Brian Taylor Talks MOM & DAD, Killing Kids & Nicolas Cage
Brian Taylor's Mom & Dad is absolutely bonkers: the story of mass hysteria gripping a suburban town, causing parents to want to annihilate their children, it plays like American Beauty filtered through Crank's unhinged, "anything goes" prism. The fact that Taylor cast Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair as the central couple, trying desperately to off their own own spawn (played by Anne Winters and Zackary Arthur) is a stroke of genius. They're a pair of performers whose punk rock souls are barely contained by the domestic garb they're dolled up in, and when they totally freak out, it's like watching two monsters, utterly unleashed. Just wait until you see the scene that involves Cage, a sledgehammer, a poor pool table, and the "Hokey Pokey". It's amazing.
We had a chance to chat with Taylor, and what followed was a fun conversation about his electric work of horror filmmaking...
BMD: Do you have children?
Brian Taylor: Yes!
BMD: Do you hate them?
BT: No! I love my kids.
BMD: You sure?
BT: Of course I love my kids! Every parent does. I love kids. I have a son, and I actually told him about this idea for the movie and he was like, "Dad, what the fuck is wrong with you?"
BMD: Mom & Dad almost feels like your take on Blue Velvet or American Beauty, only filtered through your unique visual sensibility. Where the hell did all this angst come from?
BT: Well, being a parent is a crazy thing. It's just sort of a biological truth that, the moment you fulfill your purpose as an organism is the moment you become obsolete. Now, this idea makes sense for like fish, you know? [laughs] But for human beings who have all these hopes and dreams and notions about their importance and relevance, it's a harder concept to wrap your head around.
It became apparent when talking to people at the earliest stages of development that it was a really scary idea for a movie - it was difficult to get it made because people were nervous if they even read the logline. Yet once they read the script, it became really apparent that there was a universal quality to it that a lot of people just kind of got, you know? That's certainly the way it was for Nic [Cage] and Selma [Blair].
BMD: And you have Nicolas Cage in a primo Nicolas Cage role. How was it watching him get this wound up every day on set? He's amazing.
BT: Both Nic and Selma had this quality that I really needed - this element where you can try and dress them up as these normal, suburban parents, but you never quite buy it. They're both just punk rock beneath the surface. They can take on the responsibility, they can play the role, but they almost feel miscast in a way. They don't 100% belong in this setting. They were meant to be something else. That's what I really wanted.
But beyond that, Nic and Selma really got what I was going for with the script, and personalized it in a way that was incredibly exciting to direct. They got the subtext of what was happening here, and then really went for it.
BMD: Talk to me about directing on your own as opposed to being part of a team [Neveldine/Taylor]. What's different? What's the same?
BT: What's nice for me about writing, directing, and then having a defined eye about what you want it to look like is that it's all about envisioning it and then coming out on the other side with that same image. It's always going to be the same - showing up to a set and trying to create this illusion, and handling the million things that can either go right or wrong, break or make that illusion. You're always just riding the wave and trying to find that perfect moment.
BMD: And how was it to work with Daniel Pearl? You have the cinematographer from what many consider to be the greatest horror movie of all time [The Texas Chain Saw Massacre] shooting your picture. What was that like to have him on set every day?
BT: Daniel is a legend, but the thing about every legend - like Pearl, Cage, Lance Henriksen [who plays Cage's father] - once you get to know them, they're not legends anymore. They're just normal dudes like you and me. He's got a million stories, and he has so much passion, and just will do anything to get the shot. The stories he could tell you - he could write a book all by himself.
BMD: Well, just working with Tobe Hooper alone is a novel unto itself.
BT: And over the last thirty or forty years, the guy has shot practically every major artist and music video you can think of. He's a never-ending fountain of knowledge.
BMD: Talk to me about the "Hokey Pokey" scene. How did that come about? Was that in the script?
BT: The actual "Hokey Pokey" part was all Nic. We knew he was going to smash the pool table. We knew he had this monologue about life. But he came to me before we shot and said he had this other thing that he wanted to try in the scene, and it was one of those Cage moments where you're like "yup, that's a great idea. I'm gonna roll camera and let you go for it."
But here's the crazy part - he did that on set, and it was so cool, and it's such a great moment, but then we get into post and realized that "Hokey Pokey" is not, in fact, in the public domain. You actually need to buy that song, and it was not cheap. That was a little surprise we were not ready for, but that moment had to stay in the movie. It was too good not to.
BMD: A lot of your movies are also based around these very specific musical moments. The score by Mr. Bill is very distinct, and you even have a whole scene where a woman gives birth to Roxette's "It Must've Been Love". Where do these needle drops come from?
BT: The first song I had in mind for that sequence was REO Speedwagon's "I Can't Fight This Feeling Anymore", but they wouldn't clear it. I went back and looked at the old music video for the song, and it starts out with this soft focus, glowing shot of a newborn baby, because the song is dedicated to his own child, and I immediately knew "oh boy, this is gonna be tough." Sure enough, it didn't happen. So, the search began for a new song, and it's always tough to find something like that where they'll both let you use it and it works so well. We were high-fiving when we found it. It's so perfect.
BMD: It's the moment in [Mom & Dad] where I completely fell in love with the movie.
BT: Which is lucky, because it actually works better than REO Speedwagon. It's one of those songs where you recognize it, but it takes a moment to put your finger on the title when it starts. But when those drums kick in, and you're like "aw shit, this is awesome." Then the movie goes nuts.
Mom & Dad is on VOD now and in select theaters beginning January 26th.