A few hours before his directorial debut Me Him Her is set to premiere at Cinefamily in Los Angeles, Max Landis is stuck in traffic and stuck on the phone with me.
He’s openly nervous, speaking in the fits and spurts that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever watched one of the Chronicle and American Ultra scribe’s interviews. He mashes cell phone buttons down occasionally and riffs through the conversation as if he’s thought a lot about these topics before and is overjoyed he gets a chance to finally share his findings.
Landis (son of John) is a Hollywood prince who grew up outside the system. An extremely reluctant leader of a cult of personality. Even over the phone ‐ and, admittedly, after seeing him in Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling and his wonderfully awkward “viral” ad for Me Him Her ‐ he reminds me of every gawky freak I went to high school with (the ones who always pulled me up after falling to the sweaty floor of a mosh pit) who gained broader popularity and couldn’t understand why. Landis responds to his fame the same way Carrie should have on prom night.
His particular bucket of blood fell in 2013 when Jezebel posted a scathing article in response to a casual interview he gave about the darker side of sex and relationships. He was just starting to rise in notoriety with Chronicle, and he was aggressively confronted by a valuable lesson about speaking openly in interviews.
Not that he’s really absorbed that lesson.
Which brings us into the car with him on his way to the premiere of Me Him Her ‐ a film where Corey (Dustin Milligan) flies to L.A. to help his panicking friend Brendan (Luke Bracey) deal with his incipient homosexuality only to be sidetracked by Gabbi (Emily Meade), a ball of frustration dealing with her own crises.
Cinefamily feels like an excellent place to premiere your film.
For the last few years it’s been a regular hangout of mine. I’ve thrown parties there, I’ve slept in that place, I’ve fallen in love, fallen out of love, gotten in fights. You know. It’s Cheers.
It’s a safe haven, then, to show the movie.
Well, no. I think it just makes sense that I’ll die there, too.
You’re really that concerned?
For a guy who seems confident I’m a very nervous and itchy guy.
Are you more nervous now than with Chronicle?
Of course. With Chronicle, I didn’t know how nervous I should be. And then everyone loved it, so it kind of tricked me.
You’re more nervous because you directed Me Him Her?
Yeah, I’m so close to it. And it’s based off real things that happened to me, a lot of it.
It was filmed back in 2013, which means that it’s a short term time capsule of your career. Do you feel like it helped you grow?
100%. Shane Black said to me ‐ there’s a name drop ‐ Shane said to me that it was unfair to compare it to his first movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang because he’d always seen himself as a director. But the truth of it is that, he said that the only way to learn how to direct a movie is to direct a movie. It really is a seat-of-your-pants job. I’d directed little shorts with my friends before, but even the nature of how I direct those has improved by directing Me Him Her.
The film deals with sexuality up front, but also in more oblique ways, and I’m sure you remember the Jezebel response to the interview you gave about sex. After the article came out, you responded by saying that sex was a subject you were in conflict with. Does that conflict show up directly in Me Him Her?
Well, let’s talk about sex as something I’m conflicted about, and let’s talk about that interview.
I’ve never really talked about that interview in public because I hate it so much, but I don’t really hate anything that I said. What I hate is that, first of all I didn’t think of myself as famous at the time. The idea that anyone would be interested in what I had to say seemed bizarre to me. My friend Shelby runs a website and she was like, “Do you wanna have some drinks with me and have an interview about the darker side of sex?” and I went, “Sure!” So I did an interview where I am disgusting. I’m not actually disgusting. I’m just completely unfiltered, and I say stuff in it like, “If you’re an extra, you shouldn’t sleep with directors because it doesn’t get you anywhere,” and then it got reported by Jezebel as me saying, “I can get any extra I want to sleep with me.”
And I said, something that I stand by, women should learn their bodies on their own, and not rely on men knowing what to do, and that got reported as “Women should cum without men doing anything.”
I don’t want to get myself in trouble again, but it set a precedent for me. First of all, having that many people hate me was the most famous I’d ever felt in the worse way imaginable. Further, as an extremely feminist, sex-positive guy with a girlfriend at the time who is brilliant and who read that Jezebel article and said, “Oh, Jesus Christ,” it was so weird because it was the first time ‐ but not the last time ‐ that me saying stuff would be re-contextualized. I’m very unfiltered, so it’s easy to take what I say wrong, be it just changing the tone or whatever.
Me Him Her reflects specifically, more than anything in the article, my opinion on sexuality, which is that it’s secondary to identity. I’ve known too many people throughout my life who started out completely straight, realized that they felt like they were gay, or even felt like they were gay since they were little kids, became gay, and now are bi- or straight again. I’ve known people who felt like they were gay and now totally identify as straight. I’ve known people who identified as straight for forty years, and now they’re gay. But because homosexuality and bisexuality have been so condemned by our culture, it’s created this ‐ even among my homosexual friends ‐ an us vs. them thing.
And that’s a quality of homosexuals being persecuted, and it’s also done something shameful and regrettable. The us vs. them has blurred how specific sexuality can be to people, and how you can change. You can’t be forced to change. You can be born one way and then feel another, you can move around. People are afraid to engage with that, and it makes sense that they’re afraid because you risk the idea of saying, “This guy turned this girl straight,” or that sort of thing. That’s certainly not what happens in my film. I wanted to make a movie that came at that head on and wasn’t a “gay” movie. It was an identity movie.
How do you do that without squashing the complexity of sexuality?
Can I tell you what I did?
I didn’t. I squashed the complexity. I made fun of the complexity. Because people hurt themselves on the sharp edges of their own problems. No one who has the problem in the movie, is actually the problem int he movie. Corey thinks his problem is that he’s fucked over his friend and that he likes this girl, but ultimately, that’s not what’s wrong. The problem is that he’s an unhappy person making selfish choices because he doesn’t like his life.
Brendan thinks the problem is that he’s gay, and that he has to come out of the closet, but everyone knows he’s gay! The problem is his own fear of losing his identity. Gabbi goes crazy and obsesses over the fact that she might be bisexual, that she slept with a guy and enjoyed it, but what’s her real problem? That she’s tied herself to a monster. This is not a romantic comedy. It’s a comedy, but ideally the audience isn’t rooting for Corey and Gabbi to end up together. You want them to be friends and help each other. If they fuck more? Good for them, but that’s not the goal.
And it took this long to get a release, so people might watch this and think that this is where your talent is in 2016 instead of 2013.
It’s as inspiring and life-affirming as it is infuriating and depressing. Think about Mr. Right. I wrote that script before I wrote Chronicle. That’s been around forever. That’s my first script that got even a little bit hot. That’s my last thing to come out until October.
I’m doing this thing right now with David Ayer ‐ sorry, I feel like…it’s annoying because I say people who I’m working with but I feel like I’m name-dropping.
Because I’m self-conscious. Because I’m a guy who spends too much time around other name-droppers and found it repellent.
And maybe because you grew up in the bubble.
Oh, hell no. How much do you know about my life story?
Not a ton, honestly.
I grew up very separate from the bubble. I don’t want to get too into it, but I didn’t go to high school out here. I went to high school for special education kids. I went to college, if you can call it that, at University of Miami. I only got back to L.A. about six years ago.
So you’re as far out of it as you could be as the son of a famous director. Is that really that far?
Well, you have to look at the other ones. You have to look at Jason Reitman and Sophia Coppola. None of them do what I do. My first goal wasn’t to follow in the footsteps of my father, and I was lucky enough, and I worked hard enough, that I ended up doing something that he was never known for. My father is not a writer. He’s written one movie, and by the way, American Werewolf got turned down for years before anyone made it because, if you read that script, it looks like it was written by a little baby. And it just goes back to: you can’t judge a script by its movie or a movie by its script.
But you still got a head start. Was there ever any other profession you wanted to work at?
There was never another profession, but I had a lot of different jobs. Especially in my teens and early to mid-twenties. But I’m weird. I’m a weird guy. When I was 6 or 7 I came up with this thing, “Yelp and Dopey,” about these two dogs, and I would explain stories of Yelp and Dopey to my sister and my parents, and my dad always talks about it. He says, “I don’t really remember Yelp and Dopey, but there would be this kid babbling in the back seat, and you’d go to drop him off at school, but you’d wanna hear the end of the story.”
My dad always told me not to be a screenwriter. He said if you get involved in the industry that people tear you to pieces, it’s brutal and unrelenting, that even if you do well people will blame it on nepotism, that being a screenwriter is about being destroyed emotionally and having your art torn to pieces, that most screenwriters never go anywhere, that successful screenwriters only have one movie made, that screenwriters are some of the most unhappy people he knows. [Laughs]
He said that I was better off working in comics, or something else I was interested in. I found it too hard to get into comics, and then I finally got submitted to a management company, and it was like, “How many samples do you have?” And I said, “Fifty!”
Were they drinking water by any chance when you said that?
So they could do the full spit take?
You know, I know some writers whose first script…did you ever read the script for Frailty?
No, but I’ve seen the movie.
That guy lived in Texas, and that was his first script he’d ever written, and my God, is it a home run. And the movie’s good too, but on the page? Woof. I mean, just machinery. The machinery at work is so beautiful.
Just to track back a little bit, does it irritate you when people don’t know your backstory and assume you’re Hollywood’s golden child like I just did?
I mean, define “irritate.” It’s weird because there’s a perception of me that has very little to with who I am other than that it exacerbates my worst traits. Can I say the main thing?
And this is the most honest I can be. And most successful screenwriters will tell you this. The thing that gets to me is when someone says, “Nepotism,” in Hollywood, they don’t understand how fucking hard that is to actually pull off. Whenever someone says that, it’s like someone calling someone else a shitty screenwriter because they saw a bad movie. You know what I mean?
Like when a reviewer comments on the script. Scripts and movies just aren’t the same. It’s like commenting on the blueprint when you see a house made of toothpicks. You know? When I drew the blueprints, I didn’t know they were gonna make it out of toothpicks!
But what irritates me about it ‐ if I can use that word, because it doesn’t irritate me really, it makes me sad ‐ is that no one is looking to do anyone a favor in this industry!
Okay, sure, but I find it hard to believe that the path isn’t at least eased by being there, by having the name, by having the means, by having connections and contacts.
I didn’t have any meaningful contacts. Growing up here, getting a head start, knowing how things work and the name recognition, definitely helped. But it stopped helping after I got a manager. No one’s gonna buy a script because your dad made good movies in the ‘80s.
You’ve gotta see that the wheels got greased. Though, I’d totally agree that you can get in the door through nepotism, but if you don’t have the goods, you’re not gonna stay in the room.
That’s real. And what’s amazing to me ‐ oh, maybe I shouldn’t say this ‐ is how many people I know who are the children of super successful people, who don’t put any effort forth, and yet identity as these things, and wait and wait and wait, and condemn me. “Landis doesn’t hang out at the cool shit. He’s always with his weird posse of hipster aliens. He never comes out to the big publicity parties.” Because they’re so obsessed with being cool that they forget to do the fucking work. I’m sorry. Maybe that was too real, but there’s a social circle of glitterati children of ’80s superstars that I’m not a part of. And that I’ve never been a part of because I was too busy writing. I’m also too fucking weird.
To fit in?
Yeah, a little bit. I found my weird people.
How long is it until your premiere?
Two hours and please don’t remind me. I’m so nervous. And what’s funny is that I know a lot of the people who are gonna be there are gonna love it, but I’m certain that there’s gonna be someone there who’s just being polite.
If that’s the worst that could happen, though, isn’t that alright?
For me, as a screenwriter, I have one motto: “It’s Never Gonna Be Alright.”
Sadly perfect. Good luck tonight. Thanks again for your time.
Thank you, Mr. Beggs.
Me Him Her is currently available in NYC theaters and on iTunes.