Thora Birch really did an amazing job in the film and according to Dan, put on 30 pounds for the role. It’s a long way from being a kid in “Monkey Trouble.” ^ She’s a fantastic actress and I was shocked working with her because these acting classes I went to you get to work with actors and direct them sometime but at the very beginning level. Maybe they’ve been acting a year or two. Even if you’re Francis Ford Coppola and give them perfect direction and adjustments, they oftentimes can’t incorporate into their performance. Their performance doesn’t change at all. Thora, if you gave her an adjustment, and again, I was very collaborative with her as well. Sometimes I’d say, “Let’s see how you prepared it.” I didn’t give her any direction at first. You know, let’s see how you see this. And oftentimes I’d want to change it and I’d give her some sort of different choice or some sort of adjustment. But she’s very professional, very disciplined actress and really has a command of her craft. Anything you tell her she can immediately do. Then it became a matter of taste. Oftentimes she didn’t agree with my taste and wanted to play things more over the top. A lot of the actors wanted to play the comedy and I just kept telling them, “Don’t try to be funny. Just play the reality of the scene that’s what’s going to be funny.” But they like to have fun and goof around. You’ve got to sort of, stifle that. (Laugh)
What about Steve Buscemi? In many ways, he’s playing a character based on you. ^ Buscemi didn’t need any help at all really. He was about 95% in character once he got the hair cut and we put him in my clothes. The wardrobe designer Mary Zophres who did both “Fargo” and “Kingpin”: two very different films in terms of wardrobe and she said, “How should I dress Seymour?” And I said, “Just see how I dress for the next three days.” It became a very personal film to me. The fact that he’s wearing my clothes. I mean, this woman who plays his mother, it was so strong to me because I dressed her like my mother. I tried to get a woman to talked like my mother, who dressed like her…
Obviously Ghost World is a very personal film. Are there any in-jokes you want to clue us in on? ^ There were things that were very satisfying that weren’t quite in-jokes just things that happened to me. Like I actually went into Blockbuster Video asked for a copy of “8 ½” and that was the dialog. I didn’t have to dream that up. It actually happened. The reality is oftentimes funnier than any kind of joke line. That’s the biggest surprise of the film. A lot of the “jokes” per se, that I tried to retain from “Ghost World: the Comic” were the weakest parts of the film, they weren’t that funny. I don’t know. They worked in the comic. The humor in the film works better because it just comes out of character.
What’s your next project? ^ I hate to say it because if you say, it sort of jinxes them.
Then don’t say! ^ I have a documentary that’s all shot. I shot it six years ago. But I don’t have the time or the money to finish it, but I’d like to finish it some day. It’s about Hawaiian music. It’s a completely uncommercial film about this obscure Hawaiian steel guitar player who made eight records with his family in 1929. The whole movie traces the decline of his music to the fact that he had to keep pleasing audiences. He had to keep being more commercial by adding gimmicks and acrobatics into his act. He couldn’t play this heartfelt music that he loved. He had to keep pleasing the audience until finally in 1975 you see him playing in leather bell-bottoms in a stage in Las Vegas.
Sounds amazing. ^ My hat goes off to anyone making documentary films. You don’t get paid anything. It’s a struggle to get anyone to see them. If you go to a film festival, it’s total bullshit. They fly in the feature filmmakers first class. The documentary filmmakers are lucky to get bused out there. You get put in a motel six while the feature filmmakers are being put up in a five-star hotel. The journals are all over the feature filmmakers, they ignore the documentary filmmakers. It’s a thankless task.
It’s kind of shocking because reality TV is so popular, and those are documentaries at some level. ^ I know. It gets very hard to get people into a theater to see a documentary. Very hard. I tried with that “Crumb” film, man. I made that poster as sexually explicit as I could.
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Posted on August 8, 2001 in Interviews by Chris Gore
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