TIME interviewed Anthony Mandler, director of ‘Tropico‘, and talked about the shooting process and working with Lana Del Rey. Read below:
TIME: There’s a lot going on in Tropico. How did Lana first explain the concept to you?
Generally, when we work together, I get these long, written-out character breakdowns and story breakdowns. Some of it is very well-thought out, some of it is kind of stream-of-conscious. So my role has been to come in and shake the tree and realign things and make it do-able. Lana has these really wide, vast landscapes that she lays out, but she definitely has a very strong vision about the world she wants to fill out. It is a very collaborative process, especially on the front end.
TIME: Ultimately it’s a love story though, right?
Yes, I think it’s a love story between two people and a love story about loving yourself. It is that classic idea about breaking trust or breaking something sacred and how you find it again. Okay, so they are abolished from the Garden of Eden: now what? How do we push that forward through the modern lens? [We’re looking] at this sort of modern hell on earth that people live in: working in a convenience store, stripping for money, not doing much of anything. There’s that moment — and I love it that [Shaun’s character] Adam does it — where he goes, “It’s not always going to be this way.” The third act is about moving back to paradise and finding another Eden that’s not on Earth.
TIME: There’s very much a dream-like quality to Tropico, though there’s quite a bit of grittiness as well, with the strippers and the robbery. What was the most difficult part to shoot?
None, actually! One thing I think we did really well was cast real people. Everybody in that was what you see. Standing in a room with Jesus, Marilyn, Elvis and John Wayne was pretty cool. Those are like the best impersonators; people who live their lives impersonating those people. And all those guys playing the businessmen — I love that scene! — they were so great and so raw. I didn’t really tell them what we were doing. They didn’t know there was going to be a robbery.
I did not tell them anything. So stuff was breaking and people were getting thrown around. You can see the look on their faces after [the robbery] and they’re shocked. It was great. It was really real. I loved giving Shaun that moment. He’s such a kind, gentle guy, that, afterward, he came running back to apologize to anyone who he had stuck his gun in their face. He’s such a nonviolent guy, I had to keep telling him to stay in character.
TIME: What’s the significance of the title?
The word kind of lends itself to a paradise and a paradise lost. Lana had always had it in her head as the title.
TIME: What about the decision to use parts of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and John Wayne’s narration of “America, Why I Love Her”?
That sort of sequence was very intact from the original idea. The piece really is creatively birthed from Lana. She’s had this concept for a while and I think it was always part of the plan to get to this moment. She talks about this [film] being the bookend to this character, I think [she means] it’s the bookend to the character she’s been playing since she stepped into the spotlight. I don’t know about the new project, but I assume it’ll be the next chapter.