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'Thumbsucker' Director Gets Cast to Improv

24 Jan, 2006 By: Jessica Wolf


Thumbsucker


Thumbsucker and the upcoming DVD reveal a unique side of some popular actors, director Mike Mills said.

“Some big, fancy actors did this project for scale, and they were all really into it,” Mills said about his debut feature film. “They all did it because it gave them a chance to do something different in a very different way. I was really lucky.”

Viewers get a glimpse of Mills' improvisational filmmaking method in the DVD's behind-the-scenes documentary. The title streets Jan. 25 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Mills went through rehearsals with his ‘A'-list cast — which includes Tilda Swinton, Vincent D'Onofrio, Keanu Reeves, Vince Vaughn and Lou Pucci — not following the script to the letter. Instead, they explored the characters' back stories and worked through unscripted events that may have happened in between scenes.

The actors seemed to respond well to the approach, Mills said.

“When they were doing all the improvisation, they would say these amazing things, and I would write it down, remind [the actors] of it later when we were filming, sometimes even put it into the script, or sometimes create a whole new scene,” he said.

Thumbsucker follows 17-year-old Justin (Pucci), an introspective and often melancholy teen who still sucks his thumb. The film earned $1.33 million theatrically and got good reviews.

An accomplished TV commercial and music video director, Mills said he learned from Thumbsucker to plan ahead for DVD extras. “I would have had three or four more things [on the DVD], if we had more time,” he said.

Extras include a conversation between Mills and Thumbsucker novelist Walter Kirn, with whom Mills shares the screenwriting credit; a DVD-ROM link to the director's blog; and a commentary track.

However, Mills isn't a big fan of commentaries. “In a way, they pin the film down,” he said. “You want to the film to go out and have it's own life and have the viewer really finish the film.”

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