Mike Mills interview: ‘C’mon, C’mon’ writer-director
“I make a film to help me have meaning and help me find connection with other people,” reveals Mike Mills. His latest movie, “C’mon C’mon,” takes inspiration from his personal life. His past two endeavors (“20th Century Women” and “Beginners”) were based on his parents, and his newest story is a similarly personal tale of raising his young child. As such, the connection between a kid and his father figure serves as the beating heart of “C’mon C’mon.” Watch the exclusive video interview above.
There is no single event or moment with his child that spurred Mills to start writing this script. “There’s so much on the line,” he explains of raising a kid. “It’s so crazily intimate and meaningful to be needed on that level.” So it’s no surprise that the film contains a specific gentleness and intimacy, as both the adult Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) and child Jesse (Woody Norman) learn from one another. As a father, Mills describes experiencing a “tremendous vulnerability” in showing his kid how to walk through the world. That quality is certainly on display with the protagonist.
Phoenix proved to be the perfect actor to play Johnny. “I think I’ve tried to get him to be in all of my movies,” jokes Mills. Even before the pair met, the writer always had a sense that Phoenix was giving something “real, and unpredictable and unpretentious” in his performances. “He has an edge to him,” describes Mills, “He really embraces his own darkness, his own failures and flaws in a way that I admire.” Those qualities proved to be an asset to help offset the tender heart at the core of the screenplay.
The script was tricky to write in the sense that Mills wanted to incorporate personal elements, yet protect the anonymity and individuality of his child. “There’s things about them that’s within their sovereignty, that’s not my turf,” he explains. “That was the hardest part of the script.”
Of course, actors in a Mills film are often encouraged to improvise and veer from the script. “Actors are authors,” he asserts. Mills believes in including them in the creative process and maintaining an environment where they can play. If a performer asks him a question about their character, he is likely to respond with: “what do you think? You’re the arbiter.” If the journey is deeply personal for him, then his actors should also have the opportunity to imbue a personal connection to the material. Mills enjoys the process, and is happy when performers take his script “and add notes and colors to it. Which brings it to life and keeps the other actors on their toes.”
Mills was Oscar-nominated for his original screenplay to “20th Century Women.” He is a four-time Independent Spirit nominee, and his movie “Beginners” won the Gotham Award for Best Feature.