David Gordon Green on Prince Avalanche, Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch & Pineapple Express 2

Writer-director David Gordon Green’s latest film, the beautifully subtle and comedic Prince Avalanche, follows an odd couple across a barren expanse of burnt-out Texas wilderness. Alvin (Paul Rudd) is meditative and stern, while his girlfriend’s brother Lance (Emile Hirsch) is dopey and insecure.

The pair leave the city behind to spend the summer in solitude, repainting traffic lines down the centre of a country highway ravaged by wildfire. As they begin their journey across the landscape, swapping stories and butting heads, an unlikely friendship forms.

With Prince Avalanche in UK cinemas on 18 October, Flicks And The City spoke to David Gordon Green about casting curveballs, 1980s memories, new movies Manglehorn and Little House on the Prairie, and whether we’re likely to see a Pineapple Express 2.

Prince Avalanche is based on an Icelandic film called Either Way, but you’ve said it was a very personal project for you. Why is that?

It’s personal in a lot of ways. I look at both of these characters as voices of myself challenging me each day, not the younger more obnoxious me and the older wiser me, but I’m 38 years old and I feel both of these guys are very much a part of my psyche – regaining the youth, or seeking the wisdom, or desperate to appear like I’m something more profound than I really am. In all these things, I find a sense of strange comedy and elements of myself, so they were very identifiable and a bit self-indulgent characters to write.

Also, I transcribed a lot of conversations I’d had, in a strange reflective way, which kind of made it personal as some of the things that are said in the film had literally been said to me, like the phone call between Paul’s character and [his girlfriend] Madison back home, and that’s pretty much a verbatim conversation I had with a girl that really resonated with me talking about how I’m always leaving and I don’t know how to commit to a relationship. So, I’m very much trying to draw from personal experience and emotion. I think a select group of females I’ve been in a relationship with or buddies who know me really well when I wear my heart on my sleeve will recognise some of the strange signatures of the project.

What reaction have you had to the film from those people who know you well?

I think they see it as what it is, which is something you make when no one is looking. It’s like, writing a song is easy for a musician because you just pick up a guitar and you feel something in the moment and you can strum it out. As a filmmaker, I wanted to strip down the process to be as quick and efficient and honest and immediate as it could possibly be. And this movie’s the result of that, so people who know me well recognise those efforts, those dramatic elements, or even those specific choices about my life.

You throw a bit of a casting curveball by having Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch take on roles audiences haven’t really seen them play before, just as you did with James Franco in Pineapple Express. How much fun was that?

I love that you mentioned Franco because I take great pride in that. And I take pride, ultimately, in non-traditional casting. It may be something subtle like Amy Sedaris in a dramatic film like Snow Angels, or any number of unlikely candidates I’ve thought made the perfect choice for a film.

But with Paul and Emile, these are guys I’ve known socially for a while and I knew these were sides to them personally. I’ve known Paul for 10 years and Emile for probably 7, so I see the intimate side of Paul, and the funny, outgoing, ridiculous side of Emile.

People who know Emile well say this is the first movie that’s captured the strange side of his character that he’s not unleashed in a movie before. In terms of an industry, it’s a strange move for him. But it’s great for all three of us – it’s something that, if you know us, it makes perfect sense; if you don’t, you can scratch your head a little bit.

The film’s set in the 1980s – what are your memories of that period?

I was really beginning to be affected by film and storytelling and started camping and spending a lot of time outdoors, so I think a lot of my character was built in that time period. And for the film it seems really applicable to be able to walk into a chapter of life or civilisation where you don’t have cell phones, blackberries and internet. Communication is, for me, more intimate when you have a handwritten letter and you’re waiting for days in the mail to receive it. You smell the fingerprints on it.

It’s just so much more personal than the world we live in now, which is about efficiency and how quickly you can get information across or how you can abbreviate it in a text message or email. I really like the emotional side of exploring sentiments that live and breathe and take a little longer and don’t feel so knee-jerk, aren’t so instantaneous or passive aggressive. It just feels that much more personal.

Another film of yours, Joe, premiered at Venice this summer. You’ve spoken about it as a great companion piece for Prince Avalanche. How conscious a decision was it to make those two films together?

I don’t think any of it was conscious, but I made them back-to-back. One certainly has a lighter wit to it, and the other is a dark and violent story but has a similar backdrop. We shot Joe about a mile from where we shot Prince Avalanche, but it’s a different side of life. Avalanche is about the destruction of trees through a natural catastrophe. Joe’s about the death of trees because of industry and people coming in to poison trees so they can develop them and turn them into paper. It’s two sides of man in conflict with their environment; they just happen to have a very similar background.

What can we expect from you next?

I’m getting started on this movie called Manglehorn, which I’m excited about. It’s a love story about Al Pacino trying to reconnect with his wife after giving up his life of crime and trying to become a normal guy in society. And I’ve got a lot of strange ideas for some more movies I’m developing – I’ve actually got another version of the Icelandic movie Either Way that I’m developing. And Little House On The Prairie. I’ve got a ton of stuff: few comedic pieces I’m working on; I’ve got an animated series that starts in January; so I’ve got my hands full. And I do a lot of commercials as well. I do a lot of things so I can exercise all sorts of different interests I have and explore the various curiosities and strange things this industry opens me up to.

What would the other version of Either Way involve?

Avalanche is one version of Either Way, it takes it in one direction, and there’s another idea I have that takes it in a different direction. I thought it’d be a curious project to make the other version, to take the experience and experiment of making the choices I made for Prince Avalanche, which was engineered a bit more for its lightness and wit, and then to have the other side and make the other choices and see what the film would be like if I made the choices I didn’t make this time around.

Are we talking about the same setting?

It would be in another country and another culture. It could be Australia, it could be UK, it could be, I don’t know, Turkey. I get a little worried thinking about other languages because I’m not sure how I’ll gauge performances, so I’m trying to think about what I could do within a little bit more of my wheelhouse, but I could probably get away with something weird. [Laughs]

You mentioned you’re working on a film of Little House on the Prairie.

The screenwriter Abi Morgan is writing that for me right now, based on the book series. So, we’re starting to develop it with [producer] Scott Rudin and Sony. It’s a book I grew up with and I really love that time in American history. If you consider the books, more so than the TV series, it really is about the struggle and hardship a family goes through in a pretty telling time for our culture. So, it’s something I wanted to explore historically and we have a great take on the tale. It has wonderful characters and it’s based on true stories from Laura Ingalls Wilder that I was really drawn to in my youth. I looked back at them recently and thought they were very profound, very grown-up, very thematically inspiring stories.

I heard you’re working on something with Compliance director Craig Zobel too.

Yeah, I was just talking to Craig today! We’re working on a couple of things – one I’m not specifically involved in but I’m trying to help him on; and then we’ve got a couple of things we’re working on collaboratively – he’s producing my new movie so he’ll be coming out to Austin next week to give me a hand on this one. It’s just fun to have guys like that who are your best friends and great collaborators.

And Craig isn’t the only friend you’ve worked with a number of times.

Absolutely, you know it’s great to work with Craig, Danny McBride, Jeff Nichols, and so many of the guys I went to school with. We support each other and want to make this a profession that doesn’t work any differently than when we were at film school – we always want to have those ambitions and insecurities and things that keep us hungry about what we’re doing. I think it’s great to have a group of friends who call you on your shit and crack the whip on your ego and all those things that can get out of hand. Most directors I know can be pretty maniacal at times, so it’s great to have a group of friends you can turn to creatively and socially.

Speaking of Danny McBride… after seeing Seth Rogen, James Franco and Danny’s idea of what Pineapple Express 2 would look like in This Is The End, I’m wondering what are the chances we’ll see you hop on board for a feature-length Pineapple Express 2?

I spent some time on set for This Is The End and when I saw that footage it kind of inspired me to say ‘hey, we should do this now!’, but I was also like, ‘well, crap, you already did it!’ [laughs]. I don’t know, we always talk about ideas but we’re all four of us so busy that the idea of getting in sync on one project is pretty ambitious to think it’ll happen.

Prince Avalanche (15) is in UK cinemas on 18 October 2013.