Gus Van Sant Talks Restless Blu-ray

Mia Wasikowska headlines this daring new romantic drama, on Blu-ray and DVD combo pack January 24th

From director Gus Van Sant comes the daring romantic drama Restless, which makes its Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack debut starting this week, January 24th. In stores now, this haunting tale follows two outsiders who experience a chance meeting at a funeral only to discover that they share unexpected common ground and a similar view of the world.

We recently caught up with Oscar-winner Gus to chat about the movie. Here is our conversation.

What encourages you, or inspires you, to take on a new project this far into your career?

Gus Van Sant: Usually, the concept or the screenplay, or the scenario. It can always be different. Sometimes it's just a project that's been around a long time. In this case, here was a project, where it was just a script I was sent, by Imagine and Bryce Dallas Howard. Which, sometimes happens. Sometimes it's just about the script I happen to read at the moment.

Your most recent projects, like Elephant, Paranoid Park, and Last Days, all have a very particular, almost documentarian look and feel to them. They were quite different from your previous films. Now, with Restless, we have a new film that looks nothing like those films. You seem to be turning yourself in a new direction this time out...

Gus Van Sant: After completing Gerry, I wanted to continue in a similar vein. So, Last Days and Elephant were connected to Gerry. Then Paranoid Park was a little in-between. But that was from a book, which was a little bit different than the other ones. The other ones were really extrapolations from news headlines. I was starting to change. Milk was something that was a really old project, that I had worked on at various points. It was the new screenplay that brought me back into that world. It wasn't really anything like Gerry, or Elephant, or Last Days. In the way it was written, at least. It was quite traditional. Then Restless was...I'm not sure...It is somewhat traditional in its form as a screenplay. I think I was connecting with the story and the characters.

Its funny that you mention Milk. I really put that one out of my head in terms of you being the director, because those other four films have such a distinctive mark on them. Milk seems so removed from what you were doing it almost feels like a different filmmaker.

Gus Van Sant: Uh-huh. There is a common theme, though, in the stories I have told. Which are usually associations of characters or families that are formed outside of a family circle. In Restless, there is that strong, small relationship that forms because, in this case, the character has a life threatening cancer that pushes her out of her own family. Now she makes a new friend that can relate to her on her own terms. It is a new look at something I have already done with these other films.

Are these themes that have bubbled up in your own life? Themes that you wanted to express artistically? Or is there less of a personal connection, and more of a fascination with these themes?

Gus Van Sant: It's not of a plan. Or anything. I've just noticed it...

You only just now noticed this?

Gus Van Sant: Yeah. I have only just noticed it over the last few years. Because people always ask, "What is the common theme of all your films?" I never really knew what the common theme was. But I think I've figured out that with this one...There actually is a common theme.

Is this an instance where, early in your career, you didn't believe in Auteur theory, but now that you are older, and can look at your own body of work, that maybe there is something to that idea?

Gus Van Sant: Do you mean auteur...Truffaut said that a filmmaker makes the same movie over and over again...Are you referencing that aspect of Auteur theory?

Not in so many words...But yeah, exactly...

Gus Van Sant: Yeah. I guess. Although, the auteur is different than that statement. The auteur is the sole author of that piece. I don't think it includes making the same film over and over again.

You never consider yourself the sole author of any film you've directed?

Gus Van Sant: No. I don't. Because, like here, Restless was written by Jason Lew. I am just trying to follow something he wrote. Trying to illustrate it. It depends on which film. Sometimes I am the sole author. But only in the cases where someone else is not the writer. Like with Good Will Hunting. That was very much authored by its two actors. Where as, My Own Private Idaho...That was just me.

Do you ever look at it as though you have two different careers as a director? Because half of your films don't quite look like the other half...

Gus Van Sant: They might not look alike stylistically. Maybe they aren't created with the same intentions...I have changed the elements of the style in making those films. I try to do it differently each time. Some of them revert back, and relate to each other. I really try to make something new with each film.

Your casting decisions are always so surprising, and so unique. It's always a pleasure to discover some of the actors you've put into your films. Do you have more fun with some of the more independent films? Where you can discover new, untested talent?

Gus Van Sant: It depends. Sometimes the actors are really experienced. But in the end, there really isn't that much difference. In the end, you still have players that are in front of the camera...The idea is that you are going to create something in conjunction with them. One of the differences is...A professional has some experience. That can be good and bad, because they might have opinions based on their experiences. They might say, "A close up lens twelve inches away from my face makes me look bad." They might want to avoid getting to close to the lens, because they've experienced that. Whereas, the non-professional has no preconceived ideas. There's technical stuff like lens, and how close you are to them...But also, the non-professional is unaware that it is hard to do a particular thing. They might just accept that you make it happen. Whereas a professional says, "Well, that is going to take me a few days of preparation to make happen, based on experience." So, sometimes the non-professionals are more daredevilish, because they are not aware of the difficulties in just playing a particular scene. The non-professionals are usually not...They don't have one hundred different attitudes or colors. They don't have as much depth, usually. Because they don't have this experience. I relate to them similarly, whether they are professional or not. I am usually speaking to them in the same way.

In the instance of Paranoid Park, we see actors in natural lighting. You are not afraid to shy away from the blemishes on a teenager's face. Those are untested actors, as you say, who may have been more open to that. When you are working with a fairly established actress like Mia Wasikowska, is she open to the aspects of working without make-up?

Gus Van Sant: Yeah, I mean...It's not just the teenagers...It's whether you have a make-up department. On Elephant, we just didn't have one. We didn't have anyone with any kind of make-up...

It was in Paranoid Park that I remember it really standing out...

Gus Van Sant: I think in that case, we also didn't have extensive make-up. William Friedkin is someone I've heard, that doesn't allow any make-up. Obviously, there was a lot of make-up in The Exorcist. But, you know...His standard mode is, if you need make-up, you are doing it yourself. Because it's just an extra added department that sometimes gets in the way. It can make things look less real. I guess it all depends on how you set things up.

Do you not care either way? Sometimes its necessary...Sometimes it isn't...

Gus Van Sant: Sometimes I do have makeup departments. In the case of Restless, we did. Sometimes I don't have them. It depends on how you are going into it. What people are expecting, or what they are interested in. Sometimes I'm just not watching. Sometimes I will find that I do have a make-up department, and I will just go with it. I'm not sure on Restless how that all worked out. It can be a really good thing to have a make-up department.

How important is location to you? When you shoot in Portland, you always make sure to honor some local landmarks, or offer a view into part of the city people have never been. Portland is a character. The same can be said about San Francisco in Milk. How did that apply to making Restless?

Gus Van Sant: Whatever the locations are, I really get into the vibe of the place. Its one of the things I feel I do. Maybe you are seeing that. It happens whether I am in Toronto, or Portland, or New York, or Los Angles.

Do you ever go to Toronto, and utilize it for the city itself?

Gus Van Sant: No, we've always been pretending it is someplace else. Yeah, we are pretending. You do still use the space for the real space that it is. However reluctant.

Have you ever felt compelled to base the actual storyline in Toronto...

Gus Van Sant: Look, these were always places I was in because of the money exchange, and the tax incentives. I was brought there. I've learned a lot about Toronto, and I've made a lot of friends up there. I haven't been back recently, because the incentives are elsewhere.

A lot of American cities are offering great tax incentives that weren't in place just a few years ago. Does that inspire you to go to a particular city, and base your story in that city?

Gus Van Sant: Oh, yeah. I am always looking for places where the stories actually take place. In the case of Restless, it was originally in Orono, Maine. But we shot in Portland. We decided to make it a city that wasn't in the original script. Partly because it was winter, and we knew it was going to be snowy there.

How did you get hooked up with Bryce Dallas Howard on this? You guys hadn't worked together in an actor-director capacity...

Gus Van Sant: No, I didn't know her. We'd just met on this project. You know what? I'm being told I have to jump to the next interview. Thanks a lot, though!

Restless is available on Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack today!