Kyle Buchanan / The Advocate / May 1, 2008
Advocate film critic Kyle Buchanan sits down with director Harmony Korine to discuss his new movie Mister Lonely about a Michael Jackson impersonator, dropping mushrooms, and why he loves Southern gays so much.
When Harmony Korine wrote the screenplay for the 1995 drama Kids, he was just a kid himself. Now 35, he’s directed three films (including cult classics like Gummo and julien donkey-boy) and is preparing to release his latest, Mister Lonely. The story of a Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) who is drawn to a ragtag group of celebrity wannabes by a woman posing as Marilyn Monroe (Samantha Morton), Mister Lonely debuted at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and is being hailed as the eccentric auteur’s most mainstream work yet.
Kyle Buchanan: Harmony, I don't know if you’re aware of this, but I think you have a big gay fan base.
Harmony Korine: Are you serious? Really?
Buchanan: When I told people I’d be interviewing you, all my gay friends just lit up.
Korine: Really? Shit, that's exciting!
Buchanan: You've never noticed it before?
Korine: To be honest with you, I live in a place where I wouldn't really know who my fans are. I live in Nashville, so the people around me don't really care so much, you know? But that's great to know.
Buchanan: Maybe it's on account of Gummo? There's a lot of homoeroticism in that film, including a long scene where you drunkenly flirt with a dwarf. Did men ever hit on you based on that scene?
Korine: It maybe used to happen more when I first lived in New York. Now it doesn't happen at all, since I'm married and I live in Nashville. [Laughs] Although my favorite gay is the Southern gay. There's just this Southern gay subculture: acid-washed jeans, strip malls -- it's kind of more dandyish. A lot of those guys would probably be churchfolk had they not been gay, and a lot of them still are churchfolk -- not to say that you can't be gay and be churchfolk. They still have all those qualities of a church person, but they like to get freaky as well. [Laughs]
Buchanan: In the film, Michael is accused of having an affair with Marilyn. Is his interest in her romantic?
Korine: I don't know. You tell me!
Buchanan: It didn't seem that way to me. In fact, I thought his sexuality might have something to do with his desire to impersonate Michael Jackson.
Korine: You know, it's hard to say. I think you could take it a lot of different ways. Maybe he has a little bit of that interest in her, but maybe he doesn't feel it so much. I don't know. I mean, I have my own ideas and opinions on characters and relationships, but there's no right or wrong way to see them.
Buchanan: What appealed to you about using Michael Jackson in this film?
Korine: The reason I liked the idea of focusing on a Michael Jackson impersonator is that Michael Jackson, in some ways, is symbolic of this person without sex. A boy, a man, white, black, young, old... there's this ghostly presence. And when thinking about it, for me, it felt like, He should be Mexican. I'd seen Diego in movies and I met with him and there was this boyishness, this ethereal nature and this charm. It just felt right.
Buchanan: There's a scene early on where Diego is doing his Michael Jackson dance moves on a busy French street. Were the reactions candid?
Korine: Some people would walk by, others would shrug, some would become confrontational. We did it in Paris, and I don't think they dig him so much.
Buchanan: Who, Michael Jackson? I thought he was still popular in Europe.
Korine: I guess not in Paris!
Buchanan: Did Diego learn the moves easily? He was in Dirty Dancing 2, after all.
Korine: No, no, no, he could never replicate that performance! [Laughs] We spent time with him, but he also worked with a real Mexican Michael Jackson impersonator. I never met him, but I guess Diego found him on his own. He's a famous Michael Jackson impersonator in Mexico City.
Buchanan: And you've known Samantha Morton for a long time, right?
Korine: I met her first at my apartment in New York -- maybe 1995, '96. I think it was her first trip to America. I'd just done a lot of mushrooms -- like, three to four days' worth of eating mushrooms. She came in and I think she just held my hand and we talked for a little while.
Buchanan: How was it working with her? I’ve heard she can be a little strong-willed about...
Korine: Everything. Yeah, she is. She has a very definite idea of what her character is about. You know, I've watched her career and what she’s done, and I’ve always thought she was one of the best actresses working. She’s someone who’s just fun to watch. Samantha’s got a lot of depth, and you can take her to a deep place.
Buchanan: Your wife, Rachel, plays a Little Red Riding Hood impersonator in the film -- but Red's a fictional character, not a celebrity. What gives?
Korine: Originally she was gonna play Britney Spears. When we were figuring out who the celebrities were as we wrote it, we wanted them to be iconic, instantly recognizable -- and then there were certain people whose mythology I thought was interesting and could maybe bleed into the narrative. Then we put her in a Britney Spears outfit and she just looked like a slutty teenager. There wasn't anything behind it; there wasn't anything visually interesting about it. I couldn't come up with a new replacement, so I went on some sites and talked to some people, and for some reason I saw tons of Little Red Riding Hoods. Maybe it was a children’s birthday party thing?
Buchanan: Fashion designer agnes b. was one of Mister Lonely's producers. How did the two of you hook up?
Korine: I met her at the Venice Film Festival with julien [donkey-boy]. I guess she really liked the movies I was making, and when we sat down I just loved her. We started talking about starting this company together and not just making movies but making things. I remember when I first moved to New York and I lived on Prince Street, her store was a couple blocks away. I would walk by and she always had the best posters in the window; I would go in and try to steal them and someone would shoo me out. I guess I've had a relationship with her since then!
Buchanan: Do you still have much of a relationship with the fashion world?
Korine: No. I'm done.
Buchanan: You're rejecting it?
Korine: It's not that I'm rejecting it. I have friends and a lot of people involved in it, so I don't want to belittle it -- it's just that... well, I was in the Marc Jacobs campaign. [Laughs]
Buchanan: You joined the ranks of Marc Jacobs models like Posh Spice and Dakota Fanning. You must be very proud.
Korine: I know, that was great! I got the call from Juergen [Teller, the photographer] asking me if I would do it. I just thought it would be a goof, that it'd be funny.
Buchanan: You've directed commercials yourself, haven't you?
Korine: Three. In some ways, it confused me a little bit whether or not I should do them. But sometimes you see ads that are kind of interesting, and in the end, you gotta eat, you know? It took me eight years to make this movie, and it's hard to sustain any kind of living at that pace.
Buchanan: Are there certain companies you'd never make a commercial for?
Korine: Yeah. Like I would never do something for the Army or the police department. But I would definitely do a douche commercial! [Laughs]
Buchanan: Well, now you’ve put it out there. Thanks, Harmony.
Korine: You know something? That’s really great about my gay following. I think maybe I should make a movie about Southern gays.
Buchanan: Just be prepared to spend a lot on mint juleps.