Like “Salt” and “The Exploding Girl,” American independent filmmaker Bradley Rust Gray often channels his emotions through female characters. His new feature film “Jack & Diane” is no exception. Diane (Juno Temple), visiting New York City from England, gets lost and accidentally encounters the boyish Jack (Riley Keough). Instant attraction leads to unexpected, passionate love, however Jack soon discovers that Diane is moving to Paris in two weeks. With special effects by Gabe Bartalos and animation by The Brothers Quay, Mr. Rust Gray explores the girls’ young love which is sweet and innocent, and at the same time grotesque and monstrous. The anger and loneliness of youth are especially heightened in Mr. Rust Gray’s stories, while he quietly and compassionately captures characters who are hurt. Sometimes unfairness and fear overwhelm us more than happiness, but because of that we are able to find humane and touching moments through painful and frustrating experiences. Mr. Rust Gray’s keen eyes and sensitive heart never miss the transparent dialogues and delicate beauty meandering in the air.
“Most pop songs are about love and falling in love and that’s my area of interest as well. But it’s treated like this little candy that you have on a desk, it’s a pop song. But if you listen them, when they’re done sincerely, you can feel it”
“Jack & Diane” is a film about young love. Do you remember your experience in terms of young love? and what it felt like?It was really special but it was very different from the film. Now that I look back it’s not that I was really in love. You know, it was sort of like I was with somebody, you know, for the first time. A lot of my films are about that, they’re all mainly about the moment I met my wife. About that feeling: oh, you met your soulmate. There’s nothing going to stand between you. Even if she had a boyfriend and I had a girlfriend at the time, they’re just like small — you know. Something you had to brush aside and you just wanted to spend every moment, you just wanted to start living with them immediately. You don’t ever want to be apart from them, the moment you see them.
In the director’s statement you said young love is a monster. Why do you think sensitivity and vulnerability come out as powerful violence inside?I think somewhere along the lines when I was working on the film and the subject matter something began to creep up, which was this idea of realizing you’re vulnerable. At first, yes you just want to be with them forever, you want to give everything to them. And then maybe they don’t call you back right away sometime or something small happens, there’s a miscommunication and you become really insecure and you realize, “What if they don’t like me back as much as I like them?” And you get terrified. The idea was to create that sense of fear about love in the audience by using different genre techniques.
Gabe Bartalos did the creature design and the Quay Brothers did the animation. How did they get on board?I wrote a Masters thesis on their work a long time ago when I was in London studying. I met them in ‘95 and they’re sort of like unofficial mentors. I don’t think they would say that. They’ve read all of my scripts and they just emailed me today with something I’m working on. They’re just a wealth of information and just wonderful. So it was a dream of mine when I had an idea of doing animation in the film of asking them. Then my wife and I asked them a few years back if they would do animation for the film and they said yes. We never really talked about what it was, they just said, “OK, it’s fine, don’t worry about it.” They’re really humble and incredibly talented. The idea was just to give them a very open palette to let them do their magic. Probably my greatest thrill on the film was being able to work with them like that.
About the casting of Juno Temple and Riley Keough. I thought they were excellent and very brave. What attracted you to them?I met them at different times. Juno’s very present. When you meet her you realize she has a wealth of life experiences. But inside that, what I saw, is this very gentle little girl who is the heart of the character. I was looking for someone who could bring Diane to life by bringing part of herself into the character. That’s what I saw with Juno. When I wrote the script the character wasn’t English, but I wanted to bring more of Juno into Diane so we added that element where she could be herself a little bit more. And Riley, the character of Jack is very determined. It’s more like she had to become Jack. Diane needed to become more the other actress, but the actress needed to become more of Jack because she’s so firmly adamant. Riley interested me because of her eyes, I thought, were really serious but the rest of her is not. I thought that would be a good combination. We found her a month before we started shooting and the film took maybe eight years to put together. But all that time was worthwhile once I met her. I was like, “OK, this is why it took so long, so I had to find the right person to play this part.” The character doesn’t have the depth of vulnerability without the performance that Riley brought to it.
About “Only You.” That song represents that Jack has a sensitive, romantic inner sanctuary. Why did you choose that song?When I was working on the script I was staying at a friend’s apartment in Barcelona and they had this Best Collection of the ‘80s European Hits CD. I was familiar with it from when I was younger. It’s not my favorite song but there was something about that version of the song, which is actually by The Flying Pickets not Yaz; it’s just monumental. It’s so huge. I liked that sense of a pop song because it’s basically about the same subject matter I’m interested. Most pop songs are about love and falling in love and that’s my area of interest as well. But it’s treated like this little candy that you have on a desk, it’s a pop song. But if you listen them, when they’re done sincerely, you can feel it. And that’s an example of a song that’s very catchy and easy to listen to but you can feel that there’s a real depth of sincerity behind the feelings in the song. It’s a cheesy but healthy at the same time.
It really matches with Jack’s character. She’s tough on the outside, but kind of sensitive…Right. It’s the song she would never admit to anybody that she would listen to. Exactly. She’s wearing a Ministry shirt but she’s listening to Yaz. It’s not even cool in a retro sense. It’s just sweet.
“I was really, really angry and hurt at that time and I wanted to make a character that I could look up to, that didn’t act the way that I normally would. So I was making her as somebody for me to want to be”
Could you talk about the environment you grew up in when you were a kid? Do you remember any memories that made you think, “Oh I want to make films”?I wasn’t really raised in an overly creative house. My dad has a doctorate in finance and my mother was a housewife. They passed away when I was about nine, and I went to Florida. I grew up in a motel with my aunt and uncle and my sister. And their two sons became our brothers. It’s a regular small town in Florida. There wasn’t anything that creative. I guess, like other people interested in the arts, I started to take an art class and began to like it a lot. The Quay Brothers did animations for MTV, promo spots. That was the first time I saw their work. The first time I saw anything visually different was on MTV. I was really intrigued by it. I went to the library and I didn’t know what to look for. I looked up “cult films” and you get stuff like “The Bride of Frankenstein” and so you are misguided. Then I went to school and I was interested in architecture and film, and they were two things you couldn’t do together. They’re too big. So I decided to study architecture. I did that for two years and I thought, “This is maybe too long of a…” I saw a documentary on John Cage and I wanted to do art once I saw that. I was convinced. I applied to the Art Institute of Chicago and there it was a very open environment where you are encouraged to study different things. So I studied sculpture and other material forms of art, as well as started taking film. I began to understand that part of the world, the beginning of my interest in film. I was taught mainly experimental film. Bruce Conner. Andrei Tarkovsky would be a popcorn day, “Wow, people are talking. Synch sound.” It was a big Friday special. I graduated in sculpture. I did an exchange program in Iceland and just wanted to study one thing because I felt too spread out. I had this idea in my head that I’ll study sculpture and I’ll go back and do film until I make two feature films, and then I was gonna go back to sculpture. This is, you know, when you’re younger and you have this idea of “this is what I’m gonna do.” Of course it takes forever to make a feature film. I went to two different schools. And now I’ve made three and I’ve started making films with my wife. It’s almost just now that we really enjoy it.
You’ve done several films but I still believe that “The Exploding Girl” is your most personal film so far. It’s sweet and sincere, but at the same time there is a lot of anger. And when I think about “Jack & Diane,” it’s also sweet and sincere but there is a lot of anger, too. So I thought anger is a very important element for you in creating stories…I don’t know, I never thought of it. Yeah. I’m interested in strong emotions. That’s really perceptive. Maybe there’s this underlying thing that is always going on, sometimes more present and sometimes less, about why you’re here and what does life mean. People tend to gravitate towards people who have similar interests. Maybe that’s because you’re searching for answers to some of these questions that you don’t vocalize a lot. I think the characters I come up with have some of the same issues and fears that I do, and then in turn, the actors that I’m interested in playing those roles can channel some of those same things as well. You make something in order to understand it. You have an idea, and I think making the film is about trying to figure out why you had the idea to begin with. Executing it is part of communicating with a lower consciousness part of yourself, where the idea came from. It’s this cycle and when you bring other people in you start to create, hopefully, something that is more universal. I’m going to have to ask you later where that came from. I don’t know — Yeah, that’s weird — I guess so — OK, I have the anger problem sometimes, it’s funny. And especially in “Exploding Girl,” you know it’s so subdued.
Yeah she’s so angry from beginning to almost the end.Yeah but she’s so quiet about it, she doesn’t say it.
She’s so nice to people but not to herself…I made that film actually because I worked on “Jack & Diane” for eight years and I had cast another actress for the part, and she was part of our family. It was like me, So (Yong Kim) and her, we worked on that film for years. And she couldn’t do the film. But at the time it was put on hold, it was like, “Oh she can’t do it for a year.” And in a way it was a release because I could think about something else. Prior to that I couldn’t work on any other projects. It was like maybe “Jack & Diane” will happen in two months, but the time just kept going. So once it was that first break of a year off, that next day I had this idea for this film. But I feel like a lot of that feeling was coming from having worked on “Jack & Diane” for so long and holding it. This idea of waiting for somebody to call you back, of not knowing what’s going on, not wanting to burden other people with your problems, is so much a part of Ivy’s character. I was really, really angry and hurt at that time and I wanted to make a character that I could look up to, that didn’t act the way that I normally would. So I was making her as somebody for me to want to be. It’s funny that you drew that out.
“I think the small moments in somebody’s life are a reflection on the bigger course of one’s life. You live your life in these small moments. You might remember big dramatic accidents, but the life you really live is these in-between moments”
In your films, I often feel like I’m peeping what these characters are doing. So the whole atmosphere is very intimate. And that intimacy excites me. Could you talk about how intimacy is important for your films?I like quiet moments between people. I really love films with great dialogue, but I don’t think my films have great dialogue. I really like it if the actors forget their lines, and I really like it if they are not really prepared. I’m not upset if they are prepared, but I like a sense of them forgetting where they are. And I feel like I can’t make complete sentences. Other people can. You know, people from England. When they start talking it’s like they have the end of the sentence figured out before they start the sentence. I don’t start a sentence knowing where I’m going, and I guess my characters do the same thing. Hopefully the idea is that it feels like the way people normally try to express themselves. They start talking and then they forget what they’re saying or they don’t know exactly where they’re going. I think the small moments in somebody’s life are a reflection on the bigger course of one’s life. You live your life in these small moments. You might remember big dramatic accidents, but the life you really live is these in-between moments. These small fears that are creeping on you. You get an email from a friend, the tone is weird and your whole day is off. Everybody lives their life with high stakes. When you study film they’re like, “You have to make high stakes: this guy has to rob a bank and there’s a bomb inside that’s gonna blow up.” Which is entertaining but for me, finding the small moments is about finding the things that everybody can relate to.
Since we talked about intimacy, when you meet people what do you see? Do you see particular behaviors?There’s an energy or something. It’s funny, we just met a friend. I live in upstate New York and our daughter goes to this school, it’s on a farm. So you drive in and you drop off the kid and there’s buses coming in too. You say hello but you don’t spend too much time because there’s this German woman with a walkie-talkie that’s actually my daughter’s teacher and everybody’s scared of her. Another friend of mine who brought us there pulled in and we were next to each other, and she had this new boyfriend with her. She was like, “Say hello,” and his window wasn’t rolled down. And just then this German woman was like, “Move your car! I have a bus coming!” We had to leave and he sticks his hand out halfway through, and we said hello, and then that was it. The next day I realized he was an actor and he was in a movie I had seen recently. I texted my friend and was like, “Is your friend this guy?” and she’s like, “Yeah.” But my wife and I were also talking about how nice he was, “Oh, we like that guy but we just met him through a window, through a handshake.” But certain people just have a charm. Or trust. Certain people are just open. I guess that’s what you look for, right? You look for this openness. What do you look for when you meet someone?
Maybe chemistry or energy. What I say completely changes by people’s energy.Like, you become more open if they are openly accepting.
“I’m writing about myself but the way of disguising it is by making these obstacles. Trying to misguide the attention towards myself”
I want to talk about identity because you create stories of young girls. Tilda Swinton was saying that she’s interested in the concept of identity, but she doesn’t believe in identity. Sometimes identity pushes me, like what I should do. This is a big subject but what is identity for you? Because you often write about young girls.I’m writing about myself but the way of disguising it is by making these obstacles. Trying to misguide the attention towards myself. So if it’s a girl that makes it a lot easier. My first film was in Icelandic and the language helped. That girl in the story just came to me out of the ether, but a lot of it also came from the fact that I grew up in Florida and I felt very, really like I didn’t belong there. I felt like I was stuck on an island. In that sense this is about a girl who lives in a really tiny village on an island who also feels like she doesn’t belong where she is. My wife does almost the opposite: she makes films that are very close to her personal experience. And she does it very well. But my first immediate things are to disguise it, make it different. I didn’t set out to make films about girls. I’m doing a film about an older girl now. I’m kind of working on a guy film too. It’s interesting for me because you find out about the opposite sex. I don’t understand it.
Do you feel more free?Yeah, if it’s my voice as a girl it’s much easier, exactly. Because Jack’s kind of rude. If it’s a guy it comes off as an asshole, when it’s a girl she comes off as hurt and troubled. She’s based on a friend of mine, who’s a guy, that I really admire because he always tells the truth. But sometimes he tells the truth too much, you know. You have to get used to it. But I really like that and I look up to him so I used him as an influence on her.
What project are you working on right now?It takes place in Japan, actually. There’s an actor there I want to work with and I started writing the part for him, and then the tsunami happened about two weeks after that. But I’d already thought about Japan and then it just really started drawing me in more. Japanese is really interesting. I lived in Tokyo for a year and I like so many Japanese food, novels and films. And the people are really nice. But there’s also this dark history, dark, evil, bad that you don’t talk about at all. It’s like this nice question had, “Why are you angry?” It’s like the same thing like that. I didn’t mean to start going into that but someway the film is going into that. My character’s white but it’s in Japan; it makes it so difficult how she communicates because I want to go inside her but she can’t talk. At the same time these things keep resurfacing about my love for Japan and my intrigue by the thing. It’s also a chance to explore [manga writer] Rumiko Takahashi, and the film’s influenced a lot by “Maborosi.” I’m hoping to tie in elements from that film; it’s one of my favorite Japanese films.
You like quiet films, right?I like quiet films. Even more, Ozu. I mean he’s ichiban (the best), without a doubt. But for me, I think everybody likes Kurosawa and Mizoguchi. But So and I like Imamura niban (the second) and his films aren’t quiet. I like them both! But “Maborosi” very quiet, was a big influence on me when I was younger and the type of films I wanted to make. And we had a chance to meet Kore-eda whose “Nobody Knows,” was a huge influence on my wife’s film “Treeless Mountain.” And “Café Lumière” even though it’s made by a non-Japanese director. “Exploding Girl” is almost a remake of that film. We did shots where the camera moves are the same. There’s three or four real strong references to that film. It’s not really a film people are familiar with but it’s my favorite film.
text & photo by Taiyo Okamoto
“Jack & Diane” opens on Friday November 2nd
WRITER / DIRECTOR: Bradley Rust Gray
CAST: Juno Temple, Riley Keough, Cara Seymour, Kylie Minogue, Dane DeHaan
CREATURE DESIGN: Gabe Bartalos
ANIMATION: Stephen Quay & Timothy Quay