Dermot Mulroney Talks The Family Tree

Dermot Mulroney stars as out-of-touch dad Jack Burnett in this comedy from director Vivi Friedman, in theaters this Friday, August 26th

Life in suburban Serenity, Ohio is never quite as serene as it appears. The dysfunctional Burnett family - Bunnie (Hope Davis), Jack (Dermot Mulroney) and their twin 17 year olds Eric (Max Thieriot) and Kelly (Brittany Robertson) - seem like a lost cause. When a freak accident leaves Bunnie with a case of amnesia, the Burnetts get an unexpected second chance at happiness. Meanwhile, next door neighbor Simon (Chi McBride) is relieved that his tryst gone wrong with Bunnie remains undetected, at least for the moment. Before long, a slew of past relationships, kids with guns, a suicidal teacher, a very zealous religious club, misinterpreted advances, corporate down-sizing, and one fateful squirrel combine to create enough mayhem to test the resolve, sanity and future of any family!

The Family Tree, from director Vivi Friedman, hits select theaters this Friday, August 26th. To celebrate the release of this very funny, very raunchy comedy, we caught up with ol' Dirty Steve himself, Dermot Mulroney, for a chat about this new film, his entire upcoming release slate, and the legacy that Young Guns has left behind.

Here is our conversation.

As a lifelong, die hard fan of Dirty Steve, I'm glad you're finally in a movie where you aren't all dolled up and looking pretty. It's about time!

Dermot Mulroney: Right! Can I just interject? Do you know what has happened to me? All the kids that were watching Young Guns when they were fourteen or fifteen, right when it came out, and everyone got VCRs...They watched it over and over again. You know what happened to them?

They turned into me?

Dermot Mulroney: They all grew up and got jobs. Like yourself. Now...(Laughs) When we talk, it's because of that! I guess I am not describing myself very well. But the kids at that time are all now well-organized adults. And there was a weird fanaticism that went along with that guy, Dirty Steve. It went beyond the movie itself. There is a subset. If you are a member of that subset, I BACK you! I am there 100%!

Sequels, and prequels, and remakes are what's happening in Hollywood right now. I want to see a sequel to Young Guns that stars the Ghost of Dirty Steve!

Dermot Mulroney: Yeah! This is what I tried to talk them into while we were shooting it. They knew that it was going to be a blockbuster. They were already planning Young Guns II. But it says it right there in the script. I get shot up at the end of the movie, and I die. I kept saying, "Can't there be some sort of twin, or dream sequence, or ghost of Dirty Steve?" I think we are onto something here. I think that idea we had back in the day? Its time may have finally come...

Dirty Steve could have returned as Chavez's totem spirit...

Dermot Mulroney: (Laughs) Its true! Hey, man. You probably have that script writing software on your computer. Why don't you peck that out and send it on over? It sounds like you got a pretty good plan...}

Of course I do. I sit around and daydream about the further exploits of Dirty Steve quite a bit...

Dermot Mulroney: Fantastic!

I don't really. But I will stand true to my claim that the end of Young Guns, when Chavez comes around the corner with those horses, and Dirty Steve sees him...That has to be the single greatest moment in 80s movie history. You can't show me a better scene. It doesn't exist...

Dermot Mulroney: There is such a big build up. He doesn't let Steve down. It is triumphant. I have to watch that one again. I saw it a couple of years ago with my son. It's a fantastic movie. I was so lucky to land that part at that time. Unbelievable. I look back thinking, "Holy fuck, how the hell did that happen?" It is so hard to get parts, I now know, twenty four years later. It is so hard to get good parts. With that one...I just stumbled into it...

Do you think a lot of the up and coming directors, who saw that when they were fourteen or fifteen back in the day, know you from that now, and are eager to cast you?

Dermot Mulroney: No! It's a subset. It is a very select group of people. No, I don't get hired...Wait, that is not true. There are a few. The same thing has happened. Directors who were kids back then are now adults. They are full-fledged filmmakers. David Gordon Green put me in Undertow, and I think it was largely because of Dirty Steve.

I have never heard of that movie...

Dermot Mulroney: Oh, it's wonderful. Josh Lucas is in it. Jamie Bell. Its David Gordon Green's third movie, I think. Before Snow Angels. It was before Pineapple Express, and those nine other movies he's just finished. It's a fantastic, low budget, bloody thriller. It's really cool. You have to check it out. If you like his films, and you like Young Guns, if you like that style...Its killer. Its David Gordon Green all the way. Even the credit sequence is ripping. It's just an incredible movie.

Is that on DVD?

Dermot Mulroney: It is! I signed a copy of it that's hanging up in Vidiots. It's on the wall, so I know you can get it there...

I'm going to check that out. In fact, I'm going to go rent that instead of going to see The Family Tree...You have a very unique look in The Family Tree, by the way. You've aged yourself considerably...

Dermot Mulroney: Well, I have kind of aged. I hate to break it to you...

Look, man, I have seen all of your movies. I know how old you've gotten. And this is a step beyond that salt and pepper hair. You look a lot older here than you actually are...

Dermot Mulroney: Okay, maybe I do. I think it was just the glasses and the moustache. The director asked for the mustache, and I threw in the glasses. So, between Vivi Friedman, the director, and I, we had some vague concept of this real suburban father of these troubled teens, that is having as much trouble himself. He is going through his second adolescence. I think that's the concept behind this character. I knew I was opposite Hope Davis, who I did About Schmidt with. I knew I was in good hands with the director and the cast. This is how we saw it. I guess there is no simple explanation behind his look. Its that thing, where the director will suggest one thing, that leads to another thing, and before long, it becomes something different than what you thought you were shooting for.

The clothes help in aging this character, too. If you were to put those same clothes on a twenty year old...Well, he might look like a hipster, I guess...Now, did you sort of see The Family Tree as the decade later answer to American Beauty?

Dermot Mulroney: Yeah, I think there are parallels with that movie. What is interesting to me, and it was probably while I was doing this...But I looked at that movie again, American Beauty...It is a fantastic movie, without a doubt. But...There's something about it that feels old. I have a couple thoughts on this, and they will probably come out randomly. See if you care to use any of it. Here's the deal. There is a parallel between The Family Tree and American Beauty. The thing about American Beauty is, it's like a lot of other films. Its just one that caught on. People have been making this microcosm, bizarre, dysfunctional family movie for a long time. Even these Joan Crawford movies. Where she is the horrible parent with the daughter. Whatever those movies were, they're our version of this. So, American Beauty struck it in a way that hadn't been struck for a while. It got all this credit for being unique. Obviously, it was brilliantly directed. It had great music, and the cast...There is nothing wrong with that movie...But, my argument, in favor of movies like The Family Tree, is that its not just like one movie. It's actually a genre that deserves its own space.

American Beauty comes to mind first because it was so popular, and it was an Academy Award winner. That's the one that sticks in peoples minds out of the whole subgenre that you claim this is...

Dermot Mulroney: This is how the genre goes! It's the 'dysfunctional family with the weird neighbors' genre. We've seen that a number of times. For me, The Family Tree is a proud member of that genre. Not a rip-off of one movie.

Its weird, though. You are right about that movie looking dated. I think, more than any movie of that time period, American Beauty encapsulates the entire decade better than any other movie released between 2000 and 2009.

Dermot Mulroney: What do you mean?

The clothes, the music, the make-up, the shooting style...Its all very indicative of that decade.

Dermot Mulroney: Yes. It was its own thing at that time. It either collected a lot of things that already existed, and then became its own thing. Or...Well, without a doubt...It has been imitated plenty.

Let's talk about those sex scenes in The Family Tree. We are reaching a limit of how far this can go. It doesn't seem like there is much beyond this. Back when American Beauty came out, you still couldn't quite get away with what you can today. Its anything goes at this point, here, ten years later...Do you agree with that?

Dermot Mulroney: I do agree with that. It's interesting. I sat down to watch an R rated movie with my ten year old son last night. Without a worry in the world. Our movies, when I was growing up, you wouldn't dream of going to see an R rated one, because there would be nudity and sex. Now, there is still nudity and sex. But the receiver is different. It's not the transmitter. Certainly, the shot of Chi McBride coming at Hope Davis from behind. Their bathroom encounter is tremendous. It's wonderful. In a movie like this, you have to have that scene in there. You need it. If you made the movie ten years ago, you wouldn't need that shot. It would be titillating enough as it is. But the titillation quota is full. You have to keep raising that up. Its not like The Family Tree is shattering morays, or anything. Its just doing what the other films do. It's adding a little sex so you can sell it. Now we have the Apatow lingo. That whole thing, where you can talk with your buddy, and call him the most raunchiest of things. Its like, "Holy crap! The words they are using to describe each other..." Then you see the next one, and it doesn't strike you as much. There are a lot of factors that have combined to desensitize us to the truly raunchy when it comes to sex. Now, you got a shot through the guy's ass, you know?

Its kind of weird, too, because some people are starting to pull back. Like Zach Galifianakis, he doesn't swear. He uses words like gosh, and darn, and then that gets amplified, and it's shocking in its own weird way...

Dermot Mulroney: Right, exactly. It is true. We saw Steve Martin doing that back in the day. The last time that cycled through, where we had clean dirty humor. You do catch Zach Galifianakis pulling that card, because the room taken up by the raunchy comedians is full. This movie I have coming out, The Grey, which is directed by Joe Carnahan, and it stars Liam Neeson...It has these guys being hunted down by wolves. And every other word is fuck. "Get the fuck over here!" "They are fucking coming!" It is so much fun to do that. And it's not a comedy. It's a peril movie. And it's laced with profanity. It was always going to be an R movie. What you're taking about is, you have a limit. You can say one GD, and one F, and you can still get a PG-13. You have producers running in with their headsets, "Actually, we can't have you saying 'shit'. We already have a 'shit' in scene forty-three. We've shot that already. You have to take it out." Know what I mean? They are editing you while you are shooting it.

What was it like being on the set of that movie? You guys were in sub-zero temperatures, freezing to death...

Dermot Mulroney: It was brilliant. I loved every minute of it. So did everybody else. It was just one of those movies, where everyone they hired...Joe made sure that he picked guys he knew were going to be game. Nobody was going to be crying about cold toes. We just went for it. And a couple of these guys are English, too. They can be candy asses, let's be honest. But everyone pulled it off. It was a blast. Obviously, it was mixed media. There were twelve days of real location shooting. Some of it is interior studio with fake snow blowing out of a fan. It's every combination of fake snow, being outside, real snow inside, everything. We had to shoot certain parts of the plane wreck. The camp sites. There were sets built. The actual airplane wreck in the snow is just mind boggling.

How close did you get to the wolves?

Dermot Mulroney: I left the day before. They only used real wolves for two days. One of the shots is actually on my carcass. But I wasn't there. I didn't see it. They used a dummy with a meat suit, or whatever. That shot, I have seen in the movie. It is really effective. The rest of it is either animatronics, or some CGI. There are some lighting effects. Sound is really important in this movie. Joe Carnahan is really talented when it comes to that. This is not like Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Its more like Jaws. You do get a good look at that shark, but The Grey is a 'danger lurking out there' type of movie. It really plays on your mentality more than shock value. The wolf comes out of the darkness, and before you know it, he's on the back of the guy's neck. That is animatronics and puppet work. It's amazing how people make movies. It always is. It still is, for me. And even though that movie is all about wolves, they only used them for two days, for certain, specific pieces of the movie.

And it's a tough guy ensemble again, almost like Young Guns...

Dermot Mulroney: I'll tell you what...This one has that same potential. To be a guys' movie, that only has guys in it, and it's about guys. Not just the Western aspect of Young Guns...There was something very masculine, and tough, and it had that group mentality...In that movie...It was there while we were making it, and that came across on screen. I think, it still has that...If you can't put your finger on it, but you are still drawn to that movie...If you are a guy...The Grey will have that too. I am convinced. Just having the experience of making it, making The Grey felt the most like making Young Guns, out of all the other movies I have ever done.

Looking at your upcoming slate of films, it looks like you are in everything. There are some huge movies coming out nearly every month until 2013. I won't be able to go to the multiplex without seeing you in some form or another.

Dermot Mulroney: There are a couple that are close together in December and January. I will tell you about all of them really briefly, because it's a lot of fun. Abduction is the next one. It could be really good. I have no idea. John Singleton is really great to work with. I was there for one day. I have a key, small role in that. It could be a good plot-twist action movie. Then, the same again, I worked several days with Clint Eastwood and Leonardo DiCaprio on J. Edgar. But that is also a very small part, though it is a key scene. The story goes over forty or fifty years.

Clint Eastwood is the king of the Western. Was he a fan of Dirty Steve?

Dermot Mulroney: You know, we only had a little chance to actually talk. But he did say that he's always known about me. I basically said, "Then why the fuck didn't you put me in any of your other movies?" We had a laugh. I don't know, specifically, if he knew about the work I'd done in Westerns.

You are also in Chris Colfer's movie, Struck By Lightening...

Dermot Mulroney: Yes, I just did that. I was on set for a couple of days. I thought that was a terrific script. I didn't know his TV show. I knew what that kid looked like, but I'd never heard him open his mouth, or anything. But I thought, "If you are 21, you didn't even finish high school, you came to Hollywood, you took a long shot, you become a huge star on this cultural, text-point TV show, and then you write a really accomplished screenplay..." Not just funny, quirky dialogue, which it has...But it has a strong concept. There was just script stuff that was really cool. I'll tell you...In Struck by Lightning, he is killed on page three. Then he narrates the rest of the movie, leading up to his death. It flashes back a couple of weeks. The dead kid is the narrator of the film. Simple, but I don't know that I have ever seen that done. I can't think of anything. I thought, "Allison Janney? I'm in."

Plus you are being reunited with Christina Hendricks from The Family Tree...

Dermot Mulroney: Yes, I got to work with Christina Hendricks for a second time. That was a delight, too. She is in The Family Tree briefly. She is so under used there, but she has a really nice role in Struck by Lightning, where we are working together again.

There are a lot of great actresses in The Family Tree...

Dermot Mulroney: Yes, there are. Its one of these movies that was made a number of years ago. It's not a perfect movie. Few of them are. We made it right when the economy crashed, and the independent film distribution industry evaporated. It couldn't have had more challenges. But you can see by the cast, and if you put together who is in it with the time that we made it, that this project really had a lot of potential. It delivers on that level. If people just want to hate on movies, this is a good one to pick apart. If you want. If you want to enjoy a film because it's unique and fun, and everybody worked really hard to make it, and you just want to have a laugh...This is the movie for you, man! There is just so much criticism. It doesn't have to be like that. Unless you have something more important to do for two hours...Not even! Its only ninety-minutes...Well, you should go do that. If you don't, then maybe take some time to see a little movie. Because it's enjoyable. There is nothing wrong with it.

Some people do just go to the movies to bitch about them.

Dermot Mulroney: Yes. If that's who you are going to be? Then there is an argument for you to actually go see this movie. You will have a ball. There is plenty that you can pick on. If you are a hater, and you think you're some kind of film critic, then go at it. Hate.

Now, those same people are going to hear you say that, and they are going to be all, "What is Dirty Steve talking about? I love this movie! Fuck him!"

Dermot Mulroney: "I'm not like that! I don't just hate movies!" Exactly, you can already hear them back peddling. The process isn't over with this movie. Everyone has worked really hard. It has a really modest release. But it's doing what movies are meant to do. It's being seen in a theater. Your friends tell their other friends about it. They catch it before it leaves. Some of those people miss it. But then they watch it when the DVD comes out. That's how it's supposed to be. It almost missed all that. Its tough times for movies this size. I am glad you are taking the time to support it. And I will remember this later. Thank you!