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David Gordon Green & Tye Sheridan (Joe)

David Gordon Green & Tye Sheridan: The Interview (Joe)

Joe tells the story of an ex-convict who takes 16-year-old Gary under his wing after seeing a lot of himself in the young boy. Director David Gordon Green and actor Tye Sheridan were in town to debut the film at the Atlanta Film Festival and we had the opportunity to speak with them about the film.

Shakefire (SF): Tye, you’ve what attracts you to these very mature roles like we’ve seen you in Joe and Mud?

Tye Sheridan (TS): Well for a while the only thing I could get casted in was a Southern drama, because people are like, “Ah, he has an accent. He won’t be able to do this film.” So I was auditioning a lot but these seem to be the only films I was booking. I really like these films because I was born and raised in Texas in the South and my family’s from the South and I feel like I represent my family well and they like to see me in these films. It’s been fun.

SF: As a director, what was it like directing that kind of character?

David Gordon Green (DGG): For me, I’m always drawn to youthful roles. Most of my films have young characters in them and it’s always been appealing to me. When I say Tye’s first performance in Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life it really caught my eye and was somebody to watch out for. That was my favorite part of that movie. As epic and spiritual as the movie got, for me, it was kept grounded by this portrait of youth. I really loved what Tye did in that.

I was in the editing room on Mud and was watching as that movie was being assembled and thinking that he’s really taken the next step and become a really strong actor. We brought Tye in and was talking to him not only about his acting ability, which is nice to have an actor with an acting ability but I certainly don’t need it. I’ve spent a lot of my career working with non-actors or non-traditional performers and formal acting training and experience means very little to me, but finding the right face and the right voice means everything. I saw hundreds of kids that came in and auditioned and I thought that somebody had this or somebody had that, but what Tye had was the physicality, the life experience, the accent, and really understood the core of this character. He could relate to not only the region where the character is from but how these stories, how these threads of domestic situations would affect a kid of that age realistically. That’s so much more important to me as an actor that brings you ideas and brings you value rather than just memorize the script and tell you what you want to hear.

Those two things are also not interesting to me. Scripts are great blueprints. This was a story based on the legendary Larry Brown’s wonderful piece of literature. At the same time, a movie is a movie. We’re trying to find the naturalism. We’re trying to really breathe life into the words that are spoken, the images that are shot, and Tye did an excellent job of bringing Gary Jones to life.

SF: Is there an extensive rehearsal period for you since you’re used to dealing with non-traditional actors?

DGG: Not a traditional rehearsal process. It would be of interest in specific projects, like if I was going to do an adaptation of a Shakespeare play or something that I think there’s a value to those words. But for me the rehearsal process is the value to these characters and their relationships. My rehearsal is “let’s go out and get beer and pizza” and introduce Tye to Nicolas Cage. Tye wasn’t drinking beer, he was drinking Pepsi [laughs]. But you know what I mean. Loosen up, lighten up, get to know each other, find out what makes us tick and make it so that I got the psychological tools to do my job, to pull what I find as natural and comfortable out of an actor. It’s not mesmerizing lines or looking into mirrors. I want those to be intuitive and instinctive and film those in the moment.

SF: So there’s a bit of an improvisational quality?

DGG: There’s a substantial amount of improv. The whole sequence with Tye and Nic as they’re driving around and Nic had this idea of, “Hey maybe I have this lighter and I charm him with the lighter and tell him about my ‘cool’ face.” All that stuff is the humanity of Tye and Nic knowing each other and coming up with weird ideas. Some of my favorite lines of the movie aren’t in the script. It’s just two actors that know how to rift and have fun with it.

SF: Tye, David mentioned how it’s about the characters and the relationships and not so much the words on the script. How did you prepare for your role with Gary coming from a homeless background with an abusive father?

TS: I think preparation for a role is different each time you do a film or a different character. I remember this one I read the script a couple times and I really loved it. I felt really in tune with what the story was and who the characters were so I didn’t want to really mess with that until I got into rehearsal with Nic and David. Then we started figuring out the characters and I don’t think you can fully understand the character or fully get him until you’re in his clothes, in his house, playing with his money, or whatever. You can’t fully get in until you’re on set.

SF: What was it that led you back to your dramatic roots? A lot of your earlier work was drama and then you had some blockbuster comedies.

DGG: Well I do go back and forth. We had a really nice run with our HBO series Eastbound and Down where I could do a movie then a season then a movie then a season. Going from comedy to comedy I get drained. I’m always digging for new things that make me laugh and that I think would be appropriate for comedic material. Drama, I’ve got wells of it. I’ve got wells of emotion and story that I want to make. So I use comedy as a way to recharge. I don’t want to be stuck in a gloomy, melancholy head all day. Nobody does. You go into it, you make things as honestly and sincerely as you can in a dramatic role and then you lighten up with some absurdity.

Joe is now playing in limited release. You can check out Shakefire's official review of the film here.