People everywhere know Anthony Hopkins as one of the world’s finest dramatic actors, so when he decides he’s going to write and direct an independent film, people pay attention. Slipstream may not exactly be what some might expect to come from the mind of the award-winning actor, being an avant-garde stream-of-consciousness tale centering around Hopkins as a screenwriter whose creations start coming to life, but it’s an amazing visually-stimulating film that wouldn’t seem out of place in David Lynch’s filmography. Hopkins was able to bring together an impressive ensemble cast to tell this surreal tale, including the likes of Christian Slater, John Turturro, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Clarke Duncan, S. Epatha Merkerson and Camryn Mannheim.
Earlier this year, ComingSoon.net sat down with Hopkins, his wife/producer/actress Stella Arroyave, and actors Christian Slater, Lisa Pepper and Aaron Tucker–the latter two appearing in their first feature film–at the Sundance Film Festival, where the film received its World Premiere.
ComingSoon.net: Is this a good example of what goes on in your mind? Anthony Hopkins: Exactly what goes on in my mind. It’s a pastiche, it’s an interpretation of my view of life. Yes, it is. It’s supposed to be a lighthearted view. I have a kind of tongue-in-cheek type of cynicism about everything. It doesn’t make me unhappy, I’m a very happy camper, and I’m very positive. That’s my take on life.
CS: Is this a script you’ve had in the works for a long time? Hopkins: No, I just wrote it about two or three years ago. Stella, my wife, encouraged me and helped me do it.
CS: How did this project come together once Tony wrote the script? Stella Arroyave: When Tony started writing the script, I thought it was an interesting film, a really good film. When he completed the script, I thought, “Well, this is fantastic, we have to make this.” I didn’t give up when we found producers that wanted to finance it but wanted to cast it and get final cut, and we moved on and did it our way. I was very involved hands-on producing, up until the moment we actually went into production. At that moment, Tony’s agent recommended that I meet with one of the producers to work alongside of me. I met Robert Katz, and I immediately knew he understood the non-linear aspects of the story. He joined us and took the film over as a producer, while I went about on my business of learning my lines and showing up to play the role of Gina.
CS: You probably already knew what Tony had in his mind while he was working on it, but how do you explain it to someone else? Arroyave: It’s all in the script. It’s a really well-written script. I really thought [it had] tremendous humor. A dear friend of ours, Tony Roberts, said something that “your level of happiness is measured by your level of uncertainty” and I thought, “Wow, this film is just about that” because just when you think you’re getting a hold of something, the rug is pulled from underneath you and you land nowhere. From that perspective I thought this film has to be made and it’s tremendous fun, not to be taken seriously, like Tony said when he tosses a joke.
CS: Can you talk about how you went about casting the film? Had you worked with any of these actors before? Hopkins: No, no, I hadn’t worked with any of them. I’d known Christian for just a few years, I didn’t know him well, but we’d both done “Bobby” and I thought he’d be wonderful. Lisa was a friend of Stella’s, they’d been friends for ten years, so I wrote the part for her. That was early on, that was three years ago. We got as far as making the scene in the desert well over a year ago, in February in fact, because we wanted to get Kevin McCarthy to be on camera, then we postponed for a little while until we got the rest of the cast together.
CS: Chris and Lisa, what did you guys think when you first read his script? Christian Slater: It was quirky and different, and it was something that had to be absorbed and processed. First of all, the role of Ray was certainly one where I was given a lot of opportunity and free license to do whatever I wanted with. It was a role I could really sink my teeth into, so I was very grateful for that opportunity, that was incredible, and I wanted to give Tony 150%, as much as I could. In thinking about the movie more and more, it’s almost as if you could watch it backwards, which is really fascinating to me. I love that aspect of it, just seeing it all in reverse, because that’s really what it is. It’s about a man right there at the end of his life, who sees these images of these people and projects out of his subconscious other images of what they might represent and who they might be to him. I just found that to be extraordinarily fascinating and different. The chance to be a part of Anthony Hopkins’ subconscious was a thrill. Lisa Pepper: It was synchronicity. I had been good friends with Stella for many years and a few years ago at work, I walked outside to get my mail and I hear Lisa, and they’re having coffee and Tony was writing the script at the time, and he said “You’re just right for Tracy” and Stella said, “Yes, you’re just right for Tracy.” They sent me the script that night and I read it and I laughed and I got emotional. It hit me in a really visceral place immediately. I read it again and I went to their home the next week to do a screen test and Gavin Grazer, who’s also in the film, he plays Gavin, was holding the camera, so it was already a big family affair. Hopkins: He’s also a director. He made two films, and he’s Brian Grazer’s brother. The joke was that his character has a famous producer brother. Slater: That’s his demon. Hopkins: I asked Brian if he might want to play his brother, but he said “no” so we got Michael Lerner.
CS: You obviously had things well laid-out in the script but in terms of all the edits and visuals, how were you able to explain to your DP and editor what you wanted? Did you have the whole thing storyboarded? Hopkins: No, I didn’t. It was all in my head. It’s been in my brain for a long time. It’s all there on the AVID, so I went in and edited as I visualized it. They, in fact, improved on the vision I had of it. Slater: You have to tip your hat to [cinematographer] Dante Spinoti, because it is out of [Tony’s] mind, so to be able to capture some of that is pretty phenomenal. One of the techniques they used, of course, was the HD Digital, so that was fascinating. It gave us all the opportunity to do long takes, so Tony had a lot of material to work with when he finally did get to the editing, as well.
CS: How long did it take to actually shoot the movie? Hopkins: 38 days.
CS: And how long did it take to edit it? Hopkins: 16 weeks, it was quite fast. The advantages of working on the AVID or digital is you have it all there on the computer, so it’s ready to go.
CS: I was pretty stunned myself by the accomplishment of getting those visuals on screen. Hopkins: That’s what I saw, and then working on the AVID with [editor] Michael Miller, I just said, “Let’s use all the stuff we’ve got.” There were shots I’d forgotten, some outtakes used, and then I had an idea, it was another ending I cut in that I wanted to run the film backwards. I really wanted to upset people, really disturb them and wake them up.
CS: How were you able to get the rights to some of the footage like from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”?Hopkins: We got a festival license to use all that stuff, and if it’s picked up, then we have to pay a big price for all that. I paid for the James Dean footage. There’s a shot of him taken from “Giant” in Betty’s scene towards the end of the film. I wrote James Dean’s cousin and they gave me those quite cheap. There’s weird things like I was supposed to use a color photograph of James Dean on his last trek up to Paso Robles to visit his girlfriend, but I couldn’t use the black and white, which seemed crazy to me, so I inserted those crash cuts. You know when they take him from the car? And you see Mr. James Dean’s car crash? I wasn’t allowed to use the black and white, I could only use color. There was a shot of him at the gas station as he gets into the car up to Paso Robles, and he was killed about three hours later. Slater: Wow. It’s expensive to take clips from other movies? Hopkins: Yes. Well, some of it is public domain, but music is the most expensive. “I’ll Be Seeing You” is one of the biggest. With the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (are made of this),” [Dave Stewart] said he could give it to us at a pretty good price, and he deconstructed the tracks.
CS: Considering the complexities of the film, was there any room for improv? Hopkins: Yeah, people did. I gave them notes. Christian just went for it. He got the script and he just chose to do the dialogue and then there are bits of improv, as well. Slater: Honestly, I would say we kept it 100%. This was something he had written, I wanted to honor the words that he had written and what he was trying to convey, so I just did my best like Lisa here, to memorize it word for word. I was really impressed with your speech. You see it in the movie and in my head I’m just going, “How did you deliver that?” Pepper: I could even do it three times as fast. It’s about a page, page and a half, and Tony said, “I want you to get in under a minute and a half, can you do it?” and he put me up to the challenge. I don’t even think I took a breath. Slater: It was amazing. Hopkins: I was sitting in Brentwood, and we were going to breakfast[to Lisa] this was just before I started writing your part–and I heard two women talking about yoga, and they were talking and it was like a monkey. They didn’t stop. It must have been two minutes and I thought, “This is incredible!” We were almost hypnotized by it. Pepper: After reading that script, I became very much more aware. I was walking through department stores during my day, and I hear people now going on about stupid stuff. I’m more aware of it now. Hopkins: It’s all about issues. Pepper: Yeah, and you’re so used to blocking it out. Slater: We are surrounded by a lot of non-stop chatter, that is true. It’s phenomenal. Sundance is a good example of a lot of chatter, a lot of distraction. It’s pretty incredible.
CS: Have any of you ever had experiences on a movie set as bad as the one in this film? Hopkins: I’ve been on a set where a crew member died. It was in Greece in Athens, and an electrician I was talking to two minutes beforehis name was George, I’ll never forget him, he was a lovely guy. He was very nervous, and I said, “How’re you doing, George?” then I walked away and he had a heart attack. They carried him off and everyone stopped in their tracks. We were stunned. This is a typical example of an ugly producer who was shouting at people, shouting at the Greeks, and you don’t shout at people in a foreign country like “C’mon! Move your @$$!” We all thought, “Holy sh*t. This is real.” Slater: I was going to say also, “Hearts of Darkness,” you see that documentary, it reminds me certainly of Martin Sheen on that movie he had a heart attack and there was all that panic and stress, and then cut to John Turturro freaking out about it.
CS: What was the audience reaction to the movie like at the premiere? Hopkins: I was thrilled, I was stunned, because I was sitting there thinking and I said to Stella, “We’re here” To be sitting there, four years after we’d started he’d just strolled into the room, Lisa was there and most of the cast and I thought, “we’re actually here, we’re doing it.” It was a very odd feeling, when Geoff Gilmore got up I thought, “We’re here!” It was a moment I’ll never forget. Slater: It was surreal.
CS: Lisa and Chris, what were your own personal reactions when you saw the movie for the first time? Slater: What can I say? It’s jawdropping, it’s incredible, it’s completely Tony’s vision. I think it’s a great example of creative and artistic freedom, and it’s certainly inspirational, encouraging, I think it pushes the envelope in a lot of ways. And I think it certainly broadened my horizons a great deal. Like I said, you get to be a part of his subconscious in a film is a thrill beyond measure. Pepper: I think I felt the same way that Sir Tony did. I was just in shock that it was still happening. I think it’s going to take me the rest of my life to digest. I was in total shock, because I had never seen myself on the big screen before, so I thought I’d look at myself and analyze it, but it’s such a roller coaster of a ride that all of the sudden the movie was over, and it was like “What just happened?”
[At this point we’re joined by another first time actor, Aaron Tucker, who answers the same question.]
Aaron Tucker: I know it’s been said, it was very much a dream. That’s kind of the way Tony sees life, very illusory and streamlined. That’s kind of the sense I got when I read the script. When I watched it I said, “Wow, he really pulled it off” and I don’t know how that’s done, because it was very dream-like.
CS: Sundance has become all about the sales, but a movie like this is very personal and more about the art, which is why it’s part of the New Frontier section. Can you talk about bringing what’s being considered “an avant garde film” to the festival and dealing with people who are just looking for commercial things worth buying? Arroyave: We submitted it to Sundance and Geoff Gilmore responded the very same day we submitted it, which we were blown away by. We obviously didn’t know that it was going to be accepted. When we were told that it was going to be in the New Frontier section of the festival, we were thrilled, because we liked that. We were building something edgy, something different, something new. We knew all along that this was going to be a film that was going to be a very personal submission. We had producers that offered money to have cast they selected. We fought all the way to the bitter end to do it our way and to be among the 300 + submissions that got accepted into Sundance, we feel it’s a good first solid step. Hopkins: It was really a shock, a pleasant shock. The film premiered the night before last and he got up to introduce it and he said, “I want to introduce you to a really unique film,” which apparently he never does that. He called it “a piece of art.” I’ve always been suspicious of that description. Arroyave: (to Christian) You had a great description of it. Slater: I’m sure you’re bored of this now, but it’s like a live-action Jackson Pollock with hints of Picasso and Michaelangelo. Why not?
CS: Having done this film now, how are your feelings about writing and directing another movie? Hopkins: I want to do another. Arroyave: Same cast, same producer Hopkins: I’d like to use the same company.
Slipstream opens in New York, L.A. and Chicago on Friday, October 26.