In director David Gordon Green’s character-driven dramedy “Prince Avalanche,” actors Paul Rudd and Emilie Hirsch play Alvin and Lance, two road workers whose job it is to paint the yellow lines running down the centers of highways. The narrative, which is loosely adapted from the Icelandic film “Either Way,” is set in 1988, but parallels the aftermath of the Bastrop County fires that occurred in late 2011. In the film, Alvin and Lance are assigned to repaint the traffic lines on an isolated country highway that was destroyed by the wildfire. During their summer working together, the men create an unlikely friendship despite their contrasting personalities and work ethic.
During an interview this past March at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Green, Rudd and Emile sat down to share some of their experiences during the making of what Green calls a “hip-pocket project.” All three walked into the interview room talking to each other about the time change (it was March 10, Daylight Saving Time).
“Prince Avalanche” is currently available on iTunes and Video On-Demand.
David Gordon Green: Why is there even a Daylight Savings? Let’s just stop it.
Paul Rudd: There are petitions to get rid of it.
DGG: It must be a corporate reason that they don’t.
Emile Hirsch: Someone’s gotta pay for that extra hour.
PR: I thought [Daylight Savings] was good for the economy – like it goes up a few percentage points. They did away with it for a while, but then it came back.
EH: Arizona doesn’t have [Daylight Savings].
PR: Arizona doesn’t have it? That’s SO Arizona!
EH: That’s so weird that someone says, “We’re changing the time.” The time shouldn’t be able to be changed.
DGG: Do you guys know about the history of weekends – like when weekends were created? It divided the country between the people who believed in weekends and the people who didn’t. There was this aggressive campaign about how everyone shouldn’t work seven days a week. But that’s something we just take for granted now – weekends.
EH: The idea that we’re changing the time, that’s insane. “It’s not 3 p.m., it’s 4 p.m.” Like what the fuck?!
PR: “Don’t worry. We’ll changed it back later on in the year.”
David, this is definitely your most intimate film since “Snow Angels” six years ago. Was this type of storytelling something you wanted to get back to after making three studio films (“The Sitter,” “Your Highness” and “Pineapple Express”)?
You know, through that period of time I always had a “hip-pocket project” – something that I knew I could do down and dirty and quickly in case the pieces on a big-budget studio movie didn’t come together. I was really frustrated with this one particular movie I had been trying to get made for five years. It kept falling through. I thought this was the perfect time to pull out a hip-pocket movie. I went through the ones I had kind of been developing over the years, but a lot of these projects are about timing. I can’t claim [“Prince Avalanche”] was a lifelong passion project. It was a whim that turned into a very signature piece of commitment and collaboration and trust with a group of artists. This was not something that has lived with me for years and years. It was very strange, but it was a beautiful antithesis to the traditional development process.
EH: I’m going to want that $10 bucks back.
DGG: (Laughs) Yeah, [Emile] paid me $10 bucks.
Paul, you’ve always been great at witty improv. Was it more of a challenge to let those quiet moments happen in this film?
PR: You know, there is a way these characters speak that is a little strange to me. It sounded to me, at times, like an American version of an Icelandic movie, really. The dialogue had these weird turns of phrases and that kind of thing. So, if we were having some sort of improvisation, the challenge was to adhere to those rules and rhythms and not veer away from that. There really wasn’t a lot of improvisation, was there?
DGG: Not in terms of big, broad strokes, but there was a lot of interpretation.
PR: Yeah, and I liked all the nuance and minor-key approach to all of it. I liked working that way. I wanted it to be contained. I wanted it to be dramatic. I wanted the humor to be character driven and not jokey. It didn’t seem any more challenging than anything else. That being said, it’s always kind of challenging. You don’t want [the film] to be bad.
So, the line “you got a little caulk on you” wasn’t supposed to be jokey?
EH: When [Paul] was saying that to me in the scene, I had no idea what he was talking about. I didn’t know what caulk was. I had never seen caulk before.
PR: That’s not what I heard, Emile.
EH: No, but he kept saying that to me in the scene. He was like, “You got a little caulk on you. You got a little caulk on you.” And I was like, “What the fuck is he talking about?”
PR: In the film, you can tell he is making me laugh really hard. That’s why in that scene I turn around and I start laughing. You can hear me laughing.
DGG: We kept that scene in.
PR: Yeah, we kept it in because it made me laugh. Afterward I was like, “Man, I probably shouldn’t have turned away too much.” Now, that was one of those challenges you were talking about. I think if I was doing one of those lines like, “You’ve got a little caulk on you” and started laughing and it was in another movie, I probably would’ve made it a bigger jokey thing. But in this, I wanted it to not be a joke. But that’s still what happened.
EH: I didn’t know what caulk was.
PR: Now you’re familiar with it.