Jim Jarmusch's Showtunes

On ATP 2010, musicians as actors, Tom Waits's threats, and what planet ODB was on

Did you work with Neil Young in a similar way? Neil, in a way, was the opposite procedure, because Neil played directly to the film live, in a couple of takes, two and a half times through the film. So, what he recorded I did not move, you know? He reacted to it as if his music became a character. It wasn't something I could really slide around; I didn't want to.

Has there ever been an artist you've wanted to use for a movie and you couldn't make it happen? So far, no. I've been really lucky. Although I had to pay through the teeth in Mystery Train to use "Mystery Train" and "Blue Moon" by Elvis. That was ex-pen-sive.

You've been using musicians as actors in your movies for years and years. . . . It's not like, "Well, what musicians would be good actors?" It was more like, "What people do I know who I could imagine being that character?" And they happen to be musicians—actors are different. It doesn't matter if they're musicians or plumbers or strippers or what. Joe Strummer, he stayed kind of close to the text because he felt he liked having a map; Waits will improvise more. But that's true of someone like Bill Murray—he'll improvise more. Or someone like John Hurt, who doesn't improvise. Iggy's a great actor, potentially—if he trusts you. He is really smart, and his body is an instrument for him already, so for him to be a character—as long as you get him trusting you, and he feels like he understands the character, he's fantastic. Waits, I want to work with him as an actor again sometime, I just have a lot of fun with him. Tom and I met some casting director a few years ago when they were doing the second Austin Powers or something. Tom and I swooped in on it and said, "We want to be in it—we could be brothers, whatever, we want to be a team." Never heard anything from them, of course.

It's hard to imagine such a huge presence as Tom Waits taking directions. But he's a collaborator, he understands. We had a big fight once when I made a music video for his song "I Don't Wanna Grow Up." We had a fight because he wanted me to edit something differently that I didn't want to do. In fact, I locked Tom inside an indoor parking lot behind a metal door, and he was pounding on it, screaming. I got two great things out of this experience: One, hearing Tom yell at me, "Goddamn it Jim! I'm going to glue your fucking hair to the wall!" which I had never heard as a threat before. That was pretty Waits-ian. And what I really learned, in the end, is that he was right, and I edited it the way he wanted. He was absolutely right. He taught me, Jim, this isn't your film. This is my video for my record and your voice is in it by the fact that you made it, but it's a thing on TV. I really learned that collaboration has its parameters. I was really happy to learn that lesson.

Do you have a soundtrack for a next project that you're thinking of? I'm working on it, but I can't talk about it in advance. I'm trying to get a film going for early next year. One of the characters is a musician of unusual, outside music—electric stuff. It's going to be a mixture of—I don't know how you'd call it—avant-instrumental electric guitar . . . with some lute music. There will be some Arabic music, some vintage rockabilly stuff, so, again, a mixture of things. I have a great cast, but I don't have the financing yet because it's really weird out there right now. I've got Tilda Swinton, Michael Fassbender, Mia Wasikowska, and John Hurt—I've got these four ready to do it, but I don't have the money yet. I'm gonna get it. I'm gonna get it even if I have to do something highly illegal, I don't know what.

Was there a narrative to your All Tomorrow's Parties selections? No. I just wanted it to be innovative, interesting, potentially mind-blowing live. I wanted some girls in there, so I got the Vivian Girls and Hope Sandoval. White Hills has a girl. And then I got Girls, who aren't actually girls. My first thought was, "I'm going to make it all girls." Then I thought that's a bit too restrictive. My only daunting thing was I couldn't pick enough bands. I had a hundred. I could go on forever . . . I'm open to all forms of music . . . except maybe showtunes. I never really quite connected with that. There's a lot of showtune-isms in rock 'n' roll—so-called rock 'n' roll. Like Billy Joel and Meatloaf might as well just be Broadway garbage. Anyway, we're not going to have the cast of Mamma Mia! at ATP, I don't think.

Some big Bob Fosse routine around the lake . . . Yeah, with the Wu-Tang. The Bob Fosse Massacre.

All Tomorrow's Parties comes to Kutsher's Country Club in Monticello, New York, September 3 through 5, atpfestival.com

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