Smoking Causes Coughing Director Breaks Down His Silly, Surreal Spin On The Superhero Film [Exclusive Interview]

Part of that conversation has been people realizing that maybe what these huge companies are doing is trying to create characters that are box office draws and not actors, so they can increasingly get actors that they don’t have to pay as much for. You do the opposite in “Smoking Causes Coughing.” Not that people are going to go to the movie solely because of the stars, but it’s funny that you first encounter all of the different characters with their helmets on, and then they take their helmets off, there are lots of big movie stars under those helmets. And I wonder, what was behind those casting choices?

I mean, let’s put it this way: I need these famous actors to basically finance my movies. I’m working with them also because they’re very talented, of course, and because they also want to work with me. A movie like “Deerskin,” I don’t know if you’ve seen this one, it was impossible to make without Jean Dujardin. I needed someone that big to be able to find a little bit of money to shoot the movie. Otherwise, nobody cares. They come for pleasure, they also come for the experience, because it’s very different from what they’re doing actually in some other movies.

I actually need them for their talent, but also because in a way, they validate the movie by being here. They say to the audience, “We think this director has something to say.” You know what I mean? The same movie with only unknown actors suddenly will be hard to promote.

That period of time when you were living and working and making films in America, you didn’t work with too many American stars. I mean, you probably worked with a lot of American actors, but you didn’t anchor your films with American stars. Two that do jump out to me are Ray Wise and Grace Zabriskie, and I’m curious what it was like working with them.

There’s no why, really. It was more like I wrote this movie and suddenly, exactly what I do on every movie I make, at some point you have to find actors for these small parts. I forgot how it happened, but I think we got Ray Wise … in a meeting, someone just dropped this idea and I was like, “Oh yeah, he’s a strong actor.” And then someone else 10 days later brought the idea of, “Oh, we should get Grace Zabriskie too, it would be funny.”

It’s hard to explain — working with them was, of course, exciting and interesting for me. But at the same time, when I look back at this moment, I have to say we didn’t share much. Now working in France again with some French actors, and I’m getting better and better, I know the work I do now with actors is more complex. Back in the day, for example, the stuff I did with Marilyn Manson (“Wrong Cops”), it was fun, but I was not really directing him, if you know what I mean. It’s hard to explain. I was so excited and fresh in this business that working with all these people was … it’s very different from what I’m doing now when I work with actors. And if I go back to English-speaking movies, I will now work more.

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