Originally aired June 2015 on BBOX Radio from Brooklyn, NY.
Interview edited for length and clarity. Audio available upon request. All rights reserved.
We're joined this evening by Bill Pohlad. He was the Executive Producer of Brokeback Mountain and the Producer of both12 Years a Slave and Into the Wild. We talked about what went into his newest film Love and Mercy.
Jesse Regis: The casting for this movie was absolutely incredible. The guys look just like The Beach Boys. Was it hard to find these actors?
Bill Pohlad: It was a bit of a challenge. First of all, Paul Dano was perfect right out of the box in so many different ways. When we started thinking about actors in that age range it's not hard to come up with Paul Dano. He comes up pretty quickly, for me anyway. At the time, I kind of fell in love with him, and the whole concept of him doing a role like this - something more sympathetic and equally complex as a lot of the other roles he's been so great in – it was just exciting.
Then, after we cast him, to find out that he actually could sing pretty great, and could do such a great job with it was just fantastic and exciting. To find the rest of them – we always knew we weren't going to find five guys who could sing like The Beach Boys, so it was nice to be able to have access and rights to the original recordings so that took some of it off of us, but it was still hard to find people who would relate back to the original characters. I never wanted to do any prosthetics or anything false that would make people look artificially like The Beach Boys. Thankfully we had people who echoed the spirit and physically had some relationship, and also did a great job, but it was not easy for sure.
JR: A good part of the film deals with Brian's mental illness. How did you balance telling the story of Brian's mental illness with the story of Brian the musician.
BP: Oh, I don't know. It's one of those things when you're in the thick of it you're just trying to do the best job you can. You're always kind of trying to check yourself. [Writer Oren Moverman] and I had a developed a great relationship by that point. It felt really good to be able to bounce ideas – well does this seem like a good idea, or are we going off on the wrong road, here? It's always nice to have somebody like that to go back and forth with. But, the music really attracted me.
I've always been a big music fan so the idea of recreating the Pet Sounds sessions or the Good Vibrations sessions was exciting in and of itself. But, to also get the other side, the human side of Brian on a human scale with his mental challenges, that was equally, if not more so of importance to me. I hope that the movie gets out there and people see it and they come away with an appreciation for Brian and his music, his legacy, and his genius, but to also be able to come away with some thought and question for people who suffer from those sorts of challenges and how we treat them.
JR: I know you have a pretty decent working relationship with Brian. Was there any getting to know you period between you two? Between you and his wife? I can't imagine him trusting you to tell his story without being comfortable and building some sort of relationship.
BP: Yeah, Brian is a very private person in a lot of ways. He has a very public job. He is a person who has never been comfortable with the spotlight and now even when he isn't comfortable in social situations he's doing a great job. But, that's not where his center is. His center really is music. He will always gravitate towards that. Melinda [Ledbetter] in a lot of ways is still, and has been, and still is, Brian's protector.
They were both very involved in the project and the key thing, as we talked about early on, is that they have to find some trust in whoever is going to tell their story. To be able to spend time with them. As far as verbal interchange and time spent, I've certainly spent a lot more time in the process with Melinda than Brian because he doesn't really gravitate towards that. But, I've also spent enough time with him. He was the perfect partner in this in the sense that he has a very childlike purity about him and is very trusting once you get over a certain hump. He'll allow it to happen without letting his ego try to take over the process.
Yet, he's there and available to draw on, and keep us on track, and make sure we're not drifting or doing something that wasn't the way it was. It was a great partnership between all three of us, honestly. Melinda and Brian were great in this regard.
JR: There must be a dozen filmmakers out there who would have loved to do this story. I'm sure Brian is being pitched to do projects all the time. What was it about this film that made him jump on board and say ok, you're the guy, I want to do this?
BP: I don't know, you'd have to ask him! What had happened, to be honest, was that there was a project floating around called Heroes and Villains. The script had been put together by John Wells and Claire Rudnick Polstein and Brian was already somewhat on board, but that was a little more traditional of a biopic. I came on board and kind of wanted to change that and make it different than what it had been and honestly make it more intimate. That means that they're going to be more vulnerable too and open to more of their lives. So, it was really sitting down with Brian and letting him know that and allowing the process to happen and getting comfortable with that.
JR: The guy I went to this with was absolutely convinced that Brian Wilson was the engineer in the control booth in the recreated studio sessions you did. Was there any consideration to put him in the movie just to have fun with it, or was it like you said earlier in that that's not where Brian's head is at?
BP: I don't think it was that. I have a huge and untold respect for Brian and also for his privacy and all that. He never expressed anything like that. Sometimes it can cheapen a film. I didn't push it because it wasn't a part of my sensibility and my sensibility for him. Coincidently though, the guy in the booth was Mark Linett. When we wanted to try to recreate all the studio sequences we wanted to make sure we were on track and Mark Linett is actually Brian's alchemist. He's been his engineer now for a long time. He was the one who put together the Pet Sounds sessions and the Smile sessions. He knows all of the material and certainly knows the process. We cast him as Chuck Britz, who was the engineer back then. There is a reality to that whole situation. I love that story. Plus he kept us on track in a great way.