Profile: Jeff Nichols, director of Mud
The writer-director is influenced by Terrence Malick, David Gordon Green and, on Mud, Mark Twain
7 December, 1978, Arkansas
After studying filmmaking at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, writer-director Nichols announced his arrival with his 2007 low-budget debut Shotgun Stories, the story of a feud between two brothers set in the cotton-growing region of rural Arkansas. Drawing comparisons to Terrence Malick and David Gordon Green, Nichols then went on to make 2011’s Take Shelter, a fiercely original tale starring his Shotgun Stories lead Michael Shannon as a blue-collar worker haunted by apocalyptic visions. Winning the Critics’ Week Grand Prize at Cannes, it earmarked Nichols as one of US independent cinema’s most exciting new talents.
What is he up to now?
His third feature, Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon, is a mix of Huckleberry Finn and Night of the Hunter, as an escaped convict recruits the help of two teenage boys in his quest to reconnect with the love of his life.
On the theme of Mud
‘If there’s anything I want people to take away from all of this … in love, you get banged up and bruised up. For some reason we always put ourselves back together, and we go after it again. And that felt like something worth talking about in the movie.’
On the influence of Mark Twain
‘If you’re going to steal stuff from somebody, you should steal stuff from somebody real intelligent – and I stole things from Mark Twain. The best example is the boot print with the cross in the heel. That’s how Tom and Huck recognise Huck’s father, who is a drunk. They would see his boot-prints and know he was around, and I just thought that was awesome – so that’s stolen!’
On Mud’s hopeful tone
‘I don’t consider my other two films hopeless by any means, but they’re a different kind of film. But it would’ve felt wrong to end this film on a down note. That’s not what the cycle of love is. I hope maybe it is for some people; I’m happily married. I love my wife, and I didn’t want to put a death-nail in that!’
On his favourite films
‘I have five films that are my top favourite five films. The majority of them have Paul Newman in them. But [Malick’s] Badlands is always number one. I have a different relationship to Malick’s other films, but Badlands to me is as near-perfect as you can get.’
His brother is Ben Nichols, the lead singer and guitarist for country-punk rock band Lucero.
Mud is on general release from Fri 10 May.