Nichols talks 'Mud,' more 

A Q&A with the Little Rock director.

click to enlarge Jeff Nichols image

"I think I can finally say that I have a career without smirking," Jeff Nichols said last week on the phone from outside his editing studio in Austin, Texas. The Little Rock-born writer and director couldn't, actually. He started laughing as soon as the words left his mouth.

Call it a symptom of his current state of mind — "cautious optimism," he says — about "Mud," the Southeast Arkansas-set coming-of-age drama that wrapped filming just before Thanksgiving (and with Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon and a host of other name actors starring, the biggest film production set in Arkansas since ever). About the prospects of his sophomore film "Take Shelter" in awards season (most notably, up for five Independent Spirit Awards, more than any other film save "The Artist"). And about his future in the business.

How are you feeling about "Mud"?

You just really never know until you get into the editing room and put it all together. But while we were filming, I had the same feeling I had on "Take Shelter," this distinct feeling of, "Man, we're doing something unique." You hope that culminates into a good film.

As far as the moving parts, the cast was really amazing and the crew was really amazing. Now I'm in sitting in front of this period of work, where the pressure is on my shoulders to take all that blood and sweat and turn it into something.

How's the editing process working?

I'm working with an editor, Julie Monroe, who's worked a lot with Oliver Stone, all the way through. It's been totally different. She's been editing the entire time we were shooting. I just got back in Austin and I've already watched an assembly cut of the movie.

With a bigger budget than your previous films, were you able to get a lot of different takes during filming?

Yes and no. It's really funny. We were still very limited on time because we were limited by Screen Actors Guild rules on how much time the two boys who play Ellis and Neckbone [Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, respectively] could work. So there are still some scenes where I got two takes. But this movie is immensely more covered than my other films.

The biggest difference between this film and my other films is that I really wanted to move the camera. "Take Shelter" had very specific camera movement. "Shotgun Stories" had no camera movement. Each of those were creative choices, partly dictated by production restraints, especially on "Shotgun Stories," but mainly dictated by story. Most of "Mud" was shot using a Steadicam. It's a pretty big progression because the camera moves constantly, which is really appropriate for the film: It takes place on a river, and I've always said I wanted the camera to move like a river, so it kind of flows through the story, not to mention that it's a film about these 14-year-old boys who're constantly moving.

Did you know from the beginning that you wanted to cast an Arkansan in the role of Neckbone?

I knew I wanted to, but I didn't know if we'd find him. I was just looking for a kid who was honest, who was a non-actor. We read some kids that had been in other movies and I just wasn't really finding what I was looking for. I didn't really care where he came from, but it was an extra bonus that he came from Arkansas.

We really lucky to find Jacob. He's incredible. They both are. All the adult actors were impressed by the kids. I know I was impressed.


Speaking of...

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    In a strictly technical sense, "Loving" is about the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court case that overturned anti-miscegenation laws, removing restrictions against interracial marriage in the United States. That's a little misleading, though, at least insofar as that description conjures up images of courtroom drama. Nichols strips all that away, making "Loving" exactly what its name implies: a love story. /more/
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    Little Rock native Jeff Nichols brought his new acclaimed film "Loving" to the Ron Robinson Theater last night ahead of the movie's wide release on Friday. The ticketed event raised $10,000 for the Tiger Foundation, a nonprofit that benefits Central High School, Nichols' alma mater. /more/
  • Jeff Nichols returns to Little Rock for Arkansas premiere of "Loving"

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    Director Jeff Nichols returns to his hometown Monday, Nov. 14, for the first Arkansas screening of “Loving,” Nichols’ depiction of the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple whose civil rights case resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court’s invalidation of all race-based legal restrictions on marriage. /more/
  • The trailer for Jeff Nichols' 'Loving' looks great

    July 14, 2016
    The latest from Little Rock's Jeff Nichols hits theaters Nov. 4. It's Nichols' telling of the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, whose marriage led to the landmark civil rights case Loving v. Virginia, which ended laws preventing interracial marriage. Ruth Negga's performance as Mildred Loving generated Oscar talk after the film debuted at Cannes. /more/
  • Filmmaker Jeff Nichols shows 'Loving' at Cannes. Good timing.

    May 16, 2016
    Here's Vox with a report on the premier at Cannes of "Loving," the feature film treatment by Little Rock native Jeff Nichols of the case that brought an end to laws against interracial marriage. The theme has many parallels in current times, which Nichols talks about. /more/
  • Jeff Nichols' "Loving" up for Cannes Film Festival Award

    May 11, 2016
    Jeff Nichols' "Loving," a film depicting the landmark civil rights case that overturned anti-miscegenation laws, is up for the Palme d'Or at this year's Canne Film Festival. /more/
  • Nichols' 'Loving' to compete for Palme d'Or at Cannes

    April 19, 2016
    Little Rock-born film director Jeff Nichols, whose stature as a young auteur has been steadily growing with the success of films like 2012's "Mud" and his most recent sci-fi offering "Midnight Special," will get another chance to put a very big feather in his cap next month. His latest film, "Loving," has been selected to compete for the prestigious Palme d'Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival in France. /more/
  • 'Midnight Special' subverts the superhero-industrial complex

    March 31, 2016
    It's the latest from Little Rock's Jeff Nichols. /more/
  • Behind the scenes of Jeff Nichols' 'Midnight Special'

    March 4, 2016
    WIRED magazine has a great new profile of Little Rock filmmaker Jeff Nichols out this month, written by the always-perceptive Amy Wallace. Aside from being probably the best and most comprehensive piece written on Nichols to date, it takes us behind the scenes of his forthcoming "Midnight Special" and even offers new insights on previous works, from "Shotgun Stories" ("He wrote the script in his father’s furniture store, “surrounded by mattresses,” and edited it in his laundry room") to "Mud." /more/
  • Jeff Nichols to direct 'Aquaman,' according to leaked emails

    December 15, 2014
    The revelations from last month's massive Sony hack have so far included embarrassing financial statements, embarrassing emails and many other categories of embarrassments. Sony employees hate their own movies, for instance, and Channing Tatum writes weird emails. And now even Arkansas is involved, however tangentially, with the news that Little Rock native Jeff Nichols might be attached to direct the "Aquaman" movie. /more/
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