Written by Charlie Mihelich
For once, a press junket was not held at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons or an equivalently fancy high-rise hotel. In a venue fit for the movie we were there to talk about, the “Surfer, Dude” press day was held at Mariasol Cocina Mexicana, a tasty double-decker Mexican restaurant at the end of the Santa Monica pier.
When it was time for the roundtable to begin, we were ushered outside to a picnic type table, with two seats in the middle (across from each other) for producer/star Matthew McConaughey and writer/director SR Bindler. Those who weren’t done with lunch were welcome to bring their food outside with them, and the California sunshine beading off the moderate-sized swells made for a picturesque setting. The other journalists complained that their recorders wouldn’t pick up sound if we were sitting outside AND the two interview subjects were sitting across from each other (note: they picked up sound fine). Every time the street performer on the pier started playing the marimba and every time an airplane flew over, they acted as though someone had just walked over and started shouting obscenities at us, but I didn’t care. It was a gorgeous day, there was a cool breeze blowing, and I was relaxed.
“Surfer, Dude” is about an analog guy in a digital world. Steve Addington (McConaughey), a long-time longboard surfer, returns to his home in Malibu to find that the surf culture has changed. In order to stay relevant, surfers have to turn to reality TV and video games to preserve the notoriety of the sport. Unwilling to change, Addington decides he’s just going to surf for himself. All of a sudden (seriously, all of a sudden), the waves go flat and stay flat. No waves, no surf. Addington is low on money, has lost his friends, and can’t even do what he loves most. Aided by his manager (Woody Harrelson), his guardian angel (Willie Nelson), and his girl (Alexie Gilmore), Addington sets out to get his waves back (both physically and metaphorically, of course).
On whether or not either Matthew or SR have had an experience where they had to turn something down because it wasn’t pure
Matthew McConaughey: There’s been some things that have come across my plate that I didn’t want to do, but that were offering more money than I’d ever seen. Some things that I thought “Nope, I don’t think I want to do that, no matter what the number is,” but sometimes a studio will come with a certain amount of money and you say “you know, let me re-read this!”
S.R. Bindler: I was offered a McDonalds campaign when I first started shooting commercials and I had a little issue with the McDonalds Corporation, but then I thought, well maybe I’ll do it and give the money away to an organization that fights the system. You know, I shook hands with doing that, and then I didn’t get the job.
Matthew McConaughey: You didn’t get the job?
S.R. Bindler: Well I was up against a couple other people.
MM: So you were against fast food, you didn’t want to shoot the commercial, and then you couldn’t pay your rent.
SRB: Well, that’s a bit of an oversimplification. It was in that ballpark, yeah, but don’t oversimplify it. Don’t reduce me to your universe.
On Matthew McConaughey having his shirt off all the time in the press and on late nite comedy shows, and then in this film being shirtless nearly the entire time:
MM: It’s sort of a wink, you know, to pop the bubble, and say “Guess what? Now I’ve had a whole movie to do it” and sort of get the joke. I found a character who I got to know for 28 days, shooting wise, and surfing, and there was also reason behind it. It was not to parodize anything. I mean, the stuff about me being shirtless in the current culture came from working on this movie. It happened at this time. So we found a character who never wears a shirt and shoes. That’s nothing but a black and white bathing suit which is kind of like a jail because there are no waves. That’s all part of the wink.
On when they got involved with surfing, and when they fell in love with that culture:
MM: I started surfing to get ready for this film. I’ve been surfing for a little less than two years. The film and the script came first, then we got financing, and then I started to learn to surf, so I’ve been surfing for a little less than two years.
SRB: I moved here from New York to Venice, and in my first week I was walking around and this guy cruised by on this longboard skateboard and I just thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen, so I went out and bought a skateboard and taught myself how to skate, but we look at it more like a metaphor. I mean, it’s a surf movie, but a surf movie with no surf, so it’s a paradox. This is a metaphor for man’s connection to nature.
MM: How do you surf life, you know? What’s that one thing you love to do, and when it’s taken away from you, how do you deal? Well, you either endure it, or your change your coordinates set a new course. This is a story about a guy just trying to outlast it?
On whether he’ll continue surfing now that the movie is over:
MM: Yeah, I mean I’m a golfer, and what are the two sports you can do till you drop? Golf and surfing. They’re great for you limber-wise, they’re great for you health-wise, and they put you in sweet locations.
On parallels between Addington and these guys, on what would be like losing the waves for them:
MM: Hmm, yeah I’d imagine it’s a lot of things. Any ideas?
SRB: Yeah, if you had to sit in front of a computer all day like me you’d go insane. This is less about a surfer and more about a guy who has a strong connection to nature. Matthew and I grew up in the country and got to be around nature, and the central theme for me was what is the cost when nature goes away? Which is something we’re all going through right now.
MM: That’s a good point. We call him the nature boy. He’s so connected to nature, and the thing he loves most about nature is gone. What does he do? It’s such a simple sport. All you need is a board and a wave. You don’t need a membership or anything.
“Surfer, Dude” opens in select locations tomorrow.