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 favourite 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 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 don’t think I could imagine Ron Howard directing this.
It would’ve been interesting to see what he would’ve been like.
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.
Where did this practice of shooting “silent takes” come from?
On Milk, Sean Penn had told me that Terry Malick, when they had shot together, had done it. After they were done shooting a take with dialogue, he would just say, “OK, do everything without talking.” So we started doing that on Milk, and we did use that in a few scenes.
It seemed more effective to have that rather than all the words. And the same with this film, there was a lot of dialogue on this, so we did the same thing. We found that we had enough footage to cut a silent version of the film, which we did, that exists in our archive.
And then I saw Tree of Life and I realized that Malick was maybe not so much using the silent takes just for editing patch-ups or perhaps not to just have a scene be silent, but he was using it throughout.
Tree of Life he seemed to just exclusively be using it and sort of voiceover-ing a lot of things so that it could be more ethereal. I mean, that was my take.
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.
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.
Sylvester Stallone told Portland that they needed to build a stage because he had to go to Seattle to do his stage work for Assassins, and he didn’t want to.
Every now and then somebody from Hollywood will proclaim that.