One of the most buzzed-about indies of the season, Trucker stars Michelle Monaghan (Gone Baby Gone) as a carefree truck driver forced to turn her life around after she takes in her estranged 11-year-old son (Jimmy Bennett, Star Trek). Co-starring Nathan Fillion, Joey Lauren Adams and Benjamin Bratt, Trucker has already made big waves on the festival circuit, earning awards for Monaghan’s acting (Vali Film Festival) and James Mottern’s directing (Woods Hole Film Festival).
Just before Trucker‘s release on October 9, Mottern spoke with MM about his feature debut.
Rebecca Pahle (MM): What made you want to direct Trucker? You could have easily written the script and let someone else direct; did you want to have more control over the project?
James Mottern (JM): This story is very simple and straightforward. About a simple as you can get. It’s what goes on in this simple structure that I found complex and compelling. And you can have the thoughts of that when you write it, but only in directing the thing can you find the real story and tell the real story. The nuances of something are everything to me, the subtleties and subtext. The other stuff I care less about because the truth of something generally lies below the surface, in the barely perceived, in moments that I felt maybe only I could capture—at least the way I liked. I also like actors and like to see what they are doing, so maybe that’s why I wanted to direct it, too.
MM: As a first-time director, what was the biggest challenge you faced in making Trucker?
JM: Finding Diane Ford’s house! That was a tough one. The script was written about the place where we ended up shooting and there are many houses like what we ultimately chose. But we really looked hard and long for that one, driving around neighborhoods, peering into windows. I’m glad we didn’t get arrested.
MM: How did you come to cast Michelle Monaghan? What specifically made you believe she was right for the role?
JM: She’s terrific in so many films. Sometimes she reminds me of Gena Rowlands in Faces or Ellen Burstyn in The Last Picture Show. She has another quality that makes you think of Barbara Stanwyck. She has a very, very interesting face. It’s extremely unusual in its structure and she can use it to appear different at almost any different time. It’s quite a gift, actually. Extremely gifted actress.
She also has a sort of soulfulness that she is willing to be laid bare. That is also something very unusual. These are all things I came to understand but had a suspicion were true when I saw her in one shot in North Country, where her character is saying goodbye to Charlize Theron’s character outside a trailer. It’s just one shot and not a very long one, but it blew me away; I knew in that instant that she was my Diane Ford! I suggest to anyone that they go find that shot in the film, because I think they will have the same reaction.
MM: Were there any other movies or moviemakers who influenced you while you were writing and shooting Trucker?
JM: I like John Huston because he was more or less the gatekeeper of the film and trusted his actors. He liked to have fun, too, on set and took it very seriously in some ways but then not at all. He had a good rhythm and his films were great. The first grown-up movie I ever saw in a movie theater was The Man Who Would Be King, and that movie sticks with you!
John Ford because of his straightforward filmmaking, the easiness of some of John Wayne’s performances, the subtle depth if you look for it and, of course, the photography.
John Cassavetes because he loved actors and never backed down. Before I started shooting I watched a lot of Bergman and Godard and all Hal Ashby’s movies; he was a great director and from what I’ve read always stood back from the performances that gave them a naturalism and humor and open quality that stand the test of time.
MM: Trucker is your first feature film; do you have plans in the works for anything else?
JM: I wrote something for Michelle. Two things. I hope she’ll do them. I have a dramatic comedy I wrote that I’ve just cast; and there’s a really terrific script we’ve been working on about a Boston firefighter who becomes mixed up with drugs and drug dealing; and it’s a potent, potent story. Great actor’s piece. But shouldn’t they all be?
For more information about Trucker, go to http://truckermovie.net.