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Director Tony Kaye’s long-awaited film ‘Detachment’ stars Academy Award winner Adrien Brody as Henry Barthes, a substitute teacher who conveniently avoids any emotional connections by never staying anywhere long enough to form a bond with either his students or colleagues.
A lost soul grappling with a troubled past, Henry finds himself at a public school where an apathetic student body has created a frustrated, burned-out administration. Inadvertently becoming a role model to his students, while also bonding with a runaway teen who is just as lost as he is, Henry finds that he’s not alone in a life and death struggle to find beauty in a seemingly vicious and loveless world.
How would you describe this film in a snapshot for someone who may not know anything about it?
Tony Kaye: To me, Detachment is a story about a man who is lost and in pain and tries to hide from the real problems of his existence by losing himself in the morals of the voices in his head, the real ones, the voices of god and the voices of the devil. He is constantly running away from facing the truth. He is covered by a huge black curtain that he cannot see. This curtain is his ego.
What about the material and screenplay made you want to direct this film?
Tony Kaye: I am interested in social issues. Detachment stands against and explores education. ‘American History X’ is a movie about the issue of racism. ‘Lake of Fire’ deals with abortion. I like big moral and social issues. I have a fourth movie called ‘Black Water Transit’ which is still unfinished; however, that movie is about environment, environment being everything.
I want to make movies that do more than entertain. Detachment is about family also, the importance of family, that family is everything. Detachment is about being a parent; Henry Barthes begins to find his way when he decides to embrace a future that involves the caring of a young lost soul, Erica.
Elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film as it has a very distinctive and stylized look.
Tony Kaye: I don’t consider my work to be stylized, however most people do think my moviemaking does have a distinct look. I try to just make things look real. I try to make situations have spectacle and truth. I try to capture emotions that are real. I hate acting. I hate things that don’t seem authentic.
People cry, people get angry, people whisper, people love and people hate. I simply try to put a microscope and a telescope and a radar logic scope to explore the mental and moral qualities distinctive to the individuals that stand before the camera and microphone.
The film features an ensemble cast comprised of both household names and newcomers. How did you cast the film?
Tony Kaye: The casting of the movie began with the casting of Erica. The runaway teenage hooker was the central pin for me in the story, she was the first brick in the wall, although my own daughter Betty had always been in my mind [for 3 years actually] to play Meredith. Betty is nothing like Meredith in real life, she is very confident and very strong and ultra-determined to succeed in life, but she has had a tough life, I walked out on my family when she was very young.
I was very selfish and filled with much ego, Betty was 5 years old and took it very badly, Ruby her sister was 2 and did not really get affected by my actions. Betty suffered much pain and I believe really brings that to the surface in her performance as Meredith.
I never really knew if I would be allowed to cast my daughter as one of the leads because I would be accused of nepotism or such, and I was quite prepared not cast her if I found somebody better [and would have risked her not talking to me for years], but the truth is she absolutely smoked the audition and she was way, way, way the best for the role, her acting was so damn real, I cry almost every time see the movie through.
However, as I said, Erica was the cornerstone of the picture because she was a character who connected with Henry, was a part of Henry. Meredith was not, Henry did not connect with Meredith, in a way Henry did not really care about Meredith.
I also have this notion of types, contrasting types, dark against light, controlled neurons against out of control neurons, black hair against brown hair or blonde hair. Sami Gayle [who plays Erica] had brown hair which to me implies an outward going nature, an out-of-control zone [or that's what I thought she could easily play], so I looked for a Henry Barthes with black hair, an in-control, a calm, contained person. I found that perfectly in Adrien Brody.
So I got him to run away from that. I got him to shout and scream and throw chairs around, I got him to break down and come back to being calm in the end, to be centered and in control, to becoming a parent. That was the arc of the character, the story of Detachment, Meredith took him to hell and back, that was my paradigm
Detachment will be release to limited theaters on March 16.
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