As Love & Mercy – a new biopic about singer Brian Wilson – comes to screens, director Bill Pohlad tells why not being a Beach Boys super-fan gave him a huge advantage
Drama, tragedy, romance… Beach Boys singer Brian Wilson’s life reads like the script of a Hollywood film.
Little wonder then, that the singer and his well-reported mental health problems are the subject of new movie Love & Mercy.
Taking a parallel look at the psychological demons the God Only Knows singer faced at the height of his fame in the Sixties, and the questionable help he received from late psychotherapist Eugene Landy in the Eighties, the film sees There Will Be Blood star Paul Dano and John Cusack playing the young and older Brian respectively.
With a figure as well-loved as Wilson, it’s logical to assume a household name would be tasked with directing the biopic.
And he’s feeling confident about Love & Mercy, which had the full consent of the musician and his family.
“I’ve worked on a lot of films, and some are blessed and some are cursed,” Pohlad explains.
“Sometimes it can go magically well, and this was a film that went magically well for whatever reason. Maybe it was Brian’s spirit, and the music which was infused in the whole process.”
But that’s not to say there weren’t challenges bringing the story to the big screen.
“Certainly, if you look at the way we’ve done the structure, with the two different strands and different actors playing Brian, those are all risky decisions and it could have gone horribly wrong,” explains the director.
“But while you’re making the film, you have to suspend your fear that it will go off on the wrong track, and just go forward.”
Pohlad reflects on his future plans and career highlights from over the years.
He’s not a ‘Beach Boys guy’
“I think the fact I wasn’t a Beach Boys guy per se, or a Brian Wilson super-fan when I was growing up, allows some distance, which is helpful in telling a story.
“People often ask if I was intimidated to be doing the Brian Wilson story, and I say, ‘No’. Not because I don’t have a high regard [of him], I definitely do, but I was slightly more removed from The Beach Boys.
“Working on a film of The Beatles’ lives would be a little too close for me. It would make me so nervous because so many people have tried and it’s not always worked out so well. But I would never say never.”
He has great connections
“I’m working as a producer on The Last Face which Sean Penn is directing. Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem are cast in it [as international aid workers who meet during a political and social revolution]. I’m also a producer on A Monster Calls [starring Liam Neeson and Felicity Jones]. They’re both in the editing process and post-production, and both very different films. I’m excited about them.
“I’m not a big networker, so I end up having close relationships with the people I’ve worked with over the years, whether it’s Sean Penn or Oren Moverman [the writer on Love & Mercy]. There’s a certain comfort in that.”
He worked with Reese Witherspoon on Wild
“Reese is great. She’s an incredibly nice person. Our company and her company were both pursuing Wild at the same time. We share some mutual acquaintances who suggested we do it together, which is what we ended up doing.
“She’s a great collaborator and really has been a great person to work with.”
He’s not in it for the awards
“I’ve done a lot of films over the years, and some go well and some don’t go so well, but I’m lucky enough to have had some very powerful experiences, not just in how they do at the box office.
“Into The Wild and The Tree Of Life [Pohlad was producer the 2007 and 2011 titles] were very influential on my career, and very powerful personal experiences, separate to how they did at the awards and box office.
“You don’t go into it for the awards, otherwise you’d really be in trouble.”
Some stories need telling
“Brokeback Mountain is similar to 12 Years A Slave, in the sense that you’re not really anticipating that they’re going to do as well as they end up doing.
“When I first read the Brokeback Mountain script, [director] Ang Lee was just coming onto the project and there was no cast, but it felt like the story really needed to be told.
“It was the same with 12 Years A Slave. For me, these are movies I tend to really want to do. They’re very personal and can really touch people on a personal level, but they also touch bigger issues in a sideways way. You hope that the larger issue will come out through that.”