A meeting between an actor and his agent takes place in Los Angeles. The agent, fluent in Tinsel-speak, tells the actor, “Babe, there’s a prime part in a colossal movie. It’s gonna be fab.” Dollar signs spin in the agent’s eyes—ching, ching, ching—his mouth opens, and coins come pouring out. “Fuck that,” replies the actor. “It’s not going to happen. Not a chance.”
Dangling his legs off a picnic table in a ’90s-slacker look of loose jeans and a T-shirt, the actor, Shiloh Fernandez, recalls with a smirk his initial hesitation to join the cast of the upcoming remake of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead. Peering out across the hills of Tarzana, a quiet town 30 minutes north of Los Angeles, the 28-year-old heartthrob says, “I’m very conscious about what I put out there and what I spend my time working on. What does a movie like that do for people? Is it a positive or a negative thing?”
Fernandez, whose breakthrough role came in 2010 with the coming-of- age indie Skateland, is no stranger to Hollywood’s fickleness. One false move, and he knows it’s back to Boonville (more on that hole-of-a-town in a moment). Or American Apparel. Or dishwashing. But he agreed to meet with Evil Dead’s director, Fede Alvarez, who eventually convinced him to take the part. “My character and his sister, played by Jane Levy, have an arc that’s actually about being human and learning lessons,” he says of the improbable heart in a film that involves dismemberment, demons, and a display of carnage so artery-gushingly graphic that it would make even Eli Roth blanch. “Ultimately it’s entertainment and, yes, people are going to love it because it’s the most fucked-up movie ever. But there are real, emotional undercurrents that appealed to me and that I tried to hold onto.”
The same night he wrapped production on Mo Ogrodnik’s top-secret film Deep Powder (also due out this year, it features Haley Bennett and John Magaro), Fernandez flew to Auckland, New Zealand, for the 70-day Evil Dead shoot. “We were in one location for nearly three months imagining what it would be like if all of our friends were trying to kill us,” he says. “It was a struggle, but I think that sometimes the worst experiences turn into the best movies.”
Fernandez quickly tired of the stultifying hours spent waiting for resets, hair touch-ups, and the application of gratuitous amounts of homemade hemoglobin. During his days off, he harnessed his energy by co-writing, with his friend Mardana Mayginnes, the script for what would become Mayginnes’ second directorial effort, Amos’ Wake. Fernandez had already agreed to play the drifting title character, but he needed a female antagonist. He called Catherine Hardwicke (who directed him in 2011’s Red Riding Hood) to help reel in Oscar-nominated Kiwi actor Keisha Castle-Hughes. He found the third lead, a non-actor musician named Graham Candy, at a local bar. “I don’t think the Evil Dead guys were very happy about it,” he says of his 91-minute feature. “I told them we were making a short film.”
Since completing Evil Dead and Amos’ Wake, Fernandez hasn’t seen much downtime. He’s currently in talks with author Robert Mailer Anderson to adapt Anderson’s novel Boonville, which centers on the odd inhabitants of an actual town in Northern California 20 minutes from where Fernandez was raised. “I grew up in Redwood Valley, which has a population of about 1,700. Boonville had 1,000. They had their own language called Boontling.” (Indeed, adherents to the spoken jargon urinate in “donaghers,” walk their pet “haireems,” and drive their “japes” to “kingster” for Sunday mass.) “It’s a fascinating town,” Fernandez says. “My mom came to visit me recently, and she was like, ‘What are you working on?’ I said, I’m trying to get the rights to this novel, Boonville. And she was like, ‘I sent you that book! Robert Anderson’s sister, Margaret, dated your uncle Greg!’”
Long before Boonville gets off the ground, Fernandez will share the screen with Brit Marling, Ellen Page, and Alexander Skarsgård in Zal Batmanglij’s eco-terrorism thriller The East, for which he became a “cross-dressing free spirit ” who has an affair with the leader of an anarchist organization. There’s also his upcoming turn in Gregg Araki’s White Bird in a Blizzard, in which he appears opposite on-screen love interest Shailene Woodley. Tallying the many recent additions to his resume, Fernandez says laughing, “I’m like a poor man’s Jessica Chastain.”
All joking aside, there’s some truth to the comparison. Like Chastain, whose breakneck career seemed to emerge from the ether, Fernandez finds himself at a tipping point between relative anonymity and widespread acclaim. Considering the very exciting prospect of his future, Fernandez scans the horizon and says, “I’m kind of at a crossroads right now, in terms of my career. I’m just trying to make sure I do what I believe in. And that I do it standing tall.”
Photography by Thomas Giddings. Styling by Djuna Bel.
This article is a response to two stories, one in The Wall Street Journal and another on The Daily Beast. Both of these stories describe Bert Rodriguez’s performance aboard a docked Celebrity cruise liner called “Reflection,” and the events surrounding it, the weekend before Art Basel Miami Beach started. In the performance, Rodriguez hired a doppelganger to be his “reflection.” The doppelganger turned out to be Murray Miller, who is a lead writer on the soon-to-air second season of the HBO comedy Girls. He wrote The Daily Beast article, a very funny, a rambling picaresque tale written from a detached, “fuck the art world” posture. The WSJ article also approached Rodriguez’s performance as if it were an indictment of the art world, Rodriguez’s work a fraudulent little tuft of art world silliness, though both pieces admittedly share an air of awe that Rodriguez is able to produce such a work and have 250 art world figures not only attend, but participate in the charade. The performance was a companion to the unveiling of Rodriguez’s large sculpture in the Grand Foyer of the cruise ship: a living tree “reflected” by a stainless steel double, which hangs down, mimicking the ubiquitous image of a tree reflected in the water of a lake.
I met Rodriguez about nine months ago, while interviewing him about these labels he made for Beck’s beer bottles. He had just moved to Los Angeles from Miami, and we hit it off and became buddies. Rodriguez’s is the kind of work that lends itself neatly to cruise ships and beer labels. He is known for things like getting married to strangers, burying himself in front of a museum as if he were a tree, making Cuban food with his mother to share with his audience, switching the generic pictures in convenience store frames with portraits of himself. The best way I can describe it is that Rodriguez is a comedian that happens to work in art. And it’s indefinable, so he can do whatever he wants. He’s always going on about how good his life is, and I can’t disagree.
Officially, Rodriguez asked me to be a “photographer” for the performance. Working an SLR camera is like reassembling a carburetor to me, but I pretended to know what I was doing, because I wanted to help and be a part of the experience. Rodriguez and I picked up Miller at the airport. He had taken a redeye from his birthday party in Los Angeles. I tried to convince myself that the guy looked like Rodriguez. If I squinted, their scruff-hewn faces were similar, their dark brown hair and prominent noses creating the inchoate seeds of duplicity. The WSJ article says “he kind of sort of looked like him.” Even as Miller threw on matching white glasses and a cheap gray suit in the PortMiami parking garage, he was far from a dead ringer. The most ostentatious thing: even though Rodriguez had fitted himself with four-inch lifts, Miller still stood several inches taller.
Turns out it didn’t matter. From the beginning of the performance—Miller greeting guests on the gangway, Rodriguez on the cruise ship mingling—people were confused as to who was the real deal Holyfield. Miller turned out to be a really great improviser, fooling one man who claimed to know Rodriguez, and another woman who owned a self-portrait of Rodriguez (albeit with the artist painted silver and facing the other direction in homage to Kim Kardashian’s W Magazine cover). Miller played the part so well that Patrick McMullan, the famous society photographer, was totally fooled, and photographed me with both Berts. Miller also conducted a few interviews, including one with a woman from the Tate Museum in London, who was so charmed by Miller that she told him his interview was full of refreshingly non-art babble soundbites. In his article, Miller describes just winging it.
In the art world, you can “know” someone by running into them at countless openings, or other events. It’s really common for people to claim to know the artist, even if they’ve only vaguely acquainted them. In a way, Rodriguez’s artwork inadvertently called that fallacy out. Miller claimed, in his article on The Daily Beast, that it just goes to show that no one in the art world pays attention. I guess this is true. But it’s true in a lot of worlds. Art just happens to be able to address it, which is better than suppressing it, and pretending it doesn’t exist. By the end, Miller grew weary of fooling people. He felt bad. Miller is a funnyman, able to cut the targets down to manageable sizes, Girls being known for its writer’s using uncensored confessional elements of their lives, but even he has his limits.
The argument against Miller’s hesitancy is that there is no intentional element. Rodriguez’s performances sometimes teeter on the precipice of an improvisational canyon, the intentionality often in the unknown abyss. He’s not meaning to dupe anyone. Rodriguez iterates that his work is generous in the sense that it’s participatory. Which isn’t to say Rodriguez is uncalculated or whimsical. There is a very real critique happening—those that “recognize” the artist’s double are falling into an art world trap, that of the ArtForum Scene & Herd variety. People are so obsessed with socializing with the “creator” that they don’t actually take the time to look. Moreover, if you’re an art patron, or even just a viewer, the best thing that can happen is inclusion, even if it’s somewhat at your expense. That’s why pranksters like Tom Green and Andy Milonakis are able get people to sign waivers allowing their faces on television: upon reflection, once people understand it’s a ruse, they’re mostly forgiving and are able to laugh at themselves.
There’s a lot of work out there like this open-ended performative piece. Take for instance Dawn Kaspar’s piece at the Whitney Biennial earlier in 2012. She basically set up her mobile artist’s studio at the Whitney, and invited all viewers inside. That’s a great piece, and there’s no possible way she could have guessed the visitor’s reactions, because it was a new experience for most people, not to mention for her to do it in such a well-attended environment. In a way, it’s kind of a formula for confusion—artist sets up structure for people to react to—but I think that confusing is fun, it keeps the audience guessing, and it gives immediate feedback to the artist. I think that immediate feedback is kind of like the artist playing a game of improv comedy, because then the artist has to respond in kind, and it creates an echo chamber.
Amongst the Purell stands scattered throughout the cruise ship like parking meters, the disruptively loud patterned carpeting, the Wisconsin accents, the five security checkpoints, the “entertainment”—a doo-wop quartet singing hits from the Little Mermaid soundtrack—that’s where two Bert Rodriguezes came together and danced with the art world with two different routines. It was a great place for confusion to settle in, the echo chamber getting a little louder when, later, the two articles—Miller’s titled “Girls Writer Murray Miller’s Great Art-Hoax Experiment”—came out. Unfortunately, my photographs didn’t come out at all.
Photography by Manny Hernandez
First, a note from Crispin Glover on Surrealism: “Surrealism is something that’s really important to me. When I say ‘Surrealism’ or the ‘Surrealists,’ I mean Surrealism with a capital ‘S,’ the artistic movement that was happening in Paris in the 1920s. The most important thing the Surrealists contributed to art was their use of Freud’s understanding of free association. The Freudian analyst would take notes and not say anything until the end of the session. Slowly, the analyst would then help the patient figure out, through free association, what was genuinely on their mind. Well, the Surrealists took out the ‘patient’ element, but kept the rest, using free association as an artistic form of expression to get into the inner subconscious. I think that Surrealism with a capital ‘S’ is done—it’s gone.”
Glover wrote, directed, funded, and starred in WHAT IS IT? (2005), an experimental film that tackles issues of race and prejudice. Its cast is primarily comprised of nonactors—nude porn stars in animal masks and people with Down syndrome—and a talking snail. To recoup the cost of its production, Glover has spent the past eight years screening the film around the world, accompanied by a question-and-answer session and a one-hour dramatic narration of his eight illustrated books. According to Glover, he’s “nowhere near finished.”
“My movies were made to be theatrical experiences, particularly What Is It?, which deals with taboo. If somebody watches it on a computer, it doesn’t have the same effect. You really can’t have taboo if there’s only one individual in the world—you need culture and people with different points of view. You have to have one person sitting at one end of the aisle laughing, and another person at the other end of the aisle looking down on them, thinking, ‘What is wrong with them?’ You need audience members to sit back in their chairs and think to themselves, ‘Is this right what I’m watching? Is it wrong? Should I be here? Should the filmmaker have done this? What is it?’”
While Lula (Laura Dern) and Sailor (Nicolas Cage) flee from Lula’s vindictive mother in David Lynch’s WILD AT HEART (1990), Lula tells the story of her cousin Dell (Glover), a strange man who put cockroaches in his underwear.
“When I got my driver’s license, I drove to the theater and saw David Lynch’s Eraserhead . And then I went back again and again. I must have seen it theatrically at least 12 times, so it meant a lot to work on Wild at Heart. Lynch is the most specific director I’ve ever worked with, and I mean that in a very good way. I just have one line in the film—I say, ‘I’m making my lunch!’—but it was very specifically directed, down to the millisecond. He has an understanding of the inner psyche, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard him talk about Surrealism. If you see him interviewed, he doesn’t give out a lot of information. The audience experience is spoiled if the director says, after the fact, ‘This meant this and that meant that.’ I don’t know if Lynch would call it Surrealist. Werner Herzog calls it the ‘ecstatic truth.’”
“You can have a completely corporate, standardly acceptable film that still allows for the mind to go into a territory of questioning and thoughtfulness, and into the inner psyche, which is positive. Populist films can have elements that the Surrealists defined as Surrealism. That kind of thought has been around since the beginning of thought itself. It’s very good that the word ‘Surrealism’ has come to be a part of the common vernacular because it means that it’s truly had deep influence on the culture. But maybe the Surrealists would think it’s a failure that this is all that’s happened—that there isn’t a country somewhere called the Surrealist State of Whatever.”
In WILLARD (2003), Glover plays the outcast title character who befriends a rat named Socrates. When Socrates is murdered, Willard sets out to avenge his death with the help of a warlord rat named Ben.
“Willard is a psychological terror film with an interesting objective correlative where rats represent different elements of the subconscious. I, of course, do not know what the classical Surrealists would have made of it. In his autobiography [My Last Sigh, 1982], Luis Buñuel wrote about a screenplay that centered on a living, disembodied hand, which may have influenced Robert Florey’s The Beast with Five Fingers or other later films that involved living, disembodied hands.”
As the Knave of Hearts in Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010), a riotous 3-D take on Lewis Carroll’s 1865 fantasy novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Glover delivers delicious gobbledygook like, “Alice has escaped. On the Bandersnatch. With the Vorpal Sword.”
“Although it predates Surrealism by a long time, Carroll’s book certainly went into the realm of an unusual, dreamlike subconscious. I’m not aware of what the Surrealists thought about the book, but the realm of the subconscious was certainly an integral part of their work. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There have been adapted so many times in film. They’re certainly worth reading.”
Dave Franco, million-dollar smile and all, bounds into a small café in the middle of a commercial block of West Hollywood on the first cool day of autumn. What was he wearing? Jeans? A sweater? Who cares. A synecdoche for the 27-year-old actor would be “the teeth and lips and chiseled jaw.” We find a table outside, sit, and order some eggs. “Giraffes ejaculating,” he says, as the waitress plops our food in front of us. He had been given the following improv cue: What is the most surreal thing you can say, right now? Don’t think.
Franco has made a career out of accepting his own dares, specifically a series of ultra-raunchy videos he wrote and starred in for the humor site Funny or Die. The the one where he takes an ex-girlfriend’s suggestion to “go fuck yourself” literally and ends up lustfully pounding his own bottom was particularly popular. “I give the special effects guy so much credit, because my initial idea was to just find a guy who looks like me and film the back of his head,” he says. “But to superimpose my head on somebody else’s body makes the whole thing unique.” This bizarre waggishness has familial roots, the Palo Alto native says, explaining that his two older brothers—artist Tom and actor James—exposed him to certain things “sooner than I should have known about them.” The resulting twisted sense of humor is on full display in a two-part series of skits for the site in which he and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (with whom he costarred in Superbad and Fright Night) play a game of sexual chicken, delivering come-ons to each other until there’s no choice left but to laugh or vomit. They do both.
“Every meeting and interview I have, people mostly want to address the Funny or Die videos, which I’m happy to do because I feel like they’re an accurate representation of my humor, as twisted as it may be,” he says. “I’m actually excited to talk about them, whereas an actor, at least when you’re first starting out, does a lot of jobs that you wouldn’t necessarily choose to do.” He’s bagged only a handful of onscreen roles, which is surprising when one considers the impressive roster of projects he’s worked on—Superbad, Milk, Greenberg, Fright Night, 21 Jump Street, and now the romantic zomb-edy Warm Bodies, due out in February. More often than not, Franco plays a bully or an asshole who gets killed off somewhere around the 30-minute mark. (In Warm Bodies, he plays Teresa Palmer’s militant boyfriend whose brains are eaten by Nicholas Hoult’s semi-dead emo-zombie boy.)
But all that is about to change. Franco’s following film, Now You See Me, about magicians who use their sleights-of-hand to rob banks, finds the young actor playing alongside Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine. “My friends were like, ‘How the fuck did you sneak into that role?’” He has every right to be excited. The film has Franco primed to launch, but he’s still trepidatious. “My costars have been acting for 20, 30, 40 years,” he says. “That they still doubt themselves and their abilities makes me feel comforted, but it’s also a little disconcerting that in 30 years I still won’t be comfortable.”
While he waits for Now You See Me’s 2013 release, Franco has more pressing matters on the docket—more screenwriting exercises, which he hopes he can build into an Apatow-like comedy film clique with his buddies. His next Funny or Die video takes on the classic bathroom-humor game, Would You Rather? “Once you make the decision of which route you’re going to take, there’s a weird effect where you’re now in this dream of it actually happening,” he says. “It’s more of a short film rather than skit.” Franco offers an example: “Would you rather watch as your dad fucks your mom doggy-style and never break eye contact with either of them the whole time, or jerk off to a picture of your mom while she watches you do it?” He stares at me, waiting for a reaction. And, somewhere in the world, a giraffe ejaculates.
Photography by Doug Inglish