• Beg_1
Art

Mike Mills Interview Part 2: Beginners

Posted by Alex Moshakis,

In the second part of our conversation with multi-talented hyphenate Mike Mills, whose new film Beginners is causing a bit of a stir, the designer-turned-director talks about what it’s really like having Ewan McGregor play him in a movie, about his many diverse references, and about the importance of saying “dibs”…

It’s Nice That: One of the things we get to do as kids, maybe as adults too, is to speculate over who exactly would play us in a film. But you got to actually do it, and you picked Ewan McGregor, a Scot!

Mike Mills: There’s actually no Americans in the movie. Christopher [Plummer] is Canadian, Mélanie [Laurent] is French, and Goran [Visnjic] is Serbian. My family never fitted neatly into the American box. You know those Americans who love Europe and love everything non-American, I’m one of those guys. But Ewan, you know, is such a good naturalistic actor. He’s not afraid to be emotionally sincere and authentic on screen, and to really reveal a part of himself. And I could see him doing the sort of graphic designer – this kind of shy, kind of restrained guy; someone who’s thinking a lot, and who has a humour, but who’s not this big extroverted character – I could see him doing that.

How does it feel to work with someone who’s playing a character whose experiences are so similar to those you’ve had?

It’s not as personal as everyone thinks. It’s fun. I love being a writer-director, and I loved being with Ewan – he’s an adorable, charming and really easy-to-be-with man. But by the time I was working with him there was already an abstraction, which comes from the process of writing. Scripts, even those as weird as mine, have scenes with their own beginnings, middles and ends – they are turned into drawings, and by that point they aren’t my experiences anymore. And then of course you have the film crew, and you’re filming at locations that aren’t your house, and there are actors…

The goal was never for the actors to mimic us. I was lucky – I always pushed actors to use their instincts. When they asked a question, I’d ask a question back. When they asked, “How should I knock the lamp off the table,” I’d say, “Well, how do you think?” It’s pretty much how I direct. And nothing Ewan did made me think, “Oh, that sounds horrible.”

You mentioned (in Part 1 of this interview) that film to you is like a box in which you can put all of these different things – graphics, photography, music, “cathartic, emotional scenes”. Where do your references come from?

So many places. I’m doing a blog at the moment, on the Focus Features website, which includes everything that influenced me for the movie. Obviously there’s Godard, who actually influenced me a lot when I was a graphic designer, before I was making films – I think he’s one of the best graphic designers there is. And there’s those Charles and Ray Eames films; those very didactic, educational films. And William Carlos Williams, who’s so concrete and small but who then seems so huge!

And Charles Bukowski is the same, who we know is an influence…

It’s the way Bukowski talks about simple life in a way that’s just magical. Then there’s an artist called Hans-Peter Feldman, a German artist who did a whole load of little books of different things: sequences on women’s knees, for example, or un-made beds. And Sophie Calle and Christian Boltanksi – the way they use objects and stills. And the film, The Perfect Human, by a German guy called Jørgen Leth, which is so expositional and didactic that it becomes lyrical and strange.

How much of an influence is your wife Miranda July? We can’t imagine what your household is actually like…

It’s weird – we don’t talk about what we’re woking on a whole lot. It gets old after a while, and we have to say, “OK, no more talking about work for the next two hours.” Of course we’re together all the time, and we see the same things, but we’re different enough. We do things really differently, and we work in different ways. Miranda writes in bed, likes to take lots of breaks during the day, and needs to pretend like she’s not working. I have to start at 8.30am, go through to 6pm, and work through lunch and not take any breaks. I’m programmatic. So it’s not like we’re this little art house.

We do have this thing where, if someone comes into the room and falls, for example, we’d each shout “dibs.” If something good like that happens, or like if a balloon flies past, we each have to claim it – we have to say “dibs” first if we want to write about it!

Portrait8

Posted by Alex Moshakis

Alex originally joined It’s Nice That as a designer but moved into editorial and oversaw the It’s Nice That magazine from Issue Six (July 2011) to Issue Eight (March 2012) before moving on that summer.

Most Recent: Art View Archive

  1. Christophniemann-esgibtnichtgutes-itsnicethat-list

    My colleague Emily Gosling wrote a great piece for the latest issue of our Printed Pages magazine in which she called out the patent nudity of the emperor by saying that in reality, the creative process can be pretty dull to witness. Obviously that’s not to say that we want to see slick creative work with all traces of the artist removed; in fact in our digitally-defined age we delight in being able to see the spirit of the image-maker writ large.

  2. Kristoffersonsanpablo-itsnicethat-list

    If you like Eric Yahnker – and let’s face it, who doesn’t? – then you’re really going to enjoy the work of Kristofferson San Pablo, a Filipino artist now based in Los Angeles. His work takes an ironic look at popular culture, lampooning it for its absurdity, but also acknowledging its utter infectiousness. Kristofferson’s strange pencil drawings and luxurious paintings eroticise Simpsons characters, destroy our lust for celebrities and ridicule the stars of reality television, making sure that when surveying the modern world our tongues are kept firmly in cheek.

  3. List-itsnicethatthe-vinyl-factor_supersymmetry-(experience)_-ryoji-ikeda_-2015_photo-credit-jana-chiello_1_low

    Few artists can take particle physics and maths as a medium; even fewer can do so while attracting a crowd often as big on dance music as they are fine art. However, Ryoji Ikeda is a rare soul indeed, and we’re very excited about his current show at London’s Brewer Street Car Park in Soho. The work of the artist-composer is brutal, visceral and awe-inspiring; and thus nigh-on impossible to convey with mere text and jpegs. His huge-scale inspirations draw on raw data to creative vast, immersive AV pieces, and for his current show said data is drawn from a residency at particle physics research institute CERN.

  4. Number04-actualsource-itsnicethat-list

    This project takes a little explaining but bear with me. Utah-based design studio Number 04 spent six months researching how to mount a museum exhibition, exploring everything from different kinds of pedestals and which typeface is best suited to marketing, to how to light the show. This resulted in a 1,000 page catalogue that brought together all of the studio’s findings printed on baby pink paper. But for the show itself (at Utah’s Museum of Contemporary Art) the book is nowhere to be seen – instead it has been transformed into photographs, sculptures and installations that Number 04 (aka JP Haynie and Davis Ngarupe) has created based on the information they’d collected.

  5. David-hockney-perspective-should-be-reversed-itsnicethat-list

    David Hockney never fails to astound me. He’s likely the most prolific British painter, printmaker and photographer our generation will see, and rather than settle down into one comfortable style – he has entertained more than a few over the course of his 50-year and counting career – he continues to set himself new lines to cross. He pushes back on the boundaries he had set himself the last time around. 

  6. Karinhagen-itsnicethat-main

    Pottery has had a bit of a bad rep until recently when people have slowly begun to realise that it’s FUCKING BADDASS. The pottery world is creaking under the weight of the amount of thrill-seeking clay-spinners popping up all over the place making vessels for cool people to put their cacti and fennel seeds in, and so we thought we’d highlight a few people who are taking the clay world by storm. Think for a minute, if you will, how few kilns there are on this earth, and how many universities have in recent years completely shut down their ceramics department due to lack of funding and demand. Then get your head around how these guys manage to create such brilliant work at such an astonishing rate while still keeping up their day jobs. Seeing as pottery is well trendy right now, I thought I’d run down a list of my personal favourite pot-heads out there.

  7. Jr-newyorktimes-itsnicethat-list

    It’s always a joy when two creative forces we like collide and produce something that harnesses their collective talents. We’re huge fans of the team at The New York Times Magazine (so much so we interviewed design director Gail Bichler for the new issue of our Printed Pages magazine) and we love the work of JR, so the coming-together of the two was right up our street.

  8. List

    Have you ever wondered what the world might have looked like after the great Old Testament flood? What bizarre events might have followed such a freak occurrence in weather? Me neither. It’s honestly never crossed my mind. But illustrator Samuel Branton has been fixating on the idea, imagining the strange fusion of land and sea that a tumultuous rise in water levels might effect. He’s gone one step further and illustrated these fictional scenarios in miniature, taking this Regency medium and making it weird. Witness crabs beating up a wild boar, monkeys tossing an elephant in the air and a sad old sperm whale incapacitated in a tree. And Deluge is available in book form too!

  9. Aakash-itsnicethat-list

    When we last wrote about Aakash Nihalani we described his practice as a series of interventions, and now that he has graduated from playful street art compositions to full blown technological mind-blowers, that vaguery seems even more apt. His newest piece sees him create a series of interactive installations which respond to the movements of the subject stood in front of them. The video demonstrates it better than I could ever hope to, so wrap your eyes around it and try to keep your jaw off the floor. Aakash is entering a new age, people; just imagine the possibilities!

  10. Ines-longevial-itsnicethat-list

    Inès Longevial is an art director and illustrator based in Paris, whose beautiful paintings of intertwined bodies are likely to have you looking twice. She breaks up the human figure into segments in a fashion Picasso himself would admire, rendering different parts in contrasting but muted colour palettes to disguise the physicality of her subjects. The effect is quite beguiling; hands play across hips and colour distinctions hint at the seams of clothes, but nothing is clear cut. It’s a geometric play on anatomy, and it has clients including fashion brand Amélie Pichard and sportswear giants Nike coming back for more.

  11. Hannahwaldron-itsnicethat-list

    “I wish I knew how to weave,” I found myself sighing longingly while clicking through Hannah Waldron’s portfolio. The UK-based multi-disciplinary artist and designer has transitioned seamlessly from grid-based image-making to create works in textile form since completing an MFA in Textiles at Konstfack, Sweden, and it looks like she’s well at home in the medium. Map Tapestries is a series of woven works inspired by various city scenes – Kreuzberg, NYC and Venice, for example – in bright colours, evocative shapes and simple geometric forms, and it’s wonderful.

  12. Jen-stark-whirl-side-int-10

    If it isn’t broke then there’s absolutely no need to even think about fixing it, as artist Jen Stark is fully aware, and there’s nothing broken about her geometric papercut sculptures. The LA-based artist has been making such work for literally as long as It’s Nice That has been running – here’s the first time we ever posted about her, back in 2007 – and although her work continues to grow in intricacy, she’s stayed true to her roots. These days her sculptures are made more and more often inside huge, unassuming black and white boxes, recreating the feeling that you’re a child about to unbundle a giant parcel of joy on Christmas morning, and they’re still as impressive as they were eight years ago.

  13. Everybody-razzle-dazzle-1-photo-mark-mcnulty-int-list

    Sir Peter Blake has designed this fabulous dazzle ship, a Mersey Ferry that will carry commuter passengers for the next two years. Named Everybody Razzle Dazzle, Sir Peter says it’s his “largest artwork to date,” and that he was “honoured and excited to have been asked to design a dazzle image for the iconic Mersey Ferry.”