WAMG Talks To KEANU REEVES And MARK MANN
by Melissa Howland
Keanu Reeves is making his way back onto the big screen on friday starring in the new film GENERATION UM… a tale of three friends who form an intimate bond as their deepest secrets from their past are revealed after partying in New York City the night before. Friendships are tested and compromises are made as these three friends are preparing to do it all again tonight. Recently, I got the chance to sit down with both Keanu Reeves and director Mark Mann in a roundtable discussion about the film. Check it out below.
Keanu, your character is kind of a kleptomaniac in the film.
Keanu Reeves: Yes. I steal a camera and some chocolate. (laughs)
When you’re reading it and playing it, what did that bring to the character?
Keanu Reeves: Stealing the camera for John was the only thing he could do in order to have that camera. We see him walk up to a camera store earlier and then we see him retrieve a broken television set. In that moment, he’s just kind of explained to this other character how he’s felt trapped in his life, like he’s lost and has no direction. In this moment of watching this group of people do this improvisation dance in this park in the lower East side of New York, he sees an opportunity for something he’s interested in and it’s one of the times that he steps out of himself and he takes it. I think for the candy bar, he’s hungry and he wants some chocolate and he’s depressed. It’s one of those things that, I don’t know, there’s a part of him that likes to steal and there’s a pleasure in it. There’s a little bit of a nuance of that character to that. I had a conversation about how am I going to steal that candy bar? And Mark was like, “I’m going to introduce you to this magician!” And I was like, “Mark, I know how to steal a candy bar.”
Mark Mann: I really enjoyed it when you jumped over the turn style table.
Keanu Reeves: Oh, that’s right!
Mark Mann: He’s just trying to do stuff…
Keanu Reeves: He’s just a petty criminal.
My question to you Mark Mann, what was the thinking behind that when you were writing this?
Mark Mann: You know, I was just thinking about how do you change your life? Often times I think you have to make a bold move and you have to do something that people don’t necessarily congratulate you for, to give yourself what you need to move forward. I guess you can speak metaphorically, it’s kind of the way things have gone. We’ve sort of entered into sort of the time where that kind of thing was sort of seen as the only way to actually get ahead. For better for worse, it has entered into our sense of right and wrong.
In terms of seeing him do that thinking he’s the bad guy because he’s a thief?
Mark Mann: No. You know…
Keanu Reeves: It’s a complication. He at least pays for the coffee.
Mark Mann: There’s a management of wrongdoing because in the whole movie John is also enabling… it’s nurturing versus enabling. Every single scene in the movie has a yes and a no. If you think about it in the context of what his job is, stealing a candy bar, it’s a consistency of character that rolls through the whole movie.
Being a character of such few words you’re forced to rely on what you’re emoting. What was the biggest challenge with that? Because you have to emote the various layers.
Keanu Reeves: Yeah, to me that was a wonderful opportunity. I would say the scariest scene was the scene where John and Violet come together, because playing John I had no idea how could actually happen. Like I had no idea. How could this person who felt so vulnerable, insecure and wanted to reach out and had so many questions, and also how could he help someone really feeling just… how is that going to happen in the modern film world? How do these two people hug each other?
Mark Mann: It’s one of the longest hug scenes maybe ever on film. It’s long. Altogether it’s got to be over five minutes. It was the hardest scene in the movie to cut, hands down. That was the one I started with absolutely the most and was the last piece… it was finding that level of…
Do you feel like every filmmaker should also be an editor?
Mark Mann: No. I think it’s nice to have different perspectives on it all. Every filmmaker should make their film.
I really like how you used the camera as a catalyst for change. I thought it was very interesting. Is that from being a documentary filmmaker?
Mark Mann: I guess I made films on some level about what I know and I made two now, they’re both filmmaker films. They’re about the filmmaking process on some level because it’s been my thing. I like doing it and it’s taken over my life. The first movie is sort of a documentary about the narrative filmmaking process, narrative editing process and the second is a narrative that sort of incorporates a man learning how to use a camera in a documentary. There’s elements of it, yes.
We talked to the two lead actresses earlier and they were talking a lot about how great the rehearsal process was, getting to know you and trying to get your attention in figuring out how to work out certain scenes. Could you just elaborate on the whole rehearsal and the improvisation in general, especially when it came to having the camcorder in the picture.
Keanu Reeves: Yeah there was no improvisation in the sense of dialogue in any of the movie until the end credits scene, but there was how are we going to do these scenes which we kind of worked out. Mark was really collaborative, really downloaded everybody on sharing his perspective and what was your perspective, your character. Then when we got together, we found that we were all so fond of the piece and so that there was a real kind of… we would sometimes talk about it in the third person. Like okay, isn’t this great when John and Violet come together? Yeah, and I love it when it deals with intimacy and lies and the levels that… and then we would kind of get into it and there was a real kind of comradery with us. I remember Mark asked me to go out on the street and take some pictures and do his project. Then Bojana (Novakovic), Adelaide (Clemens) and I we got to a bar and took pictures that are on the fridge in the movie, the photo booth and stuff. So there was a lot of life and art kind of coming together, which when you’re making a film, that’s one of the coolest things. Artists are coming together in like mind about the work and Mark really kind of fostered that.
Mark Mann: When you start to inject hope and optimism and love inside a wrapper of disassociation and alienation, you get a very complicated thing. That what ultimately makes the film. They did that.
Plus I got the sense with your character, and the same with Serena _, that they both listen. You don’t kind of assault the world with noise, which I really felt from the film, and I was wondering it’s called “Generation Um,” is that how it works? Is this what we’re becoming? We just talk at each other and nobody really listens?
Mark Mann: I’m sorry, what did you say? (laughs)
Is that how you redeem them? Give them a profile to… you listen to them. You let them kind of tell their story. Is that what we need? Is that kind of the message of the film?
Mark Mann: That’s definitely one part of it. First Sarita (Choudhury), she’s great. But yes. And what’s going on behind you as you’re doing the filming. You see the whole relationship between the both of them. Their energy was… the joy of working with actors like Keanu, Sarita and Daniel (Sunjata) in that particular scene is that they were so connected but they were not even looking at each other. You get the whole relationship. The answer to your question is yes. That is definitely a piece of it. We’re becoming immune to anything, to everything, and nothing is shocking anymore.
Keanu Reeves: But that’s not true.
Mark Mann: Well it kind of is.
Keanu Reeves: It isn’t.
Mark Mann: All right.
Keanu Reeves: I would say that nothing’s shocking. I would say that there’s a state of shock.
Mark Mann: Maybe yeah.
Keanu Reeves: And I think these characters are shocked characters in a way in transformation, in trying to change, to reach out, to try and have a kind of intimacy, to have a kind of connection.
Mark Mann: It’s an interesting blend of perceptions on things. When writing a script and portraying a character that’s written in a script, it fascinates me, the subtle differences in motivation. Whatever my intention in writing it or his intention of playing that character, they are different and we can talk about it and it’s a really fun conversation. The dialectic is..
Keanu Reeves: Solo and communal. It’s personal and inherent. It’s a conflict and collaboration.
Mark Mann: It’s sitting alone in a room and it’s being in a room full of people.
Keanu Reeves: Yeah… and here we are!
I was just curious what each of you at the end of this process, looking back, appreciated most or took away most from working on this.
Mark Mann: You know, I appreciate… Working with Keanu, it’s my first narrative film and I feel very honored to have been able to make the film I wanted to make without really any restrictions. We got to let it be organically what it was and a big part of that is Keanu’s influence. I appreciate that because I was allowed to just make the film and without people coming in, bugging me and everything, which I’ve heard stories about that. I’ve just been very lucky and working with all of them it’s just the patience, the honesty. Walking into a room with a bunch of people that you really respect and having them love your work right there in the room, I can’t even describe it. I mean, wow. It’s the script and they did, they put love into it.
Keanu Reeves: Well that was a good piece of bread. You made some nice dough so… you’re a good baker! And I was happy to be a part of that. What a nice recipe.
Mark Mann: You’re my favorite bag of flour.
Keanu Reeves: Yeah… and I would say that. I would say that the opportunities, there are so many pleasures that Mark’s story offered me as an actor and also as something to my tastes. This idea of hope in kind of these trapped character. Also, the way that he was trying to tell the story in a non-traditional way. Not re-inventing the wheel but paying homage to a lot of levels cinematically and contextually and also respect to the audience. For these characters to play, they’re letting me shoot scenes and to be creative in that way. So I would say the opportunity to be creative and to have the experience making the film.
Where did the idea for New York City chase scene come from involving hula hoop cowboys?
Mark Mann: That questions is… I’m not even sure how to answer that question. It came out of… it was originally something different and something that could not be done, so at the end of it it became how to get the action of the movie from point to the next part of the film. It is the transition. It came from wandering through New York and just having odd experiences happening all around me. It came from involving a hundred extras or however many people in a little tiny film. Certain things just happen and it just sort of grows in its own accord. It came from wanting to jump the turn style in the New York City subway. It came from wanting to shoot on the subway as a filmmaker. It came from wanting to do something absurd and to tip my hat to French absurdist filmmaking and a million other things. It came from the parking lot it was shot in as a flea market that I’ve been passing by for fifteen years. It came from wanting to shoot in that parking lot, and it came from wanting to seeing John be chased down the street by a hoard of hula hooping cowboys and looking at the smile on his face as he’s doing it.