosopher Epictetus. "The basic philosophy of stoicism is that you have nothing real external to your own consciousness, that the only thing real is in fact your consciousness," Avary said. "In thinking about his experience, it just occurred to me that the notion of control of your external environment is an illusion."

Given his introspection, it's no surprise that he's a great fan of fellow juror Apichatpong's work, singling out "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" as a favorite. "I find him to be a fascinating humanist in many ways."

While Avary's own filmography may lack Apichatpong's soothing qualities, his two feature-length directing credits (not counting "Glitterati," which was constructed from footage of a wild Eurotrip seen in "Rules of Attraction" but never released) contain heavy, immersive stories about people losing control of their lives and struggling to understand their priorities. No matter the loud, angry people they focus on, Avary's movies contain an intimacy that holds up.

This October will mark the tenth anniversary of "Rules of Attraction" hitting theaters in the U.S. Avary said would like the movie to receive a special anniversary release, but has yet to convince distributor Lionsgate. Seen outside the context of its initial release, it remains an enjoyably surreal endeavor that messes with the characters and viewer alike by constantly rewinding various party scenes, drawing us into seemingly inconsequential moments of hedonistic indulgences and rendering them bleakly poetic. Avary, who drew from personal experience for certain moments in spite of taking cues from the novel, described it as a form of self-analysis. "On the initial release of the film, my intention was to make something about events in my life that I had observed and lived," he said. "I was writing as a social critic of myself."

Much of Avary's output, both as a director and screenwriter, places his literary perspective inside a showy entertainment mold. (Unsurprisingly, he's also a fervent gamer who collects vintage arcade systems and speaks excitedly about the medium's current potential. "If Stanley Kubrick had been alive today and making videogames, he would have made 'Portal,'" Avary said, referencing the recent Valve franchise.) However, until we see Verhoeven's "Jesus of Nazareth," no movie scripted by Avary better demonstrates the marriage of spectacle and historical inquiry better than "Beowulf."

Prior to selling the property and taking a screenwriting credit along with Neil Gaiman, Avary hoped to direct that project for years. (Robert Zemeckis directed.) Having taken a lesser role in that passion project, Avary found himself in a tough headspace even before the 2008 disaster that changed his life. "I began to ask myself, 'Who am I as a filmmaker right now?'" he said. "And I didn't know what I had to say."

Now he has a solution and sounds tentatively hopeful about it. "When you're a writer, you pull your life into your work," he said. "My first love is cinema. That's where I want to be judged."

At that exact moment, a small finch landed immediately beside us, sidling up to Avary's espresso. Avary turned to it and smiled. "Oh, hello!" he said. The bird sat there for a moment and stared back before fluttering off. Avary watched it go. "That's amazing," he said. "What a beautiful bird." For the first time, beneath his sunglasses, his eyes appeared to light up.

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15 Comments

  • Factoid | June 12, 2013 10:24 PMReply

    Really? One glass of wine... then explain this:

    Judge Bruce Clark granted motions to split a blood sample taken from Avary so the defense can confirm – or rebut – prosecution findings that the defendant had a blood-alcohol level of .11 when the tragic accident occurred just near Boardman Road on Ojai Avenue. A blood-alcohol level of .08 or greater constitutes drunken driving in California.

  • Sperky | August 7, 2012 1:00 PMReply

    Ojai you are a pedagogue and a fool. First off, he pled guilty because rednecks in Ventura (like Ojai) played the system and made that the only way out. He had one glass of wine and was not drunk. Andreas wasn't his friend he had only had one dinner with the guy, that night. Gretchen Avary (wife) was almost killed too. A young neighborhood girl came forward and admitted to driving them into a ditch. Successive prosecutors kept putting the case off, because there wasn't one. Avary paid millions to the victim's family. On and on and on. But then some anonymous puke calling themselves by the inbred city where this happened comes on here and speaks as if they know ANYTHING and it is disgusting to me. Shame on you.

  • Sperky | August 7, 2012 2:16 PM

    Being an inbred Ventura redneck I don't expect your reading skills to be all that good. My point was clear that Roger showed ENORMOUS contrition despite minimal responsibility. You remain disgusting.

  • From Ojai | August 7, 2012 2:10 PM

    Thank you for proving my point about a lack of contrition. It's epidemic, apparently.

  • From Ojai | August 6, 2012 7:05 PMReply

    We're willing to forgive mistakes, but wow, he doesn't sound the least bit contrite for having killed a man. Terrible loss that occurred? That's not measuring your words very carefully.

  • From Ojai | August 6, 2012 11:55 PM

    You should read what the Italians had to say about Avary. Anyway, kudos to the reporter for asking the tough questions.

  • Joe-Bob | August 6, 2012 11:33 PM

    Uh no, Ojai, he doesn't compare himself to a POW. You went ahead and made that up.

    This isn't rocket science. Incarcerated baddies •and• goodies get through their sentences by taking inspiration from others who've suffered -- Jesus, Ghandi, Stockdale and heck, even Epictetus. Learning from those who've gone before.

    I'd be much more suspicious if Avary wore his sorrow on a sleeve, the way everyone here seems to want. The American taste for hypocrisy is wide and deep, reaching even as far as Shangri La.

  • From Ojai | August 6, 2012 11:22 PM

    He's galvanized by his incarceration, learned we don't have control (yet it was all in his control), he passively references "the terrible loss that occurred "(which he caused) and he compares himself to a POW. But yeah, let's talk about his film career.

  • Joe-Bob | August 6, 2012 9:33 PM

    Choosing your words exactly is a sure sign of contrition, just as effusive apologies are the mark of a bullshitter. Many in the hair-shirt crowd will resent that his having a career at all at this point, let alone a busy one. I think that's what you're picking up on.

  • Mark Rabinowitz | August 6, 2012 5:32 PMReply

    Nicely done, Eric!

  • Jeremy Walker | August 6, 2012 2:51 PMReply

    Great feature Eric. I totally appreciate your reporting:

    "This October will mark the tenth anniversary of "Rules of Attraction" hitting theaters in the U.S. Avary said would like the movie to receive a special anniversary release, but has yet to convince distributor Lionsgate. Seen outside the context of its initial release, it remains an enjoyably surreal endeavor that messes with the characters and viewer alike by constantly rewinding various party scenes, drawing us into seemingly inconsequential moments of hedonistic indulgences and rendering them bleakly poetic."

    I would offer to your readers that if you look again at AMERICAN PSYCHO and RULES OF ATTRACTION you will encounter similar sensations of timelessness you evoke in your dispatch. It's an argument for Ellis overall that both movies have ripened without aging one teensy bit.

    JW

  • tom | August 6, 2012 12:01 PMReply

    great interview!

  • shelly | August 6, 2012 10:28 AMReply

    Going from his drunk driving incarceration for killing his friend to a prisoner of war's 7 year stretch being tortured is not the best way to gain empathy from other people. Not the same thing dude.

  • Tim | August 6, 2012 4:59 PM

    I think we all sussed that Avary wasn't comparing himself to Stockdale. He was talking about a coping mechanism he learned from Stockdale.

  • Hipstercrite | August 6, 2012 10:07 AMReply

    Great interview!