Editor's note: Little Rock native Jeff Nichols brought his all-star cast and a $10-million budget to the Arkansas Delta in 2011 to make the movie “Mud.” It stars A-list actors Reese Witherspoon and Matthew McConaughey and received early critical acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival.
For Nichols, the youngest of three brothers, his supportive family provided a foundation for his artistic pursuits. It’s paid dividends as his previous two movies — “Shotgun Stories” and “Take Shelter” — have also been warmly received.
“Mud” is expected to propel Nichols’ career to new heights, and it will likely cast a favorable light on Arkansas’ burgeoning film infrastructure. Nichols, 33, sat down for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the tailend of the June Little Rock Film Festival to discuss his rising success.
TBQ: Your movie, “Mud,” has received pretty favorable reviews out of the chute. Has it been what you expected?
Jeff Nichols: No, it hasn’t been what I expected. I really didn’t know how people would respond to this film — you never know how people will respond to a film — but it’s been interesting the way people judge it and review it.
They’ve reviewed it, not in competition, but off of “Take Shelter,” and that’s been kind of surprising to me. I’ve never had that before because I’ve never had a film that people judge the history of. Even with “Shotgun Stories,” people would refer to “Shotgun Stories” but they never pitted the two against each other the way that’s happening. That’s been an interesting way to look at the reviews and to look at the film.
TBQ: Did “Mud” meet your expectations? Did it come together in the way you hoped that it would?
Nichols: I love this film. I got to make this film the exact way that I wanted to, with the exact people I wanted to make it with, and I’m thrilled. I just hope we can get it to the audience that hopefully will enjoy it. That’s the big X-factor right now.
But as far as I’m concerned, personally, professionally and creatively, I’m more than satisfied. I really like this movie, and I haven’t even looked at my other two films that way because I didn’t really have the time, perspective, age or experience, but with this film, it just does and says a lot of what I really wanted to do. I’m proud of it.
TBQ: What’s the next phase for the movie? Is it up to the studio to promote it in a way to help it find the audience that you h
ope it speaks to?
Nichols: Yes. There’s a big discussion about: does it come out this year? Does it come out next year? This year is really, really dense with awards competition and everything else. We’re having that discussion amongst the people who are involved in the movie and with potential distributors. Right now, there are way too many variables in play to know what’s really going to happen, but the one thing we can hope for and fight for is that we land with the right distributor — a person who is not only passionate about the film, but has an intelligent idea for releasing it.
TBQ: How was Arkansas to work with? Was the crew, logistics and infrastructure what you were looking for? Was it all up to speed for this level of movie?
Nichols: Yes and no. To give a completely honest answer, the infrastructure needs to be grown, which is the whole point of why we’re here and why Christopher Crane at the state film commission is working so hard. You don’t start from scratch. You don’t just show up and there’s film infrastructure. The people who work in film who were here were amazing, and we couldn’t have completed the film without them. Could we have used a dozen more? Absolutely, and do we hope that’s the case after a few more films are here? Yes, please.
That’s why I say yes and no. It felt like a state that’s in its infancy in terms of film production, but the things that are here are really inspiring and really exciting; hopefully they continue to grow and be fostered.
TBQ: Maybe with your next movie, we’ll be in our adolescence. How about that?
Nichols: (laughing) I can’t wait. I hope so.
TBQ: What is next for you? Is it marketing “Mud” at this time or do you have other projects on the horizon?
Nichols: I’m going to put as much energy as I can into this film, which is a unique thing because the last two films I didn’t. I think by the time they came out, like with “Shotgun Stories,” I just didn’t know. With “Take Shelter,” I was making “Mud,” so I split my focus, which I somewhat regret. I don’t regret making “Mud,” I just regret not being able to put everything into “Take Shelter.” So with this film, I’m fully available, for the time being. This year, my plan is to not necessarily make another film — although anything can happen — but it won’t be one of my own, I can tell you that much. I just signed a deal to sit and write a screenplay, one of my own. So my plan is to go back to Texas and just write and enjoy my family.