The filmmaker named Quentin Dupieux, also known as the musician named Mr. Oizo, is best known for Rubber, a low-budget movie about a tire that comes to life and discovers psychokinetic powers that it proceeds to use for evil. But beyond that, the movie is also a self-commentary on the oddness of such a movie existing and the reasons (or lack thereof) why characters do what they do onscreen.
His newest film, Wrong, is initially about a lost dog, but it’s also about the things we take for granted, however weird they may look to others. In a world where it rains indoors and palm trees magically turn into pines, it’s more mundane things like an absent pet that become truly disturbing.
It’s a tough one to describe in a brief introduction. Hence the need for a longer conversation with the man behind it.
Luke Y. Thompson: I loved both this and Rubber, and I feel like there’s almost an opposite theme going on between them. In Rubber, it was all about how there was no reason for anything, and in this one, it feels like there is a reason for everything you don’t think about, but it’s a really weird one. Am I off base, or was that something you had in mind?
Quentin Dupieux: No, that was not in my mind, but I think it’s quite a good way to approach this movie. Basically when you do something, and you’re happy with it, you really need to do something different. So probably, yes, because I was really pleased with Rubber, I needed to do something very different.
LYT: Is it more of an intuitive process for you? Is it like you feel what feels right for the story, rather than really thinking intellectually about what something is? More of an emotional than an intellectual process of creativity?
QD: Yeah. I know I’m writing consumed with what I’m not thinking. It’s like painting. I feel it. It’s also like music. Sometimes you just feel it, and you know it is right. You don’t know why. I’m not trying to be clever, I’m not trying to think too much, because that’s not my thing.
LYT: Is that hard to convey to actors who sometimes want to know everything about their motivation?
QD: Not really, because I think the script was quite clear, and when you read it and you like it, I think you don’t even need to answer those questions. So my approach is to be simple when we’re filming. We, of course, consider everything as being real life, so basically it’s very simple. Dolph, he’s missing his dog, so he has to be sad. Even if everything is weird and twisted and a little disturbing, that’s the main thing for him. The same goes for every actor, every director. You just read the script, just like it was real life.
LYT: You have a lot of comedic actors dead-panning in your movies. Do they like to improvise a lot? Do you give them that sort of leeway, or is it pretty close to what you originally wrote?
QD: No, basically with the tone of my movies, you have to respect the script. So it is per written, and we don’t improvise, because I think that’s not the point. But of course, improvising means a lot of things. What I mean is, we don’t change the script, we don’t change the lines, but of course then some actors always bring something different, you know? So yes, I guess there are a few little beats of improvisation, but it’s not about changing the movie itself.
LYT: Are you a dog person? Do you have a dog that you love?
QD: No. I used to, a long time ago when I was a kid. I love dogs, and I enjoy watching dogs everywhere, especially here in L.A., there are dogs everywhere. But I don’t have the patience to own a dog and I don’t feel like taking care of the small thing, always asking for something. But I totally understand the relationship between the human and dogs. I really think dogs are great, and also funny to watch.
LYT: In the scenes where he’s trying to make the psychic connection to the dog, I know a lot of people feel like they have that with their pets. I was wondering if you had ever felt that yourself or seen it in others in real life?
QD: I’ve never really heard that. That’s funny!
LYT: When you have the girl move in with him and is always yelling at him irrelevant stuff while he’s trying to do that, you really hit on the anxiety that men have about having their girlfriends move in too soon. Was that a conscious choice?
QD: I knew I was writing something about this, but it’s not something that I’ve been through. It was more to push the absurdity, like she thinks the two guys are the same. She’s already in love; push the absurdity even more, I guess I needed to make her move in and change the house and go crazy. It was just like a comedy choice.
LYT: The character of Master Chang: how did you guys come up with that particular accent for him? That was a very interesting choice by William Fichtner.
QD: That’s totally Bill. We offered him the part, and he said yes, then I had a meeting with him, and he just came and told me, “Look, I have this accent.” So he took a book and he read some random text with this accent, and he said “You like it?” And I said, “Yeah, it’s funny!” He said, “That’s good, because that’s all I have.” Like, “That’s all I see for Master Chang, and that’s why I want to do it. When I was reading the script, I had this stupid accent in mind, I guess because the guy is named Master Chang, but he’s not Asian.”
So that was the way that he understood the script, so he decided to come up with this German-Indian mixed accent. It was great! In my mind, the guy was just a weird dude. Everything was written except this great accent, and that’s Bill’s idea.
LYT: What are some of the things that have inspired your interest in absurdist comedy? Are you a fan of Bertolt Brecht, Tom Stoppard and stuff like that? What are some of your influences?
QD: I have many, many influences, but randomly I’d say there’s a French guy named Bertrand Blier. Bertrand Blier is still alive and he made amazing movies in the ’70s and ’80s in France, but I think he’s only known in France. He was a really big influence for me. I like Monty Python a lot. I like to watch random, mainstream things, even when it’s bad. I guess I’m just like everyone, and influenced by everything.
LYT: Has there been any talk about making your first movie, Steak, more widely available over here? Has Drafthouse, for instance, been interested in that one?
QD: I don’t know. Since it is shot entirely in French, I think nobody cares here. I understand why – it’s really about – I guess this movie might be a little too French.
LYT: I think once people start discovering your movies they’re going to want to see that one.
QD: Cool! I have two new movies ready – I’m in the editing process, but we shot Wrong Cops just after Wrong, which is about the cop character, the one you see at the start. I wrote a movie for him, and we have a lot of cops in it; it’s really funny! Then I shot R?alit?; Reality, if you prefer. It’s my oldest script; something I’ve been work on for three or four years. So yeah, I have two new movies coming very soon, so I hope my audience will grow.
LYT: Is R?alit? a comedy also?
QD: Yes, R?alit? is…it’s hard to describe. Yes, it’s supposed to be funny at some points, but it’s about the brain of the artist, in a way.
LYT: With Wrong Cops, you’ve got some bigger names, like Marilyn Manson and Eric Wareheim. Is it different working with people who have these established personas? I guess you’ve worked with [French comedic duo] Eric & Ramzy already, and they were known quantities. Is it different with people who bring these larger-than-life personalities?
QD: Not particularly, because they come for a good reason. They come on my set because they like my stuff, so they are super relaxed and they come exactly like a no-name actor. They just want to have fun, and they trust me. Since we are super-low budget, everybody is treated the same. It’s the same for R?alit?; I worked with a very famous French actor named Alain Chabat, and he is probably the biggest in France, and he was just exactly like all the others on the set. Just having fun because it’s a great experience, and my shootings are smooth, and we are not waiting, we are just shooting all day long, and it’s all about having fun. So I guess no, there’s no difference.
Working with Manson was really interesting, because I didn’t know the guy first, and he approached me because he was a Rubber fan, and I have to say, he blew my mind, because I wrote this stupid part for him of a teenager, and he was so into it. He was really focused and super smart about it. So no, basically, no. And the same for Wareheim, he came for the good reasons, so he was super sweet to work with.
LYT: When you shot all those office scenes indoors where it’s raining inside, did anybody catch cold?
QD: No, but the funny story is since we had a budget, like I said, we had warm water for like 15 minutes, then it was cold. But I think no, we were all super excited, and everybody was saying it was an incredible experience to be in this space it showered for minutes, pretending to work; they all enjoyed doing it. And being out there with the camera, of course, I have to say yes, it was a weird, interesting experience, because the sound was weird, and the water is the master of everything. It was funny!
Wrong is available on-demand starting today, and will open in U.S. theaters March 29th.