Close up with Mike Mills
The US promo director discusses his brilliant second feature, 'Beginners'
You’ve said that ‘Beginners’ was a tough film to finance. Why was that?
‘Well, “Thumbsucker” wasn’t a huge success so it’s not like people were desperate to make a film with me. “Beginners” is non-chronological, featuring an old person who wants to have sex but who’s also dying and a young couple who have problems that aren’t clearly expressed – it’s all bad! Then there’s the historical stuff and the talking dog... Also, the film industry is shrinking. All those things ganged up to make a pretty inhospitable world.’
What made you want to tell such a personal story?
‘Well, I think personal stories can reach out. I love Leonard Cohen and Federico Fellini, people who express very personal or real things. The intention is to share, not to look inward. What happened with my dad was deeply human, filled with things I could write about, that described life on a deeper level.’
You were presumably aware that it risked becoming self-indulgent?
‘That was my big headliner – no self-pity, no narcissism. But I knew I was vulnerable to becoming self-indulgent, particularly with the love story. And because my characters aren’t at war, because they’re white people who look good, there are people who find it hard to empathise. But my intention was to use personal feelings and unresolved emotions to make something authentic.’
Do you think it’s a story that examines self-indulgence, such as the hero’s inability to commit?
‘I wouldn’t describe it that way. I feel like he just hasn’t had enough models to show him how to endure the ambiguities and turbulence of a real relationship. These characters have learned how to be alone, how to be self-sufficient. I don’t think that’s self-indulgence. They want to be with someone, they’re very lonely.’
What do you think the film says about modern life? The characters have a lot of choices, but this is contrasted with Oliver’s parents in the ’50s, who had so few.
‘Well, I think that modern life opens the door for a whole bunch of feelings and ambiguities, things that are both happy and sad, and our culture gives us a language to talk about them forever that my parents didn’t have. But I don’t think it’s easier and I don’t think it’s shameful. It’s just human. My father never talked about his internal life. He marched off to WWII and all that. But when he came out and fell in love at the age of 75, he acted a lot like my contemporary friends. Love brought up all these insecurities, fears and anxieties. But he was now living in a world where that was allowed, where his new friends were requiring him to talk about it. So if it can happen to my dad, it can happen to anybody!’
What did you learn from your father?
‘When my dad came out, he embraced life in a messier way. He presented to me a new model of living. And the new model said: Yes, life’s not like you thought it was going to be, there are a lot of parts to it that don’t feel right, there are things that are out of your control, that are filled with an ambiguity that is impossible to reconcile, but just go with it.’
Author: Interview: Tom Huddleston
Director Tom Hooper and his cast tell us how they turned the super-musical into movie blockbuster.
The Time Out film team weighs in on the nominees for the 2013 Academy Awards
Get ready for the big guns… Spielberg, Tarantino and Bigelow
Daniel Craig’s 007 comeback, a genius indie romcom and all the mysteries behind ‘The Shining’ unravelled.
The results of our study on the state of films and filmgoing in 2012.
Read 'Time Out film debate 2012 highlights'
'The Hobbit' actor tells us why he wouldn't have a pint with Bilbo Baggins.
Dave Calhoun speaks to the director of 'Skyfall' about the latest film in the Bond franchise.
The genre-hopping director tells us how he invented a new genre with 'Life of Pi'
The twice Palme d'Or-winning director discusses 'Amour'.
Read our interview with Michael Haneke
The Danish director talks about his powerful new drama 'The Hunt'.
Read our interview with Thomas Vinterberg'
Time Out looks back at the impact of the 'Twilight' saga.
Discover what 'Twilight' has done for us
Time Out heads to the Lake District to visit director Ben Wheatley on set.
Read about our visit to the 'Sightseers' set
The director talks about 'Frankenweenie', which he describes as 'the ultimate memory piece'.
Read our interview with Tim burton
Our pick of the best films showing over the festive period.
Read 'The top ten Christmas films of 2012'
Mean Girls? Dirty Dancing? Tell us your favourite film guilty pleasure.
Read 'Film guilty pleasures'
What will Disney do to 'Star Wars'?
Read about the new 'Star Wars' trilogy
Ten young actors come of age on the silver screen.
Read 'When teen stars turn serious'
From Connery to Craig, we revisit all 22 Bond films.
Read '50 years of James Bond'
The director talks Scientology and working with Joaquin Phoenix.
Read the interview
Ten funny horror movies which went spectacularly off the rails.
Read 'Hilarious horror films'
The director talks psychopaths and theatre – 'my least favourite artform'.
Read the interview
We round-up the five best horror movies of Autumn 2012.
Read about this Autumn's best horror movies
Time Out visits Istanbul to see the latest Bond movie being made.
Read 'On the set of Skyfall'
Does Skyfall refresh or rehash the James Bond franchise?
The British director explains why 'Ginger and Rosa' is her most mainstream film yet.
'I’m almost as in demand as Brad Pitt’