Writer and director Gus Van Sant made a film under the ironic title "Don't Worry, He Won't Go Far", based on the real story of artist John Callahan (played by Joaquin Phoenix), who started a new life after the accident that radically changed his fate and discovered the healing power of art.|
The car accident resulted in paralysis of the arms and legs, but after rehab, John learned to draw again and began to create topical cartoons that brought him fame and an army of fans. In the film, we'll see what led Callahan to this turning point in his life and how he copes with life's challenges by interacting with his old drinking buddy (Jack Black), the 12 Step sponsor (Jonah Hill) and his girlfriend (Rooney Mara ).
In an interview, Gus Van Sant spoke about the twenty-year journey of the film, which began with Robin Williams, who at one time bought the rights to film the autobiography of John Callahan, about how the script changed after the approval for the role of Joaquin Phoenix, about the creative freedom provided to the actor, and about unexpected casting decisions.
We loved the movie and Joaquin Phoenix is incredibly good at it.
What is it like to finally bring to life what was conceived 20 years ago and fully realized for such a long time?
Perfectly. I already have a similar experience. I think I saw the script for My Personal Idaho 15-16 years before I shot it. I also nurtured the "last days" for about 12 years, so this practice is pretty familiar to me.
When you've waited so long, admit that filming may not start at all, or are you always hoping for a better outcome?
Well, the projects are on the table, so I occasionally stumble upon them and get inspired by them again. In this particular case, it was a little different, since everything initially depended on Robin Williams. This was his idea. I worked with the scriptwriter in Robin's office, but I didn't worry about anything because he was the boss. But it turned out that due to many other proposals, Williams was at that time unable to commit himself to the implementation of the project from start to finish ... I was not worried, which I could not say about John Callahan himself, who was eager to see the film adaptation. I was just hoping that maybe everything will work out for us. Frankly, I was very surprised when, after so many years, I finally got a call from the Sony studio.
Have you ever thought that after Robin Williams leaves, you will not be able to return to this project? Or did the participation of Joaquin Phoenix give you strength?
When Robin died, I really didn't think about this project, it just didn't even occur to me. One of the results of his death was that the studio conducted an audit and, finally, found the strength and funds to film the book. And since I was somehow connected with her, I was asked about the considerations for the film adaptation. In fact, I was given a chance to finish what I started and at the same time make a new project. I didn’t sit and wait for an offer, so first of all I had to understand whether I wanted to return to this story at all, and only then think about who could be called for the main role. Joaquin agreed and I got a great opportunity to work with him.
Was it your idea to have a heart-to-heart talk with him before filming?
Yes, mine. We talked with him about different projects and ideas, which were still books or stories. Somewhere he enlightened me, somewhere - I him. In Callahan's case, I talked and Joaquin listened.
Did his presence in the film greatly influence the script? Are there many changes?
Of course, the new script was different, not in terms of character changes, but in that the things that I decided to focus on now were somewhat different from those that were written in the drafts. We also tried to convey more the mood of John himself. When we were creating for Robin Williams, we always looked back at him, so the result in the output may be slightly different from John's vision. When Joaquin Phoenix came to the project, while working on the script, I was already thinking about him and Callahan himself.
You always knew who John Callahan was, but how familiar were you with his work before filming?
I watched his cartoons back in the early 80s. Sometimes he could be seen on the street, when he rode there with the breeze in his wheelchair, with fluttering red hair. Then he declared himself as a cartoonist. Yes, by 1985-1986 he was already spoken of as a cartoonist. In Portland, he became a local celebrity. And when Robin bought the rights to the book, then I really got to know him better. That is, I always knew about him, but I only really learned about it when we started working on the script.
With a film of this magnitude, extremely specific work of the leading actor is needed. It was all the more surprising to learn that you gave Joaquin Phoenix the maximum creative freedom to portray John Callahan. Have you always let the actors improvise on set, or does it always depend on the project and the specific actor?
Yes, it all depends on how comfortable the actor is. From my own experience, I can say that they become a little happier if they are allowed to make their own creative contribution to the creation of the work: then they play what they have invented, and they do not need to explain anything.
How has Joaquin Phoenix changed professionally since you worked with him on Die in the Name?
Well, at first glance, not so much, but over the years he gained tremendous acting experience. At the time when we collaborated, he had no job for a long time. Since then, he has become a real professional, visited many places and played in excellent films.
Casting deserves special attention in your picture. It seems that in these roles it is impossible to imagine someone else, such a clear hit. Did you choose these actors yourself?
Rooney Maru was offered by Joaquin. I once met John Hill near a hotel in New York, and he said that we should work together. When the time came, I remembered that meeting, so it was my choice. Well, when I saw Jack Black, I think the first draft of the script was already ready, and I realized that he was created for his role.
What about Beth Ditto?
I know Beth Ditto from Portland, I was at her performances in clubs. She doesn't just sing, but she really interacts with the audience. I've always found her amazing. Beth brought a lot to the film as she is a funny actress herself, although not a comedic actress.
The Topic of Article: Gus Van Sant: Improvisation makes actors happier.