Director-writer Matthew Ross makes his feature film debut entrance today on December 9th with Frank & Lola (find our review here). It’s been described as a “psychosexual noir love story” starring Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots. Regardless of how you describe it, Frank & Lola is a powerful piece of cinema that bears its influences while carving out a niche of its own.
This week, I got the chance to catch up with Matthew about the film, how long it took for him to get the film produced, as well as its inspirations and origins.
C.H. Newell for Film Inquiry: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today, Matthew.
Matthew Ross: My pleasure
First off, I have to say, I loved the movie. I know people might say that for the sake of saying it, but truly, it’s an excellent film.
MR: Thank you, man. Great of you to say.
For a debut, your directing feels confident. There’s a great look and tone that seems so well put together. What’s it like to direct such quality actors as Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots on your first time out? Were you nervous at all, or were you all gung-ho?
MR: I appreciate the kind words. And as far as the actors go, it was all of the above, really. Of course it’s intimidating. It’s also a relief in a way. I was so lucky to get the actors I did. You get nervous working with someone like Michael Shannon, because it’s Michael Shannon – he’s a force of nature.
The thing is, with the quality of actors in this film, from Shannon to Nyqvist to Imogen, it’s reassuring. Instead of having to hover around them constantly and help pull out their best performance, their talent gave me the opportunity to work on other things, like the look and the tone you talk about. They were able to take their characters and run, so to speak.
I love the look of the film, it’s got bits of film noir in there mixed with the neon city lights; great uses of shadow and beautiful locations. There’s another aspect of the film that works so well, perhaps the best of all – the characters. They feel like genuine people plucked out of real life. They’re developed in a way that we don’t often see straight off the bat in a movie. Has this story been sitting with you a long time? Or did it come from a more a recent idea you developed?
MR: Sitting with me is an understatement. It took me about 8 years to get this film made. It’s been a process. That gave me time to really think about the plot, the characters, to flesh them out. And I started to get into thinking of the visual style, the tone, all of that. So often scripts are picked up then immediately put into production – which is great for a writer – but there’s a feeling that, maybe with more time it could’ve been even better. So, despite the long production, in the end it was a blessing in disguise.
In terms of the characters, there’s another aspect which interests me. Shannon’s character Frank is a chef, and the world of cooking is so interesting, something the film pays attention to in the time we spend watching Frank do his thing. What I wonder is, did you make Frank a chef just out of interest for the character, or was it a more personal choice? I kept wondering if you were a chef before you took on filmmaking.
MR: Yeah, I would say it came from a personal place. I mean, I’ve never been a chef. Although I do love to cook, and eat. Frank is named after a friend of mine who’s a chef; he ended up working as the chef consultant on the film.
There’s a parallel between chefs and filmmakers, in that they’re each expected to do a job with a high rate of failure. They have to do a bit of a balancing act in their own way. It’s an intricate job, with many pieces, and ultimately how they’re all put together in the right, or best, order is the determinant of whether they’re successful. Plus, great food is interesting to see on camera, and hopefully the food in the film looks good.
Your point about obsession comes through well all around. Like I said before, that obsession is well-embodied in both Poots and Shannon’s characters, they each have their own obsessive sticking points to make the characters feel real. It’s a testament to the writing. You can have a great looking film, but if the characters aren’t intriguing enough and they don’t grab you then the film won’t always play so well.
MR: The writing is one thing. Writing will only ever get you so far. The rest of that, all of that intensity, all the depth you’re talking about is courtesy of what Shannon, Nyqvist, Poots, they brought to the table; that’s all them. They gave these people life and they’re what makes the characters feel so real in that sense.
I think the chef-filmmaker parallel is a good one particularly in terms of obsession, as both professions are obsessive in their own rights. And Frank’s obsessive personality as a chef spills out into the rest of his life. But the story is what’s most fantastic, because it feels real. I’m not sure if you meant to tackle it from this angle, but to me it feels like the film is a sort of antithesis to the idea of the rape-revenge sub-genre, in terms of its view on masculinity especially. Frank has this obsession that drives him to some scary places. Yet he never eventually gets to the same place as those rape-revenge movies do, he hangs on the edge, sort of.
MR: I wanted to explore characters who make mistakes, real people. When Frank and Lola hurt each other, they’re not doing it with purpose; these are genuine mistakes. And afterwards, they still love each other. Obviously there are things in Frank and Lola’s lives which are more heightened than what some of us have experienced ourselves. Ultimately, it’s the fact these two are in love which drives the plot. Neither of them intentionally wants to hurt the other, but like real life, these things happen. And it’s about whether you can move on, or whether that obsession consumes you.
Were there any films or directors in particular that inspired Frank & Lola?
MR: There’s always a delicate balance of trying to use what inspires you while also making sure to let your own style come across instead of letting that influence overpower you. At the same time absolutely, yes, there are directors and films that influenced me. A couple French films, but then definitely some of the masters, like Hitchcock, and Michael Mann, too.
Frank & Lola is definitely unique. You can see exactly where those influences lie, from the character of Lola and her almost constant revelations to the neon lights and the shadows of the city. It’s great stuff, and we’re looking forward to seeing what Matthew Ross does next.
Frank & Lola opens Friday, December 9th in theaters around the U.S. and on Digital HD and On Demand.
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