William Friedkin, referred to by those who know him as ďBillyĒ, directs Bug, about Agnes (Ashley Judd), a lonely woman who lives in a dilapidated motel away from her abusive ex-husband (Harry Connick, Jr.). When she befriends Peter (Michael Shannon), a war veteran, she believes he carries small, mysterious bugs inside him and becomes paranoid along with him. Based on the play by Tracy Letts, who also wrote the screenplay. Michael Shannon starred as Peter in the play as well. William Friedkin has previously directed The French Connection, The Boys in the Band, The Exorcist, To Live and Die in L.A., Blue Chips, Rules of Engagement and, most recently, The Hunted.
Lionsgate Films will release Bug on May 25th, 2007.
NYC MOVIE GURU: William, how do you feel about the fact that Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worldís End is opening the same weekend as Bug?
WF: I think itís great. I canít wait to miss it. Thatís not anything more than a passing interest to me. There are no safe dates for a movie. Every week, 7 or 8 films come out in this country. Some of them disappear. Some of them hang around. Some of them have a longer shelf-life. Thatís all way beyond anything we have anything to do with. We love doing this [and] weíre glad that itís coming out. Weíre glad that itís going to be there. Do I think weíre going to be number 1 that week? (pauses) Yes!
NYC MOVIE GURU: What makes dark-themed movies such as Bug so intriguing to audiences?
WF: There are a number of dark works that are intriguing to people because they reveal the constant struggle between good and evil that exists within all of us. I refer to the dark side, if it does have validity beneath the surface, as something that is dealing with the thin line between good and evil that is in all of us. The character who seems to be the darkest at first, her ex-husband, is the guy that's trying to save her. What attracted me to Bug was that it showed that.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How long did it take to shoot Bug?
WF: The film took 21 days because the last day we had a fire on the set. We had to come back and re-shoot the last day. Thereís often a fire on the set that I film onóitís not intentional, but sometimes things go wrong.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Ashley, what was it like for you to be on set?
AJ: I really loved that this little set was built inside a high school gymnasium in Metairie, Louisiana. I had the opportunity to go to the gym while the set was being built and the props were being chosen. They wanted us to let the space reflect our organic relationship with our characters.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Were there any rehearsals?
AJ: Rehearsal was more about the feeling and tone of the characters in the film and then when it came time to shoot, we did our job.
WF: We didnít rehearse a lot; we just talked before the whole process started, but not in an intellectual way. We talked about the physical problems of doing it, like how it was going to be done in such a small space.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Michael, did you feel it was advantageous to be in this film given your experience?
MS: It was an advantage in the extent that I felt like I knew how to tell the story on stage, but I donít have that much experience in film as much as Ashley [Judd] or Billy [Friedkin]. So, I counted on their particular ability to help me along. Itís very nerve-racking. With the play, you get the benefit of doing it over and over again [unlike] in the film.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Ashley, what about you?
AJ: I felt I was at a real advantage because Michael Shannon knew the material inside and out and had a very well-developed and involved relationship with it. Billy [Friedkin] had seen it and he responded passionately and immediately acquired the rights with tremendous enthusiasm and respect. I felt I was just able to slipstream in there.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Michael, what was it like to work with Ashley Judd?
MS: Ashley [Judd] and I didnít know each other before the movie, so the relationship, as it was building, was very organic.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Ashley, what made you choose the role of Agnes?
AJ: It was very easy for me to decide to do Bug. Billy had been good enough to send the script to my agent. Bug also had in common a producer who also produced Come Early Morning, which I shot right before it. So, there was streamline simplicity to the process. Billyís wife, [Sherry Lansing], was my mentor earlier in my career and really provided my big break in Hollywood. So, it seemed like there were a lot of auspicious things were coming together around the script. I really loved Billyís response to Michael [Shannon]. He was very clear and firm that Michael was the actor for the film, as he unabashedly been the actor for the play. I was just really impressed by how Billy was not willing to negotiate around that and helped me to be very comfortable talking to the financier of the film about why Michael was also who I would want to play in the movie. So, there was a lot of backburn and positive energy surrounding Bug.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What were your initial reactions when you read the script?
AJ: When my agent sent to me the script, she said to me that I may not want to go there. Immediately, that intrigued me. I donít think that she was intentionally using reverse psychology, but that was the effect that it had. I became willing to take on the part before I had, in fact, read it. Thereís a part of me that gets really competitive with my own creativity. I was always attracted to very intense [roles] as a child. In fact, when I was little, I wanted to grow up and be intense. I thought that the characters [in Bug] were very real, grounded and clearly wounded with a lot of dark secrets that they feel compelled to protect.
NYC MOVIE GURU: William, what interested you when you read the script?
WF: Something that interested me about it was the tyranny of objectsóthe way that we take the things we live with for granted, sort of, sets the barrier of our lives. These things have a life of their own thatís as much a part of the atmosphere that is largely created by the actors using the writerís words.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What qualities do you look for in an actor?
WF: The first quality I look for in an actor is intelligence. Bug did not need a beautiful woman [as a lead]. Itís very difficult to take the beauty away from Ashley Judd because itís deep. But what she had was knowledge about how to portray this person and to find those qualities within herself. I would try to do everything in one or two takes, which they werenít too crazy about because actors love to do it all day. If I had said to them to do one scene all day, they would want to do it tomorrow again. When I get into the cutting room with something, itís usually the first printed take that has the spontaneityóthatís what Iím interested in, much more so than perfection, unless itís Shakespeare where the words have to be exact. If they look like theyíre in character, to me, itís a take. The script girl might say to me that they didnít get the words right and I would thank her and say that it looked real to me. [Tracy Letts] wrote every single word thatís there. If I messed with it and tried to improvise, Iíd screw it up. Yet, they could come to it fresh. Michael [Shannon] could come to it fresh even though he had played it in the play.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was different about directing Bug compared to directing The French Connection?
WF: The French Connection is the only exception to the rule that you need to have a great script. We had no script for The French Connection, but I knew the story and the [actors] who played the parts knew the story. Everything else that Iíve done that worked moderately starts with a great script.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you relate to the characters in Bug?
WF: [Bug] is the vision of the writer, Tracy Letts. Iím simply a vessel through which it passed. I happen to be on the same page with it, but I wouldnít have done it. I think we all say that thereís some truth in what he has written. Itís a truth that ought to be portrayed. Iím not going to tell you what I think that is, but, like everything else, itís part of a broad landscape. I recognize these [characters] in myself, which is sometimes frightening to know. Whenever you do something as serious as this is, you find a part of yourself in it or you canít do it.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Ashley, which directors would you like to work with in the future?
AJ: I would love to work with Mr. Friedkin again. I would love to work with Michael Mann again; he is a really neat, committed, very inspired filmmaker and also a really nice guy. My husband and I are really fond of him. I'm getting ready to work with a guy called Wayne Kramer and I'm really excited about that. He is South African and immigrated to the United States well over a decade ago, I believe, perhaps even longer. He is directing a script he wrote called Crossing Over which looks at immigration issues, and I'm looking forward to that. He's put together an amazing cast. My scenes will be with Ray Liotta and a young African girl whom I have not yet met; I'm looking forward to that. Sean Penn and Harrison Ford are also in the movie, so that's going to be neat. Wayne Wang and I are talking about doing something together again, which I'm looking forward to. I'm also talking to a first-time director about a really neat, very topical, project. I'm really interested in human trafficking and slave labor, so I'm looking at scripts that deal with that subject. I don't want to make a whole lot of movies because I enjoy a very balanced life. It's important to me to have time in Tennessee and in Scotland to do my human rights work. So, I hope that I just can focus on really neat material that for reasons that are personal to me are appealing and that I can do some good work, then maintain that equanimity that's so important in other parts of my life.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Any plans for a sequel to Bug?
WF: If there was ever a sequel to this, I would do it, but I donít think there will be.