Sunday, March 29, 2015

PRESS CONFERENCE - LOVE & MERCY - Brian Wilson, Bill Pohlad, John Cusack

At the SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas, I attended a press conference for the film, Love & Mercy.
Present were Director Bill Pohlad, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, and Actor John Cusack.

Regarding having two actors portraying Brian Wilson, Pohlad explained that they wanted to show two major periods in Brian's life; early in his career and later when he was under the influence of the psychologist, Dr. Landy.  They also wanted to shift back and forth between these two periods, rather than doing it chronologically, so it seemed more natural to have two actors for that purpose.  He went on to say that Paul Dano looks exactly like Brian did at an earlier age, and John looks like him at a later time.  

The earlier period of the l960's were shot in a warmer, more nostalgic way using Super 16, which gave it the texture they were looking for.  Whereas in the l980's, they wanted to have a cooler look because of where Brian had been brought to at that point, so when they stepped out of the studio they used 35 mm film, giving the picture a different quality.  The studio sessions were magical--to be able to shoot the film in the same room where Brian worked made them feel incredibly lucky.

Pohlad went on to say that the film was to be more like a portrait of Brian, rather than a definitive, photographic account of his life, because so much had happened to him through the years it would be impossible to capture everything in one film using the traditional bio-pic approach. 

He also noted that SXSW seemed an ideal place for the premier of the film in which the music and the film are one.

Asked about his preparation for the role, John Cusack said that Brian and his wife Melinda gave him lots of access in their home.  He spent a fair amount of time just being with them there.  In addition, he listened to the Beach Boys' music constantly, night and day, immersing himself in it.  "A soundtrack was playing in my head all the time."  Probably most important were the "Pet Sounds" album and "Brian Wilson Presents Smile" in which he could hear the maestro at work, creating sounds that would define the next thirty years of pop music. 

He approached the role more by instinct and feel, opening up himself fully, rather than trying to be too technical.  He said he was lucky in having a director with confidence, sensitivity, and passion so that Cusack could immerse himself in the music.

Another helpful person in gleaning more about Wilson's life was Gloria, the housekeeper.  She had been with Brian and Melinda the whole time, and added another dimension to the story that the filmmakers hadn't heard before.  Cusack called Melinda and Gloria Brian's two angels who look out for his interests all the time.

The most surprising thing Cusack said he learned about Brian was how much of a survivor he is, yet the amount of warmth and sensitivity he also shows--it's hard to believe all of that is in one person.  At the same time, it would be hard to overestimate his genius as a musician and an artist.  To hear him create sounds as on "Pet Sessions", you realize how talented he is.  Each of the 15 musicians had his/her own mic, and Brian might come up with, "Second oboe, put the mic one inch back."  

Regarding Paul Dano's musical ability, Pohlad said that one of Brian's band members met with him beforehand, and was astounded when Dano nailed a song of Brian's without any coaching the first time through it.  Brian added that he was surprised to see Dano in action, and felt very proud of him.

Cusack talked about how much of an honor it was to play this role.  He was most nervous about Brian, Melinda, and the band members seeing the film and feeling that he had done Brian justice.  He noted that there was added pressure of getting things right in portraying a living figure.  Having come to know Brian, capturing the feeling and sensitivity of Brian were more important than any specifics. 

Pohlad and Cusack expressed their gratitude to Brian and Melinda for their collaboration in making the film.  Brian gave them access to many of his personal notes, and they would periodically give him parts of what they had done--for instance, the script--to get his feedback and additional material he might contribute. And when asked about the film, Brian said he was very pleased with it, that it is very accurate and factual.  He said that Cusack and Banks (Elizabeth, who plays Melinda) were so attuned to him and Melinda, it almost seemed like the actors themselves were in love with each other.

Lastly, it was noted that Brian Wilson has a new album coming out and a tour in June for promotion of the album and the film.  He is excited about in the same way he always has been about new albums and tours. 

Addendum:  After the press conference, I talked briefly with one of the producers of Love & Mercy, Claire Rudnick-Polstein.  She started out as an attorney, but her interest in films led her to be first a reader, then later, a producer.  She worked for New Line and Dreamworks, and is on her own now, mainly working with the writer/producer/director,  John Wells.  She told me that when Melinda was asked why she and Brian would allow such a close-up picture of their lives, she replied that they thought it very important to get mental health issues brought up and talked about.  Rudnick-Polstein's father was a physician in the LA area at the time, and she was aware of how popular Dr. Landy was.  "It was 'in vogue' to be seeing him", she said.

Regarding the film, she said they consciously tried to strike a good balance between the music and the drama, which was important partly because Brian looks at the world musically. 

She responded to my question about knotty issues, and said the hardest was logistics--making the schedule work at different locations for the time allotted.

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