Australian director Gregor Jordan first visited Sundance a decade ago with his first film, the Aussie gangster thriller “Two Hands”, starring a then unknown Heath Ledger.
Some ten years later he’s back with a very different film, “The Informers”, a sex-and-drugs film based on the work of Bret Easton Ellis, which received a very different reaction at Sundance than his first film.
But Jordan is unapologetic and unaware at the film’s vitriolic reception. He spoke to Paul Fischer at Sundance’s makeshift Myspace lounge.
Question: So, let me ask you about this movie. [LAUGHTER] It appears that the critical reaction is not great.
Jordan: Oh, really?
Question: Yeah. A lot of people are upset with this movie. So I might as well pre-warn you, because it’s a very interesting reaction. And I was told by somebody that the version that we’re seeing here is even slightly cut from what was originally – that there was a lot more in the original cut of the film. Which might have something to do with why there’s this reaction. Is that true?
Jordan: Well look. Put it to you straight. This is a movie that is going to polarize people, and I’m aware of that. But the film editor of The New York Times saw the movie and loved it, and wrote a big editorial page –
Question: Here, he saw it?
Jordan: No, no, no. He saw it a week or two ago. You know, he wrote an editorial piece that was on the front cover on the front page of the Arts section of The New York. And, you know, John Horn from The LA Times saw it and loved it, and is writing a big piece. And – like, I was talking to the guy from Screen International, who said it’s one of the best movies he’s seen in a while. But then, you know, it’s interesting, because we’ve been showing it to long lead press. And, the reactions range from, like, ” Loved it,” to ” mixed,” to one person who said, ” I really can’t find anything good to say about this film.” And I guess what I realized is that, you know, when you look back at Bret’s books, they all get the same kind of reaction when they come out. Like American Psycho, for instance, when that came out. It was viewed with outrage. And it was actually banned in a few countries. And people were very upset about it. But, you know, as time has passed, people have come to accept that it is actually a very unique piece of literature, and it’s still being read. And all Bret’s books are still in publication, and selling a lot of copies. And so, you know, I think the reaction so far to the film has been more about a typical reaction to Bret Easton Ellis’s work, because it provokes a reaction. And look, I’m not unhappy about that, because I think the people who vehemently dislike the film will still remember it.
Question: When you’re dealing with a film that has a plethora of unsympathetic characters – I mean, you don’t really feel that sorry for many people in this movie. Is that difficult to write? Is that difficult to write, and is it difficult for you to get actors to want to play that lack of sympathy consistently throughout the film?
Jordan: Well, look. I wasn’t the writer. Like you say, Bret Easton Ellis was the screenwriter on it and it’s very much about his way of doing things. And I guess it is a mindset. You know, it’s a state of mind. His way of doing things. And in terms of trying to find actors, there were certain types of actors who were just naturally drawn to this. It was interesting. We made an offer to one actor for one of the roles, and we realized that in his personal life, he was going through pretty much exactly the same as what the character was going through.
Question: And who was that?
Jordan: Well, I’m not going to say.
Question: I know, I’m kidding.
Jordan: But, you know, what we realized is that the script – especially in Los Angeles – holds a mirror up to certain people. And they don’t necessarily like what they see. So – but, you know, having said that, there were certain types of actors who really responded to the material. And I guess the darkness of it was very appealing to them. For instance, Kim Basinger said to me, ” When I first read this script, my first initial reaction was, ‘There’s no way in hell I’m doing this movie.'” But she said then a day later she realized that the script actually terrified her. And then the day after that, she realized that she had to do it. Because – you know, the way she chooses her movies is, you know, she chooses roles that aren’t easy to do, and make her uncomfortable, and are generally scary or terrifying. And, you know, for that particular actress, that was very appealing to her. And I guess – you know, I would argue that compared to her contemporaries, she actually has made some interesting career choices, and is a very brave actress.
Question: I thought she was very good in this, too, by the way.
Jordan: Yeah, me too. Yeah.
QUESTION: What do you think Billy Bob Thornton brought to this project?
Jordan: Well, I think with Billy – you know, a lot of the characters he plays are sort of like, kind of crazy people, or deadbeats. A lot of his famous characterizations. So I think from his point of view, he was attracted to this because he was playing a man of power, and a man of status. And he’s playing a dark character, who is sort of – you know, I would describe him as borderline psychotic, in that he’s someone who’s quite emotionless. He just wants things and he just takes them, without any regard for anyone’s feelings. But, you know, that kind of character populates the upper echelons of Los Angeles society, and – I guess, all over the place. And I think Billy knew how to play that character, because he knew people like that. And also, like I say, he was attracted to playing a guy with some power and status. I think it was quite different than anything he’s done before.
Question: What’s interesting is that American film generally, when it comes to sex, is very puritanical, whereas violence is a given in American film, sexuality, especially at the level that is in this movie, is generally considered to be taboo. How hard was it for you to persuade these younger actors to do what they were required to do to create the reality that you were striving for? The sexuality reality that you were striving for?
Question: Well, look. These young actors were so gung-ho. You know, they were fans of Bret’s work. They got into the mindset of the piece. And apart from anything else, they’re professional actors. All the nudity and sex scenes and everything were all done very professionally. And there was no – you know, we’d yell, ” Cut,” and they’d all stop, and sit there and talk. And then we’d yell, ” Action.” So, I guess – look. For actors, these kinds of scenes are I guess difficult scenes to do, but it’s part of their job, kind of thing. But, look. In answer to your question about American cinema and its attitude towards nudity and sex and things like that – I guess it just made me think of something. Like, the producer Marco Weber sort of – when I was having my first discussions about coming on board, he pitched this movie to me as much more like a European film than an American film. I’d read the script, and I was intrigued, but I actually was quite incredulous that someone was going to make it. Because of what you said. Films like this don’t really get made that much. And he said, ” Well, I see this like an Antonioni film, or a Fellini film, or something like that. You know, it’s not a film that’s necessarily about plot. It’s more about moods and character, and about a time and a place.” And I guess when I applied that, and I – and there was actually a really interesting film that he referenced called The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, which is about all these beautiful people, all just – you know, nothing much happens. They all just have games of tennis and have cocktails, and stuff like that. but the backdrop is — the Fascists are taking over and getting rid of all the Jews. And half these people are Jewish. But they’re having such a good time that they’re oblivious to all the stuff that’s going on. And I guess – you know, look. I mean, I don’t want to sound pompous, or anything like that. But to me, this movie sort of sits more in that realm than it does in, say, other contemporary American films. And so in that sense, nudity and sex and things like that are just normal, you know?
Question: Will there be an uncut version that will come out on DVD, do you think?
Jordan: Possibly. I mean, it was very interesting trying to cut this movie, because the script was quite unwieldy. Well, you know, it was long and unwieldy. Because, you know, Bret put a lot in there. And what we decided to do was just shoot it all. Knowing that we were going to find the film in the cutting room, in a sense. So there was actually a lot of really fantastic scenes that aren’t in the movie, that really deserve to get seen, I think. Because there’s such – you know, as just sort of isolated scenes, I think they’re really interesting moments. So whether or not that comes out on the DVD, or whether – you know, maybe they’ll put it on the Internet, or something like that – you know, yes.
Question: Now, your first Sundance might have been Two Hands. Obviously there’s a lot that you must think about, when you think about your first Sundance experience, given that movie. What goes through your mind when you think about how much you’ve changed, what has happened since that first Sundance experience?
Jordan: Well, it’s – yeah. I mean, I guess there’s a lot of nostalgia involved. You know, coming to Sundance ten years ago – yeah, it was exactly ten years ago. It was 1999 we were here. It was such a great experience. We came here with all the cast, and the producers. And everyone was very excited. It was a really fantastic experience. But, you know, the whole focus in that particular instance was about trying to get a distributor attached. And, you know, it was all about sales. Where this one’s a little different, because Senator distributing the film, it’s coming out on April 10th.
Question: Is it going to be NC-17, or is it going to be R?
Jordan: It’s going to be R. Yeah. It was given an R. A hard R. But – anyway, yes. so it’s coming out on April ten. And – you know, in LA and New York. And then they’re going to sort of play it forward from there. So there’s a different focus on it now. you know, really, it’s about sort of – you know, getting awareness out there, and sort of trying to get a platform to release the film from. But, you know, look. I guess – you know, Sundance is a really great festival. I mean, my memories of it were – you know, we did a lot of snowboarding.
Question: Were you interviewed copiously after Heath’s death, about your comments about him? Did you try to avoid discussing that with anybody?
Jordan: Yeah, I avoided it. I haven’t really talked to anyone about it in the press.
Question: Has it been difficult – did you see Dark Knight?
QUESTION: So, I hear there’s a lot more sex and nudity in your last movie, Unthinkable, with Samuel L. Jackson.
Jordan: [LAUGHTER] No, there’s no sex or nudity in that one.
Question: From sex to terrorism.
Jordan: Yeah. [LAUGHTER] Well, the great thing about Unthinkable is, it’s on the surface, anyway, it’s an old-fashioned Hollywood thriller. You know, you feel like you’re about to see, like, a Tom Clancy international thriller, kind of thing. Then it quickly turns into something else and Unthinkable is going to be incredible. The script’s incredible. I mean, I don’t want to sort of like – overhype it, or anything like that, but it literally is one of the most amazing scripts I’ve ever read.
Question: What studio is it?
Jordan: It’s with Senator.
Question: Oh, so it’s an indie. It’s not a big studio movie.
Jordan: No, no, no. It’s with the same company as The Informers.
Question: And you happened to get all these great stars. You got Sam Jackson to be in it.
Jordan: Yeah. Well, I mean, Senator, I think – I guess because of their choice of material, the way Marco chooses material, and I guess his sensibility, is very appealing to actors. You know, and if you look at the movies he’s produced over the last couple years, you know, there’s an incredible cast list. And I think – you know, they’re obviously not attracted for the big money they’re going to earn. But they’re attracted for the more interesting material.
Question: What’s the release planned for, do you know?
Jordan: There’s no release plan yet. We just finished shooting in December, and now we’re in post.
Question: Are you going to go to Toronto? Maybe it’ll go to Toronto, or somewhere?
Jordan: Who knows? We’re not going to try and make the mistake of trying to choose a festival before we’ve actually seen the film. You know what I mean? I think that can be a real trap. The aim is just going to be to finish the film, see what we’ve got, and then push it in a certain direction.
Question: Do you want to work in Australia again? Are you looking for an Australian project?
Jordan: I’d love to work in Australia. I’m actually flying back there on Saturday, because I’m directing some commercials there and I’m really trying to spend as much time back there as possible.