Thursday, September 24, 2015

Interview: Ramin Bahrani

Ramin Bahrani's films marry a strong social consciousness with a sensitive outsider's empathy for people and cultures, especially those that have been marginalized. A fan of the neorealist tradition, the first-generation Iranian-American cast his first three features almost entirely with non-professional actors, often basing the characters largely on the people who played them, but his last two star well-known professional actors in the main roles. His latest, 99 Homes, is an intense American horror story. Like the rest, it's a fictional story with its roots deep in the truth of Bahrani’s extensive research—in this case, on the foreclosure epidemic that's ravaged the U.S. in recent years. The main characters are Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), a stony, semi-legit real estate investor who's making a killing in foreclosures in Orlando, and Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a single father who goes to work for Rick after his contracting work dries up and he's evicted from his own home. I spoke to Bahrani about gun-toting real estate agents, the importance of not blaming his characters for the moral dilemmas they find themselves in, and what he learned from Ernst Lubitsch about how to upend an audience's expectations.

What's it like to work with professionals versus non-professionals in the starring roles? And are any of the supporting players in the film non-professional actors who came from the world of evictions, either because they were kicked out of their homes or because they were helping to evict others?

There's a lot of non-professional actors in 99 Homes—a lot of real people. When Dennis is doing the evictions, every person on whose door he knocks was a real person—and that's really their home. I found them during the location-scouting process and got to know them and conceived [their characters] based on who they were. It's the same process as in my previous work. I wouldn't tell Andrew who was an actor and who wasn't one. He had no idea what was going to happen when he knocked on the door. He just knew what he should say. Read the rest in Slant Magazine

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