SUNDANCE 2001: MORIARTY Interviews Jimmy Duvall About DONNIE DARKO & THE DOE BOY!!
Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
I first met Jimmy Duvall through a mutal friend. This was pre-PHANTOM MENACE, and it was STAR WARS that brought us together. In the time since then, I’ve come to think of Jimmy as a friend. When the lineup for this year’s Sundance festival was announced, two films featuring Jimmy in key roles were on the list. As I’ve been talking with other people about what films they’re looking forward to at Sundance, DONNIE DARKO is the title that keeps coming up. There’s a lot of anticipation for Richard Kelly’s debut feature. As soon as I saw the Sundance program guide’s explanation of THE DOE BOY and saw the photo of Jimmy running through the woods, a longbow in his hands, I had to call Jimmy to talk to him about it. It’s a set of circumstances that would have me flipping out if I were the actor in question, so I decided to grill Jimmy a bit in preparation for the crazy week he’ll have in Park City starting this coming weekend.
When he showed up at my place on Sunday evening, he came bearing gifts. Groovy gifts, too. Our mutual friend had sent some STAR WARS figures that Jimmy wanted to pass along to myself and to Harry Lime, the only man whose retardation regarding SW even begins to equal Jimmy’s. I showed him the stills from Corona CA of Tobey Maguire as SPIDER-MAN and we both geeked out on those for a few minutes, our conversation taking a sort of twisted path through subjects like BATMAN and camp and comic book sidekicks. We headed back out to the front room of the Labs as the conversation continued. We grabbed drinks, then sat down to talk seriously.
MORIARTY: So, now that you’ve had a chance to chew on those EPISODE II storyboards I showed you and you’ve had a chance to digest the story summary I gave you, what do you think?
JIMMY: I think these movies ae going to kick ass.
Oh... so you’re excited?
Just a little bit, yeah. He’s giving us back a gift, man.
I’m pretty excited myself. I wrote a brief piece about it last week. Right now, it’s the same way it was when we were first figuring out the shape of PHANTOM MENACE. We knew there was a pod race. We knew they went to Tatooine. We knew these bits and pieces, even if we didn’t know how they fit together.
I can’t wait for this movie. I wish it were next summer now. I need it to be next summer now. I can’t take the wait. (groans) Let’s talk about something else. I can’t take this.
Okay... let’s talk about Park City. You’re headed up there on Thursday of this week?
How many times have you been to Sundance before this?
Jimmy stopped, thought about it for a moment.
Four? Four times.
And each time you went, you had a movie playing there?
I had a movie there in ’94, ’95, and I had a really small bit in this film, this Mark Pellington... so, yeah, each time, I had something there. But there were years where I had something playing and couldn’t attend, too.
So this is your fifth trip, Sundance 2001, and you’ve got two films playing there. Which of those did you shoot first, DONNIE DARKO or THE DOE BOY?
THE DOE BOY.
And when did you shoot that?
April and May of 2000.
I remember talking to you right before you left to start shooting. This is a lead for you, a chance to be the center of the film. How did you end up attached to this material?
First off, I have to give Roland Emmerich a lot of credit. He saw something in me and he cast me in INDEPENDENCE DAY, and because of that role, a lot of people saw me. They’ve sought me out because of that. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a lot of great filmmakers since that movie came out in the summer of ’96. It’s been five years now, and I’ve been working more often because people have seen that work and some of the other work, like the Gregg Araki stuff...
The first thing I ever saw you in was THE DOOM GENERATION.
There’s a lot of people who saw that first.
I remember at the time I saw it, that’s what "indie" cinema was all about. That’s the sort of thing that was thought of as a Sundance movie. Sundance was dark and edgy and dangerous, or at least that’s how it was sold for a few years. When I saw DOOM, I had a real mixed reaction to it.
(laughing) Yeah, me, too.
There was definitely a wicked wit to it all, but there were places where it just seemed foul, beyond skank.
And then there was ID4, which couldn’t have been any bigger in terms of how many people saw it.
And that’s pretty much what brought THE DOE BOY to me. He ws writing a script about a mixed Native American, a mixed Cherokee who’s based on himself. And when he saw the movie, ID4, he thought I’d be a good Hunter, the lead character. I give Randy Redroad, the director, a lot of credit for seeing something in me, something that he responded to. It took a lot of faith to seek me out.
I saw that Chris Eyre is involved as a producer. What role did he play in getting the film made?
He was a godfather to the project. He was there during the filming, and he offered his opinion during the various cuts of the film, the same way the other producers and the various financers did. That’s the great thing about Randy... he’s very open to everyone’s opinion, and he’s willing to listen to good ideas, but he also had the control to make the film he wanted to make.
Have you seen the finished film?
I’ve only seen the last piece of it. I wasn’t awake for the one screening they had so far.
And what did you think?
I liked it a lot. It’s strange, though.
Well, this is a lead. You’re at the heart of this film. Without you, it doesn’t work. Is this a big step for you as an actor?
Yeah. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, that I’ve always wanted the opportunity to try. Randy gave me that opportunity, to do something heartfelt and idealistic and mythical.
Another of the various identities that Sundance has had over the years is a strong outlet for Native American voices. Would you consider this a Native American film, or is it about something broader?
The movie does have Native Americans in it, but it’s also got the type of Americans you’d encounter in any Oklahoma town. I think it’s more mythical than that, though. I know I kept rereading my copy of [Joseph Campbell’s] HERO OF A THOUSAND FACES while we were shooting, reading about the hero’s journey and how he gets his call, and how he faces his first conflict that he has to face, and how if he turns away, he’ll never be able to go back. Eventually he has to cross the threshhold on his journey to become a man. This is a simple journey, from boy to man, but it’s painted in mythical terms, and I think it’s an important story, one that should be told in different ways, over and over.
Well, you and I first really met because of STAR WARS, and we both know that Lucas used those same archetypes in telling that story. The size of the films may be different, but do you see any difference in the stories themselves? Is there a difference for you as an actor in making films of those extremes, in going from a big film to a small film or vice-versa?
I used to say no, that when I was working I could just go into my head and I could be anywhere and it would be the same, but that’s not true. There’s something about being on a big movie with a vast crew in the middle of nowhere with three cameras shooting at once, and as far as the eye can see, everything’s been built. Everything’s been designed. And it’s all real as far as your eye can tell. When you’re on a huge set, it’s unreal, but it’s also hyperreal, and when you’re shooting, it’s like you’re really there. It’s very easy to believe that world. On a small film, you don’t have the money to create like that, so it’s a different process. You go and you try to find the place. You try and find that thing you’ve imagined, find someplace that really looks like that and sounds like that and smells like that and tastes like that, and that’s what you have to work with. Usually, that turns out to be very organic, and when you walk off the set, you tend to really still be living that life. That’s what THE DOE BOY was.
You want to do big movies as well, right?
Of course. I grew up with JAWS and SW and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. Those are the types of movies that made me dream and made me wonder and gave me hope and inspired me.
When you make a journey like THE DOE BOY, or when you’re lucky enough to do three or four films in a row, what impact does it have on you both as an artist and as a person?
Every film does something totally different to you, and you carry each of those experiences to the next one, hopefully. With THE DOE BOY, I definitely took that into AMERICANA, the Dogma 95 film I did, and to DONNIE DARKO. As an actor, I try to just work as much as I can, from the biggest movies to the smallest movies possible. I actually did a film after DOE BOY. It’s a little underground film I shot in San Francisco. It’s by a filmmaker named John Moritsugu, whose work is very obscure. It’s a world all to itself. The guy’s a friend of Gregg Araki’s. We did a film a while back called MOD FUCK EXPLOSION, and our friendship just continued from there. I think he’s a great, interesting filmmaker, and he’s also a great guy, a great person, and I love his wife Amy. He called me as I was about to go do DOE BOY to tell me about this script he was writing, and he said, "If you’re not doing something, you should come up to San Francisco," and there’s something about lending yourself to this film that’s shooting on a whole other level that feeds you. Watching him shoot this film for no money, it’s a totally different approach to filmmaking, so it means I’m doing a totally different type of acting. It helped me so much going into AMERICANA, which is a Dogma ’95 film, and there’s a lot of improv. There really wasn’t a script. It was more like a synopsis.
Is that film finished as well?
It’s finished, it’s delivered, it’s just waiting. It’s executive produced by Lars Von Triers, so it is an official Dogma film. We’re talking about entering it to Cannes this year and see what happens.
And then you shot DONNIE DARKO.
And then I shot DONNIE DARKO.
Both Harry and I have been fans of that script for a long time. When you first read the thing, there’s a central figure, an image, that you can’t shake after you read it. I’m talking about Frank The Bunny.
Ah, yes. Frank...
You are Frank The Bunny.
Yes. Yes, I am.
That is a badass role to be playing, my friend. How did you hook up with [DARKO writer and director] Richard Kelly?
Just an audition. It was amazing. Richard’s a great guy, and I thank him for being able to see me in the role, since it wasn’t written for someone physically like me. I had a great meeting and audition with him, and he offered me the role.
And when you first read the script, what was your take?
I thought, "This is unbelievable."
How did you even begin to prepare to play Frank? It’s not like any character I can describe?
Would it be too dark to say that I’m just playing myself? (laughs) Actually, there’s a scene where you meet Frank as a normal person. When you meet him, it’s an accident, fate, part of this strange journey, and you’re not really sure you saw what you think you saw until much later. Maybe it’ll mean something different to you than it did to me. When I read it, I thought, "Here’s this great story about this kid with this great imagination."
And that is what it seems like, a child’s fevered imagination. It doesn’t seem like any of the first half of that film could be real. It’s all got to be something out of Donnie’s head, mysterious and surreal.
All of it has to do with the past and ourselves, and the normalcy we crave, and how when we get that we sometimes don’t know how to care for it, and we shoot and kill that thing we need. It was important that no matter how strange things seemed, I had to approach Frank as everyday person who just had shitty luck and made a mistake and paid for it. When he comes to Donnie, you don’t know who or what he is.
Well, it evolves in the strangest way over the course of the thing. It’s all about connections.
People asked me while I was working on it, "What’s the movie about?" I think the movie is about possibilities. No matter who you are, what you are, what you do, or where you go, always remember, there are always possibilities. That’s what the film is about, what Frank is about, what Donnie is learning.
Are you looking forward to seeing this at Sundance?
Oh, yeah. Are you?
Absolutely. This is going to be a blast. I’m dying to just get up there and try to see as many movies as possible. I’m a little worried about the circus, but it’s worth it if I can even get into a third of the films I’m interested in.
If you’re there for the movies, Sundance is a dream. I’ve seen great films there. I’ve seen stuff I didn’t expect. I saw CRUMB there, and had no idea what it was. That film kicked my ass, and it left me thinking and feeling and just sort of dizzy. That’s what you can get if you’re really lucky, that kind of great experience, that sort of unexpected rush.
Since GONE IN 60 SECONDS, you’ve shot a total of four films. Busy year. What’s 2001 look like?
Well, I’ve got an offer right now, and it looks like it should go through... (leans into the tape recorder)... I CERTAINLY HOPE IT ALL GOES THROUGH... for a film that John Badham’s making called OCEAN WARRIOR. I tell people it’s about Greenpeace, but really it’s about the guys who are too extreme even for Greenpeace. It’s about the guys who say, "Look, taking a picture is not taking action." It’s about putting yourself in front of a whaler’s harpoon, and about putting yourself in harm’s way. I’m excited, and I really believe that this movie’s got a lot to say as we start the new millennium about the way we treat our world.
Are you going to do any of that yourself to prepare for the film? Are you going to actually go out with those guys?
I should. That’s a good idea. Thanks, man. I’d love to do it, and not just for the role, either. I’d love to do it because I believe in what they’re trying to accomplish. This is a more political film than anything I’ve done before.
Well, man, I’m looking forward to it, and I’m sure we’ll be checking in over the week in Park City to see how things are going with you. Thanks for sitting down on the record tonight.
Thank you. I’ll see you up there.
A little later today, I’m going to be putting up a list of the top ten films that John Robie and I are going to try and see at Sundance. Both DONNIE DARKO and THE DOE BOY are already guaranteed must-sees for me personally, and I’ll be rooting for Jimmy not just as a friend, but also as a film fan who is excited by the pictures Jimmy happens to be in.
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