Mum's the word as Mike Mills mines his surreal life all over again
20th Century Women director turns to his mother for inspiration and eccentricity
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Mike Mills might just be the most candid director in Hollywood. After all, not only does he frame his films around his real life but they’re unabashedly unfiltered.
“Its not like this is brand new stuff to me,” laughed the filmmaker ahead of his latest acclaimed feature, 20th Century Women — in theatres this week. “I’ve been in therapy since I was 28 years old. I’ve been talking about my life, externalizing it and analyzing it a lot and I’m fine with that.”
Most notably, Mills won accolades for 2010’s hit dramedy Beginners — the story of Mills’ terminally ill father coming out of the closet at age 75, a film that earned star Christopher Plummer a long-awaited Academy Award.
Now in 20th Century Women, Mills turns the camera on his old-school feminist mom and the unconventional upbringing he experienced in the 1970s.
“I do feel like this is a very long thank you letter,” admitted Mills, amending the overworked ‘love letter’ analogy. “(The movie’s) made with love and made with all my confusion and unresolved things, frustrations and admitting the stuff I didn’t get from her that I wanted. It’s a letter that’s trying its hardest to understand the other person.”
If working out his therapy in script-form wasn’t enough, Mills seems to have found a constructive compatriot in fictional mother/actor Annette Bening, who’s quickly garnering Oscar buzz for her performance as Dorothea, the film’s eccentric chain-smoking matriarch.
“I had my mom in my head and when I came to, I really didn’t know what to do,” explained Mills of enlisting an actor to connect on such a personal level, a task completed only through Bening. “She asked me really pointed, uneasy questions about Dorothea (and) your script doesn’t always connect with an actor on a way deeper level like that.”
In fact, the four-time Oscar-nominated star’s portrayal was so credible, even the 50-year-old filmmaker had to shake his head a few times.
“I can’t even imagine Dorothea the character in any other way,” said Mills of Bening’s work. “I wrote every single line and when I watch the movie, I don’t feel like I wrote it — she just says it and that’s a trip — that’s a testament to how convincing she is.”
Bening won acclaim for her central role in another unconventional screen family in 2010’s The Kids Are All Right. Mills is happy to be bringing another less than typical family unit to theatres seven years on.
“Great families are made in all different ways,” said Mills of his cinematic homage to an unconventional upbringing.
“My real mom and me for sure, feel strongly that some of my favorite families are two dads or two moms (so) its more about love and understanding.”