The Carroll News: What kind of pressure is there on you as a director working for Warner Bros., which usually does such large platforms, without any ties to anything more?
David Dobkins: You’re campaigning so hard for a movie to be made but you forget about all the rest for a little bit. This week, I’m feeling it. Just that sense of “wow, we made a movie.” We’ve seen audiences respond extremely positively and there’s a testing process you have to go through – and we tested through the roof. So we were a little bit shocked. I tried to tell everybody, “we’re not gonna get good numbers, it’s too dramatic.” But people felt uplifted and it went in a different direction than we thought.We scored a big commercial movie.
CN: What aspect of Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall’s relationship do you think most viewers will be able to relate to that have a separate relationship with their parents?
DD: I think that no matter what your relationship is in your family, no matter how successful you are in life, we all share regrets and the feeling of lost time. We all share the experience of leaving home and returning andhaving to re-evaluate who we are – and so much of the movie has to do with that. I think there’s a lot of it that’s very universal and I think for most people, on some level, the experience of family is one that we all struggle through even if it’s not as intense or volatile as what’s portrayed in the movie.
CN: Robert Downey, Jr. said this film goes along the lines of classic filmmaking. How do you feel about that statement, and is that what you were striving for?
DD: It was. What happened was that we wanted to make a movie that felt like the acting style and photography and the story itself was something out of a more classic time. I wanted this to feel like it was the adaptation of a great American novel because the real past came from that place. And along the way, another color came in which is that with my personality and Downey’s personality it became more and more entertaining.
CN: Did shooting the entire film on film as opposed to digital present any challenges for you?
DD: I was kind of lucky because the studio tries to push you towards shooting digital these days and they don’t make a big fight over it, but it’s an expense thing. And it’s getting harder and harder to keep shooting on film, but we were making a film that goes back to older movies and they have a more classic feel that comes from being shot on film. Luckily for me, I had a cinematographer who’s won two academy awards and once we said he was shooting on film, nobody really put up a fight.
CN: The roles seem to come very naturally for Duval and Downey, do you think their pasts had any influence on their characters?
DD: The movie was written from the very beginning with Downey in mind, so I think that the character was always very much him from the beginning. It was always his personality and that kind of character with that arc. His father was just written as this mountain of a man that’s impossible to get through to and to get is attention or affection or any kind of approval. Robert Duvall is an incredibly brave actor and a powerful man and he was the guy that we talked about a lot. It needed to be a man like that, and there are a couple of them in Hollywood that could pull off that role. It’s a very difficult role to play and you could be incredibly unlikable for a long time in the movie, and he does it in a really beautiful way. You see his vulnerabilities and you can see that he’s struggling with it. Through all of his experience and years in acting, he knew just how to play it.
CN: What was the environment like for you having your film open the Toronto International Film Festival?
DD: It was very exciting. It’s a very commercial movie and I know there are parts of it that are award worthy, especially the performances. But we felt like it was just an audience-centered celebration of the movie. A lot of the journalists got that it was special to see Hollywood make a movie like this again, so it was really fun for us. I think that it may have put us under a very intense microscope. I didn’t realize how much was expected beyond people just enjoying the movie on opening night, or that Toronto would be under such scrutiny for blocking off their world-premieres for the first four days. So that was an interesting thing to be in the middle of.
CN: What’s something you wish for audiences to take away from this film?
DD: I don’t believe in people coming to a movie for two hours and not having a good time. And maybe that’s because of my “Wedding Crashers” DNA. But there’s a lot of that in the movie and I want you to have fun. But it’s also a very thoughtful movie that makes you think about your family and your home and where you came from. And I hope that people come out of it and that they just have a weight off their shoulders – and they see possibility in their own family and relationships.