Q&A with Mud director Jeff Nichols
“Because I’m…the best director on the planet?” Jeff Nichols offers with a shrug of the shoulders and the audience promptly bursts into laughter. This is his light-hearted response to how he encouraged such powerful and moving performances from his two lead child actors. “No, the truth is I really had to do very little on set, they were just wonderful kids. Sometimes the universe just delivers exactly what you need.”
Mud is already gaining the same critical acclaim as Nichols’s first two features Shotgun Stories (2007) and Take Shelter (2011). But the shy and ever modest Nichols appears almost uncomfortable with this success, repeatedly deflecting praise onto his lead actors, most of whose parts he wrote with them in mind.
Nichols explains that he was a huge fan of Matthew McConaughey and enjoyed working with him immensely. He calls Reese Witherspoon “a character actor in a movie star’s body”, but singles out Sam Shepard as “an American Legend”, enthusing about his skills and experience.
Mud is a coming-of-age tale, set in and around an unspecified Arkansas town. It tells the story of two 14 year-old boys and their friendship with a mysterious stranger. Like so many American stories, Mud harks back to Huckleberry Finn and Nichols has previously acknowledged Mark Twain as an influence.
But the film also references 80s children’s classics such as The Goonies and Stand by Me. Nichols says: “I like the idea of taking a genre and dismantling it. My producers seem to like that.”
When asked whether the film is in any way autobiographical, Nichols gives a gentle shake of the head. “It really started off with the guy stranded on the island,” he says. “That was my initial conception of the thing, it was going to be a runaway/revenge type thing. But then I brought the two boys in and it became about more than that: there’s the family thing – a lot of things – I hope people will find a few different layers to this story.”
The film’s wonderful atmosphere did come from Nichols’ personal experience. He explains that he was a suburban kid, but spent his holidays with grandparents in small river towns like the one in Mud. “I would say I have an idyllic outsider’s view of that sort of place, but with insider access.” For him, the setting is unique: “Without wanting to sound cheesy, it really is a magical place.”
Mud is released nationwide on 10th May 2013.
Watch the trailer for Mud here: