Interview

 
 
Place: New York

Diamond Within

Art Categories:  Movie

In rising filmmaker J.R. Hughto’s second feature “Diamond on Vinyl,” Charlie (Sonja Kinski), a young mysterious photographer, accidentally encounters couple Henry (Brian McGuire) and Beth (Nina Millin) after Henry’s fateful confession to Beth that he has been recording their lovemaking. Henry and Charlie begin to secretly connect, as if they are both aware that their interaction will eventually one day end. Henry tries to seek the truth inspired by a vinyl that he is obsessed with and Charlie searches for certainty in her life and herself while the world is accessible only through the viewfinder.

 

Whoever you are and whatever you do, human beings tend to want something different from their current situation, although we are often unsure about what we really desire. Mr. Hughto intimately and sensitively illustrates this ambiguity of the human condition in “Diamond on Vinyl.” No matter how much you have of what you want, no matter how much you rehearse, you will never gain eternal perfection because frailty dwells in perfection. Moment by moment perfection goes by, moment by moment perfection comes along. If you look at the diamond in front of you, it’s easy to be blind about the diamond within.

 

 

COOL met director/writer/producer J.R. Hughto (left) and actress Sonja Kinski (right) at Hotel on Rivington to discuss their collaboration “Diamond on Vinyl.”

What quality of Sonja fascinates you?

J.R.: What I was excited about in her first audition was two-fold: her energy and her ability to make everyone around her aware of her and be in her space. Everything in the audition became a reaction to what Sonja was doing rather than merely call and response of the lines. To be able to do that immediately was very impressive. And then, Sonja’s intuition as an actor. I remember the first day of shooting, there’s a scene where she goes to visit Beth in Beth’s home. We’d gone through the first take and none of us were really pleased with it, and when we went for the second, Sonja immediately found ways to push us. Her intuition defined ways to re-spin the scene and to put new energy into it, to make everybody wake up.

 

Your character Charlie is unclear about her future and wants to experience something else. Could you talk about your sympathy towards your character?

Sonja: It’s difficult when you don’t know what you want and you’re conflicted. I find myself very conflicted a lot of the time. It’s all emotional, it’s all inner stuff and that’s what we as human beings are: we’re emotions.

 

The characters in the film want something different from their current situations or lives, why did you want to illustrate that vague but familiar feeling?

J.R.: It’s something we all go through at different times in our lives. That’s also the reason I wanted to have a person in their twenties and people in their thirties. Thinking about how that kind of friction continually, cyclically comes through our lives, about reevaluation about what we want or fear of what we want. For me, it was really about: how do you take these moments in our lives where we’re uncertain about our own desire and the fear of our own desire and make that cinematic? How do you find ways to make poor decisions be understandable? One of the challenges was, when you read the script, you could think these people were pretty bad people: that Charlie was heartless, that Henry was awful.  So how do you find ways through the performance and through the way the film plays out narratively to allow empathy in? That the audience can feel empathy for the character and the characters can feel empathy for each other? How can you make it so that it’s understandable that Beth and Charlie become friends despite the situation?

 

During the film we watch people who peep into other people’s lives through devices. Could you talk about why you focused on this obsession of voyeurism?

J.R.: We live in an age of voyeurism except it’s actually not necessarily voyeurism because we’re doing it to ourselves. We live in a moment of self-mediation: I’m going to take a picture of myself, I’m going to post it on Facebook or Instagram or whatever and it’s going to become this view of my life that I’m permitting others to see, that I’m trying to control. So all of the characters in the film are trying to control the way that they’re represented, whether it’s Henry rehearsing or whether it’s Charlie and the photography and the way she’s trying to reach out and find who she is. It’s about this idea of control and, of course, the knowledge that we don’t really have control. That control is false. The idea of it is seductive but we don’t actually have it.

 

I think Charlie’s idea of privacy is different from Henry’s. She gives him her phone number with her portrait casually. Could you talk about your personal perspective towards privacy?

Sonja: I’m very private. Which is very different from her. I would never do what she does but that’s why I was fascinated by her. I don’t want to play roles that are like me.

 

Recording things with devices is our society’s phenomena now. Anyone can record anything. Could you talk about your thoughts on that?

Sonja: It’s pretty much the same thing as Facebook, it’s just shunned because it’s not as common. Also, we do it in our heads. We do it all the time. I have conversations in my head all the time about what I’m going to say and then what you’re going to say and I go off into a spin, you know? I guess it’s how you look at it.

 

J.R.: The technology accelerates the change of the subculture, which is a fancy way of saying when I was a kid, people didn’t have naked photos of themselves and if they did, and they were found, you would think that that person doesn’t have good parents or is weird or on drugs. Now it’s become more accepted because of the acceleration of technology, the way we share things and the way that we can join as a community. You can be part of a community and never actually meet the other person. If you’re like-minded, that’s enough through the internet. Some of my closest friends I’ve met online, and when I met them everyone thought it was weird that I had friends online. Now, ten years later, no one would think that was weird. So many people meet their spouse through dating websites. To look at the change in our lifetime between what’s public and private because of technology, it’s extreme when you step back. But when you’re in it, it doesn’t feel extreme at all. It feels totally normal.

 

J.R., you are 35 years old, so I guess you remember a time when people weren’t as eager to record things like today. What do you think has changed in human quality between those days and now?

J.R.: Honestly I think it’s just availability. We all carry phones that can do video, audio and still pictures. They also are interconnected to all of our social media, and the fact that that exists means we are going to use it and means it’s going to become normalized.  We’re all going to think it’s normal to take a picture of our dinner and post it on Facebook even though you’d never think that’s normal fifteen years ago. When you say it out loud, you could say it’s still odd. But I do it.  It’s natural for us to make technology and then use it. And once we use it, it becomes part of our culture. Like the technology itself, that change is accelerating.

 

Sometimes while having dinner or at a concert, people are taking photos. Everyone is taking photos but why can’t we just enjoy the moment?

J.R.: Yeah. Well, part of the enjoyment now is documenting and sharing the fact that you were there, that you ate this meal, that you saw this concert or this person. Part of our enjoyment is doing that. You could say maybe you’re not living in the moment but maybe you are. It’s hard to say.  It’s become a really big part of how we interact with people, too: “I’m going to like this post because I like this person.” And it’s not only a thing that we know is happening, it’s a thing that the sites are tracking.

 

Most of the characters in the film are lonely, not just the three main characters. What does loneliness speak to you?

J.R.: It’s the modern condition. Maybe it’s always been our condition. Loneliness is one of the primary elements of drama because it is longing. It’s longing for connection, whether with another person or something else. It’s something that we all understand because we all have been lonely. It’s also something that causes us to want to act. So we have the ability to be empathetic, we can understand someone. There’s the scene where Charlie is propositioned by the john; we talked about why does Charlie want to do this, why does Charlie feel for this other person because, theoretically, this should be an awful person. One of the keys to that scene is because she understands that he’s lonely.

 

Sonja: No one is awful. Everyone’s coming from a hard place. Just because they want sex doesn’t mean they’re awful. That’s just another way to cope. Some people eat, some people are sex addicts, some people shop, some people are drug addicts. Loneliness is a part of our reasons.

 

J.R.: And there’s a great tradition of that. Some of the films that were most influential to me, like Coppola’s “The Conversation” and the Dardenne Brothers’ “The Son,” one of the ways they function is the obsession in part due to loneliness and the need for a connection.

 

Have you always been conscious about being an actor since your childhood? If not, how did the mind shift happen?

Sonja: It happened when I had experienced it for myself. I always saw my mom doing it. I didn’t understand what it was, other than her work. When I did it myself, I liked it. And then when I took an intensive acting workshop, I really fell in love with it.

 

How did this project elevate your motivation for acting?

Sonja: In the way that J.R. was very trusting of me and us. I realized that improvising is something I really like. I flourish, I feel more comfortable improvising. It’s something I’d like to try more.

 

Any new projects coming?

Sonja: Yeah, there’s “Beautiful Now” coming out, and another indie movie called “She’s Allergic to Cats.”

 

J.R.: I’m working on the new draft of my next project right now. It’s a film about politics, a failed socialist revolution, called “Age of Concrete.” If “Diamond on Vinyl” is about the politics of the interpersonal and of the bedroom, the new film is very much about Americans’ problem with having a dual identity of both extreme individualism and extreme community.

 

 

text & portrait photo by Taiyo Okamoto

still photos by Independent Movie Supply Co.

 

Diamond on Vinyl” is available on VOD from December 1st and in select theaters on December on December 7th.
You can find more information about the film and screening information on http://www.diamondonvinyl.net