Arts

Beach Boys director in movies for the Love of it

As Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy opens, director Bill Pohlad tells Keeley Bolger why not being a Beach Boys super-fan gave him a huge advantage

There Will Be Blood and Little Miss Sunshine star Paul Dano, far right, plays the young Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy

DRAMA, tragedy, romance... Beach Boys singer Brian Wilson's life reads like the script of a Hollywood film. Little wonder then, that the singer and his well-reported mental health problems are the subject of new movie Love & Mercy.

Taking a parallel look at the psychological demons Wilson faced at the height of his fame in the 60s, and the questionable help he received from late psychotherapist Eugene Landy in the 80s, the film sees Paul Dano and John Cusack playing the young and older Brian respectively.

While the movie's director Bill Pohlad may not be a household name just yet, he is one of Hollywood's hardest working men, having produced Wild, 12 Years A Slave and Brokeback Mountain in his time.

And he's feeling confident about Love & Mercy, which had the full consent of the musician and his family.

"I've worked on a lot of films, and some are blessed and some are cursed," Pohlad says. "Sometimes it can go magically well, and this was a film that went magically well for whatever reason. Maybe it was Brian's spirit and the music which was infused in the whole process."

But that's not to say there weren't challenges bringing the story to the big screen.

"Certainly, if you look at the way we've done the structure, with the two different strands and different actors playing Brian, those are all risky decisions and it could have gone horribly wrong," he says. "But while you're making the film, you have to suspend your fear that it will go off on the wrong track, and just go forward."

Pohlad believes that the fact he wasn't "a Beach Boys guy per se, or a Brian Wilson super-fan when I was growing up", allowed him some distance from the subject, "which is helpful in telling a story".

"People often ask if I was intimidated to be doing the Brian Wilson story, and I say, 'No'. Not because I don't have a high regard [of him] – I definitely do – but I was slightly more removed from The Beach Boys," he says.

Pohlad has made some great connections in the movie business. "I'm working as a producer on The Last Face which Sean Penn is directing. Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem are cast in it. I'm also a producer on A Monster Calls [starring Liam Neeson]. They're both in the editing process and post-production.

"I'm not a big networker, so I end up having close relationships with the people I've worked with over the years. There's a certain comfort in that."

It was such connections that saw him work with Reese Witherspoon on last year's hit biographical drama Wild. "Our company and her company were both pursuing Wild at the same time. We share some mutual acquaintances who suggested we do it together, which is what we ended up doing. She's a great collaborator."

Pohlad is in the movie business for the love of it, not the glory. "I've done a lot of films over the years and some go well and some don't go so well, but I'm lucky enough to have had some very powerful experiences, not just in how they do at the box office.

"Into The Wild and The Tree Of Life [Pohlad was producer the 2007 and 2011 titles] were very influential on my career, and very powerful personal experiences, separate to how they did at the awards and box office. You don't go into it for the awards, otherwise you'd really be in trouble."

He continues: "Brokeback Mountain is similar to 12 Years A Slave, in the sense that you're not really anticipating that they're going to do as well as they end up doing. When I first read the Brokeback Mountain script, [director] Ang Lee was just coming on to the project and there was no cast, but it felt like the story really needed to be told.

"It was the same with 12 Years A Slave. For me, these are movies I tend to really want to do. They're very personal and can really touch people on a personal level, but they also touch bigger issues in a sideways way. You hope that the larger issue will come out through that."

:: Love & Mercy is in cinemas from today. See David Roy's review also in today's Arts section.

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