Griffin Dunne got started as an actor in Hollywood, including prominent roles in An American Werewolf in London, After Hours and Johnny Dangerously. He eventually moved behind the camera as well, helming the likes of Practical Magic and The Accidental Husband. His latest project is a short in the upcoming compilation project Movie 43, opening this Friday. In an exclusive interview with Mania, he talked about the project, and how being an actor makes directing a whole lot easier.
Question: How did you get involved in the project?
Griffin Dunne: One of the producers is a guy named Charlie Wessler, who’s one of my oldest friends. We’ve known each other since we were nine, and I’ve watched him working on this for years. Even though this wasn’t made for very much money, it was just an insane production with this cast. But as he pulled this thing together, it was always understood that he’d want me to direct one of the segments. And this was the one he wanted for me. It was a plum. Emma Stone was at the top of our list and she just happened to be completely available. She suggested Kieran Culkin, and they we great friends. They came in and brought their friendship and history to it. They made it look pretty easy.
Q: How do you walk that line between outrageous humor and simple crudeness?
GD: You can’t direct outrageous behavior, but you can direct strictness. If your dialogue is profane and your characters are saying completely unexpected things, you have to deliver them straight. This is a film about two kids who love each other desperately, but they’re breaking up. And when you break up as a kid, it’s the end of the world. They tapped into that truth, that reality. The dialogue comes on the surface of that, but if you turned down the sound or you didn’t speak English, you need to think that it’s a drama. That’s where the humor comes from: the sincerity of the situation and the characters’ beliefs.
Q: You’ve worked as an actor before. How does that help you as a director now?
GD: For a lot of directors who don’t have an acting background, many of them get a little tense when it comes to handling the actors. I feel more relaxed about it than any other aspect of directing. I think actors appreciate that I can speak to them in the kind of shorthand that they understand. I also know when to get out of the way and I think that’s helpful as well.
Q: Is there a difference in approach when you’re doing a short than when you’re doing a feature-length film?
GD: Not really. You’re just doing it for a shorter period of time. You’re serving a story and you shoot it in the best way for the humor and the emotion. The only difference is, everyone gets to go home weeks and months earlier. It’s really great, because you don’t get to make short films on this kind of scale before. I think and hope that audience will appreciate that too.
Q: We haven’t seen a movie like this in a couple of decades. I think Amazon Women on the Moon was the last one.
GD: Yeah, and Kentucky Fried Movie and Groove Tube before that. It’s amazing it hasn’t happened before. And those earlier films have a real cult following. I’m not sure why they don’t get made more often. I think the Internet may be part of it. Why go to the movie theater, when you can just call it up on Funny or Die? But the Internet is only one outlet, and just as movies inform the web, so does the web inform movies. It’s a changing culture and movies reflect that. At the same time, I think seeing it in theaters will be a different experience. We have huge star power and the notion of seeing people like Halle Berry and Hugh Jackman on the big screen doing things like this… I think that’s something we haven’t seen much of before. Something brand new.