J.C. Chandor can thank Jessica Chastain for landing Oscar Isaac in 'A Most Violent Year'
Hopping on the phone with a filmmaker to discuss a trailer for a film I haven't seen. Yeah, that's a little weird. And maybe J.C. Chandor knows that, but he's eager to launch "A Most Violent Year" onto the world. That will happen Thursday night at the opening night of this year's AFI Fest at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood.
Chandor is fresh off last year's "All is Lost" and he's not slowing down, either. He's hard at work now on "Deepwater Horizon," which found him way out on an oil rig last week, not long after he finally locked "A Most Violent Year" in place. He's clearly excited to see his career achieve lift-off and is taking nothing for granted as he charges ahead, working with people like Kevin Spacey, Robert Redford, Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac and Mark Wahlberg along the way.
Read through our back and forth below as we discuss hitting a wall in the creative process with the film's original lead, Javier Bardem, collaborating with one of the most exciting cinematographers in the game, Bradford Young, and more. You can find the trailer embedded at the bottom of the page.
"A Most Violent Year" hits theaters Dec. 31.
J.C. Chandor: Kris, how are you?
How you been, man?
I am exhausted. It's been like "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." I was on an oil rig 60 miles off the coast of Mexico doing research for what I'm about to start shooting now. I went from a helicopter to a boat to a small plane to a large plane to a car. I've been on quite a journey! But I'm just excited to launch this baby into the world.
Yeah, I can't get anyone to show it to me! People have obviously seen it, but…
I wish it was me who was trying to be so mysterious, but, you know, A24 is really excited. It's subtle and a little bit challenging but people are reacting exactly the way I was hoping. But there haven't been a lot of people who have seen the movie, so Thursday is going to be a pretty stressful day for me! It was a pretty unique opportunity, as you know, in this day and age, to tell a $15-20 million big character study like this. There aren't a lot of these anymore, so it's a pretty cool honor. I literally just finished it up a couple of weeks ago.
So, uh, have you ever given an interview for a trailer?
I have not. [Laughs.] Actually that's not true. There have been some instances where it's like, "Hey, you haven't seen the movie, but…" But I'm super excited to hear your thoughts, man. Jessica [Chastain] and Oscar [Isaac] are firing on all cylinders. Oscar's performance is so subtle and cool, the shit he's doing. I'll be super-excited to see how a full room reacts to it.
I remember last year we were at the Governors Awards and you and Oscar were talking next to me, and then you guys realized who you were next to and you kind of scooted along. I don't remember if he had been announced yet or not.
Oh, that's right! [Laughs.] I forgot about that! You know, Jessica had been attached to the project, and when I came back to Cannes — I was actually in Madrid trying to close Bardem after, like, seven months of writing with him and I actually drove to Cannes from Spain. I was really sad because I realized that it probably wasn't going to happen. He wanted me to move the script into this very black and white place and as you know, from following my other films, most of what I'm interested in is the gray area, which is where most human beings live their lives. So I was a little bummed and I got to this event that night and Jessica was there. She came running up and said, "How did it go?" And I was like, "Not well." And this smile creeped across her face and I was like, "Why are you smiling?" And she said, "Well, I haven't wanted to bring this up but there's this guy from Juilliard that I went to school with, his mom is Guatemalan, his dad is Cuban, he grew up in Miami and he somehow got himself into Juilliard, and he spent the last 10 years trying to make his career and he's here at Cannes with his first big starring role." [i.e. "Inside Llewyn Davis"] It took about three or four months to get the film financed, because we had to re-budget it and do some things, but yeah, it wasn't fully financed at that time when I saw you. So we didn't know if it was going to work. And then two months later we were shooting. We literally shot through the winter.
And I think you've got one of the best DPs in the game on this, too, by the way.
Oh, wait until you see. Holy crap. He did some things in this movie where — in the edit, two months later, I'm like "Oh…my…gosh," because you could see what he was doing. I had given him this challenge. One of the things that was in the back of my mind with [Oscar's] character is, like, when he walks into a room, it's like he walks into a painting. He lives his life as a very formal guy. He takes himself very, very seriously. He's one of those guys who walks into a room and scouts where they want to be in the room; they're almost setting up their own tableau, in a way. "I'm going to talk this way" and "I'm going to sit like this," and I presented that challenge to Bradford [Young], that I wanted it to feel like these paintings, almost. And he was able to create just the right amount of light and darkness, just shit that I couldn't believe. He's a genius, man. I'm hoping to get him on this next thing. But he's in it for all of the right reasons. I can't even get him to come to the premiere. He's in LA color correcting "Selma," I think, and I'm like begging him to come, but he just doesn't like the whole pomp and circumstance of the whole enterprise. But I think I'm going to get him there.
Were you referencing anything? Looking at artwork or photographs or any kinds of films that inspired the look?
I didn't want it to look like a movie from 1981, and I know that's weird but it's a fine line. We did this beautiful kind of sepia-toned element to the movie. That's more evocative of the era, but I didn't want this film to be some sort of revival or whatever. I wanted it to just be a movie about people in 1981. When I explained to Bradford pretty quickly what I was going for in our first meeting, he said, "Well here's a little look book of images," and he turned his computer around to show me and I just started laughing. And I went through my backpack and pulled out my look book that I had been using, and there were probably 12 of the 25 images of our references from all over the world that were identical. So that was pretty cool. I was like, "This is my guy."
But I'm almost allergic to going back and looking at films before I shoot a film. I try and stay away from that. There was a lot of beautiful photography, some great street photography from that era to try and evoke — it's hard to imagine what this felt like at the time and you just can't believe that the city has moved beyond where it was 30 years ago, basically. And again, this movie, the title is a bit of a play in that the movie is not some gore-fest of all the horrible things that were going on. What it is is one couple trying to build a business and raise a family and it's their experience in the most violent year in New York. They're actually isolating themselves from the violence of that day, or attempting to. But the reality of the world seeps into this life and this perfect ideal that they've tried to create.
Awesome. Well I can't wait to see it!
We'll certainly speak again. I'm super excited for you to see it so we'll talk.
And good luck on those oil rigs.
[Laughs.] I'm home safely for now. Alright, Kris. I'll see you next week.