David Gordon Green on Manglehorn and more

by Mark Burger

In April, UNCSA School of Filmmaking graduate and acclaimed filmmaker David Gordon Green did something he’s done several times before – premiere his latest film at the annual RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston- Salem. He also took time to likewise do something he’s done several times before – speak with this writer.

The talented and prolific Green, who graduated in 1998 and whose credits include All the Real Girls (2003), Snow Angels and Undertow (2004), Your Highness (2011), the HBO comedy series “Eastbound & Down” (2008-’13) and the 2008 comedy smash Pineapple Express, now gives Al Pacino something of a valedictory role in Manglehorn, a quirky character comedy (now playing at RED Cinemas, 1305 Battleground Ave., Greensboro).

The legendary actor, who earned a Best Actor Oscar for Scent of a Woman (1992) and seven other nominations during his illustrious career, as an eccentric, embittered locksmith in Austin, Tex., pining for a lost love as he shuffles through his daily existence.

The film also stars fellow Oscar winner Holly Hunter (1993’s Best Actress for The Piano) as a lonely bank teller who takes a shine to the malcontent, Chris Messina as Manglehorn’s estranged son, and filmmaker Harmony Korine (Gummo, Spring Breakers) as an unwittingly obnoxious local businessman who fondly recalls being coached as a youngster by Manglehorn but inadvertently insults and antagonizes him at every turn.

Incidentally, might Manglehorn have once been the coach of Kenny Powers, the boorish ex-baseball star played by McBride in “Eastbound & Down”?

Laughs Green: “I never put that together, but it’s certainly possible!” Manglehorn, says Green, “is based on a broad-stroke of ideas I had. It played as a modern-day fable “¦ I just really liked this character.”

He also liked the idea of working with Pacino, whom he’d met shortly before. “The seeds were some of the early ’70s work Al had done – in Scarecrow (1973), The Panic in Needle Park (1971), some of the more vulnerable performances he’d given.”

With Paul Logan (who earns screenplay credit), Green crafted a story outline, which he then presented to the actor. Green had no other actor in mind for the role. There was no second choice. Within two days, Pacino said yes and Manglehorn was off and running.

“It’s so weird to have an idea seeded to an actor,” admits Green. “To work with an icon and idol of mine made this a dream project. I was working with a great artist.”

It’s a running joke that Green times the completion of his films so that they can be screened at RiverRun, and that his screenings sell out because of the friends and family members he’s invited — not because he’s a big shot but to prove his tuition was well-spent! (“The home-field advantage,” he calls it.)

Green also enjoys long-standing collaborations with fellow UNCSA graduates, some of whom he’s known since they were students together: Jeff Nichols, Danny McBride, Jody Hill, Ben Best, Tim Orr, Craig Zobel and others. He made his first feature, the critically acclaimed George Washington (2000) in Winston-Salem. He received the 2010 Emerging Master award from River- Run and remains a member of the festival’s advisory board.

“David has been a great friend and advocate for RiverRun, and a tremendous supporter of the film community in North Carolina overall,” says Andrew Rodgers, the festival’s executive director. “We’ve been really happy to have him back at RiverRun a number of times in recent years with his films, and are grateful to have him as a supporter.”

Although widely considered an indie darling, Green is enthusiastic about mainstream films. In Manglehorn, there’s an unexpected (and impressive) scene of street dancers strutting their stuff – a nod, perhaps to the Breakin’ films of the early ’80s?

“And Krush Groove,” he concurs. “Those movies were amazing.”

He’s even a big fan of the Step Up franchise, and would jump (no pun intended) at the chance to make one. The same with a Marvel movie. (He’d like final cut, but isn’t sure he’d get it.)

For Green, “the balance between the ultimate bliss and frustrations as a filmmaker keep me going. I’m up for the adventure of this profession.

“I get offered every marijuana movie because I did Pineapple Express, and I like to throw my hat into the ring just to see how they’ll react.”

But it’s not as if Green is waiting for the Hollywood hotline to ring. He’s an executive producer (along with Steven Soderbergh) of the Amazon Studios comedy series “Red Oaks,” he’s one of the writers of the upcoming indie drama Goat, and he’s re-teaming with McBride and Hill for the upcoming HBO comedy series “Vice Principals.” (Green also confirms that we may not have seen the last of Kenny Powers, either.)

The Hollywood hotline did ring, however, as Green recently directed the political satire Our Brand is Crisis, based on the 2005 documentary of the same name, starring Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thornton, Scoot McNairy and Anthony Mackie, produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov for Warner Bros.

“It’s cool to think that while I’m off in the shadows working in little independent films, I also get to work with dynamic, really enjoyable, intelligent and powerful people.”

Only this week, it was announced that Green would direct the screen adaptation of Stronger, the non-fiction book penned by Jeff Bauman, who lost both his legs during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Does David Gordon Green ever take a break?

“I don’t, actually,” he laughs, especiall y since, at the time of this review, his home in Austin was undergoing renovations. “There’s a big canvas out there. I’ve got a lot of paint and I’m just splashing it around.” !