It’s not every day you get to have lunch with Ang Lee, so when RT were invited to do just that today in Cannes we couldn’t refuse. Also joining us, James Schamus, Demetri Martin, Emile Hirsch and Imelda Staunton, and over a three-course meal at the Carlton Hotel on the Croisette we talked cinema, music and, of course, Woodstock.
Lee’s latest film, Taking Woodstock, which premiered last night at the festival, is the tale of Elliot Tibor, the man with the permit that made Woodstock happen, and of his experience of the event while coming to terms with his own identity. It’s humorous and deals with real issues at the same time and, after a string of drama, Lee told RT that he intentionally leaned towards doing something much lighter.
“It wasn’t only a conscious decision it was an active commitment,” he told us. “For me it’s a learning curve, and as it turns out it’s not just about going back to my older movies, it’s about embracing that I’m older, I’ve been through the mid-life crisis. You know, I’ve done my martial arts film and what have you. And I just did a terribly heavy movie, Lust, Caution, which I’m proud of. It’s a learning process to relax and enjoy a simple joy of making movies and to admit it. It’s quite practiced — it’s like a Zen meditation in that it looks easy on the surface but you make a great effort to do it.”
Demetri Martin takes centre stage in the film in his first lead role, and he explained to RT how apprehensive he was to begin with. “I think there was a mix for me of curiosity, anxiety and then enjoyment,” he said. “At first I was curious as to why Ang wanted me in the movie and then I was curious – could I be believable enough that this’ll work? Then I started to have fun — it was an enjoyable challenge.”
Playing Elliot’s mother, a stern woman with an unusual appetite for making money and a cold, difficult personality, is Imelda Staunton, who explained the difficulties in making sure she didn’t become push too far. “She’s a bit of a monster, really, God love her,” she laughed. “It was a bit of a challenge – mentally emotionally and physically – and that always interests me. I had to go for it really. You have this real woman to start from and you have to bring her to life. I do a lot of thinking about it before I start and understanding the fight she faces.”
Hirsch plays an unusual role in the film — a Vietnam veteran only just returned from the conflict. He explained his process for relating to that having not been alive at the time, and how he got a modern understanding of his character. “I did talk to several Vietnam veterans,” he told RT. “But I also talked to Iraq veterans and one guy in particular — we went to a shooting range and he taught me how to fire a lot of different types of guns.”
Taking Woodstock is released in the US on 14th August and in the UK on 30th October, and we’ll have more from our conversations with Lee, Schamus, Martin, Hirsch and Staunton very soon.