The heart of “Jack and Diane,” the third film from Bradley Rust Gray, isn’t about it being a monster movie. It’s about looking at a love story and seeing that there’s qualities that Gray brings to this relationship that perfectly reflect first love: bright and flighty Diane (Juno Temple) is visiting her aunt in New York and finds herself falling for Jack (Riley Keough), a rougher and more butch girl working in a skate shop. As their first night culminates in a kiss, Diane’s feelings overtake her body, turning her into a snarling, grotesque beast with hair and wires snaking around her organs. Whether Diane’s hiding a deadly fact about herself, or if it’s just Gray playing with metaphor as their relationship evolves over a week, is entirely up to the audience.
The Playlist talked with Gray and co-star Riley Keough about working on their first special effects sequence, creating and living in characters with a detached camera, and how famed animators The Brothers Quay saved Gray from having to use a pig, a pool and a medical camera in place of their trademark work.
Going back to an earlier interview you gave at Tribeca for “The Exploding Girl,” you said you wanted that film to have a documentary feel. Did you want to take the same approach when shooting “Jack and Diane”?
Bradley Rust Gray: I had a certain idea of how the film would always look. We wound up doing “Exploding Girl” first and we tried out some things for “Jack and Diane.” So, I tried a different visual approach, which became the camera being really far away. We tried doing that here in certain scenes where the actors, Riley and Juno, had little mics on and the camera was so far away no one knew they were being filmed. And then there’s a lot of more intimate moments where you’re with the two girls; then there’s the third way the visuals in the film are really controlled in certain sequences, when the creature’s there. These shots in the beginning when the camera’s moving along the side.
As an actress, how was it dealing with a camera that almost wasn’t there.
Riley Keough: It was really nice. It’s not often you get to do that. You get used to pretending that the camera isn’t there, but when it’s really not there we’d be walking down the street and I wouldn’t have any attention on that at all. It makes you able to not have attention on anything except what you’re doing.
How’d the Brothers Quay get involved with the animated sequences?
BRG: I wrote my dissertation on them a long time ago, so I got to meet them then. We’ve been in touch since then. I’m a huge fan of their work. They’re my unofficial mentors, I’m always asking them questions. My wife [So Yong Kim] and I asked them a couple of years ago if they could do the animations for the film. That was basically it. They said yeah, let’s go get dinner.
Was the animation finished first?
BRG: No, the last thing. There were so many other things in the film. We had a read, and then there was a moment where they couldn’t do it. So a French company came in and they were beautiful and amazing and complicated; they wanted to shoot the whole thing underwater and for me to storyboard it. I wasn’t exactly sure what they wanted me to do. I couldn’t understand exactly what the guy was saying because he had this really thick French accent, but he was enthusiastic and I trusted him. But I called the Quays and said, “Please, please can you guys come to my rescue?” Our schedule got pushed back and they could do it then, so I just gave them a basic outline of what we wanted.
Was the French company going to animate the same sequences the Quays did with stop-motion?
BRG: No, they’re a company called BUF. They did “Spider-Man,” the one with the sand? They’re a huge, huge company. They did an original quote for the entire thing with computer graphics, which ended up being half of our budget. So, we just assumed it wasn’t going to work. But the head of the company called back and he started in stop-motion, so he said he thought that would be a better way of doing it. And he wanted to shoot it with a medical camera, inside of a pig, underwater. Which sounds really great. But again, through this French accent. It would’ve been exciting. But working with their team, I think they’re used to getting the director’s vision exactly and so they wanted to know exactly what I had in mind. My hope was to find somebody to take the seed of an idea and run with it in their own way. The Quays are great as animators.
You’re also dealing with a lot of color repetition as red is used constantly, which can be associated with lust, love, blood. So is that a visual notification we need to be aware of in these specific shots?
BRG: I don’t think of things as direct metaphors for other emotions, but I think of how you might react to seeing something and feeling a little uneasy. It’s not that it represents something, but it’s trying to create a similar queasiness in the audience that the characters have, if that makes sense.
So, what attracted you to the role of Jack?
RK: It was a great script and there was something that had never been done before. I read it as a love story, not as a horror film. I just love love stories in general. We already had Diane (laughs) so I couldn’t be her. I went and talked to (Bradley) about it and I guess he liked me.
How did you build the relationship with Diane? Is it just how you’d naturally react or did you want to convey something else?
RK: I just talked to Brad about it for a while. He wrote it so wonderfully that you could see what their relationship was and it was understanding that. Once you fully understand something, it’s easy to do.
“Jack And Diane” plays again tomorrow and Saturday at the Tribeca Film Festival, before hitting theaters later this summer.