Highs and lows: David Gordon Green walks a fine line
The award-winning director is best known for stoner hits Pineapple Express and Your Highness, but he also does a fine line in quality – and is always eager to sort out the stoner farce from the high art
Writer/Director David Gordon Green at the Sundance festival in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd in Prince Avalanche
Imagine, if you will, that Terrence Malick decided to direct an instalment of the American Pie franchise. Further imagine that, rather than mould the project to his own transcendental purposes, Malick embraced the gross-out aesthetic with enthusiasm.
Something similarly dissonant occurred when David Gordon Green, young director of powerful, pocket-gothic pictures such as George Washington and All the Real Girls, ventured into stoner farce with Pineapple Express, Your Highness and The Sitter. It’s hard to think of any arthouse director who has made that sort of shift.
“To me, it’s surprising that he made those other serious films,” Pineapple Express star Seth Rogen once told me. “We just know him as this crazy guy who makes these crazy films.”
What does Green make of that assessment?
“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” he says in a calm, educated voice. “Just as Seth would get into character if he’s in more serious material, I am a different person when working on a different movie. If I was doing a horror film, I would show another side.”
This month, after dallying in low-brow territory for the past half-decade, Green, a 38-year-old Texan who enjoys a dry joke, sets out to rediscover his more offbeat roots. The cracking Prince Avalanche is definitely a comedy – Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd play two chaps repainting road markings in land ravaged by forest fire – but it is a comedy of the most peculiar stripe. The dialogue meanders. The tone is often sombre. Based on an Icelandic film called Either Way, Prince Avalanche still emanates a dry, very Nordic class of wit.
“It was just a whim of an idea that we put together very economically,” he says. “It was a way for Paul, Emile and the rest of us to cleanse our palates. We didn’t really tell anybody aside from a few financiers. We were making something down and dirty that wasn’t accompanied by all these headlines about budgets and so on. We enjoyed it and believed in it.”
It sounds as if he and his crew were behaving a little like the two main characters: mucking about while isolated from civilisation. “Yeah, maybe,” he says. “I have done a lot of mundane jobs in my life. I could see these two guys as two bickering sides of my own character.”
David Gordon Green was born in Arkansas, but raised just outside Dallas in a well-off family: mum was a Lamaze instructor; dad was the dean of a medical school. After attending North Carolina School of the Arts, he set about funding his hugely acclaimed, inspirational debut feature film George Washington (which doesn’t really have anything to do with George Washington). He admits to the influence of Malick, but Green’s school of dreamy melancholy was all his own. The equally highbrow Undertow and All the Real Girls followed.
For some time he was associated with a film version of John Kennedy Toole’s great comic novel A Confederacy of Dunces starring Will Ferrell. It was on. It was off. It was on. Now it seems very off.
“I think it’s definitely dead now,” he says with a cheery swagger. “My involvement in it certainly is. The problem is that, once you get the rights to a something, it suddenly becomes very hectic. You have a certain window and then people cease to become available. You open up this project and live in it for years. I moved to New Orleans. I researched.”