Interview w/ Carlos Cuarón

A dirty soccer ball is plowed through by a player’s foot, the impact looks like a bag of flour was ripped open, its contents wafting through the air like a miniature dustbowl. But behind the rowing of legs, the zipping of penalty kicks, and the branding of grass stains, Carlos Cuarón is crafting one of the most endearing films of the early year. Known for christening bushels of blank paper with the ink of a typewriter,Cuarón’s dialogue has a penchant for humor and realism. The celebrated screenwriter, whose work includes an Academy Award nomination for penning the coming of age drama Y tu mamá también with his brother, Alfonso, makes his directorial debut with this year’s Rudo y Cursi, a film about brotherhood and soccer. Working with Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, Cuarón’s partners in crime, Rudo y Cursi sports some of the best – most innovative – ideas this year.


Robert: When did you first get the idea to write Rudo y Cursi?

Carlos: It was a long time ago. I got the idea two years before Y tu Mama Tambien. The movie was a very different idea. I wanted to make a movie about a kid, from a humble background, who made it big because of his success. I told this idea to Diego and Gael separately, and they both said they wanted to be that guy – and that was great, except for that I had one character and two actors. I realized I wanted to work with both of them again, after Y tu Mama Tambien, so I made up a brother for the movie. We told them that the movie was shifting in form. Gael’s first reaction was that, no, he couldn’t be Cursi, he wanted to be Rudo. I told him that I didn’t want to repeat myself, that I didn’t want to make Y tu mamá también 2; I wanted to make something completely original.


You’ve always had great success as a writer. What did it finally feel like to direct your own film?

It felt great. It was also nice to have help from my brother, Alfonso, during the shooting of the film. The whole experience felt great and organic. I guess the best way to describe it was that I was just a buoy in the current.


Rudo y Cursi was the first film released by Cha Cha Cha. Was it exciting for you to have the production company’s first release?

Yeah. It was a surprise to me, because when I first pitched the [movie] idea to Alfonso he told me that he’d help produce the thing. One day, when I finished the script, he called me and asked what I thought about him and Alejandro [Iñárritu] helping me. I thought to myself, “What? Are you kidding me?” Then he explained to me that he formed the production company Cha Cha Cha. I think it was a very organic thing to me because in the mid-nineties, when I was having dinner with Alfonso and Guillermo [del Toro] we talked about me directing a film – this was a surprise to me, because I only saw myself as a writer. Two months later Alejandro gave me my first job filming a documentary on Mexican tourists, which was more like an infomercial. But it was funny that these three guys were my producers, and now I have to blame them for me becoming a director.


There were a lot of difficult looking soccer shots. Did Gael or Diego have any prior soccer experience before the shoot?

Gael and Diego played soccer all their lives. The only difference is that Diego had never played a goalie, so he had to train. Diego was a defender or a striker, so he had to be taught how to be a goalie. Both of the guys had to train for three months to get fit. We really wanted to make them look like real players. We don’t see that much soccer in the film; most of it is off camera. The reason for this is that when I was writing the script I didn’t want to make a sports movie or a soccer movie. I wanted to make a movie about brotherhood, and I felt that soccer was getting in the way. One day I was watching Funny Games – which is the most violent film I’ve ever seen – and the violence is off camera. I got the idea that the action on the field and in the stands should not be seen. Another thing is that soccer, which is obviously a sport I love, is not a dramatic sport. For drama you need a pause, that’s why baseball is a dramatic sport; in between a pitch so many things are happening. In soccer nothing ever really stops, except for the moments where there is a penalty kick. The penalty kick is the only moment soccer allows to make drama out of. The penalty kick is a big part of the movie for the brothers.


The cover of the Cheap Trick Song “I Want You to Want Me” is covered by Gael in the movie. What made you select this song, specifically, to be Cursi’s anthem?

Well, I needed a song for this guy. I wanted it to be a rock or a pop hit from the past. The producers wanted me to use a newer song, but I didn’t want to do that, so they eventually let me pick my own song. I wanted to use Echo and the Bunnymen or Foreigner. What some of these songs have in common is that they’re funny love songs with very silly lyrics. So one day I was driving my kids to school and “I Want You to Want Me” came on the radio and, to my surprise, I started to sing it in Spanish. Of course my kids thought I was crazy, but once the song finished, I knew the song had to be it. The reason I chose the song was because of the lyrics. “I want you to want me” seem to be sung by someone who has obvious attention problems, and this trait fit Cursi perfectly.


Everything is going so well for the film. How did you feel that your film had the biggest opening weekend in Mexican history?

I didn’t expect it obviously. The real success of any filmmaker is to be on the set or to be writing. I didn’t expect any compliments, but I accept them as they come. But it is better to hear that your film is doing well instead of hearing that it flopped.


Gael and Diego deliver your dialogue so well, do you see yourself working with them again?

I would love to work with them again, whether together or separately. But truly speaking, if they would be willing to make another picture again, maybe eight or nine years down the road, I’d definitely do it.


Did you draw from your own relationship with your brother when writing Rudo y Cursi?

What Rudo y Cursi share in common with us is that we’re both totally stupid. When Alfonso and I are together we tease each other, but the rest is not like us.


What scene was the most difficult and rewarding scene to shoot?

For me everything is difficult to shoot. The stadium was the most difficult, I think. You had to deal with getting the light just right, and getting all of the extras together. We also had to worry about weather conditions. To capture the feel of your story is always hard.

Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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