With a cast that includes Zooey Deschanel, Paul Dano, John Goodman, Jane Alexander and Ed Asner, a premiere at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival and a Grand Jury Prize at AFI Dallas, Matt Aselton has put together a pretty intriguing—and enviable—debut feature. Add in a plot that features a love-struck (by Deschanel; who else) Dano as a mattress salesman being stalked by an unnamed, unexplained assassin (played by Zach Galifianakis) and the mysterious allure only grows. To break everything down for us, director and co-writer Aselton was kind enough to answer some of our questions.
Andrew Gnerre (MM): You are an enigmatic man; in other words, Googling you doesn’t result in much info. Key us in to your story a bit. Where/how did you grow up? How did your English Lit degree turn into a career of directing commercials?
Matt Aselton (MA): I grew up in Massachusetts and went to Williams College and then moved to N.Y. I met a creative director who gave me a job in advertising. I started directing commercials in 2001, I just kept asking the producers to let me direct and they said “no” for years. Then one day, I got a phone call from a friend in Los Angeles who was shooting some commercials for Fox Sports and he let me direct them. We were dressing Troy Aikman up as Mr. T. It was fun.
MM: How long did it take you and Adam to write the script? What was your collaborative process like?
MA: I think it took about a year. We talked about the story for a long time, then we beat out the scenes, then we would go away and write. We sent it back and forth, constantly editing, and that’s pretty much it. I’m sure it’s more complicated than that, but in hindsight that’s how I recall the process.
MM: How many feature-length scripts had you written before Gigantic?
MM: Did you know you were going to direct the movie while writing the script? Did this affect your writing at all?
MA: I did know that I was going to direct it, so to some extent I think it effects the writing in that you know the kinds of set-ups you’re interested in, but really the writing takes the precedent and then you figure out how to do it the way you want it.
MM: How did you land such an incredible cast?
MA: I met Paul Dano not long after we finished the script and he liked it. I had seen him in L.I.E. years before and thought he was such an original actor. We talked at length about the film and we offered it to him. After that, we matched him with Zooey who I met with in Los Angeles and thought she was perfect. From there I begged John Goodman to be in it for a number of months until he agreed, and then, fortunately, Ed Asner and Jane Alexander came on. So, I think it was a good deal of momentum, good timing and luck.
MM: Is there anyone else in the world who can play that whimsy, magical, all-of-a-sudden-she’s-in-your-life-and-now-you’re-in-love-with-her character like Zooey Deschanel? Was she your first choice?
MA: After we cast Paul we were trying to find his match. She’s smart, funny, and pretty, but she’s also a sly and subtle actor and I think that made all the difference. We met and had tea in L.A. and she had the character nailed.
MM: The production diary that you kept (and that is now being published online) details many war stories of trying to make an independent movie in New York (e.g. lying to the NYPD, drunk crew members, etc.). My personal favorite is the angry neighbor upstairs stomping loudly every time you would call “Action,” so you began yelling “Cut” before you would roll instead. Is that anecdote indicative of the entire shoot? Or were things pretty smooth?
MA: As smooth as things can go in a 24-day shoot. It was a really ambitious schedule and we had to be lucky. Generally we were. The exigencies of making this size movie require everyone to be sort of nimble and game. And they were.
MM: You’ve cited directors like David Lynch and Luis Bunuel as inspirations to you. How can absurdity serve a story? How can it serve a movie?
MA: I’m not sure it serves every movie, but it certainly something that I wanted for this movie. It’s a pretty strange world we live in and I think some recognition of that is important. The point was not to be specifically obtuse or strange for no reason, the point was to make sure that the story felt a little different, that the tone was a bit off.