Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales


It’s World War III in Los Angeles in Richard Kelly’s new flick, Southland Tales.

The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic 2008. After an explosion goes off on July 4th, the U.S. goes into crisis mode. Small gangs form and take over the cities. In Los Angeles, a group of rebels set up a scientific experiment where they double up people’s identity.

Their first victim is actor Boxer Santaros (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). Let’s just say, the experiment with him didn’t go the way it was supposed to. When he wakes up, he takes up the identity of Jericho Kane.

Roland Taverner/Ronald Taverner (Seann William Scott) is their second test – his went a little better; after brainwashing him, he thinks he’s a twin and goes on the hunt for his long-lost brother, who they’ve kidnapped.

All along, there’s a plan to leave the Earth in a blimp-like city by the creator of this technology, Baron Von Westphalen (Wallace Shawn).

If any of this makes sense – well, you’re ahead of the game. Southland Tales is filled of twists and weird turns that will have you guessing to the end. And that’s perfectly fine if you ask Richard Kelly, who’s also created a graphic novel that tells the beginning of the story (or the first three chapters.) “The challenge has been to have the movie sustain itself for people who haven’t read the graphic novel. I certainly know it’s very complicated stuff and definitely understand after the first viewing how it can brush over you. The hope is that people will give it a chance on a second or third viewing, it’ll all start to fit together and there’s a real design to it; everything is essential.”

The Rock still can’t figure out what the movie is about. “I thought it was great; it’s something I’ve never read before. I viewed it as a challenge. I met with Richard first and he pitched me the story, and showed me visuals of what the characters were going to look like. I had watched ‘Donnie Darko’ a few months ago, and was excited to do it. I view the film as a dark comedy, and I love seeing the underbelly world of Los Angeles; I see it as a love letter for Los Angeles. There is so much going on here.”

Richard started writing the script before 9/11; but where did he come up with the concept for the movie? “The original inspiration for the film was the TS Elliot poem, “The Hollow Men.” The last words of that are ‘This is the way the world ends – not with a bang but a whimper.’ And so let’s do this crazy L.A. comedy, with a bunch of eccentric characters. And I had it ending with a big blimp and the riots. It was a big comedy about the city self-destructing. I wish the world could end immediately and I think of something on a science fiction level – it’s gotta be the clash of the fourth dimension. The Rock says that to Bai Ling at the bar, and it comes back to the theory of a rift in the space time continuum. I was excited by the idea and wanted to explore it in this film.”

With his character of Boxer Santaros, The Rock found a quirky movement with his hands which he came up with himself. “I just thought that was just a thing he would do; if I put myself in that situation, if I were so unaware. Here’s this guy, this big movie star, but he has no idea – which I find interesting – that he has multiple personalities. I thought he would do this with himself, and Richard loved it.”

Richard really wanted to take Southland Tales to the next level of science fiction – something much more than making a simple comedy. “I thought about all these ideas with Homeland Security and alternative fuel and I just made it more of a futuristic satire. The architecture was already there, and I have this writing and the city on fire, with all these crazy characters; if the ending was already there, let’s make it more than L.A.”

The supporting cast of the film includes Mandy Moore, Justin Timberlake, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Cheri O’Teri, Amy Poehler, John Lovitz, Kevin Smith, and many more. For Richard, it was all about getting that array of actors. “I wanted it to be that way because some of my favorite L.A. movies, it feels like there’s a large tapestry of people who mysteriously meet in the city and they just have a few lines but they’re memorable. I wanted to cast the film with my favorite comedic actors and parts of pop culture, who emerge from the creases of the city in a way.”

The Rock was surrounded by a lot of comedians on set, yet most of his humor comes from playing his character straight. “A lot of times, with a role like this, the straighter you play it, the funnier it is. Not playing anything too broad, especially for Boxer. There’s so much going on, and he’s searching for the truth; he has no recollection of anything. So I think that great comedy comes into playing it very serious, and let other people go broad – which works for them.”

With all the craziness happening in the flick, The Rock had a blast shooting it – especially with his female co-stars Mandy and Sarah. “I went to them and said, ‘I think it’d be a good idea if we made out a couple of times. Not all at the same time, one at a time.’ They didn’t think it was such a good idea. Our schedules were so busy, and we put so much trust in Richard. There’s a different vibe on set; there were so many eclectic actors who bring different strengths to the movie.”

Southland Tales really shows off everything that’s wrong with our world today, and that’s starting with the insane way news channels like CNN inundate us with 5 different stories at one time. Richard calls it ‘information overload.’ “When you watch, you’ve got the news ticker, the headline, the sub-headline, and then Planet in Peril, and then you have four boxes with four people talking. Your brain melts just looking at your TV. And we were trying to mimic that with the news content we created. I can’t take anymore. And it’s sort of the world we live in and a reflection of the world we live in.”

Is this the world we live in? Check out Southland Tales to find out; it hits theaters November 14th.