With Twain in mind, Jeff Nichols digs up 'Mud'
This film publicity image released by Roadside Attractions shows director Jeff Nichols, from left, with actors, Tye Sheridan, Matthew Mc Conaughey and Jacob Lofland on the set of "mud." Nichols fashions a Mark Twain-esque Mississippi River tale with some big Hollywood names, including Matthew Mc Conaughey and Reese Witherspoon. (AP Photo/Roadside Attractions, Jim Bridges)
NEW YORK (AP) — During a day of press interviews for Jeff Nichols' second film, "Take Shelter," a publicist scurried back and forth looking for the director. After some frantic searching, she realized the flannel shirt-clad Nichols was sitting right in front of her, casually chatting among journalists.
The 34-year-old, Little Rock, Ark.-native may be unassuming, but he's becoming harder to overlook. Next week, he'll release his third film, the Mississippi River coming-of-age tale "Mud," a movie that confirms Nichols as one of the most promising young filmmakers in the country, a personal storyteller with an instinct for the kind of classically American films of Steven Spielberg or Paul Newman.
With his indie debut "Shotgun Stories," his critical breakout "Take Shelter," and now "Mud," an ode to young love starring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon, Nichols has gradually grown in scale and skill. It's the kind of ascent Hollywood notices, but despite studio offers, he's so far stuck to writing his own scripts.
"It's tempting the same way it's tempting to become a garbage man," Nichols said in an interview by phone from his home in Austin, Texas. "It pays pretty well. You have your hours. You do your job."
"I'm not taking that route," he says. "I want to tell my own stories. I want to make movies with Mike Shannon."
This film publicity image released by Roadside Attractions shows director Jeff Nichols, left, with actor Matthew Mc Conaughey on the set of "Mud." Nichols fashions a Mark Twain-esque Mississippi River tale with some big Hollywood names, including Matthew Mc Conaughey and Reese Witherspoon. (AP Photo/Roadside Attractions, Jim Bridges)
Since first seeing footage of Shannon, the imposing, versatile actor of "Boardwalk Empire" and the upcoming "Man of Steel," Nichols swore he'd be in every film of his — a promise he's kept. Then a film student at the North Carolina School of the Arts (the film program that produced David Gordon Green and Danny McBride), Nichols called Shannon up to say he had written "Shotgun Stories," an unconventional story of brotherly revenge, for him.
"He didn't act like a kid," says Shannon. "He didn't talk like a kid."
Nichols' next film, "Take Shelter," starred Shannon as a paranoid young father obsessed with building a bunker for his family. Nichols wrote it out of the anxiety he was feeling personally in his first year of marriage, and generally in the air during the George W. Bush administration. The film won numerous awards at the Cannes Film Festival and appeared on many critics' top 10 lists for 2011.