Director Todd Solondz has always been know for controversial themes in his films such as Life During Wartime (2009), Palindromes (2004) and Storytelling (2001), but in his latest film Dark Horse (2011), starring Jordan Gelber and Selma Blair, he has taken a more heart warming approach. CineVue met up with the US filmmaker to discuss his latest feature, which premiered at last year’s Venice International Film Festival.
Joe Walsh: In your own words, could you sum up what Dark Horse is about?
Todd Solondz: It’s about a thirty-something guy who still lives at home with his parents. He meets a girl he likes and tries to find a way out of the dead end his life has become.
JW: Dark Horse is a marked diversion from some of your earlier films in that it doesn’t aim to raise as many controversial issues. I just wondered what brought about that change?
TS: Since Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995), I had felt a little bit burdened by the subject matter. I also felt that if I brought this in at this point it would feel a little easy, cheap and superficial. I just needed to free myself from the weight of the issues.
JW: What is it about the setting of the suburbs that draws you and works so well in your movies?
TS: Since I grew up there, it’s second nature for me. I am shaped and formed by this experience so I can take the express track to where I want to go more easily. I don’t see myself as someone who has to write about the suburbs, what can I say if I had grown up in the city I would probably be telling you a different story. That being said for my next film, if I get the financing, it will take place in Texas. I actually wrote it and finished it a few months again, but it is always a question of finance.
JW: What was it like being reunited with Selma Blair?
TS: It was a great pleasure; I enjoyed working with her on Storytelling, and when I saw I could make her character a continuation of who she was in Storytelling . This really intrigued me and was a great challenge, which was propelling for me. As a side note the customer service rep who appears in the film is a character who appeared in Palindromes as one of the Sunshine Singers and ended up working in ToysRUs.
JW: You are well known for assembling great casts. What was it like working with Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow ?
TS: Mia I thought was a long shot as she does a lot of work in Sudan. I know she had retired from acting but she told me she hadn’t read the script but her son Ronan was a great admirer of my work and had said “Mum you have to do this”. So she did it, I was just lucky. Chris wanted to play a human being, or so I was told, he was very up for me grooming him the way I did with the toupee the way I did. It is all about restraining him. His face is already so powerful and iconic, it was about restraining him.
JW: How was the process of casting Abe?
TS: Gelber had auditioned for me for a previous film and I had seen him in a play of Mike Leigh’s Two Thousand Years and I thought he would be most appropriate for the part. There were no well-known celebrities that so readily fitted the part. He himself would tell you that he is already 70% of that character, he told me things like what action figures would be appropriate because I am no from his generation. It was getting the right actor at the right time.
JW: Newspapers are full of stories about kids who have to move back in with their parents. Were you conscious of making this statement, or were you more interested in telling a story of a man frozen in adolescence?
TS: It’s hard not to be conscious of what is going on in the economy and the impact that has. But I am not a sociologist as much as I could talk about the sociological impact is having on the popularity of this man-child genre. I was moved by this character that clings to the hopes and dreams of his youth. He lives his death in life, and only comes to life in death. I was moved by his struggle. Why is it you have a set of parents where you have two kids, one who is a successful doctor the other can’t get out of his junior high bedroom? There is only so much you can account for and that is part of the mystery. There is a challenge to the audience that there is this character who is abrasive but you need to find it in yourself to care for him. You might not want to have lunch with Abe, but you to experience him rather than treat him as a stereotype.
Dark Horse is released in UK cinemas nationwide from today. Our review of Solondz’s latest work can be found here.