Interview with Jennifer Lynch

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Director Jennifer Lynch, daughter of David, has spent the past decade and a half years out of the limelight following the critical savaging received by her debut film, 'Boxing Helena'. But now she's ready to face critics and public alike with the release of her sophisticated thriller 'Surveillance'. So what's changed?

For Jennifer Lynch, the road to her new film ‘Surveillance’ has been unusually rocky. The daughter of filmmaking legend David, she was crippled by a car accident at the age of 19, and used her convalescence to write the script for what would become her debut feature, ‘Boxing Helena’, which she directed at 24. The film was involved in a court case Kim Basinger refuted an alleged agreement for her to star in it, and was finally released to a chorus of (not unwarranted) critical dismay.

Lynch retreated from the industry for 15 years, taking the time to fully recuperate from her injuries and to raise a daughter. She finally returns this week with ‘Surveillance’, a sly, surprising thriller displaying a very sure directorial hand.


What state was your career in after 'Boxing Helena'?
'It was hideous. I'm not saying "Boxing Helena" is a perfect film, but I was 19 when I wrote it, it was the first thing I'd ever put on film, and with the trial and the insanity around it, the way the press took hold of my relationship with my father, I don't think the film ever had a chance. The most astounding and damaging thing was that people were attacking me personally. You don't go into a museum, and if you don't like the painting say the painter is an asshole. I couldn't figure out where such passionate venom was coming from. People saying I didn't deserve to be loved again. What is that? Even Hitler deserved to be loved again. He probably wouldn't have done such terrible things if he'd been more loved. But I wouldn't trade the experience for anything in the world. It shaped me.'

What made you want to direct again?
'When you love something, it never goes away. I'd been telling stories throughout, I'd been writing and painting, but what I really missed was translating all that on to film. So it was just a matter of time, a matter of taking a deep breath and remembering that my favourite part of it all was the making, the doing. Once it's released, people are going to say and do what they're going to say and do. You have no control over that. As long as I feel I've done my best, I can sleep at night. And it was so good to be back on a set, where I'm most at home.'

Where did the initial idea for ‘Surveillance’ come from?
'It was an accumulation of many different ideas over many years. Kent Harper, who plays Jack the cop, and I had been friends for a while, we'd produced a few short films together. He asked me if I'd read a script he'd written. It was actually a script about witches. I didn't care for it, but there were a few things in it that really inspired me. The idea of this long stretch of road, the idea of desolation and the idea of crooked cops really stuck with me, and they fit with some ideas I'd had about serial killers. Because, no pun intended, serial killers have been done to death. What I hadn't seen was serial killers as humans. Horrible, wound-like humans, but humans nonetheless.'

How long did it take to get the film made?
'The script didn't take long, and making it didn't take long. Getting it looked at took forever. Which is how my father became involved: he called me up one day and asked what the hell was going with the movie. I said, "I don't think anyone's even reading it." So he said, "I know you hate me asking this, and I know you always say no. But what if I put my name on it as executive producer? Just as an experiment." And six weeks later I had offers. But it makes me kind of sick to my stomach, because what about everybody else out there who doesn't have David Lynch as a father? So many people with great scripts, how do you get them noticed?'

Your authority figures are, pretty much without fail, terrible people. Where does that attitude come from? Have you met cops like this?
'I think they're terrible people, but they're terrible people for a reason. They have a place in my heart, these terrible people. And sometimes terrible people are more interesting. I've not had any negative cop experiences. But I showed it to my friend who's a narcotics officer, and at the end he turned around and said, "I know those guys, I work with guys like that." So that was a little worrying.'

How did the cast come on board?
'When I was casting, Julia Ormond called my father and asked if he was related to the Jennifer Lynch who wrote "Surveillance". And it struck me that casting her was a really genius idea. I loved her, and I wouldn't have seen it coming, and I was amazed that she wanted to go to this place. I'd given the script it to Bill (Pullman) when I first wrote it, and he said thanks, but no thanks. And then, right before we started shooting, I lost an actor to scheduling problems, and I called Bill, and asked if he was interested. He said, "Why did I say no before? Do I have sex with children in this movie?" I told him no, sent it over, and he called me two hours later and said, "I'm in."'

What kind of pressure were you under to prove yourself with this film?
'I didn’t think about it. If I had thought about it I never would have gotten out of bed in the morning. All I knew was that I wanted to tell the story, and I had people who were excited and willing to do it with me. Pressure is an emotional paralysis. It's hard enough to do the dishes when you're feeling pressured, let alone make a movie. It just makes it a longer and more laborious experience, and the joy is removed. I can't make the film that will make people like me, or understand me, or forget who my family is. In letting go of that I was free to just have a good time and do what I love doing. Which is the real gift.'

'Surveillance' is in cinemas from Mar 6.

Author: Tom Huddleston



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