Fantastic Fest

Fantastic Fest 2016: A Talk with Director Ana Lily Amirpour on Inspiration and ‘The Bad Batch’

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Suki Waterhouse in Ana Lily Amirpour’s ‘The Bad Batch’

The only thing flowing more freely than the champagne during my interview with Ana Lily Amirpour was her honest, unfiltered thoughts. Less than 24 hours removed from the U.S. premiere of her sophomore feature, The Bad Batch, she was still eager to know … did I like the film? Short answer: heck yes. “Phew!” she said when I replied affirmatively.

Amirpour, who let off quite the warning shot with her 2014 debut film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, arrives with a big bang on the fall festival circuit this year. Everything about The Bad Batch is bigger — the budget, the stars, the scope. But Amirpour remains the same animated, attentive artist she has always been, singular in vision and steadfast in execution. In our chat at Fantastic Fest, we talked about her experience making a bigger movie — both in terms of what changed and what stayed the same from her last feature.

When did you start attaching personas to the characters – like saying this is Jim Carrey as this character?

Like Miami Man, when I designed the character, it was for Momoa. I wouldn’t have thought of Miami Man if Jason Momoa didn’t exist, I’ll put it that way.

Arlen [the film’s protagonist, played by Suki Waterhouse] I wrote as an archetypal girl. The Dream [a mysterious figure whose nature remains a mystery for much of the film] … I wanted Keanu. It was like this thing and it was for him in a way. The Hermit [a wandering mute vagabond, played by Jim Carrey] was more archetypal, but as the script got closer and closer to being finished and I was casting, I was like, “Jim.” I knew it was going to be Jim.

What was that pitch like to Jim Carrey? When I think of him, I think of the exact opposite of the Hermit – crazy voices and wild physicality.

I think that’s the thing, too, it’s all about timing. I think every actor – at least the ones that I’ve worked with – want to disappear into a character. And you don’t get the opportunity to do that when you’re Jim Carrey. The audience cannot disassociate anymore. You’re always Jim Carrey.

But he wants to disappear into a character. So when I went to meet him, I knew he was The Hermit. I can’t explain it, it’s a very weird thing to say, but I knew. I showed up at his art studio, and he had this massive beard that I didn’t know about. I showed up and was like, “Uh, YEAH! Have you ever not said a word in a movie?” He was like, “No!”

And he got it. He’s such a physical actor. Just because you’re not saying something doesn’t mean you’re not saying something. Sometimes a snow globe says it all. [NOTE: That last sentence will make sense once viewing The Bad Batch. Until then, it’s better left unexplained.]

Do you think he’s eager to reinvent himself?

I actually think that [The Hermit] is him. There are few people as famous as Jim Carrey. He is so famous that every single person he would walk past anywhere he goes will see him. Which means that no one sees him. He’s invisible, the dirty homeless guy that you ignore at every street corner who’s invisible – you don’t really see him. There’s something connected there, he really got that.

And he’s also this sweet, benevolent kernel of peace and goodness in a very chaotic world. There’s something about casting – for me, when I’m thinking of storytelling and putting stuff together, it’s like now these big movie stars. Even Momoa, who’s a famous actor or whatever, but Jim Carrey and Keanu Reeves are like BIG movie stars. But I think that’s part of what you cast.

I think these something interesting about thinking of Keanu as The Dream, Keanu Reeves playing The Dream in this film. There’s this other level of casting. You are casting Jim as the homeless guy.

There’s an extra mediating layer between them.

Yeah, and that’s interesting because there’s something really real happening laterally for them that’s bringing them into the part. Because I think that was true for both of them [Carrey and Reeves] in a way. There’s something in the DNA of it that’s bubbling and true. Then it becomes something else. It was really fun!

Did you have to adjust from A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which didn’t have these stars?

I work the same. Logistically, there are some different things. At the end of the day, what I do when I’m sitting here is playing a game. I’m nine years old, and I’m making the game. Ok, the princess is in the castle, there’s a dragon outside, you guys are the nights, you’re going to fight and then he’s going to come out the tree … you know what I mean? Like we did as kids. That’s how it is, just more people want to play your game. I have no question of the game I want to play, and that just makes it easy. Then we all play. It’s so fun!

Music communicates so much in the film that character dialogue cannot.

I FUCKING agree with that. 100% yes!

Do you have these specific songs or scenes in mind when you’re writing the script?

Yes, even before the script. I’m writing the next film now, and I have – it’s sort of the same way with The Bad Batch, where the soundtrack is the first thing as it’s written. When I first think of the character, I’m like: her. And then I make this playlist, and I’m like, “She feels like this.” Then it’s like this moment. That moment feels like this. And there’s this playlist, and it starts congealing down into a smaller playlist of things all written in the script.

Every single department head gets it. We play it on set for every scene. When she was out in the desert on acid, I played that song “Otherness.” Fuck, I love music.

So the actors know when there’s going to be music, like, “OK, you’re going to be secondary.”

Well, it takes them, though. They aren’t secondary.

Secondary is the wrong word – it’s accompanying them and bolstering them.

It’s like a wind, and they’re the sail. And suddenly the ship is going.

I really loved all the flourishes around Comfort – the ironic signs, the distinctive outfit flourishes, the detritus. Is that something you’re thinking about when writing the script, or do you work with the department heads on that?

I’m super collaborative with everybody, but I think one of the biggest things I’m interested in doing is creating universes. So it’s kind of more like a Ridley Scott approach. My attention is to locations, art direction and all of the fucking things that you’re going to see. Because once actors have all that, they look that way, they’re in those locations, it’s already magical. So I’m crazy OCD into all things art direction – production designs, sets, locations.

I found that Boom Box at Burning Man and was like, “I’m going to put this in the movie.” All those church signs, the noodle lady, the cart, the Statue of Liberty – I’m into those details like crazy.

On that same note, this is your second film set in a “fairy tale” world as you’ve described it. I was reading some interviews that you did in the past –

 Oh no! AHHHH!

I’m not doing a gotcha! I thought it was interesting that in one interview, you said, “Fuck the real world.” Are these fairy tale worlds parallel realities or ones that you’re using to better understand the real world that we’re forced to live with?

That, yes, 100%, check. Ding, ding, ding!

Two, for me, the period of time making a film from writing a script – I was editing Girl Walks and started writing The Bad Batch – prepping, casting, rehearsing, everything, shooting, editing, that time while it exists, I get to exist in a universe that makes sense and I have all the answers for and I like. It’s this awesome bubble, and then it goes away. Like, “Come on, now I have to do it again.” When does that ever happen in life when you get to have answers?

You’re asking the wrong person.

I know! It’s like fuck, man, find comfort.

What’s inspiring you right now? Not necessarily an influence on this or a future project.

Right now? That’s such a good question — What is inspiring me right now? — because I have a broken toe.

I was just telling my friend last week, I feel like I’m at ground zero. Movie done, broken toe, I can’t dance. Because normally when I finish a movie, I can get out of hermit mode and dance. I like to dance. But I’m a little bit stagnant with music, I haven’t gone on a new escapade. I’m listening to the same shit.

I need new music, my toe is broken, my movie’s done – sometimes you’re just moving, and all this stuff is happening, and you just get STOPPED. It’s crazy, life.

What’s inspiring me right now? Like what do I like. My [redacted term] – he’s really cute. Don’t write [redacted term] because I hate that term, I think it should be more like “Man Body Play-Partner.”

I’m going to write that down. Play-Partner — one or two words?

Hyphen.

Yeah, he’s pretty fucking awesome. So sex, also by default. Because a broken toe doesn’t necessarily impede that.

What’s inspiring me right now? That took a while to get to, but we did the therapy. Sex, that’s the answer.

Follow Marshall Shaffer on Twitter (@media_marshall).

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