Interview with Fredrik Bond, Director of Charlie Countryman

We sit down with Fredrik Bond to discuss working on his first feature, whether Shia LaBeouf really dropped acid for a scene, how Rupert Grint about playing with his Harry Potter image, and how close he came to directing Youth in Revolt.

Fredrik Bond has just made his dream project. After years of working in Hollywood on a series of shorts and other ventures, the first-time Swedish director has produced his throwback to 1990s-styled neo noir post-modern slickness, Charlie Countryman.  The is the story of a boy (Shia LaBeouf) who flees to Romanian Bucharest to escape the death of his mother and then falls in love with a beautiful local cellist (Evan Rachel Wood) who also happens to be the wife of a notorious gangster (Mads Mikkelsen). Charlie Countryman is a madcap adventure of youth, romance, violence, and all the tumultuous emotions in between. It also includes in its cast Melissa Leo and Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint. In our interview, Bond and I discuss how this movie came to be, how he almost directed Youth in Revolt and just how “in the zone” Shia LaBeouf was for the scene where the actor is rumored to have method-ly used actual acid for simulating a cinematic trip. So, why Bucharest?Fredrik Bond: I came to Bucharest in the middle of winter two years ago, and I just saw a beautiful city that hadn’t been explored in cinema that much. I needed a place that didn’t feel like people had a relationship to. I wanted to find an exotic place. I wanted to find the wild east, which hadn’t been seen on cinema before. So, the script was originally written for Budapest, but it was written with a Budapest that was sort of early ‘90s, based on [screenwriter] Matt Drake’s own travel to Budapest in the early ‘90s. So when I came to Budapest, I didn’t see the same city that the script sort of required and that the story required. So, I just came to Bucharest and I was blown away. I loved the city. So, I know that it said Budapest, and that was a great line that came up again and again in the movie. Did you know when you read the script you wanted Bucharest or— No, I explored both big cities really. I just felt like the quality of the city was so much more intriguing for this movie. I love Budapest too. Budapest is an amazing city, but I felt for this story, I needed something that was more ravaged and a little more patterned. Could you talk a little about the process of casting Shia LaBeouf? Because I know at certain points that it wasn’t clear if he’d be in the movie or not. Yeah, exactly. He actually had read the script really early on like I did and wanted to do it and was attached to play the lead, but had to jump off because of scheduling reasons. Then I came onboard and I was trying to make it with another actor, and we couldn’t get it going for a bunch of different reasons. By the end of that, Shia called me up and said, “I can’t stop thinking about this script that I want to do. So, would you like to meet me? I would love to see if we could do this together.” Once you did cast him, it’s been publicized that in the scene where his character drops acid, Shia was very method in that scene. So, whose idea was that exactly? You know, in the crazy process, whose idea becomes a muddle box of ideas. I don’t know who picks up the little piece of paper where it says whatever it says on there [Laughs]. But the drug scene is something me and Shia talked a lot about. We looked at other movies, we looked at “how do we make a scene that doesn’t feel like a fake drug scene.” For six months, this was an ongoing conversation and researching and talking, and like the way we work, sometimes we talked A LOT, like an hour or two hours before doing a certain scene. Other days, I could just see Shia was in the zone. And then you don’t want to mess. You see that he has his moments, and you just want to start shooting. And this was one of the days. I came to set first thing and I saw Shia was sitting by himself in the corner in the zone [Laughs]. You knew he was in the zone, but did you know that he would be in THAT zone when you came to set that day? I didn’t know. Everyday was somewhat of a surprise, because he goes really to an extent and a length to get there with his character, which is very challenging for a director, but also a gift. You have an actor who throws himself completely into pouring his gut out. And I think that was beautiful to see. I trusted that he would prepare correctly and do his uttermost for the scene, which he did. Yeah. This is a question I like to ask first-time feature filmmakers. You obviously were looking a while for what your first feature would be. What attracted you to this material? What drew you to want this to be the one to commit all your effort to? I think it was a movie that really fit my temperament. I always really loved movies that throw themselves between the humor and darkness, and exhilarating moments, and love to be honest with you. So, movies like After Hours, Trainspotting, True Romance have always been movies I’ve loved. And there’s very few of those projects around [Laughs], of those scripts around. I wanted to make a movie like that as my first film. I was trying to write, but it never became something I was ready to go out with financiers with. At one point, I was set to direct Youth in Revolt with Michael Cera. That also has—it may be a bit more innocent, you know?—but it also has a sort of wildness tone to it. That was getting close, and then I found this, and I just loved this script. So, I said this is the one I really wanted to do. [related article: Charlie Countryman review] Just out of curiosity, how far did you get into Youth in Revolt? We were really on the finishing line with Michael Cera about to come on, and I had met him. Stuff like that. But I think I wanted to make slightly the Charlie Countryman version of that movie if that makes sense. So, I think it was better that I didn’t do it, because I think Miguel Arteta did an amazing job on it. One thing I really appreciated is that it’s left somewhat ambiguous if Charlie is really communing with the dead. For you personally, if you don’t mind saying, do you think Charlie was actually speaking with the dead in this story? I think that he does speak—he can communicate with things that aren’t necessarily the Undead, but I think he’s just a very sensitive, reactive character. I think he can pick up things from a lot of different people who are alive too in the room. I think he has a sensibility, and he can read things. He sees something in Gabi that a lot of people don’t see. She’s a very hardened character. But he sort of the one who pursues her, and sees something, and goes for it. That goes the same way with [the dead]. He picks things up. But what does Gabi see in Charlie? I got the sense that up until a certain point in the story, she might have been using Charlie. Yeah, absolutely. I think for a long time, she’s using Charlie, because she’s naturally prone to darker, more masculine characters. She finds those kind of guys more appealing to her. But in the end, she gets so intrigued by how much he goes through to get her. He seems like a softy, and sort of a much more vulnerable, not a typical guy for her. But going through this journey, she realizes what an incredible power he has, and how forceful he is. But yeah for me, I don’t think they stay together for the rest of their lives. I think this is a moment in life, and then they move on. Charlie is very sensitive. How did you work that out in casting Mads [Mikkelsen] into the role of Gabi’s husband and Charlie’s rival? Me and Shia talked a lot about that. Who would scare the shit out of Shia? Ands Mads was both on my list and Shia’s list from the very beginning. Shia said, “That’s the guy I’m totally terrified of.” [Laughs] So we approached him, and Mads had actually read the script a few years back and remembered loving it, so he jumped onboard with us.
 He’s a terrific actor, and you get Evan Rachel Wood and Melissa Leo, and this is your first feature, how did it feel getting all this amazing acting talent onboard for these supporting roles? It was incredible. They were so supportive, and they really gave me amazing advice and supported me through the whole way. It was a treat. It was an incredible treat. Totally professional people that gave everything. It’s a small movie, so everybody goes in loving the project, and for me that was a gift. One casting that I thought was interesting was when you cast Rupert [Grint] as this spirited youth. In the movie, he’s dropping acid and walking around with all these naked women. Was he excited or a little nervous given his public image about doing a role like this? I think he was a little bit nervous. He’s had an amazing life with the Harry Potter franchise, and I think he wants to throw himself out of his comfort zone, and wanting to take on the more challenging parts and roles. This was something that he really felt inspired to be doing. A funny thing is in the original script, his character was German. So for the longest time, I remember us meeting in my office in London and us sitting for a few days with doing him as a German—a German aspiring porn star. But what happened was I think because people do have a relationship with him, it was a little too much of a stretch. He did it amazingly, and we were like “this is incredible.” But it just felt like being a little closer to his origin being from Britain made a little more sense. Plus, I felt in a lot of these hostel movies, there’s always a German for some reason. I think you’re right. It just feels somewhat familiar. So in the end, we felt like it feels very nice that they’re both British. So you changed his nationality in the process. What is your process directing actors? Because the cast you have all have such different approaches. How do you as a filmmaker like working with actors, working with your casts? I think my method is to see how each actor works in his best ability. I think I’m pretty good at adapting—I see myself as some sort of conductor that has all these amazing instruments, but every instrument is played differently with different slight tempos and works at its best ability slightly differently. So Shia has his way; Shia has a sort of method-y way. Evan is much more technical; she wants preciseness. “Do you want it louder or thinner or do you want it fatter?” So, she crafted very technically. Mads is more of a sort of “we can try this or what about this?” It’s a much more fluid process. That’s what I’ve always loved about the process. You have these incredible artists in their own right. For me, creatively, that’s really fun. That’s really fun to work with the actors in slightly different ways and then try to make them work together. With your first feature out the way, do you know what you want to work on next? Yeah, like this was a labor of love, so I took my time to feel the script out. I don’t mind doing that process again. I think it’s important to choose the right project. So, I have one bigger project, kind of more of a studio project. And I have another smaller movie, on a Caribbean island, which I really love. So, we’ll see. Might be either one of those or a completely different one. You really got to love the material and work 24/7.Well, thank you very much for doing this today. Thank you so much, thanks for coming. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!