In this Q&A, Ed Gibbs of ‘The Hollywood Reporter’ had an opportunity during the Cannes film festival to talk to David about ‘The Rover’, the offers he bypassed to make it, and why he prefers to direct his own screenplays.
The Australian writer-director of “Animal Kingdom” turns his anger issues into a new dystopian nightmare starring Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson.
Four years after writing and directing his acclaimed crime drama Animal Kingdom, Australian filmmaker David Michod is in Cannes with a follow-up, The Rover, screening at the Midnight strand on May 18. A bleak, futuristic Western set in the unforgiving, sun-parched outback of Australia, it stars Guy Pearce as a jaded ex-soldier who has lost his farm and family and Robert Pattinson as his sidekick, a naive, injured, ex-gangmember with less-than-astute instincts.
There must have been considerable pressure to follow up quickly after Animal Kingdom. How did you react to that?
Yes, things were coming at me from a number of different angles — and I actively invited it. When Animal Kingdom was received as well as it was, I kind of wanted to know what was out there. I didn’t want to just recoil from it and hide away in a corner. And yet, in a way, that’s kind of what I ended up doing for a couple of years.
Was it a question of simply being offered more crime dramas, or were there other ideas — however outlandish — on the table as well?
The weird thing is, no offer seems that ridiculous when it’s made. While many of the things that were offered didn’t necessarily feel right, I totally understand why I was being offered them. There were a number of horror films, lots of gangster movies, quite a few espionage thrillers — and a number of things that were considerably more interesting than that, too. All that’s going on is that people are trying to find ways to make commercial movies — and they want to employ filmmakers they like to do it, in the hope that the end result will be elevated somehow.
So why not jump in and make another picture?
Well, I know what making a movie is like for me. It’s an emotionally volatile experience. The idea of throwing myself into something for at least a year, year-and-a-half, that I didn’t completely love, was just frightening for me. Every time I vaguely contemplated something, I found myself shuddering and running away.
How did you stay active?
I’d already written a draft of [The Rover], but I kept working on it during that time. I made one music video [for Australian band Children Collide] and one episode of television, the Laura Dern-Michael White series Enlightened. But what I found after Animal Kingdom was that: a) I spent a lot of time traveling around the world promoting it and b) I spent even more time doing meetings and reading screenplays. And after a year-and-a-half or two years of that, I realized my job was no longer making movies, it was riding the industry merry-go-round.
Was it important for you to direct your own work?
Deep down, I always knew that I wouldn’t be happy unless I was making something that I had built from the ground up myself. And so, after a number of years of reading other people’s scripts — some of them I thought were really quite good — I just couldn’t contemplate what felt like to me was finishing somebody else’s movie. Not just because of the need for control, but because in order to be on set making something I need to know the source material, as if it were in my DNA. I just don’t know if I’d be able to do that the same way with somebody else’s screenplay.
Where did the idea for a dystopian outback Western come from?
[Australian actor] Joel Edgerton and I were in L.A. around 2007, and we were just hanging around, looking for something to do. And we started writing a film, which originally we thought Nash [Joel’s brother, a filmmaker and stuntman] might direct. So we thought we’d write something about cars in the desert. In the early days, it wasn’t set in the future, and it wasn’t about a dystopian Western economic collapse. It just became that as my DNA started feeding into it. It became a film about anger. I’m sure it reflects my feelings about the world. I don’t think there’s any surprise that at the center of it is an angry man.
One could say there are similar traits in your next film, The Operators, about General Stanley McChrystal. You’re doing that for Brad Pitt’s Plan B — how did that come about?
Even before Animal Kingdom, I had been talking to Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner, who run Brad’s company. I first spoke to them when they saw Crossbow [Michod’s 2007 short, which inspired Animal Kingdom]. And over the years, I’ve had a number of conversations with them. Then, they brought [Michael Hastings’ book] The Operators to me. And I immediately could see incredibly rich material and an extraordinary character in General Stanley McChrystal [who was fired by the Obama administration in 2010, following comments attributed to him in a Rolling Stone article on the war in Afghanistan]. Then I met Brad, and we got along. I love Brad Pitt. I think he’s wonderfully dexterous and very self-aware.
What’s the plan with The Rover after Cannes?
It’s opening almost simultaneously in the U.S. and Australia — June 12 in one, June 13 in the other. I can’t remember which one’s which.
How do you feel, now that the film is about to be unleashed?
I don’t feel quite the same level of fear and trepidation that I felt last time. Having said that, I have felt for quite a long time that it looks good, that I cast it right, that the performances are really great. Now, the question, the great unknown for me is, what people will make of it, sitting in a dark room, watching it begin and end. It’s strange how unnerving that is. I finished it back in November. I’ve been waiting to find this out for a while.