Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the Film Independent Spirit Award-nominated duo behind Half Nelson and Sugar, took the stage last Thursday at Film Independent at LACMA to discuss their latest effort, Mississippi Grind. The film stars Ben Mendelsohn as a gambling addict deep in the hole and Ryan Reynolds as the good luck charm who just might pull him out of it.
“We liked the idea of two characters, especially in this particular world of gambling, that could get each other riled up,” said Boden. “By the end of the movie you’re like, ‘Please don’t bet it all. Please don’t do that.’ And to have these two characters who are able to convince each other to keep going in that moment is something that is fun to play with.”
Boden and Fleck knew that to create that winning combination, they had to find just the right actors. When one of their producers, Lynette Howell, suggested they meet Ben Mendelsohn (who Howell had worked with on The Place Beyond the Pines) to play Gerry, Fleck needed a reminder of who Mendelsohn was.
“I saw [The Place Beyond the Pines] and I was like, ‘Oh wow, where’d they find that guy? They must have found him in upstate New York.’ Knowing [Pines director] Derek [Cianfrance], they cast a real mechanic. And they found the perfect dude,” said Fleck.
Then Howell suggested they meet and Fleck’s response was, “Is he an actor?”
“And I was so embarrassed to go back and find that not only was he an actor, he was this Australian movie star and he had this huge body of work,” said Fleck.
Boden and Fleck laugh openly about it now, and they weren’t that bashful about it then either. In fact, they told Mendelsohn the story as soon as they met him.
“He loved it,” said Fleck. “That’s like the ultimate compliment to an actor, that they just disappear and you think they’re the real person.”
“He was also secretly offended,” joked Boden.
The two of them were more familiar with Reynolds’ work and had a strong suspicion he might be right for Curtis. “Curtis was this character who has to float into Gerry’s life and Gerry has to feel like, ‘That’s a guy who’s never going to lose.’ And Ryan has that quality about him.”
But they didn’t know they had a movie until they got the two of them in a room together, which didn’t happen until a few weeks before the shoot. “We took a leap of faith,” said Fleck.
The gamble paid off. “They got along so well,” said Boden. “They had an affection and a rapport for each other from the beginning and that was incredibly relieving.”
All that was left to do was get out of their way. Film Independent Curator Elvis Mitchell, remarking on Reynolds’ performance, asked whether it’s hard to get an actor to play weakness.
“I feel like part of it is just giving an actor the space to do it,” said Boden. She brought up a particular scene late in the film between Ryan Reynolds’ Curtis and his mother. “When we were shooting it, I felt really moved by very little that he seemed to be doing, but he just felt very open in that moment. And I think that part of the reason that we haven’t seen a lot of that from him is when has he been given the space to play that in a movie?”
Fleck admits that chance played a part in how well the whole thing came together. “We just got lucky more than anything. Just like the roll of the dice, we got lucky.”
Tom Sveen / Film Independent Blogger