Director Derek Cianfrance doesn’t quite have a mainstream following yet, but this budding talent’s debut film Blue Valentine instantly solidified his “indie-cred” among more die-hard film fans. The raw, emotional performances he was able to draw out of Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams put a spotlight on his spectacular craftsmanship, and his gritty delivery promoted uniqueness and individuality in a way that got Blue Valentine lovers extremely excited for his next feature, The Place Beyond The Pines.
Reuniting Cianfrance with his estranged twin Ryan Gosling (seriously, you could barely tell the two apart standing next to one another, I mean except for one being Ryan Gosling), the director once again has scored another stylistically beautiful drama which has a hearty amount of material for audiences to sink their teeth into. I personally loved the flick, and was lucky enough to sit down with Derek for a roundtable interview while he was promoting The Place Beyond The Pines in New York City. Read on to hear Derek talk about filming with such a wonderful cast, his initial thoughts on casting Bradley Cooper, and where such a story even originated from.
Upon Derek entering the room, someone had to jest “You really do look like Ryan!” to start things off:
Derek Cianfrance: Well, he has more muscles and I have less hair. [Laughs]
Getting serious, we first asked Derek what it was like collaborating with Ryan on two successful films:
Derek Cianfrance: Well, I’ll tell you this. In 2007 I was at Ryan’s agent’s house having dinner and preparing Blue Valentine, and I asked him “You’ve done so much in your life, what haven’t you done. What have you always wanted to do?” He says “Well I’ve always wanted to rob a bank, but I’ve always been too scared of jail.” So of course I said “Well that’s funny, I’ve been writing a movie about a bank robber called The Place Beyond The Pines. Have you given any thought to how you would do it?” He said “Well, I have. I would do it on a motorcycle because I could go in with my helmet and no one would know who I was, then I’d leave on the motorcycle because they’re fast and agile, and then I’d have a cube truck parked about four blocks away and I’d drive into the back of the cube truck. Cops would be looking for a motorcycle, not a truck.” I said “That’s crazy, that’s exactly what we’ve written into the script.”
It was one of those times I realized we were destined to make movies together, so I told him “Well I’ll make your dreams come true, and you won’t even have to go to jail, except for a day when we’re shooting it.” So yeah, we have complimentary ideas, we both want to do crazy things.
We then asked Derek about the themes of his new film, one of them being destiny, but also the idea that another strong theme is that of atonement:
Derek Cianfrance: The movie is ultimately not about vengeance, it’s a story of forgiveness. As a father who has children, I’m trying to take responsibility with the stories and images I put out into the world. My kids cannot watch this movie now, but someday they will be able to and I’ll be proud to show them.
Another writer pointed out one of Derek’s many strengths by complimenting how he can blend visual patterns on different objects so seamlessly and asked how he does this so well:
Derek Cianfrance: I close my eyes while I’m not making films and I try to see the films to just know them, memorize them, and see them so many times before the audience ever sees them, but then at the same time I’m also a collaborator going into the process working with other people. I’m not a painter, I don’t have all the best ideas. I consider myself more like a football coach, both my crew and actors are my players, and my job is to bring out the best in everyone while not having them think about ego but about the movie. The movie is our God, and we put everything into that.
For instance, [Luke’s] tattoos. I didn’t write tattoos, Ryan called me a few moths before shooting and said “Hey [Derek], how about using the most tattoos in movie history?” I was like “You want a lot of tattoos, huh?” He said “Yeah, and I want to get a face tattoo.” All I could say was “Really, a face tattoo? That’s permanent.” He goes “No, it’s going to be a dagger that’s dripping blood, it’s going to be cool.” I said “Look, if I was your parent I’d say don’t get a face tattoo, but look, you’re the guy, you have to live this guy, so be whoever you want. I can’t tell you how to live.”
So he shows up and he’s got this face tattoo and he told me “Hey [Derek], I think I went too far with the face tattoo.” So I said “Well that’s what happens when you get a face tattoo, now you’re stuck with it, you’ve got to live with it,” but that has a real effect. Now this choice that Luke probably thought was cool, he can’t even live with.
There’s a scene with a baptism, 500 people from Schenectady all dressed in their Sunday finest, they’re going to be in a movie, in a church. What do you wear to church? Nice clothes.
Here’s how I work. I put the camera in the back of the church, and I tell Ryan to come in and find a place to sit. I don’t tell him were to go, he has to find a place to sit. He walks in, sees this world of everyone looking so nice, and he’s literally a marked man. He has no place to go. So where does he go? To the corner, and we just simply pan with him, one take. Then it’s “OK, let’s move our camera over there now and get our close-up.”
I’m shooting our close-up, and I notice he starts trembling. This isn’t in the script, his trembling. As his friend I want to stop the camera and give him a hug, but I’m interested in when acting stops and behavior beings. It’s like a collision between the actor and the character, they become one after a while. Ryan broke down on camera, right there, and I’m always trying to capture those moments.
Then we asked about his casting of Eva Mendes as the struggling mother Romina:
Derek Cianfrance: I was having trouble casting Romina, and Ryan suggested I take a look at her, and I just said “Oh yeah, why didn’t I think of that?” I’ve always liked her from Training Day through The Other Guys, she’s just been great, so I met with her. She came wearing a pair of 90s highway jeans and a big baggy T-shirt, her hair was a mess, she had these big hoop earrings, and no makeup – evidently trying to be as unattractive as possible while still failing miserably. It meant so much that she was putting herself in that vulnerable place though, I said she didn’t have to read for me that day and she could just take me for a ride and show me where she grew up.
She took me on this journey through her past for like two hours and I got to know about her as a woman, really falling in love with her as a human being, and I cast her right there on the spot. That isn’t to say she wasn’t nervous, she had fear about the role, but I relate to that. I don’t relate to a fearless actor. I don’t relate to those signs on people’s cars that say No Fear. I’m scared, like all the time, and I think the mark of courage is to be scared but confront it.
Anytime an actor I meet has a trepidation about something, that’s the one.
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