Filmmaker James Gray may not be as well known among film enthusiasts at large, maybe because he hasn’t been nearly as prolific as some of his peers, having written and directed five movies over the course of 20 years. Even so, he’s proven to have a very specific and definitive vision with his early films Little Odessa and The Yards, the latter being his first collaboration with a young Joaquin Phoenix, as the duo would continue their working relationship through Gray’s police drama We Own the Night and the romantic drama Two Lovers, both which involved Eastern European characters.
This brings us to Gray’s latest film The Immigrant, a period piece set in 1921 New York City and starring the always wonderful Marion Cotillard as the title character of Ewa, a Polish immigrant who encounters Phoenix’s burlesque showman Bruno Weiss at Ellis Island. When he takes her into his home, she’s required to work at his theater behind the scenes but she’s soon pulled on stage in front of an audience of jeering men and required to “entertain” high-profile backers of the club after hours. When she meets Orlando, a kindly magician played by Jeremy Renner, who has a history with Weiss, Ewa’s caught in a potentially deadly love triangle that makes her situation more difficult.
ComingSoon.net sat down with Gray to talk about his decision to make a period piece documenting one particular immigrant experience. You can watch that interview in the player below where we spoke with Gray about:
* What brought him down the road of wanting to make a period piece on the subject of immigration
* Wanting to make a drama based around a woman
* His own history as a descendant of Russian immigrants and how that’s influenced his films and particularly this one
* The horrible conditions that immigrants had to endure to get to this country and how hard it is for later generations to understand that
* Talking about the enigma that is Joaquin Phoenix and his empathetic (and admittedly narcissistic) working relationship they have
* Developing the character of Bruno Weiss with Joaquin and the character’s origins
* The relationship between Bruno and Marion Cotillard’s Ewa
* The research done with his co-writer, the late Richard Menello
* Recreating the New York neighborhoods of the early ’20s
* Creating the look of the film with DP Darius Khondji
* Gray updates us on his long-in-development adaptation of The Lost City of Z, which will star Benedict Cumberbatch:
“It may happen and the money is coming together for it and I may go off to do that thing. That’s a very ambitious film–it’s the UK and it’s the jungle, but I think it’s coming into focus now.”
* How he’s progressing on White Devil for Warner Bros. about the Chinese Mafia in Boston:
“I’m almost finished with the first draft of that. That’s something I feel very good about, but I don’t have an actor for that yet and I haven’t submitted to the studio yet because I’m on page 89 or 91, something like that, as of today, so I’m just working on that. I’m trying to get a lot of things in the fire, because I really love making films. I view it as a tremendous gift to be able to do it, a real honor, and I love doing it. I don’t do it enough. I’ve done five films, but since I was 23 and I’m now 45, so I don’t think that’s enough.”
The Immigrant opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, May 16.