Interview by: Graeme Kay
MICHAEL and Mark Polish, the writing/directing/acting duo, today
release Northfork, the third
of their films, after Twin Falls Idaho and Jackpot, exploring
the heartland of America. Graeme Kay caught up with them
in Soho to find out more about their life and times.
GK: Angels feature pretty heavily in this film. Have you been
contacted by many angel support groups since it opened in the
Michael: Yeah, it was inevitable that we would be.
Just like after Twin Falls, we were approached by Siamese-twin
support groups. We've even had some people sending us feathers
that they said had come from angels.
But more than that, we've had a lot of contact with people who
remember their own communities being evacuated in the 1940's/50s
to make way for a dam-project.
GK I'd never heard that legend about people living
on the prairies believing that angels lived there too. Is that
a strong piece of American mythology?
Mark: Oh no
not really. We pretty much made all that
up. But the weird thing was when we started designing the costumes
for the film, and when we went on the net and started to google
around, I almost became convinced that the legend was real.
When we wrote the script, the grounded angels weren't actually
going to be angels - they were going to be ragamuffin gypsies.
But the more we explored the myths about angel wings, and what
you would actually do with an angel's wing if you found one -
would you have it mounted? - the more it sort of fitted in with
the other themes, the dying boy and the dispossessed townsfolk,
so we ran with it.
GK: I was interested in where you got the ideas for the characters.
They don't fit in with the usual idea of what an angel should
look or be like.
Michael: They actually grew from the objects that sit around
the dying boy's bed - the airplane, the cup of tea, etc - from
which the kid manifests what it is that he really wants.
We wanted to make them realistic, we wanted to move away from
the idea that angels are saintly, perfect beings that have no
problems, that are holier than thou.
So we made them more human by allowing them to have troubles of
their own, they were wingless because their problems kept them
GK: For a low budget, independent film you've got a pretty
stellar cast. How easy was it to attract these people to the project?
Mark: It was pretty easy, and I think that was down to the
script. The thing is that we didn't have big money to offer them
and when you don't have the money you have to have a great script.
So James Woods came purely on the strength of that and Darryl
Hannah, well, we wrote that part specifically for her.
Nick Nolte we'd worked with before. Actually it came down to people
just ringing us direct and saying 'I just want to be part of this.
Don't bother ringing my agent just ring me direct and tell me
when and where and I'll be there'
and once you get that word of mouth thing
going, it just snowballs. You have to realise that in Hollywood
there's such a drought of films that push the envelope in one
way or another, that this calibre of actor will go for them, because
that's the kind of film they like to watch.
And it's great for us, because we can get the actors without bothering
with agents or any of those other movie industry middlemen.
We actually got Kyle MacLachlan on board through meeting him at
a party. He just gave us his personal number and we called him
when we needed him.
Mark: Y'know, it's great to have these people aboard, because
not only are we getting great talent working for scale, we are
also getting people with huge amounts of experience who are quite
willing to stay on after shooting and help us out if we need it.
James Woods is great like that.
GK: Getting back to the angels, there are similarities between
them and certain characters in Neil Gayman's novel American Gods?
Did you know that book when you wrote the script.
Michael: No we wrote this in 1994, we didn't know anything
about him at that time, but weirdly enough, we have since acquired
the film rights to that book. Neil gave it to me as we were cutting
It won't be our next project, but it might be the one after. We
have to decide whether to film it as a two-part film or a ten-part
series. At the moment, it looks like we'll be going with the film,
because a ten-part TV series might be too hard to find backing
GK: So what about your next project. Any ideas yet?
Michael: Our next film is going to be science-fiction, which
won't be too much of a departure because Northfork is science-fiction
in a way.
GK: What is it about that genre that attracts you?
Michael: It's such a limitless genre. You can really expand
your imagination, you can explore your dreams, and if you make
something crazy enough, you can even cut it by 50% and still have
a brilliant, mad movie.
I've never really been a big fan of sci-fi up to now, but the
more I look at it, the more I see there are so many possibilities
to explore - nanotechnology and stuff - it's really exciting.
GK: You've followed a very independent path up until now.
How difficult would it be to turn down a multi-million dollar
offer from Hollywood?
Michael: Oh not difficult at all. If they wanted to make something
that we'd written, then we'd have to consider it. But we'd keep
it as close to us as possible, we'd resist the temptation to overspend
because we wouldn't want to make another Heaven's Gate.
Working with Hollywood wouldn't be all that different because
whatever budget or level you're working on, you tend to get the
same kind of problems.
The only real difference being that if you're working within Hollywood,
you have more money to throw at those problems. But that's not
always the best way to deal with complications.
We have been offered things by Hollywood, and some of them have
been very good, but for now we're happy to continue making indie