“This is my nightmare.”
That’s how filmmaker Ari Aster kicked off his interview with The Hollywood Reporter on Monday night while standing on the red carpet ahead of the L.A. premiere of his latest film, Beau Is Afraid. It was in reference to the obligation of doing press, something he clearly does not enjoy. Same goes for his star, Joaquin Phoenix, who turned up to the DGA Theatre to pose for photos and make a brief appearance on stage with the rest of the cast as Aster introduced the A24 epic.
“I still can’t quite believe I was given the resources and the freedom to make this in the way that we did,” Aster said during those remarks in front of a capacity crowd that included Pedro Pascal; Jenna Ortega; Jesse Williams; Everything Everywhere All at Once’s Daniel Kwan, Daniel Schienert, Jonathan Wang and Harry Shum Jr.; Kesha; Jordan Firstman; Kate Berlant; Rachel Sennott; Darren Criss; and Benito Skinner, among others. “Credit is very much due to A24 for being stupid enough to give me that.”
It’s a big moment for the company on the heels of a huge Oscar night that ended with seven Academy Awards for Everything Everywhere All at Once including coveted best picture. This also happens to be a big moment for Aster, whose other films, Hereditary and Midsommar, were hits for the indie distributor. Beau Is Afraid marks the biggest budget Aster has had thus far, and it is a departure from what horror fans have come to expect from the auteur.
“It’s so much pressure,” Aster told THR on the carpet of juggling expectations. “Things weigh on you, like the money weighs on you, the clock weighs on you because the window of time always closing. It can be very hard to stay in an open place where you don’t stop playing, so it was nice to build a system with Joaquin where we kept coming back to the work. Joaquin is so committed and so engaged that the [film] kept coming back to life, which isn’t to say that it was dead, but it stayed alive in a way that was very, very exciting. It was a challenge in the best way.”
Beau Is Afraid casts Phoenix as Beau Wassermann, a paranoid man who embarks on an epic odyssey to get home to his mother, played by Patti LuPone. Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, Parker Posey, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Hayley Squires, Denis Ménochet, Kylie Rogers, Armen Nahapetian, Michael Gandolfini, Julia Antonelli, Richard Kind and Zoe Lister-Jones round out the cast. Posey, Rogers, Nahapetian, Antonelli, Kind and Lister-Jones were present on Monday night and (mostly) game to talk about their collaboration with Aster on a film that doesn’t easily translate to press-friendly sound bites.
Veteran actor Kind gave the impression he didn’t even want to speak about it with a reporter who had not seen the film yet — at least that’s what he hissed to THR. “You can’t ask me anything unless you’ve seen it because you have no reference,” Kind said.
Posey was much more pleasant though she wasn’t impressed with one particular reference point. Asked about another reporter’s description of her character Elaine’s sex scene with Phoenix’s Beau — Variety wrote that it “may rank among the wackiest ever committed to film” — Posey tried to give a spoiler-free explanation. “I’m not a big fan of the word wacky,” said the actress, who previously teamed with Phoenix on Woody Allen’s Irrational Man. “Elaine has existed for Beau for a very, very long time and his mother is also a big part of that. His mother owns Elaine as well so Elaine is trapped, too. It’s really layered what’s going on and I don’t know if the people who are writing about that are figuring out the psychology of it because it’s deeper than just wacky. But it is pretty funny.”
It’s also a heavy lift. Aster’s veteran producing partner Lars Knudsen said, “Anything that Ari does sits just next to the impossible. He pushes everyone to the edge of what is doable, and this film was especially hard, but in a very satisfying way.” Why so? “A move like this that has six different worlds that you have to create and you don’t have enough money or enough days to shoot them. Everything becomes sort of life and death in the world of film production because you can’t afford to get delayed or get behind.”
Knudsen said the team felt encouraged by the early sneak screenings that were held at Alamo Drafthouse locations in various cities including New York and Los Angeles. “Any time you make something that feels daring, different or original, you don’t know what the reaction will be, so those screenings gave us a sense that people who like Ari’s films like this one. There’s a lot of pressure, obviously, because a movie like this needs to do well so we can make the next one on a budget that we want.”
Asked how she would describe the film, Lister-Jones, a filmmaker in her own right who also created the upcoming TV series Slip, borrowed Aster’s description. “It’s a Jewish Lord of the Rings, which sums it up perfectly. It’s an anxiety-induced, trippy, epic nightmare comedy,” said Lister-Jones, who added that she still can’t quite believe she’s part of the cast. “I mean, I died. I’m still dying. I can’t believe that I’m a part of such a magnificent work. It’s like no other film I’ve seen. Ari is just so masterful as a filmmaker and I am so inspired and in awe at what he does.”
She described the filmmaker as “so playful amidst a very bleak narrative,” and praised him for creating a set that “allows for so much experimentation in a way that is really freeing as an actor.” Speaking of, “I had to bark like a dog, you know? I’m still barking. It’s just such an amazing gift to work with a director who pushes his actors to just do wild shit.”
For her part, Posey said she had to get a lifecast mold made of her entire body. “That was pretty intense,” she said with a laugh. “It’s really something to go through. So, even though I had a such a small part, I’m just so happy to connect with a young auteur like Ari who dedicates such a vision to the story they want to tell.”
She also connected with Mariah Carey who made a surprise appearance last night during the film’s afterparty. The superstar singer signed off on lending her hit single “Always Be My Baby” to that sex scene with Posey and Phoenix’s characters. Carey was joined at the afterparty by other guests like A$AP Rocky, Aaron Paul, Bo Burnham, Erika Christensen, Twin Shadow, Gus Van Sant, Joey King, Logan Miller, Maya Kazan, Nathan Fielder, Taran Killam and Thora Birch, and others.
While Carey, Aster and Posey posed for photos, premiere attendees gathered in the lobby trying to process the three-hour film. Many who have seen it tweeted that they may need days, weeks or months to wrap their heads around it.
Kind won’t be surprised, and he was keen to discuss that part. “The movie is epic and you may love it and you may hate it,” concluded the actor. “But you’ve never seen anything like it before. If you hate it, you’ll hate it with good reason, and if you love it, you’ll love it with good reason.”
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