Ari Aster and Joaquin Phoenix together at last for a historic conversation on ego death, all-time lows, and going to hell and back while filming Beau Is Afraid.
Topics covered include: struggling to take a compliment, the pressure of the clock, unorthodox techniques for playing a character in physical pain, worst days on set, resisting comfort, Ari’s snappy attitude, Joaquin fainting mid-take with Patti Lupone, the experience of brutal humiliation, old school SFX makeup tricks, crying in front of the crew while filming Midsommar, doing weird shit in attics, and getting each other through moments when you don’t know what the f-ck to do.
Joaquin Phoenix: Hi, I'm Ari Aster, and I am contractually obliged to do this podcast for A24, since they've funded all my movies. But they never give me enough time.
Ari Aster: And I'm Joaquin Phoenix, and I will not be speaking at all, and I'm going to be putting everything on Ari through this entire conversation. And there's no point in me agreeing to do this, because everybody knows that–
Joaquin: See, even our intros are boring.
Ari: I'm an asshole.
Joaquin: That's the most truthful thing you said, Joaquin. Hey, man.
Joaquin: How are you? You're hungover.
Ari: Yeah, I'm hungover. But you're not. You just…
Joaquin: I did not. How'd it go?
Ari: It went well. It went well. It felt good. There were a lot of friends there.
Joaquin: I've had one friend that's seen the movie and they texted, "I had a blast."
Ari: That's good. Yeah, I don't know. Is that sincere?
Joaquin: I don't know what that is.
Ari: Yeah. That sounds like a variation on like, "Oh man, it looked great."
Joaquin: Yeah. That's why my preference is for people I know not to see anything that I'm in, just because I don't want to have to go through that process.
Joaquin: That's the worst thing about going to the screening is like... and then afterwards people come up, they have to say something. It's always uncomfortable.
Ari: Yeah, I also just don't believe anything. Unless somebody comes up, and they haven't been brought up right, and they tell me what they actually thought. But then I usually, I find that the people who have told me that they don't like something I did, I obsess over them. And the next thing I make, I'm trying to please them. Which is really–
Joaquin: I think it's a good policy, to be honest. I guess, I think so. If there's still changes that can be made, you can offer some thoughts.
Ari: It's just not useful.
Joaquin: Right. But once it's done, that's why you go, "I had a blast."
Ari: Yeah. You got to say it when they can actually still make the change, otherwise you're just haunting them. Yeah. I do think that once somebody tells you what they really think, especially if they don't actually like something, then if they ever do like something, it's suddenly valuable. It's mostly valueless when somebody says something nice.
Joaquin: Right. Yeah.
Ari: No? I don't know.
Joaquin: Yes, no, sure. I mean if somebody says something, like a compliment about something, my impulse is to say, "Name five other performances that you thought are really good, or movies."
Ari: Right, just so you can completely discount their judgment.
Joaquin: Yes, yes.
Ari: If somebody ever does say something nice about me, it tends to be couched between two other people that they like. It's not just, "I really like this," but only that, and then this other thing that I fucking hate. Those are the two movies I've loved in the last five years. It's like that…
Joaquin: Right, yeah. It's probably best to not interact with your friends when they've seen a movie I've made. That's my opinion. I had 10 tickets last night to invite people.
Ari: Did you invite anybody?
Joaquin: Nobody. No, of course not. It's also like, do you want to come and watch this? Feels so weird, come see the movie. No.
Ari: Especially in that context, it's not really going to see a movie. It's like it's suddenly an obligation.
Joaquin: There's no good version of this. Whatever the situation, don't invite them.
Ari: I know. Let them find you if they did…
Joaquin: Yeah, or please don't tell me about it. If you do go see it, just don't tell me.
Ari: Well, anybody who knows you, knows not to say anything nice.
Joaquin: Well, just anything. I really don't want to get into the discussion.
Ari: You tend to have a window where you can take something in, and then the door slams. You can see it in the eyes. You get sick, suddenly.
Joaquin: Yeah. I don't know what good comes of it.
Ari: Well, it's something that you want, right? But then once you get it, it's…
Joaquin: I don't know that it's something that I want. I want you to be happy. I want to feel like, we feel like we're getting this stuff when we're working. And then after that it's like, you want it to be receivable enough to where you get another job. But beyond that, nothing anybody can say will ever live up to what the experience is. It's so strange just talking about something that debuted, this three hour film, and it was like four months for us. For you much longer, of course. And any conversation just feels like, I don't know, anti-climatic or something.
Ari: One thing that is a little bit, I wouldn't say different about you, but something that's very specific about you is that you really do need it to be an experience. Meaning you need to, it feels like you become chemically aligned with whatever you're doing. And that's not always the case. And so, I can imagine that there's almost no way to really detach the experience on set for you from whatever you're seeing. Or rather that they maybe exist totally separately.
Joaquin: Yeah. It's a completely different, yeah. And it's almost no real value in viewing it, in some ways.
Ari: Right, but you watched it. You've watched it a couple times.
Joaquin: I did. No, I did. I did, yeah. But I don't know what my... the feelings are so complex when I'm watching, because I'm of course remembering what was happening those days. And almost nothing I see can live up to the experience.
Ari: That's like the first month in the edit for me. Especially on this one, I was very depressed, kind of snappy for the first month as we were assembling it. But then the post process is so long that I do get, I'm not sure if it's objectivity, but I separate from the experience of shooting the film. But it takes a while. It takes, in this case I think my bad mood lasted for a month, but it took me a few months to fully separate from those memories. Because it was a very, it felt long. It was both not long enough and just very arduous, that shoot.
Joaquin: Yeah, it was. Did you know that going into it, that it was going to be so difficult?
Ari: Yeah. Well, only because I knew what the goal was, and I knew that I wanted to make something really dense and big. And when we were putting the schedule together, it dawned on me that every day was going to be pretty rough. But that was the case on my first two films, where we had far fewer days and fewer resources. Even though I feel like on all of them, we've had to really stretch them as far as we could. Even you said in the beginning, how are we ever going to do this in this amount of days?
Joaquin: Yeah. No, I knew the schedule was tough. I knew there was a lot to do. I didn't anticipate that it was going to be so... I literally didn't anticipate it was going to be so physically and emotionally. I didn't think that, I remember reading this script just going, I'm just going to walk around, have a phone call. I really didn't expect that. And then I think, I remember we were doing one scene where I was, and I think it's cut or it's trimmed, where I go into Chris and Roger's room to make a call, to call the lawyer. And I went in, and now we realized that I didn't seem like I was injured. Remember that?
Joaquin: And I was like, oh fuck.
Ari: Was that when the clipping started?
Joaquin: Yes. And it was just, I was like... oh, that's why, all the injury stuff, actors limping and stuff like that. I didn't even do it in an authentic way. And I was like, fuck. So I was supposed to have this wound in my stomach, right? It was like, Martine, who's the prop guy, it was like just handled everything.
Ari: The best prop guy, he was so great.
Joaquin: Yeah. I was like, do you have... what are they? Those clips that bind papers together. And I got that, and I clipped that on my stomach.
Ari: And then you did it for the rest of the shoot.
Joaquin: And then it was there.
Ari: But you also, you have a hand wound. And you also had, I think it was like a pin. You put a pin against your palm for the rest of the film. And you wrapped it up, and the hand was wrapped in bandage. Yeah.
Joaquin: Yeah. Well, because just so that you don't use the hand. Because see that in movies all the time, where somebody's injured and then they're grabbing something. And you go, oh, you couldn't move your hand like that. It was just a reminder. Yeah, I was like, we just made this piece of... stuffed some plastic with tacks on it, and it was pressed on the palm. I completely forgot about that.
Ari: Yeah. Well, then it's not affectation either. Then you're not worrying about how do I make it look like I was stabbed? Because you actually have a shard of something.
Joaquin: Towards the end, by the time was shooting the end, again, so accustomed to this clip. And it wasn't doing anything anymore. I remember I was like, "Martine, it's just not working anymore. It's horrible." And I was all covered in marks, and black and blue. And he goes, "I have something new." And he'd gotten Velcro, just the hard part of the Velcro, not the soft part. And glued that to both sides of the clip. So, then we had to put it on.
Ari: That's my bad.
Joaquin: And I was like, you motherfucker. I was of course appreciative, and I know I needed it. But by the end I was like, I do not want to clip that thing on.
Ari: And that was, that would've been two weeks into shooting. I think that's when you started doing that. And then we shot for 13 weeks in total, so for 11 weeks you had that.
Joaquin: So stupid.
Ari: No, but it really worked. It really worked. And there was a marked difference between what you were doing before that and after.
Ari: This has already kind of blown up in my face for starting to talk about this. But I don't think I was aware of how much you were putting your body through, how exhausted you were, and how rough the shoot was for you until what happened near the end of the shoot with Patti. Where we were on her, I don't want to say what the scene is because it's a spoiler, but it was an intense scene for both of you, but the coverage was on her. So it was a shot that was on her, and your hand is in frame, and you were helping her through it by basically, you talking her through holding her breath through the take. But you were holding your breath just in solidarity. I don't know, just to help.
And anyway, your hand fell out of frame, and I heard a thunk, and I wasn't able to put it together. It was very confusing. And then I came out because I was around the corner, and you had people all around you. And I did not understand what had happened, until I realized that people were bending down to touch you and help you, and you were letting them touch you. That was the bad sign, was that you were allowing that kind of attention, because you would never allow that kind of doting. You were really accepting it, and you looked worried. You didn't know where you were. You really fainted.
Joaquin: And your first reaction was laughter. Correct?
Ari: It was nervous laughter.
Joaquin: No. I got, what really made me uncomfortable is, [inaudible 00:12:45] it was maybe our AC, I can't remember who. Or was it the operator? I just saw them walk, when I came to, I saw them walk from camera, and just sit down on the couch and just stare at the floor. And I realized that, there was this reaction where he was just terrified. And he just walked and sat down, staring off like, I didn't understand what happened. And of course it was fine, this all sounds so dramatic. [inaudible 00:13:21] big deal, we had been hyperventilating all day, doing all this physical stuff all day long, just restricting airflow. And yeah, it's so funny.
Ari: But it felt dramatic. It felt, I think we were both sort of in this... this sounds like bullshit, but it kind of felt like we were in sort of a trance for a lot of that film. Just very, very focused in the same way. And I think we were both just fixed on doing it the right way, whatever that meant. And so, I didn't realize how much you had put yourself through until then, and I guess effectively how much I had put you through.
Joaquin: Well, I'm putting you through it too. And those last, we had what, three weeks of nights? The last few weeks were nights.
Ari: Yeah. Every time we switched a world. Because the film is effectively, it's really six worlds, but I think five that you went through. Because one of them is the cruise, and that's not with you. But I feel like we spent about two weeks, or about 10 days in each environment. And then it was usually in the last three days that we started to get into a groove, and where it became comfortable. And then it was usually that ease, whatever ease had set in and confidence, that fucked us on the first day of every new environment. Without fail, the first day was a disaster.
Ari: The first day with Roger and Grace, I think they were really worried about what set that they had, that you and I–
Ari: Really worried about what set that they had…You and I were both totally lost, it looked like we didn't even know how to communicate because I think we didn't. I think we had a way of communicating in one place and then suddenly we're in a new place, it was a new tone. And I think for the two of us, the worst day was Roger and Grace. But for me, just individually, it was the first day in the forest, that's where I hit this really terrible wall. And I couldn't think, I just felt like I was really drowning. I don't know what happened because there was a shot list, there was a plan, there was no need to actually deviate from it or figure out anything new, but I truly, I just couldn't.... I had just hit a total wall, and that felt like a 10-hour panic attack that day.
Joaquin: I don't remember that day. What did we do first?
Ari: The day was just you walking with Haley Squires and–
Joaquin: Right, yeah.
Ari: And then–
Ari: Just first entering the right camp. And it was so simple, it was really simple and I couldn't do it. And people would come up to me saying, "Are you okay?" And I'd just say, "I'm not okay. I can't breathe. I don't..." Anyway, I still don't have insight into what happened that night, except for the fact that it was just another pivot that I wasn't actually prepared for. And then I mean, obviously, whatever that final scene is, there was a big change there. And then I forget the first day at Mona's but…
Joaquin: Yeah, I do too. But yeah, of course it all becomes a blur as it should. I mean, you are, you're just swimming in it, it's all encompassing. I mean, I remember I was so appreciative because you were working so hard, but I love to work on weekends, I love to rehearse or to plan out. And because we had these two weeks, we would get together on the weekend, usually in the location and roughly go over it, 'cause we had such limited time, we just really wanted to understand the space as much as possible. And still, even with that, things change when you're shooting, you were always available and willing and wanting to do that because…
Ari: I mean, it got my head around it too. I needed that too. That was sort of a revelation, for me, to learn that's how you worked. Because I was expecting before we went into this, for you to be less technical in that what you do looks to me so often to be completely spontaneous and completely un-worked out. And so I was preparing before we shot the film to be ready to just have everything upended and that was a really exciting thing to find that you were so intentional. I don't know, not to break the magic of it, but for me to find that you were able to do things so many times over was really kind of shocking to me.
And I think there is a point at which it starts to dry up. And at that point there is I think a need to, okay, we have to break this now and start over. But that was a really... It was a surprise to me. But also I feel like I'm now repeating something that I've already started saying a lot, but it's true that whatever that process was, whatever we landed on for me just feels very much a way that I don't want to stop working, it really felt useful.
Joaquin: I don't just walk in with and just, everything is spontaneous with no idea, but I like to have 15 possibilities. I just don't choose which one in advance of actually shooting. You know what I mean? Because you'd go and you'd be like, oh, maybe too, we have to get in this space. And man, maybe it was this feeling... I don't know, right now, sitting in my apartment, reading the script. I imagine this, this is the feeling that I have, but that feeling inevitably will change. So I can't go in and say, "This is what it's going to be." I don't even know what the set looks like yet. And that of course changes everything. So it's like, yeah, I guess it's you have your thoughts and your hopes for something, and then you just see what transpires and what feels good. Like when I make decisions, I still do this on every movie, so embarrassing that I'm going to admit this to you, there are times where I'm going through the script and I go, "Oh my God, I got it, oh fuck. I got it."
And I'm like, I, you're my boss, I'm like, "Oh my God, I'm actually good. This is going to be good." I'd go in without fail those ideas are always the worst, terrible, feels like a movie. And I had this brief moment of confidence and feeling good about myself, of thinking, I belong here. And then just immediately humbled and lost and just going, oh God, what am I? Because I thought I had a good idea and it's the worst idea. And usually what I've learned is out of that comes something, out of that desperation, out of that brutal humiliation. Because that's what it feels like when you're the center of, the focus of 50 people. And here, do something. Oh, that's just so humiliating.
Ari: No, I mean, well I do know that we kept... Every time we kind of hit this, whatever the new all-time low was, the feeling was always like, yeah, we got cocky. Like, oh shit, we thought we knew what we were doing here and it just died it on the vine. But with you too, I remember that there were a couple times that I betrayed the fact that I had a plan, that I was maybe not subtle enough or that I really was just trying to impose something. And I would give you something close to blocking, and that's where it was just... You got upset, you got really mad. But in a way that I ended up finding very bracing and exciting was like, okay, yeah, we cannot go into this with some set plan. Because even I think you got especially angry one day because the blocking was right and you knew you would've gotten there, but now it felt like something that was a directive and you couldn't feel your way into it.
And I totally understood that it just shouldn't be prescribed like that. And that became something very... I think there were mornings where we would hit a wall and you would hit a wall. And in the beginning, at first, that was scary to me. And I thought like, oh fuck, I've lost him. Shit, he's not coming back. He hates me. It felt like that in the beginning like, oh shit, he hates me. And then not long into the shoot, I started to recognize, oh God, okay good, there's a problem here. Whatever that is, we have to break through something, otherwise we will stay here and it will stay dead. And every time there was something of a breakthrough, whether it works or not, I just remember that it came to new life and felt at least electric and not false.
And for me, it broke away from what was in my head, which was really valuable because even now when I see the film, I'm able to enjoy a lot of it without feeling... Picking it apart. Like, oh, why did I do that? Why did I do that? Because it kind of left my hands in a lot of ways. It really just turned into something... Not something else, but it deepened on set. And that doesn't always happen.
Joaquin: Yes, that's wild. Yeah I mean, I know there were so many times where when that happens, when I hid the wall, I literally just talk to myself saying, "Just do it. Just do it. It's so easy, just walk in, say the thing, hit the mark, do it." And I can't. I just can't do it. I don't know, it just makes me feel like, it's just not... Let's just paint by numbers, yeah just put that there. And I just have a hard time with that. I think there are other actors were they're like, "Yeah, let's do this bit." I can imbue it with all of this feeling and I'll make... I don't know what they do, but I don't know how to do that unless it really feels that it has energy and a discovery, something that's happening to me. It's not unlike some fucking bullshit, it's not some technique or anything, I don't know what it is. You just either feel inspired and excited and feel like it's dangerous or it feels just fucking boring and you're just making a movie. You're like, "Well, I don't want to do that."
Ari: I feel like people listening, it could almost sound like difficult, what you're describing, you being difficult, it was always actually... The feeling was you were kind of forcing a new engagement. I was challenged to engage in a new way with whatever the material was. And that's really something that's hard to do when you're under the pressure of the clock to stop and say, wait a minute, let's stop working for a second, which is actually where the real work begins. Let's actually reconsider this and this thing... We've known for a long time, this is what's going to happen in this scene. This is what has to happen in the scene, which means that it's kind of died.
Ari: It's just a fact.
Ari: Right? And so we're just playing out a fact. I mean, for me, the feeling was like, yeah, how do I get back to whatever that feeling was when I first wrote it? So how do we rewrite this thing, even though it's really about honoring whatever it is. But–
Ari: But the only way to honor it is to try to, in some way, if you can reset the way you are looking at it, reinvigorate whatever it is.
Joaquin: And I think that it's not just us. I mean, think for everybody on set when you don't know precisely what's going to happen. We know what's going to happen, but there's the potential that somebody moves over here instead or they might... Then there's this focus from the entire crew, and we all are putting all of our effort into this moment, and that creates an energy that is really palpable and important. Those are the things that I think, that's what I notice in this film, and I think in movies that I like, is just an energy and a focus of what may be, when everyone knows precisely what we're doing, and we're just hitting marks, that's the same thing. You just do three takes, it's just human nature, eventually you start kind of... People are just looking at their phones or their…
Ari: And you see it. I mean, you feel it when you're watching a film that was made in that spirit. It's playing dress up, it's like a costume party.
Ari: Well, on this one, I felt for a couple weeks that you didn't know if you could trust me. And I even remember on the first day, you did something really surprising to me. It was a scene where you were supposed to be doing one thing and you just did another thing, it was when you were supposed to be packing, and then you just sort of sat next to the suitcase and it was just this really lonely... It felt like Beau and it was like, "Oh my God, that's great." And so I was very enthusiastic about it. And then you said, "Would you come over here?" And you pulled me to the side of the set and you leaned in and you just go, "Are you just some fucking kid that's just so excited to have Joaquin Phoenix on your set?"
Ari: Yeah no. Yeah, or like a big actor on your set. And I was like, "I'm..." You don't have to–
Joaquin: I do not believe I said that.
Ari: No, you did. You did. And I said, "Yes." But I was very excited by what you just did.
Joaquin: Oh, because you were excited by this thing that happened.
Ari: And you're just like, "Anything I do, are you just going to... Anything I do is just going to be so great? Because it's like because you can't believe that you've got Commodus on your set?"
Joaquin: Yeah, I know nothing–
Ari: I'm so excited that Johnny Cash is in your–
Joaquin: I was just, yeah, worried that... Yeah, I want to be challenged. And I think I was scared that he just was like, oh, this is so exciting, I'm making this movie. And I was like, I'm not doing... What have I done? I haven't done... It just come from a place of such insecurity right where I'm just a star, I'm like, what am I doing? I don't know what I'm doing. I'm fucking terrible. And then you're like, "I'm really excited by this." And I was like, oh no, we're in fucking trouble. But I learned very, very quickly how perceptive you were and how dedicated and hard hardworking you were and that was very exciting to me. And it was really super early on, which kind of immediately, it was intense. I think we had a couple days where we were kind of walking down the hallway and stuff right? And then it got intense very quickly. But I love the way that you talked about things and the first big scene for us was on the phone calling mom where I hadn't... And yeah, I just wasn't there yet, right? You just really worked with me to get there in that scene. And I thought from that moment on, I never have it, but I was like, I think I know... There was a great thing where towards the end of the conversation when you said, "Oh, and then just say, we can fix this. We can fix this." And it was such a great line and it really just helped me, I didn't know how the scene was supposed to end, and that really helped me, just saying that.
Ari: Yeah, I remember that scene, it was half the day. It was the first half of the day with you on the couch.
Joaquin: That you had originally designed differently, the shot.
Ari: Right, you were standing.
Joaquin: And Kim was going to dolly or Steadicam past me and spin around or something?
Ari: That was when you were calling the landlord and we did do that. It was still going to be pretty still, I think there might have been a creep involved... I think the camera was on the dolly and it was creeping in, or it might not have been. It might have honestly been just a very static closeup with you standing, but then you really felt like you wanted to sit for that.
Joaquin: Yeah. Well, I just assumed I was sitting. These are the things, looking back I'm like, oh yes, it didn't say that in the script. And for some reason I read the script and just what I see immediately, I just was like, I'm sitting on this couch. Because I thought that he just becomes deflated as he's in this conversation. Literally just–
Ari: Deflated? I feel like it was tightening. It was getting tighter and tighter.
Joaquin: Physically... Yes, by the end you're just out. But yes, it is, it's a…
Joaquin: Shrinking, yeah.
Joaquin: Which I was like, it just wouldn't even make sense, standing up, you know what I mean? I don't know why. And then I really love that shot that you came up with, where you push in and it's under me and as I'm... Because I remember I was like, I think that I just keep kind of just talking, I'm just going forward–
Joaquin: Yeah, I'm just–
Ari: Leaning forward.
Joaquin: And you're like, "I'll just push the camera and come underneath you."
Ari: Well, yeah, that was very quick. When I saw you doing that with your body, it felt like, yeah, we have to stay with you somehow. We have to keep invading your space until we're in your nose. Actually, when we converted the film to IMAX, that was when I got excited about the format, was in that shot, because it's just so in you. And on that screen, it feels really perverse to just be that close to this–
Joaquin: You know what worked out really well that I loved seeing was the bad shave job that I do. And those are sometimes details that never really show up in a movie that are just kind of subtle, but you just do it because it helps you. But then I actually, when I'm in the therapist's office in the beginning, there were just these hairs down here on my neck that are missed shaving, and on IMAX I really saw it. I just loved that detail so much, I thought it said so much about him. And it really worked, we captured it.
Ari: Colin, Colin Penman, right?
Joaquin: The make-up artist.
Ari: The makeup guy, he was amazing. And there was a lot there to track because there's so much damage that you go through over the course of the film. Yeah, we had to make a lot of very strict decisions early on about, after you get hit by the car, or after you go through the glass, after you... Yeah, what are the–
Joaquin: Yeah, he's very good and collaborative. It's such a joy when you work with people that are very good at what they do and are coming up with things, inventing things, you’re saying, but can it be this? And I remember I was looking at the… kinda saying I think that it has to darken and scab as it goes on, and that kind of scab... And this, I feel like we're just putting on these scrapes, and it's the same thing. He ended up putting coffee grounds, sticking them to the wound, and it looked like it was scabbing over. And he kept coming up with this, of just old tricks that a make-up artist has, and so rarely has the opportunity to utilize. And I think he really enjoyed that, really being in on these discussions, there's such a joy to get a group of people together and to create problems and then try to solve them, it's the most fun that–
Ari: And when it's something this stupid, there's a real–
Joaquin: Totally, totally.
Ari: Just get as much money as you can together and then just light it on fire.
Joaquin: We had such an amazing crew and they were fucking awesome.
Ari: It was an amazing crew.
Ari: It was a great place to shoot.
Ari: No, me too.
Joaquin: Yeah, we were really, really lucky. That was so nice.
Ari: The art team was incredible. The camera crew, I really had a hard time leaving at the end. I really felt like that was the platitude, it feels like a family, but it really did by the end.
Joaquin: Yeah. It was fucking weird shit that we were doing. We're in the attic, that's some weird shit that we're doing.
Joaquin: It's so wild.
Ari: I know. The puppet's not really in the movie anymore, we moved mostly to CG. But yeah, with that giant puppet for two days with Jeeves shooting and stabbing this giant–
Joaquin: And just madness. Just fucking madness. And it's so difficult to come in at 7:00 in the morning and you go, sorry, what is the day? What are we doing today? And how do we put ourselves in that place? Because we can't just walk in and shoot a scene.
Ari: Especially this, because it is so stupid, that the magic trick if you can actually achieve it, is to somehow engross somebody in this thing that's so, so–
Joaquin: No, but that's the thing, if you allow yourself to step back for a moment, you go, this is fucking ridiculous, I'm going home. I can't do this. And you have to do the opposite, to completely commit to this. And I remember going, this is not going to work, I'm going to laugh. I can't, and there's no way that I can–
Ari: With Nathan you laughed a lot.
Joaquin: Oh, fuck yeah. There's no way you can get through a take. And he's one of those guys that he takes pride in getting you to laugh. Oh, but he was so good.
Ari: Yeah. Yeah.
Joaquin: He was so good. And Amy–
Ari: And Amy's so great.
Joaquin: I remember me and Amy were sitting outside in between takes of the paint scene... I don't even know how to describe what it's like because we're sitting outside... There's not many places to go, there was just this one area where we could sit, and so we're together. And in some ways you're doing this scene with somebody and you don't want to look at them, you don't want to be around them in between takes almost. Because it just feels ridiculous, and you just don't want to get into small talk. But we just work together and we had no choice, we were just sitting in silence, I looked up at her and she was just red in the face, and I was like, "What we do is so..." and she said, "Stupid. It's just so stupid." And I was like, "You're fucking right." The only way to describe it. It's really ridiculous. Am I supposed to ask you about music and shit? Tell me about sound design, come on–
Ari: Sound design?
Joaquin: Yeah, tell me what that process was like.
Ari: I don't know. Paul Hsu did the sound design and he's great. He's so smart.
Joaquin: Is this just blank, the most boring anything in the world?
Ari: Yeah, probably.
Joaquin: Okay, good. But I love you, man. Well, since you've talked about my little spell, I think it's only fair to reveal one of your most troubled moments.
Ari: What's that? Oh, I know what you're going to...
Ari: It's the bedroom, right?
Ari: Yeah, yeah. Well, go ahead.
Joaquin: I'm not–
Ari: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Joaquin: Well, no, that was it. It was an extremely difficult... It was a really rough, rough week, and we really struggled with that one there in beginning, and–
Ari: Yeah. We were talking about bad first days, that was the first day, now I'm remembering. Yeah. So no, that was another terrible first day.
Joaquin: Yeah. I remember I could not, it's just one of those things where I go, I know that I'm supposed to do this, but I'm literally incapable of it. I'm literally incapable of, I don't know what to do. And of course, looking back on it, it makes total sense that you wouldn't know what to do in that situation, right?
Joaquin: How do you have a plan? How do you function in that situation? As the person, the real person, the character. And I remember though that it was a real struggle and you just broke, you totally broke. You just went to the fucking edge and you just have a panic attack. And everybody left the room, it was super uncomfortable, and you were emotional and I felt terrible that I might be somehow responsible for it. But I remember you saying, "I can't reconceive of this right now, because I'm not good enough. I'm not good enough to just come up with something else." And I was like, out of your fucking mind... I couldn't believe that that's how you felt. Because I had so much faith in you to be able to help us get out of whatever the problem was and to come up with something, and I was so surprised that that was your feeling. I didn't anticipate that, and I'm sorry.
Ari: No, it was–
Joaquin: I'm still, I'm so sorry about it.
Ari: I don't remember saying that, but I'm sure... I remember, yeah, it was around take 20. And actually, in retrospect, we actually were further along than it felt, but that was just a day where I felt the pressure of the whole production was just too much on that day.
Ari: We were deep into it, that was 50 days into shooting or something, or 55 days into shooting. I had one of those days on Midsommar, where I just got there in the morning and people were looking at me, and it was time for me to give directives and explain what we were about to shoot. And I had my plan, I knew exactly what we were going to do... It was actually pretty simple. It was basically, it was kind of a dance scene, so it was all choreographed. There was nothing I had to conceive of at the moment, but I was just facing the whole crew and they're all looking to me expectedly, and I just turned around and then started crying. And so, they're watching this guy's back just rise and fall. And it went for 30 minutes, I just couldn't get out of it.
Ari: But it's not even emotional, it's a nervous thing.
Ari: It's your nervous system is just, you tap out. And that's what happened that day with you, was that it just hit that same wall. Even if things were going smoothly and it would've been working, I still feel like anything could have set me off that day. I remember driving in and just feeling like, I need a day, I need some sleep or something. But still, even in retrospect, I think of that wall that we both hit, because you hit the same wall several takes earlier, and so I was really just trying to support you and help you, and it just turned out that I couldn't support anybody that day. But then after that, I don't know, then it turned into one of our best days, it brought us back together. I think we were on other sides of the room for that first half of the day, and then–
Joaquin: I don't know.
Ari: But yes, I did, I cried. That's what you haven't said, is that I was crying.
Joaquin: Yeah. I always find those moments... This is going to sound so callous, but really invigorating, just because I know that there's so much feeling in the room. And it's awful, it's scary, it's really one of the most uncomfortable things when an AD is like, can we clear the room, please? And people just start shuffling out and go to lunch early. And we're sitting in that room and the feeling is we're never going to find our way out of this. That's the feeling that you have. We're in such a bind, and everything–
Ari: And people are looking at you.
Ari: It's the fact that there's a spotlight on you, and there's a spotlight always on you, but–
Joaquin: And I'm naked with a thing wrapped around–
Ari: Yeah, you're very exposed.
Joaquin: It's just so absurd. And you can't just laugh about it in those moments, and maybe sometimes you can, that's another way out, but this was like, we don't have the time, we don't have the luxury of time. We have to fucking figure this out now.
Ari: And the deeper you dig... When you're on take 20, and the schedule's kind of fucked because you were supposed to do seven scenes that day. That was the day where we had scheduled seven scenes, I remember that. Because it was a pretty simple... It was more simple than other scenes. That's actually what broke me down, is that we reached lunch and we asked for grace. And so just the realization that the schedule demanded that, that should have been done four hours ago, but we should be done with two other scenes, and we're in grace, but we're not going to get this before we have to actually finally break for lunch, and then we're going to come back to the scene. And that was what I couldn't get my head around. But it's always the clock. It's always... It's not... That's what the pressure is. It's not like... Otherwise, it would be fun if it weren't for the pressure of the money and the time.
Joaquin: Yeah, but that pressure is also really good.
Ari: Yeah. No.
Joaquin: There's something I love about it. I love those moments where it just feels like this could just end very bad or we can fucking figure something out and we got to do it quick. It's so exciting.
Joaquin: It's awful when you're in. It's a terrible feeling. But sometimes the scenes that seem simple are the ones that kill you because you can't force it. And there's something else telling you that it's a different feeling. You're chasing a feeling and that makes sense, but it's just not there. It's not really working. It feels forced.
Ari: Or it just feels rote. Because you thought it was a simple scene, you just didn't really think about it, or you just kind of–
Joaquin: But we did. We went in that day though. We started out strong because we kind of made some changes to what happens after the intimate moment on the bed.
Joaquin: Right? And it was originally going to be one thing over on this side, and then we're like, "Or no, wait, maybe it should be the opposite of that." Right?
Joaquin: So we didn't just go in and just–
Ari: Over the weekend. Yeah. It was a phone call where, yeah, we both kind of rethought how that would play because we realized it was too–
Ari: ... similar to something that had happened–
Ari: ... before. Was that right? Yeah.
Joaquin: Yeah. And so then there was some relief in like, okay, well, we're not repeating ourselves. That's good. That's good. And then when we got to do it, it was like... I don't know why, really one of the strangest, most difficult scenes for me.
Ari: Yeah. Well, it was really important. I think we had worked out the one thing, but then you're suddenly faced with–
Ari: It's the biggest pivot in the film. And I think somehow that was so obvious that I kind of just assumed it was pretty simple. And we ended... There was a lot more dialogue up there. We kind of chopped it all out immediately, because you're just like, what are we talking about?
Ari: What is this... What words are going to–
Ari: Trying to reflect what's actually happening here. It was actually... And the words were... In retrospect, they were way too coy, and yeah. But that's funny, is that we figured that out early on too. I don't know what... Anyway, that was a really tricky day. But those days are really good because they kind of reactivate this... Well, really what it is a fear of that happening again. You just don't want to fall. You don't want to end up back in quicksand because it really is the worst feeling. What else was there? Do we want to talk about other people? Do we want to talk about–
Joaquin: Who's the cop? Where did you find that actor?
Ari: Michael Esper. He's a New York theater actor. He's great.
Joaquin: That guy's fucking amazing.
Ari: Yeah, he's good. He was really good.
Joaquin: I always feel like people with small parts of a couple lines and extras, that's when you know if a director is any good. And I always dread those moments. And I remember the first take, going, "Holy, this guy is way more in it than I am." I was like, "Oh, fuck." It was amazing. You really, yeah, inspired me. Remember when... I'm just going to say the same shit over. You tell me what to talk about.
Ari: No, but that was great. That's nice. And I'm glad Michael Esper has that because he is great.
Joaquin: He's fucking amazing.
Ari: Yeah, he's fantastic.
Ari: Yeah. No, he's wonderful.
Ari: Well, I remember when you first saw it, you mentioned Zoe Lister-Jones and Julie Antonelli, who was Zoe Lister-Jones plays young Mona.
Ari: I think you were especially surprised by them because you weren't on set with them. So I think that's what it was, was you hadn't seen them.
Ari: And then Julia plays young Elaine.
Ari: It was so great.
Joaquin: I thought that you did some trick where you used Patti LuPone's voice, that you blended it with Zoe's voice or something. I don't know why they just... I thought she was incredible. I really thought it's an amazing performance. Everybody, Armen and–
Ari: Yeah. Armen is so great. I don't know how we found Armen, but it looks so much like you and parenthood. While we're on people, Patti LuPone was so much fun. She knew that script too well. She knew it so well. There was never a moment where she bumped on us on anything. She was just so game. There was a real... I can't imagine two actors that are more different, that approached the work more differently than you and her, but I do feel that there was an alchemy there just in one philosophy or one really just one approach to the work versus the other. But they were both totally committed in their own way, and it's weird. Anyway, I really loved that. And then Parker, that might be my favorite scene in the film, is you guys on the porch. That's really, really ghostly and–
Ari: And you're so vulnerable in that scene. It's such a soulful thing that you're doing there. And she's just... I don't know. I love that scene. And I feel like that definitely got away from me with the two of you. That's just such a beautiful, ethereal.
Ari: Yeah, she is incredible.
Joaquin: Incredible hot scene.
Joaquin: And all of it–
Ari: And just so ballsy. Once you get up to the bedroom, I'm so grateful to her for doing that. Oh man. At this point, are we even... Oh God, Stephen McKinley Henderson, he came in really understanding the part, because it's a weird one. It's really weird, and there's like a pivot at the end that makes me laugh a lot. And it was so clear that he understood that. He's funny. He's really funny.
Ari: And I don't know. Yeah, he's really special. I really want to work with him again. Yeah, there's things we can't talk about.
Joaquin: I know.
Ari: Things that we just can't that just are spoilers. But God, anything... What else? Anything else? Do we–
Joaquin: There's so many things. That's why it's always difficult doing press.
Ari: There's the bathtub, the bathtub thing, only because it felt like that felt momentous as far as our dynamic was concerned, if that's... Is that–
Joaquin: No, I was thrilled because I knew that there was nothing special or unique about the first time shooting it. And it was fine. And in most movies, he'd be like, "It's fine." But it just felt like there wasn't something. And I remember talking to him saying, "I don't think it's special."
Joaquin: And we were, as per usual, pressed for time, and really felt like, oh, this is such an important moment. We have to–
Ari: It's a scene where you broke down crying basically. It's a scene where you... And you're right, you say fine, but yeah, in any other film... In this film, it's whenever, a fucking "powerhouse moment," but it did feel like rote. It felt really obvious, and I think we also recognize that we're going to go back there later. And if we did it here, that we have to do something else there, but that maybe felt more appropriate there.
Joaquin: Appropriate. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And that was our film. But for me also, there was a technical aspect of it, just where the camera was and how it moves throughout the scene. And so it's a moment that you want to just be, as an actor, just free to reveal itself however it does when it does, but couldn't quite do that, right? And you were really... Am I remembering that right?
Ari: What's that the–
Joaquin: Camera starts on me, right?
Ari: Well, that scene starts on your phone, and then–
Joaquin: Right, starts–
Ari: ... bring it to your ear, and then the camera kind of rotates around.
Ari: So it starts on the phone, you bring it up to your ear. So then we pan to become a profile of your face with the phone up to your ear. And then once we land on that, we're drifting to the right to then be in a medium closeup on you.
Joaquin: Yeah. Well, but then it then goes up.
Ari: Yes. You have to send it up.
Joaquin: And I didn't anticipate that that was going to be one shot, right?
Joaquin: Yeah, so we went back to reshoot it. And… so you came into my trailer. You told me early in the morning. It got me spinning in a panic.
Ari: Yeah, I thought you were really upset with me–
Ari: ... after.
Joaquin: No, no. I just was like, oh, we have to use... I have to do it right. And I remember this is really... I always wonder whether... Oh, little reluctant to say this, but because it sounds so fucking stupid and just like actor shit, but I remember, and I was thinking, what I did before was I did a scene, but I wasn't really volatile. I didn't really put myself out there. I was still nervous. I was still... In some way, I was controlling a little bit. I was controlling what people thought about me. I didn't want to let people down. And it was like new crew were early on set. And I remember just realizing I had to do something that was fucking stupid, and I just so didn't want to do it, but I just knew. And I just started screaming, just the most intense guttural pain scream that I could before we were shooting sitting there because I had to just fully humiliate myself. And then just go like, okay, well once that's happened, you can't look any more stupid than you do now.
And it just let go of everything, right? I don't know what, I don't know why, but I just was overcome with this need to do that. And I think it probably made you uncomfortable. We weren't in the same room. You were on the monitor, but I have a feeling that you got very uncomfortable. Did you–
Ari: No, I remember knowing what you were doing. It felt to me like you were kind of trying to scream yourself out of the state you were in. It didn't actually feel like even a take. It somehow felt like you were trying to break out of something.
Joaquin: I had my awareness of movie and crew–
Ari: Yeah, exactly.
Joaquin: ... having to do a thing.
Ari: And it was shocking in a way that was exciting, I think, because it did jar everybody. And I felt like it was good because the energy in the room did suddenly become both alert and disturbed.
Joaquin: Which was right.
Ari: ... which was right for the scene.
Joaquin: And I think that's what we were trying to get at. It's like somebody that is in a disturbed state in that moment, and it's not one emotion that they're having as manifesting. It is something very hard to pinpoint in some ways what the person is feeling precisely, right?
Joaquin: It's those horrible moments where you just don't quite know what to do. And again, yeah, I think we kind of went into going like, "This is what we'll do. And so I would do that." And then I have such appreciation for you because out of that, you recognized that there was something, that there was a genuine state now that was available. And you didn't want to control it, but you also knew that it couldn't reveal itself at the top of the scene, and it had to hold. And I remember sitting, he said, please, I just didn't talk sitting at the monitor. And then he said, "I want to be very precise about this." And then he told me that you thought that I shouldn't let it out, that it shouldn't reveal itself, that when you find me, I should be where was at the restaurant like that? Is that–
Ari: Yeah, I think it was where you started is where you should end, where you started in that take–
Ari: ... before the expression.
Joaquin: Right. Yeah.
Ari: That's where you're getting to.
Joaquin: Yes. That was so good. And I didn't, at that moment. So I have to generate something that I have no idea what the fuck it is, but then I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do with it. Just was there, and it was so helpful. The biggest thing, this is the point of anything I say, I have no idea what's good or what's happening, what will work. I'm just fucking open for the best. Well, I can't believe A24 actually did this movie. Really, it's amazing. They're really amazing.
Ari: No, they really are.
Joaquin: It's worth it. Yeah. I talk a lot of shit because I always want more days, but it's impossible. But it's incredible. They did this movie and were so supportive.