TIFF 2017 Exclusive: Garrett Hedlund Talks Dee Rees’ Mudbound

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TIFF 2017 Exclusive: Garrett Hedlund Talks Dee Rees’ Mudbound
Posted by Wilson Morales

September 19, 2017

Recently making its international debut at the Toronto International Film Festival was director Dee Rees‘ WWII indie drama ‘Mudbound,’ starring Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Garrett Hedlund, Rob Morgan and Jonathan Banks.

The film had its its World Premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and is also slated to screen at the New York Film Festival.

Mudbound will launch on Netflix and in select theaters on Friday, November 17.

Mudbound is based on Hillary Jordan’s 2008 novel of the same name, in which Virgil Williams wrote the screenplay with Rees.

Set in the post-WWII South, Mudbound is an epic story of two families pitted against a barbaric social hierarchy and an unrelenting landscape as they simultaneously fight the battle at home and the battle abroad. The film is about friendship, unacknowledged heritage and the unending struggle for and against the land.

Newly transplanted from the quiet civility of Memphis, the McAllan family is underprepared and overly hopeful for Henry’s (Jason Clarke) grandiose farming dreams. Laura (Carey Mulligan) struggles to keep the faith in her husband’s losing venture, meanwhile, for Hap (Rob Morgan) and Florence Jackson (Mary J. Blige), whose families have worked the land for generations, every day is a losing venture as they struggle bravely to build some small dream of their own. The war upends both families’ plans as their returning loved ones, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) forge a fast, uneasy friendship that challenges them all.

For Hedlund, this isn’t his first rodeo playing a soldier of sorts, having seen him in Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and now this film. With each role, he continues to shine as one of the best actors of his generation. In speaking exclusively with Blackfilm.com, Hedlund talks about his character, working with Dee Rees and the cast and what he’s looking to do next.

From Unbroken to Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk to this film, you are playing these characters that are part of the armed services lately, so what was the attraction to taking on this film?

Garrett Hedlund: I read the script before the book. It was very original, very heartfelt. Very emotional, very powerful. I saw that Dee was going to direct it. I watched Pariah. What she did with Pariah was so powerful and so engaging and she put you into these characters’ minds, and the way they shot that film. You can literally see the minds turning of this internal conflict of what these characters were going through. If I could work with a director that could take their time to allow you to explore, and not like in five seconds or less, I’m in. And also, her ability to do this in a wonderful independent film world. I thought the story was beautiful and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to work with Dee, Jason (Clarke), Jason (Mitchell), and Carey (Mulligan). There were a lots of facets within the story that I related to.

TORONTO, ON – SEPTEMBER 12: Garrett Hedlund attends the Gala Presentation of Mudbound at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Netflix)

How would you best describe Jamie?

Garrett Hedlund: Born in the wrong place at the wrong time. He wanted to be the next Errol Flynn and he had the charm at the beginning of the film and he had the aspirations. He just wanted to be an actor and he liked the attention that he got with how he composed himself. Then he goes off to war and like everyone else, the experience gives him something you can’t imagine. You can’t take back the damage you’ve done. In the book, it explored more on his missions. There’s a conversation with him and his father about how many enemies he took out. There’s a bit in the book that his mission was to not return back to base with any bombs left in the airplane. Whatever the mission was, if they got there and it was already completed, they had to drop those bombs on innocent towns and all over the place. Internally, he was dealing with a lot of guilt of what he had done in the air. He also ran away from the family for a reason, and when he comes back from what he experienced and he’s coming back to place he didn’t want to come back in the first place, there’s a great deal in trying to shut everything out. He wanted to shut the world out. He turned to booze and there’s a great deal of escapism he was performing.

Can you describe the friendship between Jamie and Ronsell and working with Jason (Mitchell)?

Garrett Hedlund: Soldiers are soldiers. You become brothers. There’s a kinship that will always form because you have to protect each other, and ultimately in the air, he was saved by a black pilot. That a big effect on him, but he came back and couldn’t talk about it. When my grandfather came back to the farm, he wouldn’t speak about the war. He spent his time on the tractor and the plow on the fields. He did that so that he wouldn’t have to burden anyone else with the demons and horrific sites he saw. That’s what Jamie is doing. He doesn’t want to exhaust himself by talking to his father. They were always at odds with each other. His father never respected him. He’d always called him a little girl, especially with his dreams of wanting to be an actor.

When he found this kinship within Jason’s character, they could go off and share their stories. It’s what soldiers do. They don’t talk about it much. They always said that the WWII generation was the “don’t talk about it” while the Vietnam folks were the boozers; and it’s the PTSD generation where’s a lot more support groups and people who can understand and help you deal with whatever is preventing you from sleep and also causing chaos in your life.

For me and Jason, it was a situation where both of us had been through a lot of situations in our lives that we were able to relate with each other. We tried to spend as much as the little time we had together to share stories and laugh and try tot bring some breathing room out of these scenes that could easily be so heavy. We tried to make it not sentimental, but as real and honest as possible.

You’ve played a soldier and you did a lot for Unbroken, but how did you immersed yourself into this character?

TORONTO, ON – SEPTEMBER 12: Garrett Hedlund attends the Gala Presentation of Mudbound at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Netflix)

Garrett Hedlund: The book was there. The book was amazing. In the book, there are a lot of voice-overs where you get a lot of insight to their mentality, and where they are psychologically in their geographical locations. Being in the sky and being a bomber pilot, I read a lot. Norman Mailer has a book called ‘A Higher Call,’ which Jason Clarke and I would get into. We’d known each other for a quite a few years and he wanted to experience a little more of the South. So, we flew into Memphis and did a drive. We spent six days at a little 1920s cabin in Greenwood, MS called Tallahatchie Flats. We just hung there and got to form a brotherhood that wasn’t there prior. We only hung with each other in passing if we had been in the same city. When you came on the set, you came not only to play but to connect and do something special. With Dee in charge and being the captain of the ship, you had a feeling it was going to be something special no matter if we had one shot or one take. With Rachel Morrison being the DP, everything was hand held and she’s there and in with you. Just like Pariah, you’re able to see what the hell is going on with the characters and the thought process and the mentality and their dilemmas. You get to see the pain and relate to it or see how someone deals with it in a way you have never experienced it before.

Garrett Hedlund, Mary J. Blige, Jason Mitchell, Dee Rees, Rob Morgan, Netflix’s Scott Stuber, and Jason Clarke attend the Mudbound after-party following the film’s Gala Presentation at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Netflix)

In working with Dee, what did you pick up from her that you can take to your next project?

Garrett Hedlund: It’s a combination of bravery and freedom. No matter if it’s a studio film or independent film, I would love to work with Dee in any facet because she always gives you the freedom to be brave and to be honest. After a take, you don’t have to ask for approval of anything because she’s called cut and we’re moving on. I don’t seek approval because she wanted us to be honest. We didn’t rehearse the scenes. We didn’t beat them till they were boring. She wanted to experience the characters through you. I think that was the best we could have been given. We were never bored we had to do. There was always room for spontaneity and surprised. We were allowed to improvise if needed be. She was promoting this honesty and emotion so much that it was infectious.

What do you want to do next?

Garrett Hedlund: I just want to do an endearing love story that is just heartfelt. The last film (“Burden”) I did I played a Klansman. I had to burn a cross. I’d like to do something on a wonderful island like Bali and have like Woody Allen hours (7 hours a day) and the rest of the day, you can sit by a Tiki hut and read a nice little book and be there with someone you love. That would be the dream situation. I have a lot of musician friends, who, after coming off stage and putting it all out there, they feel so high with so much gratification of the day. No matter how hard things might have been or how hard they had to work to get there or how many songs they had to do for a set or grilling it was, that’s the gratification. So, when I walk away from a day where it was so painful and fierce, and there was fight and tears and blood and sweat, I come back and it’s hard for me to sleep. Not because it was demons I had to go through to get there, but because I was glad I was able to work with a director who allowed me to put it all out there, and that’s what I feel was the best thing about Dee.


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