portland based director Todd Haynes’ latest film, may decemberJulianne Moore plays Gracie, an Alabama housewife who is about to turn 60 and is in a May–December relationship with her 36-year-old husband Joe, the son of the only Korean family in town. A term for a substantial difference in age. , played by Charles Melton. He was 13 years old when they met. (The film is loosely inspired by the story of Mary Kay Letourneau, a teacher who had an affair with her student in 1997.)
Natalie Portman plays Elizabeth, a visiting actress who is preparing for the role of Gracie in an upcoming film. “It’s a very complex and human story,” she tells a friend of the family, affecting empty sympathy. People regularly send boxes of feces to Joe and Gracie so that Gracie “has a sixth sense about these things.”
Haynes had previously cast Moore in tragic domestic roles: in the 1995s. Safe, She played an affluent housewife suffering from “environmental disease”; in 2002 away from heavenShe was a distinguished mid-century housewife who was married to a closeted homosexual. However, this film turns on a very different power dynamic.
Last week, Haynes called us over Zoom from New York to tell us about the making of the new film, how he moved here more than 20 years ago, and how much time he spends at his home in Portland.
Our conversation has been edited and condensed.
portland monthly: So there’s some confusion about whether you live in Portland or not.
Todd Haynes: I live in Portland. (laughs) I’m not there that much. I have no other accommodation. Mostly, this movie has eluded me since last fall.
How often do you come to the city?
I was there just for August. May was the whole Cannes (film festival) and this retrospective I did in Paris (at the Center Pompidou). And then we have been promoting the film on the festival circuit since September.
You bought your house here in 2000, right?
Thorns. My sister said, “Oh, a friend of ours has a vacant house in Northwest Portland. You can live there for free and just write your script.” I wasn’t sure how deep the change would be, or how long-lasting, or exactly how much. Have been taken Me from my life in New York.
I met amazing people and I fell in love with the city and the climate Everything-I really dug it. Gus Van Sant was still living there, and was an old friend of his. I met (novelist and screenwriter) John Raymond; I met all these people who became central to my later creative life. (Director) Kelly Reichardt came and met me, the first season I was there and met all these friends of mine, and developed lifelong, amazing, creative partnerships with them and set all of my movies in the Pacific Northwest. ,
We want to thank you for all the movies Kelly and John have made together (most recently, Arrive,
You also have some family in the city, right?
My sister lives in Portland. It’s funny, my grandfather – who was a very important part of my childhood – was born in Portland. Do you know the Semler Building? There’s a building in the middle of town that says—it’s a kind of ugly block writing—Semler Building. Semler was my mother’s maiden name. Apparently when I was six months old I came to Portland and went to Jake’s Famous Crawfish and did the twist dance on the table.
What do you like to do in the city?
Kelly and I got a chance to go to the river more times than I thought we would in August. And it was just like that, Ahh, That’s it, yes. Spending free time together and talking about our work projects and our friends and our families and our lives…. There are certain things there that are most nourishing for me.
What does it mean to be a filmmaker who lives in Portland and not L.A. or New York?
Umm, peace of mind. (laughs) I loved the years I lived in New York. I can’t imagine my creative life and my film life without him. In many ways I am still connected to the culture in which I was formed as a filmmaker. But there’s one thing I really loved about Portland: People lived there because they wanted to. There, not because this was a city that was going to give them careers and opportunities and get them a place. There was something really unique and distinctive about this place, and a creative community that felt so autonomous and so original to me, and not based on the models we see play out in big, competition-first cities like LA or New York.
Have you been able to make inroads into both communities?
i just screened it may december In Hollywood (theatre). We invited about 100 people who were just my friends for the first screening. It was very fun.
In the new movie, Natalie Portman’s character Elizabeth has such an inspiration for the project she’s working on in the movie, and I heard she initially brought the script to you. I wondered if this was at all reflective of his energy on set.
Well, it was. But once she was there, she was playing her part. I mean, he and his production team started it all. But actually it was my regular producer who knew how to make it all unfold.
Did you feel like you were returning to something by working with Julianne Moore in a domestic setting?
In terms of working together, it was part of the continuity of our practice as actor-directors. But I felt that the two central female characters were a stark contrast to most of the depictions of women and domestic stories that I have told in my other films. The woman’s strong will and sense of desire are driving the events that predate this story and which we also see occurring during Elizabeth’s entry into this world.
It reminded me of one of my closest movies (the HBO limited series starring Kate Winslet). Mildred Pierce: The women who are really driving the economic story. Their motivations are what drive the film’s story, and the men are passive and submit to the women.
You wrote a series with John Raymond. I hear you two are working together on a new movie starring Joaquin Phoenix.
It’s a project that arose from ideas that Joaquin brought to me – movements and contemplations and dreams and questions and fantasies (laughs) that he shared with me and that were set in 1930s Los Angeles. It’s a detective story but it turns into something different, a love story between her character and a very unlikely object of desire.
I imagine this will take you out of town again?
We’re getting ready to shoot it in Mexico for the summer.
may december Will hit theaters on November 17th and Netflix on December 1st.