When I attended the MTV Movie Awards back in June, I had the amazing opportunity to see a preview of Chris Weitz’s new movie A Better Life that is currently opening in limited release in select cities (see details here). What really struck me as I watched the story was that it didn’t have a specific political agenda and avoided stereotypes. It was a very human story of what a father would do to put himself last in order to give his only son A Better Life.
Just yesterday I was again fortunate and was able to be part of a last minute fansite phone interview with Chris where he talked candidly about his film and what’s in it for Twilight fans. Shout out to my fellow site ops from: Twilight Examiner, Twilighters Anonymous, Team Twilight, Twilightish, Twilight Series Theories, and Twilight Moms.
Q: How were you able to get such amazing emotions out of the actors, especially [Jose Julian] – I just read on his page that he’s never done anything like this before. The movie’s so powerful; how did you get the actors to portray that on-screen?
Chris Weitz: Well, I mean Demian Bichir is a big actor in Mexico. He’s been in many movies; he’s incredibly technically accomplished and a brilliant actor so that was never in doubt for me. Of course, when you’re starting with a newcomer, you don’t really know what you’re going to get, but I think the thing that we managed to do was to schedule it so that the scenes which he was being a difficult teen and kind of a pain in the butt were early on, which is kind of easier for a sixteen-year-old actor to go to, and then the more emotional scenes, by the time we got around to shooting that, he had lived in our little circus for you know a couple of months. He had learned from Demian; he had learned how to focus; he had been through all this thinking about things, and so that helped him. And of course acting with Demian when he’s delivering that sort of final speech in the detention center, I would find it hard not to convey a hell of a lot of emotion myself.
Q: Twilight fans obviously, certainly we love our good-looking men and the abs, but we do like more than that, and one of the big themes in the Twilight series is family and relying upon your family. Can you speak to those similar themes in A Better Life?
Chris Weitz: Yeah, well that’s kind of why I started tweeting and why I thought it would . . . why I was really glad you all could see it early . . . because you know it’s not about vampires and werewolves and that sort of thing, but the great thing about Twilight, I think the revelation is that people will go see a movie that concerns itself with emotions, and that is very much about family. I mean, Carlos . . . like Charlie Swan is a great dad, he will always be there for his daughter. Carlos is a character who just keeps his head down and works hard to do everything that he can for his son, and he and his son are at odds because they don’t have the chance to be with each other enough to understand one another, and, you know, part of the interest of the story is that it’s this terrible thing that has happened that allows them to learn more about one another. So, I mean, to me, it’s not so weird that we’re talking together about this. I mean, of course I want as many people as possible to see the movie, but I think that the great thing about the success of the Twilight films is that it’s not just going to be . . . it’s defined sort of the strength of movies about emotions in the marketplace. And that’s kinda what I do, so that’s something I’m very happy about.
Q: With New Moon, I know you were pretty specific about your intent to bring on only First Nation or Native American actors for the wolfpack, and I was wondering if with A Better Life, you required all the actors to be from Mexico or of Mexican descent.
Chris Weitz: Yeah, I did. The reason is that people would tell the difference. You know, for instance . . . there are a couple of reasons I didn’t go after someone like Javier Bardem. Javier Bardem is Spanish, and that’s from the Conquistador culture. Mexicans are from the culture that has been dominated. And also there’s a difference between a Mexican Latino-American and a Salvadoran Latino-American. Just ask them. And they recognize those differences, just in terms of the accents and everything. And we wanted this to be as authentic as possible, so for instance, with the three characters who are supposed to have been born and raised in Mexico, those are all actors who flew up from Mexico in order to . . . those are three big Mexican actors who flew up in order to play those parts. And we’re proud to do so because they were sort of representing the experience of Mexicans who come to this country. And just as I thought it was somehow, I don’t know, karma-cally appropriate to cast First Nation actors in New Moon, it was in this case as well.
Q: Could you talk about the differences in how you prepare for a film like New Moon or The Golden Compass, where the characters are more fantasy-based versus A Better Life, where they’re obviously real-life type characters?
Chris Weitz: I think it’s actually strangely similar. Because in something like New Moon or Golden Compass, if you don’t believe that the characters believe what they’re going through . . . if the characters aren’t acting in their own real lives, then something’s going to be missing on the screen. So, sort of the way I prepare with the actors or rehearse with the actors is exactly the same way. Because we’re just talking about what emotions each character is evoking in the other. The one thing I didn’t have to prepare actors for on this movie was to say, ‘Oh, by the way, ninety percent of the time, you’re going to be acting with this green pillow, which is not going to give you anything back.’ I remember having to go through that with Nicole Kidman, this whole session with the technicians, just showing her what she was going to have to do to act with this imaginary monkey, and I’m really glad not to have to do that again.
Q: How do you feel about your recent popularity on Twitter?
Chris Weitz: I don’t know, am I popular? I keep noticing that a lot of people have more followers than I do. I mean, I’m very touched by it actually. It’s really, really cool to sort of revive this relationship with the fans which had kind of gone dormant. I think there was probably a time where I was Twittering too much for my mental health. I would go on these massive binges, and then I realized, cause I’d always been sort of a bit snobby about Twitter, like I would never do that . . . and then when I got my hands on the keyboard, you couldn’t stop me. I was in Twitter Jail twice a day. And now I’ve learned to just calm down a bit and to try to focus as much as possible, but it’s really cool however. I think it’s great to have like I think it’s 27,000 followers? It’s awesome. Sometimes I feel terrible that I can’t answer everybody’s questions, like no human being would be able to unless they had several clones, but it’s been a fun way to revive for me, the experience of that sort of enthusiasm.
Q: You worked with a lot of your New Moon alums on this one like Javier Aguirresarobe, Alexandre Desplat, and Peter Lambert . . . I was wondering what made you bring them back on board for A Better Life and how did working with them compare and contrast with the two?
Chris Weitz: Well, you know, one of the great things about getting older and making more and more films is that you start to develop these kind of continuous working relationships with people, and that’s ideal . . . if you get used to working with someone and feel a great degree of comfort with them you don’t have to start from scratch every single time, so you know, working with Javier I just knew how beautiful his work was going to be, and the same thing with Alexandre, you know, when you listen to the score he did for this picture, it is absolutely gorgeous, and especially under the conditions – which was that we had about a month between starting the score and recording it in London. And you can’t do that kind of thing if you’re working with somebody for the first time. We’re trying to make a film that looks much more expensive than it actually was, and, you know, even working with Peter, just the degree to which we were able to understand what we were trying to get from the get-go helps a tremendous amount, as well as the fact that like any job, you like to work with your buddies. You know, that’s kind of one of the great things about working on films.
Q: One of the things that I noticed when I saw the movie was that I was so impressed with the soundtrack. I’m bilingual, and I really, really enjoyed the soundtrack. Can you talk a little about how you decided to pick those artists and songs; you know, was somebody translating for you? or did you just come . . . because they are just a fantastic fit.
Chris Weitz: Well, eventually, now I’m able to understand the lyrics to the songs themselves because I was learning Spanish throughout the whole process and it’s been quite a while now. I’ve realized, people have very little patience for Mexican music because they don’t realize that it’s very much about the lyrics and about the particular sense of melancholy that infuses a lot of the older songs . . . we very clearly wanted to define different musical territory between Luis, the son, and his more sort of aggressive Spanish hip-hop and the kind of music that Carlos would listen to, which is very much more lyrical and melancholy and loaded with sorrow, and there’s so much to say about the position of people who come to this country to work . . . and of course the real sting in the tail for me, for people who can speak Spanish, is the music that was playing in the nightclub when Carlos goes into it because it’s Narcocorrido, and it sounds like it’s this very happy-go-lucky mariachi music, but it’s actually music about drugs and killings and shooting and grenades, and it’s really kind of the equivalent of gangster rap. It’s really very strange and particular kind of music, but to me at that moment, Carlos is in hell, and that music was just right for us.
Q: What do you want people to take away from this movie?
Chris Weitz: More than anything, I want people to take away a sense of the universality of the love amongst families, between parents and children. I mean, it’s obvious that this bears on a very hot-button issue on immigration, but it’s not really an issue movie, we’re not trying to forward any kind of political agenda . . . just to open a window to people’s lives that they may not know about and the kind of parallel worlds that people live in, that they’re not aware of. Whether it be in Los Angeles or any city in America.
Q: Even in just the early reviews, there’s been a lot of awards buzz, especially for Demian . . . he’s been compared to Javier Bardem in his role for Biutiful . . . how do you feel about the awards buzz? Does it add pressure or does it feel good at this point?
Chris Weitz: Well, I mean, of course it’s really lovely. I don’t want to make any assumptions or to get a big head or to get too excited about things except to say that I think that the awards buzz for Demian is really well-deserved. I think it’s an extraordinary performance by an extraordinary actor, and if there was anyone who deserves to get recognized for this, it’s Demian. So yeah I see it as much job to get him nominated at this point.