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Published:April 12th, 2013 15:29 EST
Director Derek Cianfrance Looks at Realistic Family Values

Director Derek Cianfrance Looks at Realistic Family Values

By H.B. Forman


Edgy director Derek Cianfrance prefers his movies to be seeped with heavy doses of reality. He does not favor picket fences, fairy tale lives or simple characters.

This is why his latest endeavor The Place Beyond The Pines is a daring, raw, emotional and gritty tale about flawed characters.

The award-winning feature and documentary film maker began making movies at age 13. He says that he is drawn to stories about families.

His first film, Brother Tied, which he directed, wrote, shot, and edited at the tender age of 23 was about brothers. His second feature, Blue Valentine, was about husband and wives.

Pines is about fathers and sons, as well as the nature of masculine identity and the legacy that fathers leave to their sons. The movie from Focus Features opens around the nation Friday, April 12.

At the center of Pines, which unfolds like a three act play, is bad-boy Luke, played by Ryan Gosling, a high-wire motorcycle stunt driver, who travels with the carnival from town-to-town.

In Act One, while passing through Schenectady, New York, Luke tries to reconnect with his former lover, Romina, played by Eva Mendes, only to learn that she has given birth to their son in his absence.

Luke decides to give up life on the road, gets a job as a mechanic and he and his new boss embark on a string of spectacular bank robberies, Luke`s misguided attempt to provide for his new family. In Act Two, his bank jobs put him on the radar of an ambitious rookie cop, Avery Cross, played by Bradley Cooper. In Act Three, the teen-age sons of the two men must face their fateful, shared legacy.

The actors say what they love about working with this director is that each of the moments is seeped in reality. The actors spent a great deal of time in Schenectady, New York, and spoke at length to bank employees, diner waitresses and cops " and most of the events portrayed in the movie happened in the actual locales.

Ryan Gosling, who starred in Pines and Blue Valentine, says that the second collaboration seemed to be fated to take place. Derek and I were making Blue Valentine and I shared with him that I had this cockamamie theory that I could rob a bank and get away with it - if I wasn`t so afraid of jail. And this was my plan that I would do it this way and he said, "that`s crazy, I just wrote a movie about that.` So it felt like we should make that movie. "

Eva Mendes said the authenticity in the film and the director`s willingness to let his actors improv for the film was stunning.

Derek wrote and directed Pines and he told me from the beginning, "I am not married to these words,` and that was a lot of freedom, " recalls Mendes. So he put us in situations where a lot of scenes were very organic and when a line wasn`t working, he was like, "lose it, just dump it.` And I have never worked at this level before, I am kind of angry at Derek because I don`t know how I am going to work on another film. He has raised the bar so very high. "

When Blue Valentine " came out, you were considered an up-and-coming director. What was it like coming from that to make The Place Beyond the Pines, as your follow up?

Derek Cianfrance: I had an opportunity after Blue Valentine to make something else.

I had a number of scripts that came to me, and a number of opportunities. Since 2007, I was working on Pines, even before Blue Valentine. It was another very personal film that I`ve been making films about families. In families, I feel there are great secrets and great intimacies, and I think the cinema is also that place for secrets and intimacies because you`re sitting in a dark room and you`re seeing these private lives on the screen.

How do you see your vision for Pines?

DC: Pines was about fathers and sons. It was about legacy. When my wife [video artist and Towheads director Shannon Plumb,] was pregnant with our second boy in 2007, I was thinking about all this responsibility of being a father again. I was thinking of my son coming into the world and just wanting him to be born clean, without any of my sins or my wrongdoings. I wanted him to have his own path in life. It became a personal thing.

What else went into shaping this movie?

DC: I was thinking in terms of the ambition of it. I remember I was interviewing [race car driver] Danica Patrick some time ago, because I did documentaries for a long time. So I asked her, "How do you drive so fast? How did you get so fast?` And she said, her whole life, she knew how fast she could go and she would always drive as fast as she could go but then she would drive a little faster. She`d drive to the point where she would sometimes crash. And she said that was how she could push her own boundaries and get good. So with my next film, I felt like I needed to go to a crashing point, to go to a dangerous place and not make a safe choice as a filmmaker; make something that would push the limit.

What gave you the idea to cast Eva Mendes as Romina, Luke`s lover and the mother of his child since the actors have been dating?

DC: I cast Eva because Ryan suggested I cast her. I`d looked at a lot of women for that role, and I couldn`t find who Romina was going to be. Then Ryan said, "Well you should look at Eva. She`s a great actress.` I said I agree. I always liked her in Training Day. She came to an audition and she was wearing a 1990`s jean, high-waist jeans, the big baggy T-shirt, no makeup on and her hair was a mess. She was trying her hardest to look unattractive. And she was failing, miserably. But it meant so much to me that she was going there, that she was putting herself in a vulnerable position.

Then what happened?

DC: I said you don`t have to read for me today. Just take me on a ride. Take me to where you grew up. Show me the house you grew up in. Tell me the school you went to. I fell in love with her as a human being. She was scared, definitely terrified of this role, but I relate to that with actors. I don`t relate to a fearless actor or a fearless person. I relate to people who are scared and that are brave enough to confront their fear. To me that`s the meaning of courage "and she had that. I respected her and I gave her the role.

What else did Ryan contribute to the original script of the Pines?

DC: He called me before we started shooting and he said, "Hey D, How about the most tattoos in movie history?` I said you want some tattoos? He said, "Yeah, and I want to get a face tattoo.` And I said, "Really, a face tattoo? That`s pretty permanent.` He said, "Face tattoos are the coolest. And this one`s going to be a dagger and it`s going to be dripping blood. " And I said, "Well look, if I was your parent, I would say, don`t get a tattoo, but you`re the guy.` And that`s why I like to work with actors. They have a great deal of ownership over their characters.

Then I heard Ryan was not so happy with that choice.

DC: True. The first day of shooting, at lunchtime, he comes up to me and said, "I think I went too far with the face tattoo. Do you think we can take it off and re-shoot everything?`

How did you respond?

DC: I said, "Absolutely not. That`s what happens when you get a face tattoo. You regret it. " And to me what it did for his performance though " he`s a great actor, he`d be great anyway - but it created the shame. It created this regret.

How did that play out?

DC: Well, it was probably cool to Luke when he got the tattoo but all of a sudden he walks into this church and all of Schenectady`s there, wearing Sunday finest. So he comes in and he`s literally a marked man. All these choices he made are now screaming. He has no place to go. He can`t sit with everyone. He can`t fit in, so Ryan walks to the corner of the church and we panned with him, move to the next shot, close up. Once he sits down and I notice that Ryan is shaking. He`s trembling. I want to shut off the camera and give him a hug because he`s my friend, but at the same time I can`t do that because this is what I like to do in movies when acting stops and behavior begins. All these choices actually affect the performance.

What impressed you about Ryan and Eva in making this movie?

DC: On set, they`re both great actors and they were both pushing each other. That`s basically what I saw on the set.