• 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. London-is-changing-intlist

    Public art project London is Changing makes Londoners uncomfortably aware of the truths we’re perhaps trying to ignore: that our city is morphing beyond recognition, that creativity is at risk, and that for many people, it’s simply becoming unaffordable.

  2. Bensanders-potdealer-3-int_copy

    While keeping himself busy with postmodern Howard Hodgkin-esque painting and collage work, Ben Sanders is somehow finding the time to paint funny faces on ceramics. Cutting through the “worthy lifestyle” pottery trend with googly eyes, zigzag nostrils and creepy grins, Ben has stamped his sense of humour and aesthetic all over these thriving succulents’ homes.

  3. Olafur-eliasson_little-sun-int-1

    A “giddy joy” was described as the feeling evoked by the artwork of Olafur Eliasson when we interviewed him for last year’s Autumn edition of Printed Pages, and with his monumental, often participatory pieces, it’s not hard to see why. From his incredible 2003 Weather Project at Tate Modern to its portable, socially-conscious, tiny counterpart Little Sun(which “produces clean, affordable, and portable solar-powered lamps to areas of the world without reliable access to electricity”), his work is a glorious, utterly original ray of light shining on the sometimes impenetrable art world.

  4. Christian-marclay-vinyl-factory-int-1

    In another brilliant feat of creative engineering that bridges the gap between music, art and design, a project at the White Cube gallery in London’s Bermondsey sees musicians including Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore perform a composition for Christian Marclay, which is recorded and pressed on site by The Vinyl Factory Press. The press is housed in a shipping container, and the artwork for the record – also created on site – is designed by Christian and printed by Coriander Press, in a series that feels like cottage industry, DIY ideas brought into a slick, art-world setting.

  5. Lynda-benglis-int11

    “Think of bayous…crawfish…sea creatures…metal…tieing shoelaces…not knowing what to do sometimes and just doing it.” This is Lynda Benglis’ bizarre monologue, with which she ends the introduction to her new show.

  6. Brechtvandenbroucke-the-fame-main-int

    Brecht, after five years of admiring your work I can happily say that I can spell your name without looking. And I can tell you that even though I’ve spent years admiring the skill of your painting, I can finally say that I think I actually get it. Over time, Brecht’s erratic artworks have become increasingly crowded with characters, pop culture references, logos, and his trademark long-limbed creatures.

  7. Antoinecorbineau-6-int

    It’s my personal opinion that some of the most exciting creative work starts life as a side project to distract from commercial jobs. Such is definitely the case for Antoine Corbineau, a French illustrator and designer who has worked on a plethora of projects for commercial clients, drawing up large-scale, intricate scenes of characters interacting in an enormous, often map-like style. Potentially even more alluring, however, is Antoine’s painting work. It’s distinctly less bright, almost realist in its approach, depicting familiar domestic scenes and landscapes interspersed with small but resonant human activity. His attention to minute detail – the foliage of a plant, a picture frame, the icons on a computer screen – and his accuracy in creating scenes that you could swear you’d seen before makes this body of work oddly enchanting.

  8. Sethbogart-ceramics-home

    Seth Bogart is quite the Renaissance man. The frontman of San Francisco-based band Hunx & His Punx is also an artist, producing paintings, drawings and ceramics; a video director; a photographer and a fashion designer. He has collaborated with Yves Saint Laurent and has his own store, Wacky Wacko, for which he also designs installations. Seriously, this guy.

  9. Ellakru-painting-7home-int

    Latvia-born Ella Kruglyanskaya now lives and works in New York, depicting cartoon-like friends and “frienemies” out-and-about in large-scale oil paintings and murals. Ella’s work is packed with bawdy humour, exaggerated forms, exuberant mark-making and interactions. She describes her intention as “pictorial events… [that] aspire to an unspoken punch line” – the content, references and line-work all filtered through comedy.

  10. Anniedescarteaux-collage-7home-int

    Annie Descôteaux’s work is confident, engaging and straight-forwardly slapstick. The Montreal-based artist works with installation, drawing and collage and has seen her work exhibited and discussed at conferences on colour theory. In equally impressive outings, it’s also appeared in Bloomberg and Pica magazines, among other publications. Annie’s collage work is well-balanced with clean lines, sharp colours and discreet humour; each piece littered with raw steak, fried eggs and shuttlecocks.

  11. Oliviervrancken-untitled-1-inthome

    Olivier Vrancken is a graphic designer and artist based in Holland. Painting and drawing his way through commissions and personal work, he is inspired by everything from primitive art to the great lyricists that are Black Sabbath. Olivier has exhibited all over Europe, his Cubist aesthetic and visual references laden with nods to cut-outs, still life, architecture and the human form. There’s a great colour palette to his work and some nice titles like Bad Hair Day and Wanderlust. Olivier’s work reminds me of the prints that appeared all over the T-shirts of the 1980s, in a good way.

  12. Menutnutnut-drawing-4-int

    Me nut nut nut was one of Jason Murphy’s daughter’s first utterances, and is now the name for his drawings of awkward stories of fear and incompetence. Inspired by the physical comedy of The Young Ones and The Ren & Stimpy Show, Jason’s drawings rely on comic intuition and references to real-life moments, like dropping a potato on his cat.

  13. Seamus_murhpy_pj-harvey_-recording-in-progress_-2015.-an-artangel-commission.-_1_int

    While we wait to take our turn to become a sort of strangely sanctioned voyeur as PJ Harvey records her ninth album, thinking about what’s ahead feels peculiar. Essentially, we’re going to see PJ (Polly Jean) Harvey, her band, producers Flood and John Parish, a photographer and two engineers making an album in a Something & Son-designed box, formed of glass that allows visitors to see in, while the musicians can’t see out.