Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch play two clashing highway road workers in Prince Avalanche, a goofy but rich comedy that adapts an obscure Icelandic film titled Either Way from 2011. Shot with a small crew and featuring a diabolical mustache from Paul Rudd, the film is written and directed by David Gordon Green.
Like a select few before him, Green is an intriguing creative force in Hollywood for his disinterest to stand still, and in the same place. He originally gained recognition by making indie film darlings like George Washington and All the Real Girls, but later challenged any type of genre categorization by following up the dark film Snow Angels with Pineapple Express. From there he went on to direct two raunchy comedies back to back, Your Highness and The Sitter, released in the same year. His latest, Prince Avalanche, continues his interest in comedy, but doesn’t feature the type of gross-out fratty humor that drove fans of George Washington far and away from projects like The Sitter.
In 2012, Green directed Clint Eastwood’s famous “Halftime in America” Super Bowl commercial. Green is also a professed super-fan of Steven Seagal, having written the introduction to Vern’s indelible book “Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal.”
I sat down in an exclusive interview with Green, in which we discussed Rudd’s facial hair, the Adam Sandler project that got away from him because he directed Snow Angels, the missing footage from This is the End’s “Pineapple Express 2,” and more.
Prince Avalanche opens in Chicago on August 16, and is currently available on VOD.
After watching ‘Prince Avalanche’, and when considering your affinity for Steven Seagal, I couldn’t help but think of his famous line in ‘On Deadly Ground,’ “What does it take to change the essence of a man?” How do you feel that Steven Seagal has at all influenced you as a filmmaker, or storyteller?
With Seagal in particular, I think there is a great spirituality, and a great acceptance in recognition of nature, and in how masculinity is challenged by both of those. Particularly On Deadly Ground. That and Fire Down Below really hit those environmental nuggets.
Referring to a scene in which Paul Rudd bounds through the woods in a very goofy fashion, does he really run like that?
No, and in the movie he trips and falls, and that wasn’t scripted. Those pants are just shitty to run in. They’re fire retardant pants, so they’re really stiff. And relatively bulletproof. And they’re really tight around the butt area, so it made it uncomfortable for him but very funny for me to watch.
How did Rudd’s substantial mustache come about?
We had always talked about these characters like they were Mario and Luigi. So we fought for a while over who was who, and we decided that Paul was Mario, and Emile was just going to be Kurt Russell from Big Trouble in Little China. So we compromised there. And Paul wanted to wear 80s Roger Ebert glasses, those purple Sally Jessy Raphael specs that he wears. But I feel like the mustache was just his competitive nature, because he has better facial hair than Emile. He wanted to be Mario.
When writing this film, did you have to research camping gear?
No, most of [the gear seen in the film] is from my childhood. I love going camping, but I don’t have the high tech North Face shit, I have old Coleman. And we trashed that grill, which sucks, but I needed a new one anyway. And I still like these canvas tents. I just love the smell. It reminds me of going on hunting trips with my granddad.
How often do you go camping now, if at all?
Shit, once a year? Not much. I have a place up in Colorado that I go disappear to up in the mountains in the summer.
How did you want to handle even the more juvenile aspects of this movie, such as when the two are fighting and yelling “You suck!” at each other?
We took it very seriously, but I just told them that they are twelve year olds in middle school fighting. There’s no profanity in the movie, the word “fingering” is in there. You can finger a girl’s armpit, that doesn’t mean her pussy. Actually my passionate goal was to keep this PG-13, but it didn’t happen. And yet World War Z can cut off zombie’s heads and Pacific Rim … I’m just watching all of these violent PG-13 movies this summer and being like, “What the fuck? You can’t have a guy jerking off and another saying ‘fingering’?” Those are the only two things that come off as questionable. You hear the gore rather than see in World War Z, but [Prince Avalanche] is G-rated, this is nothing.
‘Humpday’ and ‘Your Sister’s Sister’ director Lynn Shelton has a cameo in this movie as a crucial voice on the other side of the phone. How did her brief appearance come about?
She was going to shoot her film Touchy Feely, and I called her about how they dealt with SAG contracts, because we were getting into the world of strange fees with a low budget. She is one of those filmmakers that I have a relationship with in that I don’t know her very well, but we’ll talk about what it’s like to work with certain actors. She’ll say, “I’m about to work with Rockwell. Gimme the dirt.” It’s cool to have an inside hookup with these directors that you respect. And when I was talking to her on the phone, I had been thinking earlier about who would play this voice, and I was just listening to her voice and was like, “Hey Lynn, why don’t’ you do this role?” So we just recorded it on the phone. We shot it live with her on the phone and put it right in.
In a previous interview, you made a point that while we’ve seen Paul Thomas Anderson make a PTA movie with Adam Sandler, you’d like to see the writer/director do a Sandler movie. What do you think the plot would be for that film?
Punch Drunk Love is one of my favorite movies. I would love to see it the other way around. I want him to make that movie in Funny People, the one that had pictures of Sandler as a little person. God, it’s fucking funny. On the DVD, there’s a little trailer for it. It makes me laugh so much.
Do you think more directors should bounce between low brow and high brow? Is there an excitement for you in watching other directors do that?
I’d go see Darren Aronofsky do that as well, or David Fincher. You look at very excellent credible character actors who will pop up in these movies, like Steve Buscemi. But directors, it’s like they don’t really take those kinds of chances. I’ve just only recently put this together, but I do like looking at myself as a character actor. Let me sink my teeth into this that I may or may not be an obvious choice for, but be able to disappear. This is the first movie for me that my name is on the poster like this, and there was a discussion about that, because I hesitated about it. I never have a “film by” credit in my movies because I like the anonymity of being a director. Other than having to promote a movie and putting your voice out there, let the actors be the marquee, and the pretty-boy face of the movie. I like to just make a project, make it the best I can to what I think it is or what it should be, and then watch it. I don’t really need to have it be solely, I don’t need to be the only guy who gets credits for this movie. There’s certainly different opinions about that. I have just never felt that personal need.
What do you think, then, of the films by frequent Adam Sandler collaborator Dennis Dugan?
I’ve watched a lot of Dennis Dugan movies. I’ve seen Problem Child, and Brain Donors with John Turturro. You should watch it, it’s really good. And he used to be a great actor, he was in The Howling. He went to college with my mom in San Antonio. And there’s a picture of him in her college yearbook where he looks just like me, which is creepy. Or magical. I sat next to him on an airplane one time and wanted to talk to him, but I was too nervous. But I’ve seen all of his movies. I tried to get the job directing I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. I wanted that job. This was before Pineapple Express, and they were like, “Yeah, we saw Snow Angels and you are not going to direct I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.” I’m trying to think of other Dennis Dugan movies. I haven’t seen Grown Ups 2 yet.
Did you see Dugan & Sandler’s previous ‘Jack & Jill’?
I did see Jack & Jill. Al Pacino is incredible. It’s performance art, and it’s beautiful and I love it. And so Tim Heidecker, who is on the new season of “Eastbound & Down,” we have become friends. He is one of my idols in contemporary comedy, so when I go back for the wrap party because I just finished my episode, we’re gonna watch Grown Ups 2 together. We’re really pumped.
As someone who prefers anonymity with their own projects do you embrace the idea primarily looking at films in terms of directors?
I always bring baggage of director.s It’s hard not to. But it’s great when you think of the body of work of directors like Stanley Kubrick, or Robert Altman. These guys were redefining themselves all of the time. You could have a Dr. Strangelove, or Altman was doing a western with McCabe and Mrs. Miller. I find a lot of directors find a great comfort zone ,and either out of their own commitment to that, or their audience’s insistence to that, they stay in the same kind of safe territory, whereas those guys are beautifully bold, and I love that. I’m not as smart as either of those guys, but if I could just dabble in a little of this and get a little curious about something else over here and disappear, I think that would be a cool way to … Michael Winterbottom does that a lot, Steven Soderbergh, Alan Parker. Spike Lee has done that a good bit.
Have you donated to Spike Lee’s Kickstarter yet?
No, I haven’t yet. should I?
Donate 10,000 dollars and you could sit next to Steven Soderbergh and Spike Lee.
Oh my god, that would be romantic. It would be cool. I’ve never met Spike.
As you directed ‘Pineapple Express’, were you at all invited to the ‘This is the End’ party?
I was on the set for that.
I don’t think I saw your name in the special thanks credits.
Those bastards! Fuck it, dude. How dare they. Probably not special thanks, because I just ate their lunches for a few days. I didn’t do anything beneficial to them.
Did you do anything with the Pineapple stuff?
I didn’t even think of that. They should have fucking thanked me. I was watching them when they shot that. There are some amazing different cuts of that stuff. I hope they put on the DVD. There’s like 10 minutes of brilliant, brilliant shit in there. Obviously they have to do the quick version for the movie. But they spent like a day fucking around with that stuff. Some of it made me pee my pants.
Did you direct or write any of it?
No, I was just there admiring their craftsmanship. But Seth, Jonah, James, and Danny all got into it like they were pretending to be bad actors, and it is amazing stuff. There’s that scene where Woody Harrelson wants to legalize marijuana and they’re pissed because they want to get more money for it. And it gets really good. But hopefully all of that will be on the DVD. That movie is really funny.
Do you watch your older movies?
I don’t. I just don’t have time to think abut things like that.
When was the last time you revisited one of your previous movies?
Years and years. I don’t know if I’ve ever put one of my own movies in the DVD player.
You’ve got a good commentary track on ‘All the Real Girls.’
I couldn’t possibly listen to that. But I do keep things very much in the moment, and try not to look back. But I definitely would be critical of what I was saying.
It also seems like you like to be liberated from constraints.
I don’t read a lot of reviews or interview. Every now and then my mom will forward me something, either something insightful or something that’s like “Shame on you.” And so every now and then I’ll read it. But I’m not effected by looking back, I just like to make stuff. I’m really very motivated to the productivity of this industry, of jumping right into this next adventure. I’m always multi-tasking, with the completion of one project into the beginning of another project.
Constantly working? When do you take breaks?
Never. When I do breaks, I do commercials.
I have to ask, then. How was it working with Clint Eastwood?
It was awesome. I would just get stories out of him. You know who Bill McKinney is? He’s most notably the rapist in Deliverance. He did a lot of movies with Clint, and i knew Bill from Undertow, and BIll died shortly before I made the commercial with Clint. He and Clint were good friends in the ’70s. And I just gave him a shout out, like “Hey Clint, I was really lucky to work with Bill when he was living,” and Clint didn’t know that he had died. It was really an amazing experience to look at this legendary Hollywood icon, who is an idol of mine, and then to share, to be the bearer of bad emotional news. It was an incredible feeling. And then to get stories out of Clint about working on Thunderbolt and Lightfoot which is probably my favorite movie ever made.
Do you have any particular affinity for Eastwood’s own lowbrow comedic departure ‘Every Which Way but Loose’?
Oh, yeah. Everything Eastwood has done is worth something to me, particularly in the ’70s.
If you were the right age and around in that era, would you have wanted to direct that movie?
I’ve tried … I’ve written a few scripts in that vein. Danny McBride and I wrote a script called “The Precious Few,” it was very much that shit-kicker, man-and-a-monkey movie, Stroker Ace style, or Take This Job and Shove It, that kind of ’80s vein. And we actually had opportunities to make it, but it just didn’t happen for one reason or the other. But, someday.
Quick Questions with David Gordon Green
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Nothing. I got on a 7:20 flight, got up at 5:40 a.m., and drank one of these things full of water, jumped on a plane, fell asleep, got here at 11:30 a.m. and ate a muffin and some strawberries, with a grilled salmon and arugula salad at lunch. But I like breakfast, I make smoothies and then scramble some eggs with spinach. Spinach, onions, a little feta cheese, and mushrooms.
Pear. A good pear. A shitty pear is the worst fruit, but a good pear …
If you could be someone else for 24 hours, who would you be?
My father. Right now. I need to get inside just to how that man works.
Age of first kiss?
Six? She was pretty cute. But then there was a big gap until twelve.