Jennifer Lynch was mere hours away from Cannes and the debut of her new film, Surveillance, when we spoke on Monday. Since this is her first feature film since 1993's controversial Boxing Helena, there's really no telling what awaits her there, but Lynch was more relaxed and good-humored than you'd think a person could possibly be, under the circumstances.
The movie itself looks really good, and goddamn sinister. Julia Ormond and Bill Pullman star, her father, David Lynch, is executive producer-- and Cheri Oteri is in there somewhere too(!). It all seems to add up to something very unusual and very upsetting, which is just my style.
Jennifer opened up about her concern for child actors, her own daughter's participation in the film, her parents' influence. The only thing left unclear is whether I'll be hired as her valet the next time she takes off for Cannes. (Jennifer, you know where to reach me!!)
TB: I know you’re traveling today, so I’ll keep this short and sweet.
JL: That’s alright, I hate it when men say they’re going to “keep this short and sweet,” so you know, just do what you need to do.
TB: Oh. I actually hate it when women say “Just do what you need to do.”
JL: Oh, sorry! Then let’s have a good long talk together; let’s take as much time as we need, Tom.
TB: Who have you screened Surveillance with so far?
JL: The list goes on and on... I’m more informed about the list of people who haven’t seen it yet. I guess there are some folks seeing it today in Cannes at a market screening, so when I get there they can either yell at me or salute me, whatever they feel is appropriate.
TB: I had an interesting talk with Tracy Letts about the way that Bug was promoted, and how often interesting, intelligent thrillers wind up being re-packaged to draw in a hardcore horror audience. I’m curious about your perception of Surveillance—do you think the film they’re showing off in the trailer is the film that you’ve made?
JL: It concerns me a little bit that the big reaction I get is, “Wow, that looks scary.” Because I made what I hope is a frightening film at times, but it’s more psychologically scary than it is Saw 5. So hopefully it won’t be billed as anything but a thriller and will stay away from the horror market, because if people go in expecting a horror film, they may find themselves disappointed.
TB: Boxing Helena came out in 1993. Are we going to have to wait another 15 years for your next movie?
JL: No you’re not! Those 15 years were filled with working on a book, and trying to recover from the backlash of Boxing Helena. And I got pregnant, and realized I was going to raise my daughter alone; she’s twelve now, she’ll be thirteen in September, so now I can get back to work. I also had three consecutive spinal surgeries, and that took some time. I’ve already got my next picture planned, though, and I’ll be shooting this summer.
TB: What can you tell us about that?
JL: I can tell you I’m very excited about it, and that I’m shooting it in India.
TB: Gotcha. As a mother and someone who had a great exposure to film as a child, what was it like to direct Ryan Simpkins, an actress who is about your daughter’s age?
JL: It was fantastic! What I love about Ryan is that she’s an incredible performer, but she’s not a kid actress. No offense to kid actors out there, but they scare me. I worry for them. Ryan just happens to be a kid who can perform very well. I was very careful to protect her from some of the images that I didn’t think she needed to see. But obviously I needed her to be reacting as if she had, so she and I spent some time creating things that are okay for a kid to be afraid of, or for a kid to be confused about-- so that, like everyone else, she could enjoy the experience of the film and then not carry it around afterward like terrifying baggage.
The role I wrote for Ryan was inspired by my daughter, and by the fact that children see so much more than we give them credit for seeing, because they’re not caught up in their ego, they’re not caught up in “How do I look? Is my ass too big? Do they like me?”
TB: Was your daughter around a lot while you were filming?
JL: Yes, the entire time. And I would have let her do [Simpkins’ role] but… if she wants to flip me off when she’s 18 and say, “Mom, I’m going to be an actress,” that’s fine, but right now, I don’t want that for her.
TB: Do you really think that’s going to happen?
JL: I don’t know! There are little insert shots of her in the film; if that’s what she wants to do, I’ll celebrate it. I’ll say, “Yay!” and then come home and curl into a ball—but I’ll say “Yay!” in front of her.
TB: Does it ever get tiresome when people ask about your father’s influence on your work?
JL: What's funny is that he had nothing to do with this film. The Executive Producer credit is both my gift to him for all his help over the years, and his gift to me. He loved the script, he was thrilled to help make it happen. He saw it for the first time after I was done cutting it, his influence is obviously in there, but if you look through my mother's paintings, you'd see her influence in there too. It never gets tiring. I adore my parents, even when we piss each other off. Hopefully they're as proud as they keep saying they are after seeing this film.
TB: Tell me about working with Bill Pullman, who seems to take lots of risks to be in some fantastic and unusual movies.
JL: He is one of the greatest actors, men, friends, or guys you could pass in an airport, in the whole world. He’s so devoted as a performer, and has an intellect and genuine playfulness that is unmatched in most other people. You can’t help but just sort of giggle around him! And he can go from a really dark moment to “Hey, how’s it going” in a flash. I wanted him from the start, and he wasn’t available and wasn’t into it. Three years later, when I was literally a week from shooting, I lost my lead actor, so I called him up and said, “Bill, I won’t be able to sleep again unless I at least try. I know you can only give me one of two answers. Yes or no?” And he said, “Now, why didn’t I want to do it before?” And I said, “I don’t remember.” So I sent him the script, and he called me a few hours later and said, “I’m flying to Canada.” It all came full circle.
What shocked me more was the fact that Julia Ormond actually called ME… When I heard that Julia Ormond wanted to meet with me about this part, I said, “THE Julia Ormond? Well damn, sure I’ll have coffee with her!” And she just blew me away. She’s totally undercover as a proper English woman, but there is sex in Julia when she just walks across the room, or clears her throat. She’s a powerhouse.
TB: Are there any other films at Cannes that you’re looking forward to seeing as an audience member?
JL: I want to see them All, but I’m not going to get to see a doggone one of them. I want to see Woody Allen’s new picture, I want to see Kung Fu Panda with my daughter. I want to see the films I’m in the same category as, such as Barry Levinson’s film.
TB: What kind of pressure do you feel from Cannes as far as Surveillance’s US release?
JL: Magnolia’s picked it up, so we have a distributor. Pressure… [laughs] having never been, and having come out of 15 years of a totally different life, the whole thing is exhilarating and terrifying. I feel like I’m about to enter an enormous library; it’s really only 26 letters jumbled up in different ways, and all these stories are alive in there. All of this imagination, all these facts, all these opinions. And that’s where it feels like I’m headed, to this cinematic library where we’re all using the same 26 letters to tell our stories, and I just hope the way I’ve arranged them works for people.
TB: I think you'll find that people are already very excited and curious about it-- though I can't speak for people in Cannes, since AMC's not sending me to cover it.
JL: They should be. Want me to make a phone call?