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Q&A: Actor Lou Taylor Pucci Talks the Monstrous Romance of “SPRING”

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Toward the end of shooting PERSONAL VELOCITY back in 2001, up-and-coming actor Lou Taylor Pucci received a bit of frank career advice from writer/director Rebecca Miller. “Don’t do shit,” the daughter of famed playwright Arthur Miller and wife of Daniel Day-Lewis told him—and Pucci took the three-word maxim to heart.

“I worked that over in my brain for a long time, actually, trying to figure out exactly what she meant,” Pucci recalls. “You know: ‘What is shit?’ [Laughs] “And the conclusion I eventually came to is that, as it relates to movies, shit is spoon-feeding the same f**king fast-food cinematic crap to a public that I think is desperate to consume something new, something nutritious, something honest, prepared in a way they’ve never quite had it before. That’s what all of this is about for me—not doing shit and not adding shit to the pile.”

Pucci’s determination to avoid tossing flickering metaphorical feces up at movie-house screens has perhaps never been so fully on display as it is in his decision to portray Evan, a young American vacationer who falls for a girl with a tentacled alter ego during an Italian vacation, in the bold, idiosyncratic horror/love story triumph SPRING (in theaters and on VOD today from FilmBuff and Drafthouse Films following acclaimed festival play). “I read that script,” Pucci recalls, “and thought, ‘Wow, some filmmakers will go 50 percent romance, 50 percent horror, but these guys are taking things to another level—100 percent romance, 100 percent horror.’ I’d never read anything like that before. It’s a true genre-bender with a ton of heart. I did this movie because it offered me the rare opportunity to be part of something completely original.”

It could also be said that Pucci—along with his fierce and smoldering co-star Nadia Hilker—helped provide überinventive rising autuers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead a rare opportunity to execute something completely original. Indeed, it would be difficult to overstate how essential Pucci’s nuanced, naturalistic performance is to the successful weaving of this glorious Richard Linklater-meets-David Cronenberg tapestry. Which is to say, to make an audience believe a romance is legitimate is one thing; to keep them buying it after one of the principals is revealed to be a viscera-chomping ancient monster is another altogether. Add to that scenario whip-smart dialogue that engages the existential quandaries of human existence via a deceptively casual mix of the profane and the profound, the irreverent and the serious, the iconoclastic and the sacred, and you have a feat that vanishingly few actors could pull off with the sort of veracity, sincerity and aplomb Pucci and Hilker bring to SPRING.

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“This was my first full-on romantic lead, and I can honestly say that believably playing a regular guy is one of the harder things I’ve done,” says Pucci, who looked to his favorite everyman-in-extraordinary-circumstances horror flick THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES for tonal inspiration. “The more freedom you have to be animated or crazy or look different—all of that helps you create a character you can fall back on. For this, I had to go a lot deeper. If I looked in the mirror on this movie, so to speak, I looked at me. So it wasn’t like I could put a big beard on or have some insane hair or make myself look like a punk or whatever and get into character that way. It was more like I had to believe myself the whole time.”

Pucci, however, is quick to give credit where credit is due: “Dude, those transformation scenes were gruesome,” he says. “Nadia had this slime and crap all over her, freezing her ass off because it was the middle of winter, doing whole scenes naked and covered in prosthetics in a cave, and she was a complete champion. For a lot of that stuff, I just had to react, and her performance—along with [MastersFX’s] practical effects, which were awesome—made my job much easier than hers.”

Do the reverberations of taking such a self-reflective artistic deep dive like that, Fango wonders, continue to rumble after the director barks out the last “Cut”? “That’s the coolest part of the process for me—discovering new things about myself or coming to better understand other people whose lives are different than mine,” Pucci replies. “And it’s real. Sometimes you find something in a character that really affects your life and becomes a part of you forever.”

Of course, although “forever,” as we learn in SPRING, can be quite an arduous stretch, it is easier to artificially approximate than chemistry between two people. “Oh God, being introduced to a co-star you’re going to have to kiss and pretend to make love to for the first time is such a weird circumstance to meet someone under,” Pucci says. “The film so rests on the truthfulness of our relationship that there had to be serious chemistry between us. But how far does that have to go? Do I need to actually fall in love with this girl—and, if so, will that even be possible? There are fears before you meet someone you have to interact with like this: What if she sucks? What if we just don’t mix? What if we hate each other? It was such a relief to find out pretty quickly during rehearsals that Nadia was such a funny, cool girl. Good with poop jokes [laughs]. Thankfully, we didn’t have to try to force the chemistry. It just came naturally.”

The seaside southern Italian village where SPRING was shot certainly didn’t hinder the pair’s efforts. “It was like jumping into a completely different world,” Pucci says of the Apulian coastline. “I’m Italian but I don’t speak Italian, so there was that, and then also, I’d never been to such a consistently, insanely beautiful place in my life. That sort of shift in your perspective, being in an environment that is just as fantastic as what you are trying to make yourself believe, makes it inherently easier to act. And as far as I’m concerned, what Justin and Aaron did—juxtaposing pure horror with that level of beauty—was f**king genius.”

However, the fact that Benson and Moorehead were behind the film didn’t necessarily play into Pucci’s decision to join the cast. “I do love RESOLUTION, but no, I hadn’t known about their past film creations at all, really,” the actor says. “I was going off the script, basically. I’ve gotta say, I am a huge fan now. It is hard to co-direct a movie, and Justin and Aaron just kicked ass. There was never a point where it felt as if one was saying one thing and one was saying another, and truthfully, that’s the biggest problem you can get into. This partnership where they both direct, but Aaron focuses on the visual while Justin focuses on the textual, works incredibly well. They basically share a brain, just different halves.

“And they really excel at independent filmmaking, which is finding a way—even if it isn’t the exact textbook way—to get something done, even if it seems completely impossible with the resources at hand. They’re great at bringing people together and making these wonderful, unlikely things happen. That’s what SPRING is.”

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Shawn Macomber http://www.stopshawnmacomber.com
The ravings of noted South Florida pug wrangler Shawn Macomber have appeared in Decibel, Magnet, Reason, Maxim, Radar, Shroud, and the Wall Street Journal, amongst other fine and middling publications. He also hosts the podcast Into the Depths and pens the metal-lit column Tales From the Metalnomicon for Decibel magazine.
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