SIFF 2018: Gus Van Sant and Beth Ditto Interview for Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot

During the Closing Night Screening of Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, we were able to get a few questions in with director Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, Milk) and actress Beth Ditto. The interview was conducted in tandem with Darlene Graham from SIFF News and Greg Arietta. As Van Sant snacked on some Skittles before the show, we were able to ask why this film was so relevant for today and how Van Sant was able to illicit so many stellar  performances in the film. DWHWGFOF comes out on July 13th, but you can check out our interview below.

This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.

DG: I wanted to ask how you relate to your character?

BD: Well, I think it’s the only character that I could really do because I don’t think [Reba — her character] is that far remove from who I really am. I live in the South, and the whole description [of the role] was worth it. I feel like it just makes sense for me. She was a redneck and I grew up with rednecks [who were] women with really big hearts that just love to talk, but also really brutal. I thought that life wasn’t really that serious. We were really religious. We thought there would be this reward some where else, so dying young wasn’t a big deal. It was just basically, “Smoke until you fucking die.” The person I was thinking about when I was reading the description of Reba was this woman named Jamie who smoked in a hospital room, had lung cancer, and died at 47. 

GA: So Gus, there are so many great performances in this film, how did you as a director illicit so many great performances from a broad cast?

GVS: I try to make everything seem like its not that important so that it’s not…

BD: A burden?

GVS: … a burden, yah. I want the actors to feel comfortable and they just go. Right? *Looks at Ditto*

BD: For me, yah. I only worked with you for like three days to a week, so I can’t say that for everyone else. 

GVS: You know, just stay out of their way, and hopefully they’ll get into it. If I get too involved… They usually have their own thing they want to do [with the character], so I usually try to stay out of the way. Did I did that with you? *Looks at Ditto*

BD: Yah, you finally got out of my way. I think that’s the only reason I could do it because I could just do what I wanted to do and it was encouraged. Also, there is something also about the other people that were in it that it felt like a good group of people who got along. That makes things feel a lot easier. I think the curation of the actors are a huge part of it. If we didn’t have people that meshed together, I don’t think it would of been that easy. I felt encouraged to be myself… maybe too much! I felt really comfortable and I’ve never done it before.  Sometimes I felt like I was gonna throw up. I get nervous, but never like that. I don’t get performance anxiety really, but [acting] made me scared to death. I had to have a phone call before because I needed to talk about it. I don’t even know what it was about. 

GVS: But then when we did it, was it easy? The next day did you have anxiety?

BD: Oh so easy. But the next day I did also, because I don’t want to [look bad] in front of professionals in the moment. I don’t want to put them off if I don’t talk at the right time. Which is hard for me… not to talk. So silence is a good key [with acting]. But yah, I got comfortable really easily. But you *looking at Van Sant* really set people at ease.

DG: Can you tell why you felt the story of Jon Callahan was important to tell right now? 

GVS: We started the project in the 90s. It was a good story to tell in the 90s, for the 2000s, the 2010s, or today. It’s a timeless story, so it’s always current. 

BD: I’ll add to that. We need a Jon Callahan story right now. That’s a good reason!