Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Interviews

Interview: Jeff Nichols, director of ‘Mud’

Mud (Lionsgate), the third film from Jeff Nichols, is a story of childhood adventure steeped in the rural culture of life on the Mississippi and the mythology of Huckleberry Finn, but this boy’s adventure is also tangled in the world of adults and family bonds.

Matthew McConaughey is the man called Mud, a scruffy but affable outlaw planning a romantic flight with his girlfriend (Reese Witherspoon) while thugs and cops alike hunt for him, but the story belongs to Ellis (Tye Sheridan), an anxious young teenager whose parents are splitting up. As his life gets upended, he invests all his idealism into this romantic adventure, creating his own tall tale with real-world dangers and consequences. It’s lovely and moving and deeply rooted in a culture slowly disappearing in the 21st century, a culture that writer / director Jeff Nichols brings out like another character in the film.

Nichols made his feature debut with Shotgun Stories, shot in his native Arkansas and starring Michael Shannon, and followed it with the acclaimed Take Shelter, a harrowing psychological drama starring Shannon and Jessica Chastain set in the economic instability of rural life in Ohio. Mud brings him back to Arkansas, with bigger stars and a bigger budget but the same commitment to character and place.

Mud arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday, August 6, with director commentary, four featurettes with the cast and crew, and a bonus UltraViolet digital copy for download and instant streaming. Also available on digital, On Demand, and VOD.

We talked with Mr. Nichols in advance of the home video release about “Mud,” making films outside of Hollywood, the legacy of life on the Mississippi, and of course what he’s been watching.

Jacob Lofland, Matthew McConaughey and Tye Sheridan in ‘Mud’

Mud is your third feature, and you’ve shot all three films on in rural southern locations. This was in your home state of Arkansas, is that right?

Yes, it’s my second film shot in Arkansas. Take Shelter was written for Arkansas but we had to take it to Ohio because that’s where the producer was.

One thing the most compelling things about all three of your films is that they are so deeply rooted in the culture and landscape and people of those places.

It’s part of the design. In Shotgun Stories, it was almost born out of necessity. That’s the area I had access to, that’s where I always knew I was going to make my first film, and we didn’t have enough money or anything else to build any artifice around it. We had to use all of the real locations and real people that we had access to. But in going through that experience, I realized all the benefits that came from it. As my budgets have gotten bigger, I’m faced with how do I protect from the artifice of making movies and how do I root them in reality and naturalism? Even if the movies themselves, like Mud, have these fantastic elements, they all need to be tied down to reality in some way and it starts through writing. I’m thinking about the places that I’m writing, I’m thinking about what the people look like, what they dress like, what they walk and talk like. That all begins on the page and then it’s just… I would call it a discipline that you apply to each department throughout the filmmaking process.

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