Sundance ’11 Interview: Festival Darling/’King of Weird’ Robert Longstreet

Mainstream filmgoers may not be familiar with actor Robert Longstreet, but hopefully for him that will change after this year’s Sundance, where he’s appearing in four different movies screening in the festival’s Park City at Midnight section: Michael Tully’s Septien, Todd Rohal’s Catechism Cataclysm, Calvin Reeder’s The Oregonian, and Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter. Needless to say, he and B-D reporter Chris Eggertsen had a lot to talk about when they hopped on the phone to discuss these myriad projects, and you can check out the full interview inside (helpfully broken up into sections for those only interested in certain films).You know, I just wanna have a beer with Robert Longstreet. At least that’s the impression I came away with after getting on the phone with him to talk about his four upcoming Sundance movies, all of which are screening in the horror-friendly Park City at Midnight section of the festival. He’s just one of those people you talk to and instantly like, a genuine guy who is by turns genial, enthusiastic, and funny. Hopefully for him this year’s festival will prove the major career springboard it’s shaping up to be. Below you can check out the interview where we talk about all his Sundance roles: an abusive boyfriend in Calvin Reeder’s The Oregonian; an emotionally damaged mama’s boy in Michael Tully’s Septien; a confused boss in Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter; and an ex-rock star in Todd Rohal’s Catechism Cataclysm. It’s quite a long interview, but it’s divided up into “chapters” so you can jump around as you please depending on which film(s) you’re interested in.



Prologue

Bloody-Disgusting.com: I’m really interested to see Septien, it sounds like a complete trip.

Robert Longstreet: It is…it’s definitely the weirdest character I’ve ever done in my life.

B-D: Yeah, Michael’s an interesting guy.

RL: Yeah. How did Michael describe it?

B-D: He basically described it as sort of a reaction against the whole mantra of ‘know your audience’ and ‘know who you’re making your movie for’ kind of more commercial-minded filmmaking.

RL: Yeah, definitely. Yeah. Very specific, just made for our inside, very odd sick joke.

B-D: Yeah. Well you’re like the darling of Sundance this year in the Midnight portion. You’re in like four movies, it’s unbelievable.

RL: I know, man. Thank you so much…instead of the darling, I’m kind of the king of weird.

B-D: Which film would you say the weirdest of all? Would that be Septien?

RL: It’s funny, in a way it’s the most grounded, but it’s also the most perverse and most strange. As far as just like outlandish horror kind of movie, I think ‘The Oregonian’ is the most in-your-face, disturbing weird one. That one actually has lots of blood, and lots of screaming, and things like that. ‘Septien’ is more I think like a slow burn, kind of creepy. And ‘Cataclysm [Catechism]‘ starts out as a normal movie and then just delves into hell…it sort of looks like a perverse buddy movie of a priest and a death metal rocker, sort of like Jesus and the Devil taking a canoe trip. And then, it just…they meet some people that are from I don’t know where, and I don’t know who the hell they are, but they really mess our lives up quite a bit.

Chapter 1: Septien

B-D: Let’s talk about ‘Septien’ first. Talk about your character in that.

RL: Ok, my character is…well, we’re all really depressed and demented and sort of cabin-fevered, stuck on our little farm. Our parents had died, which I think was a really hard knock. We had an abusive father, and then a number who was just a sweetheart who actually killed herself. And I…what I’ve done is sort of projected onto her and mutated my grief into actually becoming her, you know? To sort of avoid the grief of losing my mom, I just wind up thinking I’m my brother’s mother, and try to get them to go to church, and cook them all their meals. [Laughs]

B-D: Yeah, I saw a still of you in a dress.

RL: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s the end where I show up…very unapologetic, and I show up and just start screaming at them and I’m like, ‘this is what I’m gonna wear from now on!’

B-D: It’s almost like Anthony Perkins in ‘Psycho’ or something.

RL: It’s a lot like that, man. Because there’s mommy stuff, and then…I mean, I’m not going around murdering people but it’s definitely that kind of sick bond. Yeah, where something is very, very wrong. You should not love your mother in that way. Like, don’t taxidermy her or don’t become her.

B-D: You came up with the story with Onur and Michael, right?

RL: Yeah, yes. Actually, it all started with David Gordon Green and Michael did like a five-sentence treatment of it, of just like this sports guy who had had a bad run-in with the football coach, and [at] the end they just wanted to see a football going through a field goal. So for about I guess six months Michael and Onur and I batted emails back and forth and talked, and Onur and I just sort of fleshed out our characters individually, and then sent Tully…this information that he spun into gold. I mean, just even the first 40 pages that he wrote were just so dead-on and great. I mean, he’s being very generous giving us story credits. We did all hash it out, but I mean he really turned it into something.

B-D: How did you get into the mind of this dysfunctional character? That must have been a trippy experience.

RL: You know what, it was funny I think that what I’m doing is playing the mother to some of the girlfriends I had in college and high school…so instead of just like…cause it could be so fey, and instead of making it a big homophobic joke I decided it would be, and Michael wrote these great descriptions in there where like he’s talking to the plumber, and it says ‘he comes out of the house, but slowly it starts to dawn on you that he’s acting more like somebody’s mother’. Like the plumber comes and I tell him there’s cookies in the oven and would he like a snack before he starts? It’s just really strange.

B-D: So you don’t affect any sort of more feminine speech patterns?

RL: Not in an overt way…but there’s a little bit of that, yeah. But it’s not West Hollywood fey, it’s like Southern mother fey.

B-D: So it’s not ‘To Wong Foo’ or anything.

RL: No, no, god no. No. And that is what we were trying to avoid, that kind of stuff, at all costs. Any fabulousness whatsoever. This is like farm-born repressed homosexuality. It’s more the ‘Deliverance’ variety.

B-D: What was your reaction when you first saw a cut of the movie?

RL: I was floored how well it came together, because it’s a real…I mean, it was a balls-out risk for us to do this, to do something this odd and this kind of…I was floored that he actually pulled off the tone. Because it seemed like it was an impossible in-joke that we were all doing, and sort of giggling after each take and just going like, ‘ok, well, maybe the three of us and three of our friends are gonna think this is great and then we’ll just ride off into the sunset and that’s all we expect’.

B-D: And now it’s like IFC, and VOD. It’s pretty crazy how it all came together so quickly.

RL: It’s just…well like [editor] Marc Vives and then Michael [Montes], who did the music, and then Michael Tully…I mean, they just, the really pulled a magic trick serving it in the way they edited it. It’s come off as like a…it’s got that weird old feeling like an old ‘70s semi-horror movie like ‘Let’s Scare Jessica to Death’, where it just kind of…out of nowhere just sort of makes your skin crawl. And what’s happening shouldn’t be plausible but it is. Maybe in a little bit of a Lynchian way, too.

Chapter 2: The Oregonian

B-D: So let’s move on to ‘The Oregonian’. In that film you play Herb. Talk about your character.

RL: I’m actually her abusive, alcoholic husband. It’s another bunch of creatures who live on a weird little farm. Yeah. No, I’m completely psychotic, and I’m jealous of her. And some of it’s fantasy, and some of it’s reality. And eventually it just breaks my mind, where I just want to kill her. And I don’t try to kill her, but…I only have a few scenes in that, but I’m probably the meanest I’ve ever been in my life. Just screaming at sweet, beautiful little Lindsay Pulsipher. Cause I did a short with her too, where I was just another mean husband with her, so we’re just saying it’s our abusive triptych, we have to do a third one.

B-D: Exactly. So are you only in the first part of the movie, then?

RL: I’m in the beginning, and then I show up throughout in some flashbacks, like sort of dragging her around the farm and things like that. I mean, that movie is a surreal nightmare. And Lindsay is really carrying that whole movie, yeah. She’s just amazing in it.

B-D: I’ve seen ‘Little Farm’, which just blew my mind, literally.

RL: [Laughs] Me, too! Yeah, me too, literally! Yeah.

B-D: That last shot is just unbelievably out of nowhere, you know? The whole last minute of the movie is just non-stop bizarreness and gore. It’s pretty crazy.

RL: ‘The Oregonian’ is the same thing…’The Oregonian’ is even more disturbing than his short [films]. Like I saw ‘Little Farm’ in 2007, and I had never seen a short that scared the shit out of me before. So I chased Calvin down like crazy and begged him to be in one of his movies, and it finally happened.

B-D: It seems like it takes place almost in the exact same universe as ‘Little Farm’ did.

RL: Well, they’re all…in a way they’re connected. There’s a couple scripts, ‘The Oregonian’, and ‘The Rambler’. Yeah, they have that feeling. You know, you were talking about ‘Little Farm’…to me it’s like the shots of like weird little lawn ornaments and stuff and that strange music that’s playing. It’s like, ‘I am dead, I am very dead’.

B-D: Yeah, it’s a super creepy atmosphere…the details in that movie are…

RL: They’re incredible. And then the incest of it is sort of like the pulse underneath the whole thing that just makes it incredibly creepy.

B-D: ‘Little Farm’ is very gory. So does this ‘The Oregonian’ one-up that one in terms of gore? He has more time to create those moments in this.

RL: Yeah, there’s more blood. I mean, as far as time, in a Calvin Reeder movie you hit the ground running. Like, they move really fast. They know exactly what they want and they fly through it. And they’re open to anything, and they try a million things. There’s improve and…yeah, Calvin’s amazing. Calvin throws a lot of things at the wall.

Chapter 3: Take Shelter

B-D: So you have another movie called ‘Take Shelter’.

RL: Yes! Yeah, ‘Take Shelter’ is…I can’t wait to see that. That’s the only one I haven’t seen.

B-D: So you’re gonna be seeing it at Sundance with everyone else for the first time.

RL: For the first time. I actually begged [director] Jeff [Nichols] for a DVD so I wouldn’t have a coronary, and he wouldn’t do it. So I’m gonna have to see that there for the first time. It’s always scary for me to see stuff for the first time, like it takes a couple viewings to sort of get comfortable with what you did. Because at first it’s just so daunting to see yourself out there. So you can’t even pay attention to it.

B-D: Of course now you’re gonna be seeing it with a huge audience. That must be nerve-wracking.

RL: I know! Yeah. It’s nerve-wracking, and there are some of my heroes in that movie. Like Michael Shannon, and Kathy Baker, and Shea Whigham. There are actors that I really admire in that movie.

B-D: Well talk a little about your character in that, and the film in general.

RL: Yeah, well my character…I play [Michael Shannon's character's] boss, we work at a cement factory, like a quarry, sort of grinding down stuff for cement. And I play Michael Shannon’s boss, and I made him the manager and I sort of felt like he was gonna take over the thing from me, like I’d taken it over from my father. And he starts acting odd. Like, he seems a little spacey at work, he’s fired some people and done some odd things like fire one of his best buddies. And I can’t figure out whether he’s on drugs or what’s going on, and eventually…god, I don’t want to give stuff away! He takes some equipment from work for a project at his house, and I wind up firing him for that. And then his life just spirals…what’s going on is he’s questioning his sanity.

B-D: Is this a film that plays with ambiguity? Like you’re not sure if this is really happening or if it’s all in his head?

RL: Yes, yes, yes. You’re gonna question whether you’re gonna see what he’s seeing, the disturbing things that he’s seeing, and you’re gonna question whether it’s fantasy or reality. The great thing…I don’t want to compare it cause it’s not a horror movie, but it’s sort of like…what’s the thing with Julie Harris, ‘The Haunting’?…where you’re questioning the heroine’s sanity through the whole thing.

B-D: It’s billed as a psychological thriller, but it definitely seems like it has some horror elements in it.

RL: It definitely does, because the things that are plaguing him are definitely apocalyptic and horrific.

Chapter 4: Catechism Cataclysm

B-D: I’ve also been told that we need to keep an eye on ‘Catechism Cataclysm’.

RL: Oh, that movie! I’m just in love with that movie!

B-D: ‘God Will Fuck You Up’ is like the greatest tagline ever.

RL: Is that not incredible? I actually sent [director] Todd [Rohal] an email yesterday and I said, thank you, sir, for having the balls to stick with ‘God Will Fuck You Up’. Especially going to Park City, Utah, you know?

B-D: I know, it’s great.

RL: That movie…Todd’s a genius.

B-D: Yeah, talk about that. It sounds like a really interesting, hard-to-pin down thing.

RL: Well it is. It changes so much! You know, at first it seems like a hero tale where this guy is like, Father Billy [played by Steve Little], I think is really at the end of his rope and bored with ecclesiastics and all the studies that he’s doing, and I think he thinks that maybe he missed out on life and wants to go hang out with his friend, who is a big rocker. And then I think that things aren’t the same, it’s like ‘be careful of chasing down your heroes, because they’re not necessarily any happier than you are’, you know? So I think he gets disappointed when we go down the river and then it just gets incredibly odd. And I can’t give that away, there’s some big surprises in ‘Cataclysm’. It really changes up.

B-D: Is it kind of a hardcore black comedy kind of thing? What’s the tone?

RL: The tone is almost buddy movie. And then our conflict increases. We really start to butt heads together. And then we sort of come to another level of understanding with each other, and more on an even plain. Then God fucks up both up.

B-D: So there’s some Biblical shit going down.

RL: There’s a lot of Biblical shit. That script – I’m not even sure that I fully understand all of it – but it’s working on many, many levels. You know what it is? It’s a buddy movie, horror movie, black comedy kind of a Russian doll. You know, it’s like there’s a million levels of it.

B-D: Is the audience gonna be left scratching their heads at the end of it?

RL: Yes, yes! You’re gonna take a deep breath and wonder what the hell you just went through.

Epilogue

B-D: What’s next for you after this? You’re obviously insanely busy. I know you executive produced two of these films, so you’re also dealing with that. Have you had a chance to think at all about what you’re doing after this?

RL: You know, the only thing I know is that David Lowery wrote me a movie. And I’ve been wanting to work with David Lowery for years. So I’m not even sure what that is, I think I’m playing an evil Sheriff.

B-D: Is that a horror/thriller type thing?

RL: I think it’ll be a thriller, yeah. I think it’ll be his most intense and possibly violent movie.

B-D: Can you talk at all about it?

RL: You know what, I haven’t read it! You know about as much as I know about it. He’s really teased me with it.

Executive producing these things, like the reason I did all that stuff was…Todd had been trying to get another movie made, and they made him rewrite the script like 13 times…and ‘Guatemalan Handshake’ was one of my favorite movies so I just said that I just wanna give Todd ‘yes’. You know, go back to the ‘70s thing where filmmakers rule the roost. And I called David [Gordon] Green and he invested immediately and matched the money I did in like 15 seconds. So I called up Todd and just said, ‘finish that script, we’re gonna shoot it, I don’t even need to read it’.

B-D: Are you interested in directing at all in the future?

RL: You know, [writer/director/actor] Onur Tukel [his co-star in Septien and frequent collaborator] always asks me that. I don’t know if I have the patience for it. I think I’d be a bastard. You know? I can be nice and show up as an actor and do all that stuff, but I think like worrying about the million things and getting people to do it, I have a feeling I wouldn’t have the patience for it. I’d certainly know where actors were coming from, but I have a feeling I’d be mean to people…when I was 16 and I made Super 8 films with my friends in the neighborhood I was a prick.

B-D: So maybe not the right line of work for you.

RL: No, maybe not. I think I’m definitely an actor/producer. I think that’s my forte.