“It was almost… ‘psychological torture’ is too strong, but it did have a strange effect.” That’s Jesse Plemons telling GQ about his experience shooting the new Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) film, an adaptation of acclaimed horror novel I’m Thinking of Ending Things for Netflix. Known for his “innocent smile hiding unspeakable horror” performances in Breaking Bad, Black Mirror, and Game Night, Plemons is a unique actor on the scene. It thus makes sense that his partnership with a unique filmmaker like Kaufman would yield unique, potentially scarring results. And he got into all of that and more.
The premise of the novel/film involves a young boyfriend (Plemons) taking his girlfriend (Jessie Buckley) to visit his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) on a farm. If you know anything about “the genre of horror,” you know that things go awry. If you know anything about Kaufman’s work, you’ll never be able to guess just how “awry” they go. “Just wait,” promised Plemons before inventing my new favorite verb: “He Kaufman-ized it.” Plemons went into further detail on the difficult shooting conditions of the upcoming film:
I don’t think it’s spoiling much to say that in the first week, we were shooting pretty much in a car every day. Thank God we shot that on a stage. I was pretty intimidated because we were shooting on average 11 pages a day, every day, on a stage, prop guys throwing snow. It was almost… “psychological torture” is too strong, but it did have a strange effect. Jessie and I became delirious and were laughing a lot. The longest take is something like 16 minutes I think? So it was like “Action! See ya in a while!” It changed acting for me in a way, I think.
Did… did Kaufman just make the new The Shining, down to the bonkers treatment of his cast? Color me supremely excited.
Plemons seems to have a knack for working with idiosyncratic directors. Even when shooting the Breaking Bad follow-up film El Camino, Plemons has never gotten a true handle on his character Todd… because neither has writer/director Vince Gilligan.
I got the part and no one would really tell me anything, since I was a recurring character and not a regular. You don’t really learn much about him the first few episodes. The only directions I really got in those early days from Vince [Gilligan] was moments before I shoot that kid on the bike at the end of the train episode. He came up to me and said “OK, so if you’re driving and a raccoon runs out in front of you, you have two choices: You can swerve to the right and drive into a ditch, or you can swerve left into oncoming traffic: What do you do?” And I stood there for a second, thinking there was more to it, but that was it. That’s what I got.
If you want all of the charmingly frank observations from Plemons (including his adorable love story with Kirsten Dunst), check out the full GQ interview here. And for more on Charlie Kaufman, here’s our Anomalisa interview with him.