Eclectic Filmmaker Talks James Franco, ‘My Private Idaho,’ Dennis Hopper & His New Coming-Of-Age Romance
The title of Gus Van Sant’s latest picture, “Restless” might as well describe the director himself. Genre-hopping, making movies for both the Hollywood system and himself, and long a fixture on the indie film scene, he’s undoubtedly one of the most significant American filmmakers working today. His lastest is a far cry from his more experimental entries like “Gerry,” “Last Days” or even the “Psycho” remake, tackling the story of two teens in love even as one of them suffers from terminal cancer. It’s yet another new direction for Van Sant and one that will likely land him new fans while giving longtime followers of the director something else to discuss and consider as part of his eclectic filmography.
Mia Wasikowska and Henry Hopper lead the film which has journeyed to Cannes and TIFF, and with “Restless” in theaters this weekend, we sat down and talked with Gus Van Sant, to discuss how the film came together, and the many colorful stops in his career.
1. Gus Van Sant confuses ghosts with imaginary friends.
“Restless” tells the story of a romance between Annabel (Wasikowska) and Enoch (Hopper). However, Enoch has a secret: he has conversations with the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot named Hiroshi (Ryo Kase). “When I first read it, I thought, oh, cool, a ghost!” said Van Sant, who took a more concrete approach to the apparition. “I kind of later thought of Hiroshi as an imaginary friend. A lot of people I had known actually had imaginary friends. You could talk to people about the dynamics. Could they disappear, could they fly?”
2. Dennis Hopper saw the film before his passing.
Young Henry Hopper is the spitting image of his father, the late cinematic trailblazer Dennis Hopper. “Restless” was actually shot more than a year ago, so Henry’s father was alive at the time. “We started as the news found out that Dennis had cancer,” said Van Sant, remembering his conversations with the late iconoclast. “He was sick and he called to say, ‘That looks great,’ very much like a father. I told Henry, you should get your dad to visit the set, but he said, ‘nah, he would feel out of place.’ ”
When shooting wrapped, everyone wanted to know the opinion of the man behind “Easy Rider.” “We gave a copy to Henry so he could show Dennis, just in case. And he got to see it. He always has some funny things to say. He thought that Henry looked like him. And he didn’t think the audience would be happy with the way we shot it, because it’s so static. He said, ‘People these days, they don’t stand still for too long, they need things shaken up.’ ”
3. Gus Van Sant personally wrote letters to the families of each Beatle.
The first scene of “Restless” features The Beatles’ “Two Of Us.” While using a Beatles song isn’t the most affordable expenditure, “Restless” had a leg up, as the picture was at Sony, who owns the rights, and “Restless” had wrapped a good $300,000 under budget. Van Sant noted it’s one of his favorites, saying, “We had saved enough money to afford it, because it was quite expensive. So we were able to call into the department to request it. I wrote a letter that went to the four families and explained how, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a Beatle. Which I think was true for most people my age.”
4. Gus Van Sant freely gave the extra footage of “My Own Private Idaho” to James Franco for the actor’s “Memories of Idaho” art exhibit.
We reported on James Franco presenting two art projects/installations for public consumption, centered around the footage from “My Own Private Idaho.” Turns out, the idea was inspired from Van Sant himself. “[James has] done an hour and a half, and he’s shot a version that’s like an hour long,” says Van Sant, clarifying that Franco’s project was borne from when he showed him outtakes of the 1991 film. Franco is a huge “My Private Idaho” fan, and Van Sant let him see a treasure trove of material including, “an earlier [version of the] script before I wrote the ‘Idaho’ script. There were like three scripts I put together. I was showing him the footage, the outtakes. And he had come up with [this ‘Memories of Idaho’] idea as he was watching it.”
5. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck definitely wrote “Good Will Hunting.”
One of the more popular conspiracy theories in Hollywood centers around Van Sant’s “Good Will Hunting,” written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. The popular rumor suggests William Goldman was the scribe behind the film, or at least substantial re-writes. Instead of being outraged, the always placid director shrugged those comments off. “For some reason, we kept working on it,” Van Sant said, referring to the multiple script drafts. “It was perceived that it needed another draft. Matt and Ben had written ten drafts. I was watching them write entire new scenes. We were very involved in writing new stuff. I never saw any reason to think that someone else was responsible for any previous work.”
6. The filmmaker wants to sees Damon and Affleck return to the script they were working on after “Good Will Hunting”
He did say that the pair, who haven’t written together since their Oscar win, had another script being planned. “There is some kind of script that Matt has written, but I’m not sure,” Van Sant said, a little sketchy with the details. “I think they’ve done what they wanted to do. Right after ‘Good Will Hunting,’ they had a script that they were working on, in the same way. Casey [Affleck] was helping them too. The plot [concerned teenagers] in a halfway house. After they got a ways into [developing] it, there wasn’t really a script yet, and they got too busy. But they did have a script that was going to be the next one, and Ben was going to direct it. They should go back and do that.” We agree, especially since Affleck is a full blown director and Matt’s directorial debut starring John Krasinski is (rumored to be) shooting in the new year.