One of my favorite films I had the opportunity to see during the 2016 Fantastic Fest was Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch, her psychedelic Western-meets-dystopic-cannibal-love-story. Its dreamy desert setting was the perfect place to get lost in with the wonderfully weird characters brought to life by Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, Suki Waterhouse, Jim Carrey, and Giovanni Ribisi, and I felt like it was the perfect follow-up to her stunning debut, 2014’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.
While in Austin, Daily Dead had the chance to sit down with Amirpour for an interview, and we discussed how personal her creative process is, how she likes to challenge viewers as a filmmaker, working with her incredible cast on The Bad Batch, and more.
Congratulations on the film. The Bad Batch feels very different to me than A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, yet it would make for a really fantastic double feature of two women on different journeys. Can you discuss the inspiration for your script and why this was the story that you wanted to tell right now?
Ana Lily Amirpour: I don't know how much foresight is in the creative decision-making process, because at the time when I was in post [-production] on Girl, and when I started writing Bad Batch, I was writing it because I needed to find comfort. When I'm writing and I make the universe and these people, I get to be there with them for the entirety of the process of making the film. Now that it’s out there, it's gone. It's gone, and it's got nothing to do with me anymore, it's none of my business, it's for you or whoever else sees that movie.
Now, I'm on to the next one, but at the time when I was writing Bad Batch, I had gone through some crazy personal life changes, the kind where you literally feel like you lost part of yourself, but then you have to still go on and fucking figure it out again. That's what was happening, and that's what that movie was for me. That's what I needed at the time.
Then, just as far as the storytelling, I wanted to do a fucking psychedelic Western. I like outcasts, I'm always drawn to the people that don't neatly fit into the conventional shit that's all around, the system. But, for what I'm writing right now, once again it's all about this shit that I'm personally trying to figure out.
By having that personal touch to your work, does it end up feeling like a more creatively satisfying process for you?
Ana Lily Amirpour: I do. I have to do it that way, because it's the only thing I know. I make movies, I make art, and tell stories to understand what I'm doing here in the universe and what we're all doing here, too—to make sense of what I see around me, in a way. To process life in a way, but fuck, man, it's intense making movies about questioning the very fabric of your existence. I don't know how many movies you can make like that. Maybe down the line, it'll just be me making movies about blowing shit up, or robbing a bank and getting away with the money and stuff like that. Seriously, that could be fun, too.
When you think about it from my perspective, every movie is this huge chunk of time out of your life. It’s to the point where I can suddenly see my life charted out in these three-year chunks of time and it's like, fuck, that's not that many. You do have to think about what you're doing when your time is limited that way.
Because when you make a film, you're talking about those characters and that story, and all that shit for several years, so for me, I have got to fucking love the shit out of what I'm talking about and what I'm trying to look for. Everything I’ve done has all been intensely personal.
I’m a big fan of everyone in this cast, especially Jason Momoa and Keanu Reeves, but the biggest surprise in the movie was Jim Carrey. The Hermit character has no dialogue, and this is a guy who's known for being totally the opposite of that as an actor. Can you talk about bringing this cast together and working with them on The Bad Batch?
Ana Lily Amirpour: The one thing to know, in general, is that at their core, all actors want to do is to find a chance to disappear into a character; at least that’s been the case with all the actors I’ve worked with so far. When you think of Jim Carrey and Keanu, when you're a movie star on a global scale, it can be hard to dissociate yourself as the viewer from the fact that it is Jim Carrey or Keanu Reeves at any point in the movie. Those guys, they just want to disappear into something.
I can't explain how I knew with Jim, but I just knew. There was something metaphysically true about The Hermit and that he is The Hermit, because at that level of fame, if you go outside and every single person recognizes you, that means you're invisible, meaning he is basically two sides of the same coin. The homeless guy that you ignore at every street corner is invisible, and the famous guy that everybody recognizes is invisible. He is The Hermit, he's out in this desert of his existence in a way. It's a crazy reality to have to live with.
Jim loved this character, too, because he is such a physical actor. He uses everything. He loved it, and he really did get to escape by doing it. And Keanu—fuck, dude. What a fucking brilliant and underrated guy. Yeah, The Dream is a tricky character because you could cast the wrong person, and it would really become a sinister and dark thing. Not that this character doesn’t have sinister elements, but he's got a very convincing logic, unarguable logic, really, and he never forces anyone to make choices they don’t want to. You cannot argue with the man and his logic, and I find people like that very interesting. So it had to be someone who's good, through and through, deep down to the fucking core, and Keanu is that kind of good.
Sometimes, a film can “over-dialogue” or just keep throwing narrative and exposition at viewers without a real purpose to it. What I loved about The Bad Batch was how the visuals really complimented the story, without having the characters keep talking just to explain everything to us. You trust your audience enough to “get it.”
Ana Lily Amirpour: I would say it's almost a sexual thing for me, meaning what feels good to me when I'm doing it. With storytelling, I'm feeling it when I'm going through it in a visceral way, on many planes of feeling things. Sound, visuals, emotion—all of these things come together in an atmosphere that I like to create. I also do feel that we talk to avoid some kind of uncomfortable thing that happens when you stop talking. It's like in Pulp Fiction, when Mia Wallace asks, “Isn't it nice when you can just sit in silence?” That's what some people would call an uncomfortable silence.
I don't do it consciously in that way. I'm not like, "I'm going to make you uncomfortable." I'm 30% hard of hearing, and because I was born that way, I listen to music very loud and when I'm in crowded places, I don't hear most of any conversation, so I go off into my own thing and I'm very visually driven because of all that. That is partly to do with it. I also just think words can make a big thing smaller.
One thing that I've noticed that I find very funny is that people say that the story is thin, and I just really think that it's because there's not that much talking. I'm a writer, okay. All due respect to anyone and everyone for their opinion. God bless the fact that we can all have an opinion. God bless—not to give a shout-out to God, I don't know anything about all that—but what I do know is that I wrote the shit out of that script.
There are 47 drafts of The Bad Batch. I rewrote it and rewrote it, and it's a very fucking structured movie with a lot of things that connect and happen. I could've had people talking the whole time to make you feel more of whatever it was that you need. For me, it's interesting that people take the lack of dialogue as there being no story. It makes people uncomfortable, which I understand. I get it.