On Friday April 26th “Arthur Newman” opens in a theatre near you in Atlanta. “Arthur Newman” is a film about an unusual couple that go on a road trip, starring the delighful Emily Blunt and Oscar winner Colin Firth. I had the good fortune to interview the director of the film, Dante Ariola.
Can you tell us a little about the film?
It’s a film that’s very much about identity and taking on someone else’s identity, about the limits of escapism. It’s a story about trying to figure out who you are in a way that we haven’t seen before.
Can you please tell us how you got involved with this project, especially considering that the script was written 20 years ago? What was it that drew you to the script?
It’s the kind of story that just resonates with you, not necessarily at any particular or specific time in your life. I had read the script and really liked it but didn’t pursue it. Then I read it again a couple of years later. I don’t know, I think that the second time I read it, this weird story of self-discovery by going on a trip with someone that couldn’t be more opposite of you. And having that person, in a round about way, giving you an insight into who you are. I just hadn’t seen this type of script before. It had been in a drawer for twenty-years, so it wasn’t like this was a script that couldn’t be made for twenty-years. One of the things I like about it is it has sort of a timeless quality about it.
Yeah, I agree this is a film that could have been set in the 70’s, 80’s or as with your film, set it in present day because it does have that timeless quality to it.
Yeah it’s a road trip, but with that being said it could be anywhere, it could be nowhere, set in just about any time period. It does kind of feel like a seventies film. You know the way those stories developed with the pacing of the film and how the characters are very slowly reveled. The audience is slowly let in on the characters secrets, on kind of like a slow burn; which is a little different from a lot of contemporary films.
What I loved about this film was the chemistry between Colin Firth and Emily Blunt and how naturally it showed on the screen in their scenes; how were you able to manipulate the situations in order to get that outcome from your cast?
I hired Colin first because he came to mind when I thought of the character. The guy is Arthur “slash” Wallace, a man that is so flawed. He is a man that has some not so admirable qualities that make him almost unlikeable. So, I needed an actor that just inherently has a sense of empathy. An actor that the audience is going to instantly like and willing to go on a ride with, despite his flaws. That’s how Colin came to mind, there never was a list of actors, I just offered him the role and he loved the script and agreed to do it. With Emily, I love that as an actor she is very much the chameleon. We knew each other through the actor, Stanley Tucci, but only slightly. What was great was Colin and Emily had never worked together, so they were feeling each other out as the production went along. But that being said, because they knew each other personally through Stanley, there was an inherent trust. From the first day on, you could see these two characters in the story feeling each other out, and the two actors feeling each other out, but because they already had that trust built in. You could see the chemistry between the two, both on and off the screen.
The score in this film is outstanding and really helps set the mood. Is that something you learned with your background in commercial work or was that a new experience with the production?
I don’t think I learned it from my commercials. I’m just more of a kind of depressive weirdo and so is the composer. It was refreshing to find someone more melancholy than me. There were times that I had to pull it back from the abyss. But the film is set in these really banal locations, motel hells and places off turnpikes and with these two people experiencing these places. I never want the score to tell audiences what to feel, but I want the score to give gravitas to certain moments and wanted to give beauty to the bland normalcy that you see on a road-trip through anywhere America.
How important to the characters and story development was it to film the movie in North Carolina verses a soundstage in L.A. or New York?
We went to North Carolina for tax reasons initially, but that being said even if I had twice the budget it was never a road-trip in the sense of seeing landmarks. Like a postcard type of adventure where we show them now in the Grand Canyon and now there here. It always was a film that was kind of lost in America. But in North Carolina, where we had a sessional change during shooting, it could be anywhere and nowhere and I think that fit the bill perfectly. And we shot in real hotels and motels, off real turnpikes, on sets that had very little dressing. It was hard on the crew but we never had to ask the question “does this really look like a motel room off the highway?”
What genera would you label this film?
If you had to give it a genera, I think it would fall to self-discovery. Which is a genera that I sort of detest but this film does it in a way that I had never seen before. It kind of shares the love story but not in a love story genera, kind of like “Lost in Translation.” What I like about the film is that it’s hard to really say what kind of film it is.
What is the message of the film that you hope is conveyed to the audience?
The end of the film is open ended. Which I really want for the audience is a to be a mirror; kind of how a painting means different things to different people. For me, the film is about how it’s great to try and escape life for a little while, but it only goes so far. And reality is taking a stab at living an authentic life and embracing who you are, flaws and all. Ultimately, that has more value than the stuff of who we want to be or who we think we are.
Thank you so much for your time and good luck with the film.