If you know who David Gordon Green is, chances are you were surprised to hear he was directing the Judd Apatow-produced action-comedy stoner movie "Pineapple Express." If you don't, the 33-year-old indie film director has been heralded within critics' circles for his work on his small slice-of-life films "George Washington," "All the Real Girls" and "Snow Angels," as well as the low-budget Southern thriller "Undertow."
Before he took the stage to promote "Pineapple" alongside stars Seth Rogen and James Franco at last month's Comic-Con, Green took some time to explain how he hooked up with Apatow, got Franco to go ugly and stunned his parents into total silence.
So how did you get involved with the Apatow camp?
Through Danny McBride. Danny did "The Foot Fist Way," which they all freaked out over, so Apatow's people called him and asked him what else he wanted to do. Danny told them that we'd actually been writing and that I was dying to get the opportunity to direct one, but no one had given us a shot. They said, "Well, that's weird because we have the power to give people shots." So it was really that.
The next week I had lunch with Apatow on the set of "Knocked up" and found out that we had a very common sensibility. Strangely, their process was really similar to mine, the way they make movies, the highly improvised performances, the collaborative energy of the crew. Two weeks later they sent me the script and asked if I'd be up for it. We were e-mailing back and forth trying to set up a time to hash it out, but we never really did. He finally just said, "Why don't we just make it?" It was bizarre.
Was he familiar with your movies? Not one is a comedy. Quite the opposite, really....
They were familiar with my work. I was familiar with theirs. And I think there was just a peculiar feeling of "How weird would this be if we just work together?"
A lot of people seem to think that Franco is the real revelation in this movie.
I love that he's the discovery in this movie. The guy probably has more money in the bank than any of us. But, yeah, he's great. It was a new turn for him. When we first met each other we were kind of sizing each other up -- like I was thinking, "What are you doing here?" and he was thinking, "What are you doing here?" But it was a perfect fit. We actually had a lot in common. We just made that commitment to each other. We kind of said, "Let's just trust each other and go to some pretty wacky places." I told him, "I'm not going to make you look bad. I'm going to make you look just bad enough."
We did kind of butt heads over what he was going to wear. And then I won those battles and so it was cool.
What did he want to wear?
He wanted to look cool. I was like, "You always look cool in movies. Look dumb for a minute."
What was the most difficult scene to shoot?
I actually had to excuse myself from set a couple of days because it was so funny. I have a cackle laugh. And if you have Danny, Seth and James in a room.... I'm thinking of the scene in Red's [McBride's character's] house when they're across the counter from each other, and they're riffing on the dead cat. It's all improv and I'm eating these stuffed animals, trying not to laugh. But I was ruining the takes so I had to leave. It was more tough on the actors.
I got them all hurt. We beat them up really bad because they did a lot of their own stunts. Franco split his head open on a tree. That's why he wears a headband through a lot of the movie, because he has stitches. And Danny, he split the back of his head open when Franco hit him with a bong. Seth broke his finger. They all got hurt. It was all them. They're all really getting thrown around.
I heard your parents just watched the movie last night. How'd they like it?
I couldn't really tell. They're not really the target demographic. They're a pretty conservative 65-year-old couple from Texas. But it's fun watching them watch it.
Did they laugh when they were supposed to?
No. There was a lot of silence. Really, for like 90% of the movie. They need to see it again. I think they were just confused, like, "What's going on?"
Tell us about getting Huey Lewis to write the title track.
The studio was super-happy after one of our first test screenings and asked us, "OK, what do you want from us?" We said, "How about like a kick-ass soundtrack where all our dreams come true?" They said all right, and at first I was trying to sell Seth on Ray Parker Jr. for the theme song. But he had just gotten sued by Huey Lewis for the lyrics to the "Ghostbusters" theme song because it was too similar to Lewis' "I Want a New Drug." So Seth said, "Well, why don't we just get our idol Huey Lewis to do it?" He was actually on our list to play [the villain] Ted in the movie because I really liked when he [bared it all] in "Short Cuts." Huey was unavailable, but he did agree to a meeting. Seth sat down with him and talked about how we wanted it to be like an '80s song: a lot of sax and saying the title a lot. Seth says Huey wrote the lyrics down on a napkin while they were at lunch. Really, it's all downhill from here.
What are you working on next?
Danny's written a script called "Your Highness" that's about Danny in the Middle Ages, fighting dragons. We're working together on a new draft of it. That's definitely one I'm excited about. I'm working on a horror movie, a remake of the Italian movie "Suspiria," about a coven of witches in a German dance school. It's a classic cult horror film. I'm also working on an animated TV series, a movie about Arctic warfare and this family film about kids that are the pit crew for a NASCAR racer.
So no more small movies?
No, there is a lot like that. But those are kind of intimate, and I need the paychecks of a couple of these other things so that I can do them. The indie financing world is in a really difficult place right now. It's hard for people to want to invest when you see the returns of a movie you spent two years of your passion on. That doesn't mean don't do them, but it does mean control them and be careful. The last thing you want is someone to have invested in your passion and then do what they want with your heart. I want to make sure I get to a point where I can control stuff that I'm really intimate and possessive about.
Q&A: 'Pineapple Express' director David Gordon Green lights up
Indie film auteur David Gordon Green talks about getting hired by comedy king Judd Apatow to direct the stoner movie 'Pineapple Express.'
David Gordon Green (Nina Prommer / EPA)
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