In our second conversation about the fine Ingrid Goes West we sat down with the film’s director Matt Spicer and actor O’Shea Jackson Jr. Jackson’s previous role was playing his dad Ice Cube in the acclaimed Straight Outta Compton, and again he’s a major reason for a film’s success, portraying Aubrey Plaza’s landlord/love interest Dan Pinto with perfect timing and impeccable charm. Spicer, a first time director, manages to keep the zany film from going off the rails, showing a directorial confidence that promises many terrific projects to come..
What is your own relationships to social media?
O'Shea Jackson Jr.: Abusive. I love Instagram, like a lot! I don't have Facebook though. It's just one of those things that's with the times. It's a gift and a curse for sure. I love that it connects so many people from around the world together.
I think my first bit of social media where I get really abusive is online gaming-video games, Call of Duty, NBA2k, that type of thing. There are those that abuse the power, and that's the curse part, and those are the ones you've got to watch out for.
Could you tell the story about how Aubrey Plaza stalked you to get you to take the part?
OJJ: Well, Aubrey and I really stalked each other. I've been a fan of Aubrey's for a while and we were at an awards show. I was heading over to meet her, it was a big moment for me. Some people stopped me to take a picture (I take pictures with everyone) and by the time I look up, Aubrey Plaza is gone! So I tweet out that I definitely had the chance to meet Aubrey Plaza and didn't, so good night so far.
She hits me and we start communicating back and forth. She says I have this movie, I want you to check it out. We exchange numbers, set up a meeting, and when she gave me her number I texted her "hey, it's Batman", just because I'm a lunatic and I just think I'm Batman. Not because I had read the script, not because I had known the character or anything about the film, and she took that as me giving it a thumbs up, that I'm down to do it.
So she tells the director, she tells the producers, "yeah, he's down to do it", and, it turns out, I hadn't read a thing.
Matt Spicer: She never sent it.
OJJ: *laughs* Yeah she never sent it, to this day. Even while we were filming I had never read the script, I was just going off my sides. So the story was just too good. I'm really heavy off energy and things like that, and just felt like the universe was talking to me, so I took it.
Did showing the film to an audience meet your expectations?
MS: We did a lot of friends and family screenings when we were editing so we would test it almost every week with a new group and really shape the film that way. There wasn't anything that got a surprising laugh, but the Tupac line destroyed. I've never heard a laugh like that, so that was a cool feeling.
Getting to play your movie for a packed house of people is something that would only happen at a film festival and a place like Sundance, so that was really, really special and cool.
Have you changed your Instagram habits?
MS: Yeah, for sure. I used to post a lot more than I do now. I post here and there now still, but it definitely made me think, "Why am I posting this? What am I hoping to get out of this?". If the answer wasn't something that I liked, I would not do it. I think people should think more about maybe why they're putting these things online. I wish I were a little bit braver to share a little bit more of my honest self on social media. I admire people who can be real on social media and it's weird that it's a challenge to be real. You'd think it would be super easy but it's actually hard because I think we're programmed to project this version of ourselves, this other identity that we've created for ourselves.
You’re a performer – Are you consciously performing when you post to Instagram?
OJJ: Oh I have a hard time posting myself on my Instagram. If you look, it's rare to get a picture of me or a video of me. Whenever I'm at an event or at some sort of monument, I'm always focused on getting the best shot of the monument or of the image. I've never liked the "It's all about me" and it's not about me being there, it's about what I'm there to see.
MS: He's actually a really talented photographer. He's being modest. He took a bunch of photos on set that are some of my favorite photos of the whole shoot.
OJJ: I love sneaking pictures of people, like candid shots. I never want you to pose and sometimes I won't even show them to you. I'll just have them as a memory for me.
I'm old so I do Twitter more than anything else where it's all about saying whatever is on my mind. You're saying that with Instagram, it's actually in a weird way an extension of your art, is that a fair way of putting it?
OJJ: Exactly. That's what I use IG for. But Twitter is a different beast. I'll let loose a little bit on Twitter. I'll let them know when I have my bad days and when I have my good days because it's humanizing myself. You can't be seen as this untouchable figure, even though, in this business, that's who they want you to be. You can't make mistakes. You can’t be flawed. You can't have the things that make all of us everyday people. They try to get you to erase those from your character altogether but, as much as I try to hold on to the real Shea, it's through my IG.
Any particular challenges getting the female characters right?
MS: I know, it's funny that it's a script written by two guys. Look, we approached it as best we could. We tried to look inside of ourselves to try to put ourselves in the character's shoes and look at it from a human perspective. Then I put a lot of trust in Aubrey and Lizzie [Elizabeth Olson] to tell me when something felt untruthful, and they were really good at that and fearless at saying, "I don't think the character would do this" or "I think I have a better idea, better version of this", and they were always right. And so I think you have to listen to that.
Aubrey was my true partner; she's a producer on the film. Part of the reason why I felt confident making this film is because I knew she had my back and that she would bring truthfulness to the character and be able to fill in the blanks, where maybe I was not up to the task because I'm not female.
How conscious were you to make this a critique of L.A. culture?
MS: Yeah, well I'm not from L.A. so I always feel like I'll always have an outsider's point of view of it. I love L.A. but there's definitely things that cause me to kind of scratch my head a little bit and go, "Really?!". L.A. kind of has that reputation for kind of being a little out there. I eat at restaurants like Grateful Kitchen [as seen in the film] all the time, and I eat avocado toast.
Ah, but do you eat In-N-Out burgers in a car like Aubrey does in the movie?
OJJ: Yeah! I eat it in the box to go, man!
MS: And I eat Domino's Cinna Stix [like she does] too. I'm not above that.
Where’s that mighty Tiki bar?
MS: I actually had my birthday there a couple years ago and was like, "this place is amazing". It's just this little hole in the wall tiki bar in the Valley. Actually, funny story - My girlfriend did an episode of Drunk History and asked the guys, "What's your favorite bar?", because they go around to bars all over and interview people. They were like, "Our favorite bar is this place in the Valley". So I went there for my birthday and it's amazing. It looks exactly like that. We didn't touch a thing in that place, it looks just like that.
Was it easier for you to not care about being famous if your Dad has already done it before you?
OJJ: Definitely. I've always been on set, I've always seen the carpets. I know how people see my father and then I know Dad. I know that there are two different worlds. There's my Dad and then there's the character that everyone thinks is my father.
He's always described it to me as "you're Kobe Bryant, you're Steph Curry, you're Clay Thompson". They had fathers in the NBA before they were in the NBA so they'd always been in locker rooms. You're born into this. It's a different breed. I've always been taught that being famous is just being the popular kid at school, just maximized.
None of the rest of us here know what that means.
OJJ: [Laughs] Fame in general is a jellyfish. Yeah it's beautiful, it's nice to look at, but don't you dare get wrapped up in it because, you know, it's a wrap.
What movie did you first see that made you want to direct?
MS: Boogie Nights
OJJ: Hell yeah! Dirk Diggler.
Wait, you watched Boogie Nights and thought, "Hell, yes, I could do this!"
MS: Well it's funny. Boogie Nights is the first movie I watched where I noticed the directing, you know? I thought, "This feels different from any movie I've ever seen", and I'd never seen a Scorsese movie or an Altman movie. So I think that was a key that unlocked all of film history to me. But it'll always be the OG for me, Boogie Nights. Staying up late watching it on HBO scrambled.
Well, you kind of made Short Cuts with a character that thinks he’s Batman.
MS: What I think Paul Thomas Anderson does so well is that he takes these outsider characters and then tells the story from their point of view. We all look down on porn stars but he humanizes them in such a great way.
And O’Shea? What sparked the interest in film?
OJJ: I would say that the movie that got me wanting to be involved with cinema altogether, whether it be writing, directing, or acting, is The Big Lebowski. It's my favorite movie. The Dude abides.
Walter Sobchak taught me that you don't have to be the lead to steal the show. That's the Han Solo of that movie. That's something that I took out of Straight Outta Compton and that's something I took from Ingrid Goes West. Even though it's not solely about me, when you're on screen, knock it out of the park.
Could you expand on Aubrey’s role as producer of the film?
MS: It's just that she's made so many movies of varying budget ranges, and she's got such great taste and she knows so many people. That's what a producer is - They make shit happen. You say, "I need this", and they're like, "Okay, I can make a phone call. I can make that happen". She's gotten at the point in her career where she can do that. She can DM O'Shea on Twitter and be like "Hey, do you want to do this movie?", and then it happens. That's all you could ever want from a producer is to ask the moon and they give it to you.
She always pushed us to make the film better than I ever thought it could be or I ever thought we had the resources and time for.
How did you convince her to do it?
MS: I don't know. I honestly don't know. She just really saw the potential of the script and of the character and I think really understood it in a way. To me, it's my favorite role of hers. As a fan of hers, I've always wanted to see her do something like this. As a fan of movies, I love watching the movie and love watching her, even though I've watched it six thousand times.
She's in every scene of the movie. Literally every scene. It definitely took its toll on her. It's exhausting shooting a movie because we're doing 14, 16 hour days and you get no down time because we're always moving, moving, moving, shooting, shooting, shooting. We're jumping around to different scenes and it's a lot. She did a great job of balancing all her many responsibilities.
She’s killing it on the Indie circuit, you think she should give big budget filmmaking a shot?
MS: Well, she's already well beyond where I'm at. My hope is that I'd love for Martin Scorsese to see this movie and be like, "I need to put her in my next movie." You know I think she should be working with that level of director. That's my hope.
She's already your Travis Bickle.
MS: Yeah exactly. The King of Comedy was a huge influence.
OJJ: I would definitely say that Aubrey Plaza is the reason why I did this film. Then once I met Matt, us both being Trojans, USC, they pumped into our head that we're supposed to see our fellow Trojan and hand him our shield. We're supposed to go into battle with him, so without those two I would not have picked this.
Have you ever had a stalker?
OJJ: Oh yeah! My father for sure. There's this woman who has O'Shea carved into her forehead right now. But you know, I'm sure she's a nice lady.
Would you become friends with a fan?
OJJ: Oh yeah, for sure. And I've had celebrities who I was a fan of who just became friends with me. Once you reach that common ground, once you see that common denominator in that you're humanized and realize that I'm just like you, when you find the same interests, I mean why not? You just dig what I do, so let me find something that you do that I dig.
How did you find Elizabeth?
MS: For Lizzie, Aubrey and I thought, "Can we get her?” She was our ideal. I just wrote her a letter and sent it with the script. I'd seen her do talk shows and she typically does these serious dramas, and they're always good but I see her on talk shows and she's laughing and making jokes and I'm like, "Where's that girl? Why isn't she doing more roles like that?". So I said that in the letter. I said that I'd love to see you do something that shows your lighter side and shows that you can be funny. I don't even know if she read the letter but she read the script and then we heard that she wanted to meet.
I think maybe having Aubrey on board also was comforting to her. Again, it comes back to Aubrey blessing the movie and giving it her blessing helps and helped move the needle.
The ending seems slightly ambivalent. What’s your own reading of it?
MS: I don't personally feel like I need the movie to tell me what to think about. I like the fact that, for any kind of piece of art, you're always bringing a piece of yourself to it. I think how people interpret the ending says a lot more about who they are than necessarily about the film. I like the idea that we wanted to present this thing and say, "Is this movie a tragedy or is this a happy ending for her?". I think that is the discussion that I hope people have about it and say, "well what is her life going to look like going forward?" What does that say about the effect social media has on us? I'm hoping it raises more questions than it answers, personally.
OJJ: And real life doesn't end in the perfect way either. Even in Straight Outta Compton, what's the ending to that movie? The group broke up and the leader's dead. There's no happy tied into the end of that and Ingrid Goes West feels real. The ending of IGW is a real-life thing and this is a real-life movie. It's an experience.