“(Untitled)” is a new film from director Jonathan Parker. It follows an obsessively experimental musician, his brother, a commercial painter, and a driven, uptight art gallerist who plants her heels between them. It’s about the dubious, two-headed nature of success, how everyone’s a critic and most of them are plain sad, and how perversely backward the New York art scene can be.
I sat down with stars Adam Goldberg and Marley Shelton on the fifth floor of the Palomar Hotel to talk about dressing up a low budget movie on a quick shooting schedule, big ambitions, and what a movie titled “(Untitled)” should be titled.
Adam is eating a bagel.
Marley: He won’t be able to hear anything you’re saying with his mouth full.
Me: Probably better than any shit questions I’ll ask.
Adam: Probably better than any shit answers I’ll be able to provide you with. You always get misquoted with these things anyway.
Marley: Maybe he’ll smart you up a little bit.
Adam: That’s been my request lately. Feel free to misquote me if you can find a way to make me more articulate and cogent.
Me: What grade level vocabulary do you want?
Adam: Right. Let’s do senior year in high school.
Knock on the door.
Adam: You like how I’m letting the pregnant lady get up and get the door?
Adam and I talk about whether or not The Flaming Lips have the official state song of Oklahoma or not.
In walks director Jonathan Parker, and screenwriter Catherine Di Napoli.
Adam: So anyway, he knew what he was doing and I was drunk.
Confusion. I laugh
Jonathan Parker: So how’s everything going?
Adam: Good. We’re all just sitting around being tape recorded.
Me: Oh, right. I should mention….
Adam: This is a straight transcription. No paraphrasing of anything, so it’ll be riveting stuff.
Jonathan: Well we’ll let you carry on.
Adam: I’m calling the film Bill Hangs Out In Chelsea, so I hope that’s good.
Jonathan: Yeah. We’ll go with that.
Me: You guys are trying to fix the problem that a movie called (Untitled) is incredibly hard to search for online.
Adam: Maybe call it Parenthetically Untitled?
Jonathan: Untitled: That’s The Name Of The Movie?
Adam: Untitled: The Adam Goldberg Project?
Laughs. They leave.
Adam: My pinched nerve has switched, literally, it has shifted over to my left side now. So now it’s a shooting pain down the right side and then a shooting pain coming out of the left side. So it has now completely laterally encompassed me.
Marley: Oh that’s a drag.
Me: Well I guess I should ask something about the movie.
Adam: Pointing back toward the door. What was that all about?
Me: This is good cause maybe we just answered it, but it’s a very fun, funny movie. What was the mood like on set?
Me: … It was just like this?
Adam: It was just like THAT.
Me: All bagels and ginger ale?
Adam: Wha? Are w? Uh? Wh? Like literally, it was just like that. So however you need to, I mean that’s not a judgment, it was JUST like that. So however you want to extrapolate.
Marley: There was a kind of immediate, I felt like, natural rapport between the cast. We kind of all hit the ground running and it felt pretty seamless, don’t you think?
Adam: Yeah, it was very collaborative. It was like a lot of switching things, coming up with new orders of scenes in a very spontaneous way and lots and lots of talk and conversation. I mean it was hard. It was a lot to do. All these little things are always really hard because you have so little time and I think that makes you invest slightly more so it’s the combination of investing more emotionally and then having less time to do it, and being more exhausted. Sometimes it’s like you’re trying to turn water into wine because you just don’t have the time to really facilitate that kind of reflection that you need to pull these things off. It’s always amazing to me that these things make any sense at all, cohere at all, and can actually be a movie. It’s a miracle.
Marley: One of the things that kind of gave it that flavor and that was unique to this experience was the sort of creative economy that the filmmakers had. We weren’t answering to anybody. It was a real independent experience. And there wasn’t a lot of improvisation.
Adam: I’ve never improvised on anything so little, ever.
Marley: There weren’t financiers that said you have to have this person or do this or make it need this trailer moment.
Adam: Because it was financed with fairy dust. So we did whatever the hell we wanted.
Adam: Jesus…you know, ordained the project.
Marley: Oh just eat your bagel. Next question please.
Me: Marley, you wear some awesome outfits in the movie.
Marley: Thanks. Yeah, actually that part of creating Madeleine was a blast for me because I got to really be hands on. We had a limited budget and a really collaborative costume designer, and I got to sort of get really involved and pull favors from friends of mine in the fashion industry. She’s such an externalized person and it’s so about her presentation.
Adam: It’s another one of those great things, where you’re making a movie for not a lot of money, relatively speaking. It’s always difficult where you’re dealing with a world that’s got an expensive context and feel to it. Your whole look is so striking that it goes a long way in actually selling the production value of the film.
Marley: The visual style is so sparse and spare and simple. There’s really not a lot of bells and whistles with anything that they did. So these things really pop because everything else is so static.
Me: I think Adam, probably like you, I’m kind of brooding. I overthink everything.
Me: Is that accurate?
Me: This is gonna sound like I have delusions of grandeur or something.
Adam: I have them. So you’re on track there.
Me: I’m sort of obsessed with “greatness,” doing the best that I can, which plays a part in the movie as well. For you guys as actors, in your professional careers, what stage of that process are you at? Is it a heavy influence? Is it something you’re just sick of?
Adam: Really interesting that you ask because I had a very long conversation with my girlfriend the other night about this and how I’ve had to radically alter my expectations and the lofty grandeur of my goals. I’ve been saying this for years and saying it and doing it are two different things. Talk about being zen all you want and of course it’s antithetical to the actual process of being it, but I really started to realize that it can really thwart what you are as a creative person. I feel like I’ve managed to manage the expectations of my ambition, the results of my ambitions or whatever, but it’s difficult because it goes back so far. It really goes back to being a kid and having an extremely specific idea, like a really, really specific idea of exactly what I’d be doing by a certain age and how I’d be doing it and exactly how it would be perceived. And it wasn’t crazy or insane.
Me: You didn’t want to be Will Smith.
Adam: Right, exactly. I’ve scratched surfaces of it. I’ve dabbled in my dreams. But I would say that’s the extent to which I’ve actually come to realize what I’d imagined as a teenager. I’m still haunted by that a little bit. It’s like as soon as I can put that stuff to bed, you know, stop giving a shit what people think about me. Not pretending not to give a shit but really to stop giving a shit what people think about me and stop comparing myself to other people or against this idealized version of my older self I had when I was 14 or 15 years old, then I will be truly liberated, and not until that day.
Marley: It’s a wrestling match with yourself. I think anyone who is a big dreamer and has aspirations and vision, you’re gonna get caught in that.
Adam: I actually find something exciting about the management of expectations in way because there’s something that feels like that’s almost a bigger accomplishment. To me it’s the idea that you could sort of shift gears and become like a good live-r, a person who could actually live their life instead of constantly trying to remove themselves from their existence and create this totally artificial parallel existence. I think that would be the greater accomplishment. Strangely sexy in its not sexiness.
Marley: I’ve been conscious of the opposite lately. I wish I knew then what I know now. I didn’t have such a specific vision of my future when I was young and if I could go back and if only I’d been more specific when I was young. If I could apply everything I’ve learned now and go back, I’d be like a killer.
Adam: But I had such a specific idea. And not only have I not necessarily achieved the success that I had imagine I would in whatever form that took, but there are certain things as you know that I do that I don’t even really even wanna be doing. So now what the fuck do I do? So I’m having, not a midlife crisis, but a full-fledged identity crisis the likes of which I should have had when i was 15 or 16 or 18 or 19.
Marley: That’s so funny. It’s the exact opposite side of that coin.
Adam: Well, that’s why we get along.
Me: Speaking of things that you wanna be doing or don’t wanna be doing. Can you talk a little bit about what you guys are doing now?
Marley: Pointing to her pregnant belly. Well I’m on production. Unless there’s some amazing role for a five and a half month pregnant lady.
Adam: Rosemary’s Baby? You’ve got the Mia Farrow thing and I’ve got the Cassavetes obsession. I’ve wanted you to cut your hair. It’s perfect.
Me: Gina Rowlands is speaking in a couple days.
Adam: Oh I saw that. So much cool shit going on. And the thing is I’ve never actually attended anything at a film festival except my own- you know, it’s a joke. There’s all this great stuff here and I’m flying home today.
Marley: You should stay.
Adam: I can’t, got the animals.
(you can see a longer version with slightly more substance over on my personal blog.)