Interviews

Dennis Cooper

Dennis Cooper & Zac Farley, Permanent Green Light, 2018, color, sound, 91 minutes.

After his move to Paris from Los Angeles in 2005, writer Dennis Cooper’s words made the leap from the page to the stage and—more recently—to the big screen. Together with his collaborator, director/writer Zac Farley, he has created two films as disquieting and eloquent as the George Miles Cycle, the five novels—Closer, Frisk, Try, Guide, and Period—that brought Cooper acclaim as one of America’s singular and transgressive literary voices. Here, Cooper talks about the genesis of Permanent Green Light, his second feature with Farley, which premieres at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York as part of the series “Dennis Cooper Carte Blanche,” running September 5 and 6.

THE ORIGINAL IMPETUS for Permanent Green Light was this news story about an Australian boy named Jake Bilardi who just disappeared, and no one knew what happened to him. As it turned out, he had joined ISIS, and was living in Syria. What was interesting was that there was absolutely no sign at all as to why he would do this. He wasn’t religious. He had no ideology, or politics, or anything. He was just kind of a nerdy white kid from Australia. ISIS ultimately used him to carry out a suicide mission that failed: He only blew himself up. What interested me was not the ISIS thing at all, but the question: What if he had really wanted to disappear, so he chased this really loaded context that would erase him? That was really interesting to me and Zac. We talked about it and ended up building the film around a similar young male character.

Zac and I had this really clear vision and wanted the film to be very direct and yet very elliptical, and to force an enormous degree of intimacy with the characters. The film is also very language based. People don’t make films where language is important anymore, and language is extremely important here. The characters don’t say anything that isn’t necessary to the story. For me, obviously, Robert Bresson is kind of my god in general, and now that I’m working in films you probably see that influence more. I was very careful not to make it an homage, but we also make use of silence and the fact that the only music in the film can also be heard by the characters. And then there are other things like introverted performances where the performers reveal things but not through what they’re trying to reveal, you know?

I hate acting. Watching people do this acting stuff drives me nuts. We wanted to work with nonactors exclusively, because we didn’t want the performers to ever seem like they’re faking it. But the main role—Roman—is such an incredibly difficult, complex role, and the character has this trajectory in the way he reveals himself, so we cast Benjamin Sulpice, a student of acting in Paris, and he is amazing. And Théo Cholbi is a professional actor known in France. He was in Larry Clark’s last film, The Smell of Us (2014). But most of the others didn’t have any experience. There were a couple of dancers, and some kids we found: The guy who plays Léon's friend, Milo Riquart, was the first person we cast, and the girl who plays Léon, Rose Mousselet, is the daughter of a friend. They had never acted before, and were wonderful to work with because they understood immediately what we wanted and gave fantastic performances.

We’re just finishing the script for our next film, and although the central concerns are the same, it’s pretty different. Zac and I are both really obsessed with American home-haunts, which is when a family turns their home into a haunted house. They make it all themselves, by hand, and charge their neighbors to walk through. So the next project is set in the house of a family who’s turning their house into a home-haunt, but in France, so no one really knows what’s going on. It’s really about the house being made and how it’s constructed, but then, of course, a lot of really strange things happen inside of it.

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