Disclosure: Tim League co-owns NEON and Birth.Movies.Death.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of speaking with Ana Lily Amirpour, director of A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night and this month's The Bad Batch. Our own Jacob Knight had already conducted a formal interview with Amirpour out of last year's Fantastic Fest (which you should read here), so I thought I'd mix things up a bit by keeping things casual and conversational.
As it turns out, this was a wise move: Amirpour - who I was speaking to over drinks inside a circus-themed karaoke room - is one helluva conversationalist.
Birth.Movies.Death. (gesturing around circus-themed karaoke room): Do you do karaoke?
Ana Lily Amirpour: I do! I mean, who doesn't...well, I guess there's some people who just don't like to do it. I actually have one friend who's too shy to do it, but I think deep down inside of her soul there's a (song) that's dying to get out. Maybe she's just, I dunno...
Well, a lot of people get performance anxiety. They don't like being in front of a crowd.
ALA: Well, yeah. Do you perform when you do karaoke? Like, do you -
Oh, yeah. I get into it.
ALA: Sometimes I feel like I just wanna sing the song, y'know? I don't wanna act out too much.
Yeah, but I feel obligated to get into it.
ALA: I face the screen.
You don't face the crowd?!
ALA: Well, sometimes...
(A brief lull as we both look at the karaoke screen on the wall)
ALA: Are you gonna do a song right now?!
ALA: I kinda think that would be cool.
My, uh...I don't think I'm prepared to do any singing today. Also, I'm not a good singer by any stretch of the imagination -
ALA: Oh, I don't believe that for a fucking second.
No, I'm really not, I just -
ALA: What's your song? Like, I can tell, you usually have a plan.
When I do karaoke, I'm drinking. And if I'm drinking, I'm usually with my friend Shultz. And when she and I do karaoke, we duet on "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" by Starship.
ALA: Oh, my god. Amazing!
Yeah, that's the go-to jam.
ALA: I've done that one! (Ana Lily Amirpour begins singing Starship) "And we could build this dream together, standing strong forever..."
See? Everyone knows that song.
But I suppose we should talk about your movie!
The right people seem to be responding to it. Is it landing as you'd hoped it would?
ALA: I'm not entirely sure what you mean.
Well, it's kind of a niche movie -
Moreso than A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, certainly.
ALA: Right. I think there's things within this movie that are more difficult to process. At the end of the day A Girl Walks Home was a pretty straightforward love story. But there's some rough shit in (The Bad Batch) about human beings. But I find it resonating with different people in different places in different ways, which is really exciting.
Like people interpreting it, or - ?
ALA: Everything from people interpreting to people who I would've thought, like, wouldn't have been down with it. Older people. Europeans got it in this really interesting way.
Have you heard any particularly interesting interpretations of it?
ALA: Yeah! The other day in an interview this woman was like, "Everybody is either good or bad, and the Hermit (Jim Carrey) is God." I was like, that's an interesting read. I've heard everything, though. It's run the gamut. I've heard things that sound more like my feelings about the characters, but I've also heard things on the extreme other end.
How much decoding can you do in this movie? Is there an interpretation of the characters and the narrative that you'd consider definitive, or is it whatever you want it to be?
ALA: It's whatever you want it to be. I think it's gonna depend a lot on the audience member, and what they bring into the movie-watching experience. Every human has their own bag of history, their own collection of triggers and opinions...it's that weird, chemical mix of you.
It seems like there's been a slight resurgence in apocalypse movies, or post-apocalyptic movies. I just saw It Comes At Night, and -
ALA: No spoilers! I haven't seen it yet!
No, no, but that's the ballpark that movie's playing in. What appealed to you about making a post-apocalyptic movie?
ALA: Well, I don't actually think it's a post-apocalyptic movie.
ALA: I mean, I get why people have run with that. But I don't think it's post-apocalyptic. I think it's right now.
ALA: Yeah. I shot The Bad Batch in the Salton Sea, out in California. The landscape of Comfort, the people who are in the movie - they actually live out there. I think America's big and people are myopic with where their attention is. Everyone creates a bubble of safety, I guess. And there's, uh, a lot of stuff going on (in America), systemically...I don't know, man. I don't think we're that far off from (that reality).
So, pre-apocalypse, maybe.
ALA: Exactly. That is totally on point.
The movie looks like it was a fun set to be on. Probably arduous for some of the performers, but when I was watching it I kept thinking, "Dude, it would've been a blast to hang out on this set." Really cool production design and crazy characters and -
Did you say "wine"?
ALA: Haha, no, wild. It was wild. There was no wine. Momoa drinks beer.
What's he like? He seems like he'd be a teddy bear.
ALA: He's like a big, warm, fun, totally hyper kid. I always joke that if you unzipped Momoa, I would come out. We have really similar personalities. I try not to be...well, in general I just try to be myself, and that's exactly how he is. Very down to Earth. Just wants to have fun.
I can imagine that.
ALA: I've been in public places with him lots of times, and literally everybody will come up and talk to him and want to take a picture with him. And he will stop and talk to every single person. He never says no and it's a shitload of people who ask.
Plus, he's really tall, right?
ALA: He's massive.
I would imagine it's hard to go out with him in public to begin with. He draws the eye, anyway.
ALA: Haha, totally. People do a double-take and realize it's Momoa, now they gotta get a picture...but, anyway, yeah. The set was really awesome. I mean, we really had that giant boombox in that plaza, everything all lit up, all those people. I mean, you felt it. That shit was real. It's so amazing out there.
Was there any significance to setting the film in Texas?
ALA: Well, yeah, because...look, I'm always hyper-aware of homeless people and displaced street communities. I've seen 'em in every city in America. And in Los Angeles there's this massive homeless community called Skid Row. I think it's the biggest homeless population per capita in the US. That's where this giant tent city is. It looks like a refugee camp, right in the middle of downtown LA. It's changed in the last five years, because LA finally built the Ace Hotel down there, and Uber subtly changed it.
But when I was writing this story and thinking about the people in The Bad Batch, I was thinking about where all those (homeless) people might go. Where are they gonna end up? They're taking advantage, in a way, of the government by being there. So in my writing, I pictured myself as this governmental entity who's been assigned to taking care of that situation. And I think what they might do is just tag 'em and send 'em somewhere. And where is there a bunch of space...
ALA: ...where nobody wants to do anything? West Texas.
I was wondering how you were gonna bring that back around to Texas.
ALA: There it is.
Ana Lily Amirpour's The Bad Batch opens in theaters this weekend. Get your tickets here.