With Matthew Ross' third feature Keanu Reeves finds himself journeying to the cold emptiness of Siberia only to find warmth and love where and when he least expects it (and when it's least convenient). Matthew was gracious enough to take a break from his own filmmaking journey to answer a few questions about his latest project which hits theaters July 13th.
What was the moment you realized that filmmaking was what you had to do with your life?
To be honest, I can’t really remember a time when filmmaking wasn’t the thing that I wanted to do with my life. I would credit that to my mother taking me to tons of revival houses and art house cinemas in the neighborhood that I grew up in New York. When I was 6, 7 or 8 years old, I was watching the movies of Alfred Hitchcock projected on a 35mm inside a darkened room. From then on, I was hooked. It was watching movies with my mom as a very young child and getting hooked from there.
What is your process for casting a film? How do you know you have the right actors?
I go for the actors who I believe in fully and completely. In both of my movies, I have been incredibly blessed in terms of my cast from top to bottom. Beginning with my first film with Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots and the dearly departed Michael Nyqvist to Siberia with Keanu Reeves, Ana Ularu, and Pasha Lychnikoff. You know it when you see it. It just feels right. That certainly has been the case with everybody that I have ever cast. It felt right from the very beginning.
Of course with Siberia, Keanu approached me with it. The project was already his and with him as the lead. It was something that I was incredibly thrilled to have the opportunity to work with him on that. He kind of cast me to direct this movie. I was very, very happy to be given the chance to work with him. I have been lucky in terms of cast.
How is it working with someone like Keanu Reeves? What does he bring to the table?
Obviously, he brings a tremendous amount of talent and a tremendous level of professionalism which has to be seen to be believed. He is as detail-oriented as an actor that I have ever met and probably will ever meet. From everything to specific manipulation of props to make sure that his role as a diamond dealer was researched by him to his master of Russian dialogue which he performs in the movie. He is fully prepared and a true perfectionist. Those facts alone were very inspiring and I think inspired everybody on the crew to arrive a work with the same level of preparation and perfectionism that he brought every day.
When do you know you've got what you need to get? When it comes to a shot, a scene, or a finished film?
Half of it is feel. What I found certainly over the course of now making two films, which is once you believe that you got what you need, then you try again. You want to get some variations in a performance. If it’s slow, make it fast. If it’s darker, make it lighter. If it’s lighter, make it darker, and etc. Those will provide you with options in the editing room to cut those scenes together in different ways. If you have the time and you get it right, I was very lucky to be working with actors who got it right very quickly. So then, you give yourself the opportunity to play because it is often on those takes are the ones that end up in the film.
With the constantly changing climate of film and television, what (if any) differences do you see between the two mediums and how film (or stories in general) are released and made available?
Certain cliché that film is a director’s medium and television is a writer’s medium. I think that maybe still holds true a little bit. But I think all of these lines from the distinction between film and television as well as the obvious distribution mechanisms are becoming blurred as time goes by. More people are watching films on their home entertainment systems. Conversely, more television shows are working with real, wonderful filmmakers and directors who bring their own visions to the process. TV is becoming more like movies in certain ways and movies are becoming TV in certain ways in terms of how they are being shown and seen. So I think the distinctions are being blurred a little bit.
If you had infinite resources and budget, what is a fantasy project you would like to tackle?
I would love to make this generation’s Chinatown or Godfather. A grand film with an unlimited amount of scope that also explores the human experience.
What is next for you?
I got several projects in the works in both film and television. None of which I cannot talk about it specifically at the moment but hopefully, I can talk about it soon. Rest assured, I am working away and hope to be making something else as soon as I can.