Anthony Minghella's son becomes a lead actor and a good one at that

Max Minghella has had an auspicious start to his young career. With three films under his belt, he's already worked with George Clooney, John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent, and Terry Zwigoff. Max is the son of Oscar winning director and screenwriter Anthony Minghella. I met Max last year during the interviews for Bee Season. Success hasn't gone to his head so far. He's still very much the genteel and soft-spoken introvert. Art School Confidential is his first leading role. He stars as Jerome, a shy art student at odds with his search for artistic success and desire to win the heart of the lovely Sophia Myles. The film is an adaptation of the Dan Clowes underground comic. It is his second collaboration with director Terry Zwigoff. Max comments on working with the pair, the definition of art, and what it's like to be an English boy going to an American university.

How did you get this part?

Max Minghella: I met Terry when I was shooting a movie in Berkeley. He lives in San Francisco and just happened by our set one day. We ended up chatting very briefly. He came to my hotel room. It was the middle of the day and I had all of the blinds closed. It was pitch black in my room. I think that won him over. We hung out and read the script together. That was it, a fairly simple audition process.

This is when you were shooting Bee Season?

Max Minghella: Yes.

How do you prepare to be an art student?

Max Minghella: I had about two weeks between Bee Season and Art School Confidential. I went to a bunch of student art galleries and I hung out with an art student. He stayed with me for most of the shoot and that helped a lot.

What do you think this film is saying about art and art students?

Max Minghella: It's a difficult movie to summarize because it has so many themes. I think the central theme is the difference between what you do and who you are, especially in the creative medium. Your work is so personal, where does the line blur in artistic success and what does that mean. How much of that are you responsible for?

Did it change your perception of what art is?

Max Minghella: It makes me think about more things. What makes something a piece of art was something I never really thought about. How easily taste is manipulated, there's a great scene where everyone displays their work. And they're all afraid to say something until someone goes, this is good, and everyone is "Oh Yeah". I'm like that too. We're all sheep and lemmings to some degree.

But isn't it also about getting women? The great thing about this movie is that he's using art to get this girl. Where's the artistic integrity in that?

Max Minghella: I think we all want to find the love of our life and live our fantasies. What art student hasn't used his art to get girls? What journalists or actors haven't used their craft as well? It's a very human instinct to pursue.

Do you think Jerome is a good artist?

Max Minghella: That's so subjective. That's what the movie is about. Who's to say that Jerome is a better artist than Jonah? I think Jerome is very confused and very ambitious.

Does Jerome sell out?

Max Minghella: No, I think he's making the best of it in the end of the movie. But I think that comes from the validation of success. The weird thing about acting is you're the most competent when you're at your best, but you have to be validated. It's a weird kind of vicious circle.

Do you believe in selling out? As an actor, could you turn down a huge, financially lucrative franchise? Is that selling out?

Max Minghella: Selling out, as I understand it, is doing something that you don't believe in. I don't think it has anything to do with what kind of film it is. I love Michael Bay movies. I don't think I'd be selling out if I did one. I happen to like his movies. I think selling out is doing something you don't believe in and you're doing it for a selfish purpose. Although you have to survive, I may have to sell out if I'm living under a cardboard box.

Do you have any artistic talent?

Max Minghella: I'm terrible. I'm useless. I've tried, but I'm rubbish.

How important was it to have Dan Clowes on set during the shoot?

Max Minghella: It's great to have a writer available to you if you have any questions. They [Terry Zwigoff and Dan Clowes] are very much a team. It was great to have as much help as possible.

What's your interpretation of Dan's drawing of you on the poster?

Max Minghella: I really like it. It's very similar to an initial drawing he drew, before I was cast, of what Jerome looked like. This is basically the same, but with bigger eye-brows. I like it, I think it's cool. It's a difficult movie to sell, so that gets the tone right.

How was it working with Terry?

Max Minghella: He's like a friend. He's a great director; he knows exactly what he wants. He knows what he's doing, but he doesn't feel like you're working for somebody. He really feels like your friend from high school is visiting the set for day. He jokes with you and asks you to buy him cigarettes. He's like a kid. He giggles behind the monitor. It's really nice not to be intimidated or nervous.

Did you understand his references? How did you know about obscure comics and the other really fringe stuff he's into?

Max Minghella: I'll tell him that I have absolutely no idea what he's talking about. He's obsessed with really odd jazz music. I'm not going to pretend or he'd find me out very quickly.

You've worked with some great actors in your career so far. You've got John Malkovich and Jim Broadbent here. What do you learn from them?

Max Minghella: More than anything I've learned their behavior. The people I've worked with have worked incredibly hard and are very serious actors. They don't fuck around too much. I think that more than anything is the best influence.

What's Malkovich like on set?

Max Minghella: He's great. Of everyone I've worked with, technically I've learned the most from him. He's a veteran. He's very generous as an actor. He'll change what he's doing to help you. He's really fun to work with. Everyone thinks he's some crazy eccentric. He's not.

You're in school as well, having recently enrolled in Columbia University here in New York City. How do you like that?

Max Minghella: It's great. I just started and am doing the core curriculum now.

Do you get recognized on campus?

Max Minghella: They have no idea. I keep to myself to be honest.

How do you plan on pursuing your film career while going to school?

Max Minghella: A lot of organization, it's just logistical stuff basically. I'm a student primarily. I have to keep a check on that. I don't want to be forty-five and still a freshman.

What kind of stuff do you do at school for fun? Do you go to frat parties?

Max Minghella: I'm so disappointed in the frat parties at Columbia. I'm like an English boy going to an American college. I'm thinking cheerleaders, I'm thinking kegs. That's not what's on the cards. Thank God actually, then I'd never do any work. I'm pretty reclusive. I'm a homebody. I watch a lot DVDs. I don't leave my room too much.

What are you doing next?

Max Minghella: I'm shooting a movie right now in Austin. However school is definitely the priority right now. I'm only going to do something if I'm desperate to do it. That's my focus right now. I'm going to do movies in the summers basically.

Are you more interested in Indie films or are you thinking about the bigger, Michael Bay type movies?

Max Minghella: I have no agenda at all. I just want to do stuff I like. It can cost $200 million or $200 thousand. I've been lucky to get the jobs I wanted so far. I hope that keeps up.

Does having a famous director for a father help at all in defining what you should do?

Max Minghella: To be honest, we do such different things. I didn't even realize how different until I started acting. I don't think he has that much wisdom to impart. But as the son of a director, I really believe an actor's place is just to shut-up and do what you're told to some agree.

Doesn't the film you're working on now have a necrophilia aspect?

Max Minghella: It's sort of, but it's also the sweetest, pathetically sweet love story.

Between a guy and a corpse?

Max Minghella: (laughs) Here's what happens. Miss Texas dies, but doesn't really die. She comes to my mortician's office. I'm about to start embalming her. I give her a kiss and she comes back to life. I do nothing more. I give here a little peck. That's the somewhat necrophiliac aspect.

What's the name of the movie?

Max Minghella: It's called "Elvis and Anabelle". It's like The Notebook, a really sweet film.

Then it's back to school?

Max Minghella: Then it's summer. I'm half-Chinese and I haven't been back to Hong Kong in a long time, get some quality time with my mother.

Art School Confidential is in theaters now in LA and NY, and opens wider May 12th. The film is rated 'R'.