Craig Gillespie is one eclectic dude. His filmography, which includes 2007's Lars and the Real Girl, 2011's remake of Fright Night, TV series United States of Tara, and a Kid Cudi music video might best be described as just south of, well, schizophrenic. And that was how I came to interview him for his latest, [Million Dollar Arm](movie:397703), wondering how in the hell the director behind a move in which Ryan Gosling had a romantic relationship with a sex doll could ever have been asked to helm - and chose to accept - a feel-good Disney sports movie.
As it turns out, there's a method to his madness.
Your movie history is sort of...all over the place...
It's about as extreme as can be! [laughs]
So what it is about this film that made you say, “Yes this is the project that I want to do next"?
Well, it’s funny. It obviously, on the surface I feel, it looks like a crazy trajectory between this and the three films but they’re all mixing genres and they got this baseline of humor and Tom [McCarthy] had that in his writing obviously with Million Dollar Arm and I love Tom’s work. Humor, mixed with drama and the emotion and that was very similar, in my mind, to what Lars was doing during that dance. And even in Fright Night it’s the humor and horror of it. Somehow I keep putting myself in that box which is a tricky little dance to do.
It makes for a tough dance to do but that's where the highlights are at and I love when you get in that situation as an audience that you’re watching a film and you have to decide what you think is funny or emotional. You get different reactions from audiences, so they're projecting their own experience on to it and I’m not telling them, “Here’s the punchline guys! Right here, laugh!”
There’s a lot more laughter than you expected from a Disney sports movie. But the cast all had such great comedic timing! Did that make it easier to bring more humor into it than you had anticipated?
I really wanted to be able to mind the humor but always from an organic place, so you got to find the actors that can do that. That’s tricky but once you have the actors - Like John, he’s done the drama - the Madmen and his feature work and he's done some really broad comedies so I knew he could do it and I was really excited to put it into one film. Lake, again, she’s so grounded but she’s so funny. Pitobash, in terms of mining humor, you could just let him go and he can find moments but it was all coming from understanding his character and what he’s going through. Once they’re coming from an authentic place the humor even resonates more.
With Suraj and Madhur, who are slightly newer especially to American audiences did you find that you had to change your approach with how you directed them versus how you directed the rest of the cast?
Everybody has their different methods of working. You have to acclimate to that and figure out where they need encouragement and where they don’t. Everyone has different rhythms. The best I can do is just inform them where I think their character is at this point through the film. The interesting part, actually at one point Suraj said to me - because he’s actually the baby of the group. This is his second movie. I like that the actors can bring some spontaneity to the scenes so suddenly he’s finding himself with four actors who are improvising that he has to react to, he said to me that it took him some time getting used to because he’s used to talking to a tennis ball. Now he has this whole cast going on and it’s all, in the best way, unpredictable.
It was interesting the way the camera changed. From India where it was frenetic and handheld. It conveyed the feel of clamor and then back to L.A. where it was steadier. Was that your choice?
No, it was written out. We shot India on film and then digital in the States. We wanted this vitality and this life to India and the boys world so we very deliberately did a lot of handheld stuff, a lot of layered foreground elements so that there was always this energy and this excitement about their world. Then when you come to the States the camera really settles down. It’s more walked off, slow moves, very clean frames and monochromatic frames to really show their alienation in being here, being so far away from home and it just not working.
There was so much in the film that was kind of what we were experiencing at the time. The cows, the noise, and the chaos. Just the lack of control that we would have in certain situations. So, I think it was very easy for the actors - for all of us - to draw from that experience as well.
Did you encounter unexpected challenges that were specific to filming in India?
Oh yeah, every day! Every day there was a certain… Because we were trying to shoot in these location that were stunning, but difficult locations. And really, the lack of control. But we knew that going in and we just embraced it trying to get what we would get. We’d get stopped, sometimes we wouldn't, locals would get in the shows, or you know, disruptions, a cow would come through or a police officer would walk right into the shot and ask us what we were doing. [laughs]
That freedom was so exhilarating. There was this scene at the end of the film, we’re in a village outside of Agra, which is four hours outside of Deli. I mean, I’m sure they haven’t had a film crew there ever. We were shooting in another area and then we raced in the day before and we got to do this scene with a bunch of kids at the end of the movie. And I said; “Can we just get a bunch of kids from the village to come out?” So I met them all and was like; “You, you, you and you come back tomorrow. We’re going to shoot a scene. I love your outfit, just wear what you’re wearing.”
Was it challenging working with extras that just weren't actors at all?
Like, Dinesh's father [in the film], I don’t think had much acting experience at all, but on the flip-side Rinku’s mother - there’s so much casting going on and I didn't meet her until that day. She didn’t speak any English at all. We were doing this goodbye scene, very quickly, off the cuff and I told the boys that I wanted them to just to a traditional Indian farewell to your parents here. I didn’t know they were going to go down and kiss her feet but that was the traditional farewell! So, suddenly the camera’s going around and all this stuff. But explaining that this is what we’re doing to her - with that crowd - there were eight or nine people translating for me, you know, trying to help but it was kind of like; “Guys come on, like, not all at once!” You know, you go with it but at some point you have to stop talking and yell “ACTION!”