No stranger to films about troubled young people and tragedy, Gus Van Sant seems like the perfect director for “Restless,” about emotionally damaged teen Enoch (newcomer Henry Hopper) who falls in love with Annabel, a girl with terminal cancer (Mia Wasikowska). Set in Van Sant’s favorite city, Portland, Ore., the young couple meets because of Enoch’s penchant for attending memorial services. That may sound a lot like the 1971 cult classic “Harold and Maude” — minus the massive age difference between the leads — and Van Sant would agree with you.
How did this project come to you?
It was sent by [the production company] Imagine to my agent. Ron Howard had planned to direct it, and then I think he became unable to so they were looking for a director. I read it and thought about it and read it again and just thought, yeah this would be kind of amazing.
I’m sure “Harold and Maude” came up while you were making it.
Yeah, it came up quite soon. And Jason [Lew], the writer, had never seen it — according to him. I had seen it. I thought the similarities were really striking. I also tried to stay away from it until we were finished shooting it, because I didn’t want to have that become the mix of what we were up to.
You’ve set many of your films in Portland. Is it just the appeal of working near home?
It’s just a nice place. I like L.A., too, but there’s traffic, for one thing, and it’s a company town. It’s kind of like you’re living in a big Detroit, where everything that’s around you is related to your business. Everything just revolves around two or three industries, whereas Portland has none of that. There’s just a tiny bit of this sort of art — movies.
Portland might be the new La-La Land
A couple of years ago, Daniel Baldwin declared he would bring a film industry to Portland. How did you take that?
Was that Stephen Baldwin? Daniel? God, there’s more Baldwins. No, many people have said that. There’s always been sort of Hollywood straying up to Portland. But the whole romance of having there be like a Paramount Pictures-style studio in Portland — it’s a pretty small city. Every now and then, some-body from Hollywood will proclaim that.