featured Interview

Beyond Horror: Director Panos Cosmatos on the Psychedelic Insanity of ‘Mandy’

September 18, 2018Sherry Li

Mandy, the latest film from Panos Cosmatos, is a wild ride. There are two distinct parts to it, and both halves are memorable for very different reasons. The first half follows Red (Nicolas Cage) and Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) as they live a quaint and idyllic life in the woods. It's quite calm, dreamy and serene. The second half, is out of your mind insane — it's psychedelic, violent, and has Nicolas Cage at his absolute craziest.

There are many things about Mandy that you have to see to believe, and even when you do see it, there are plenty of things in this film that will leave you questioning what you actually saw. Mandy is like entering a drug fueled dream — or perhaps nightmare.

Panos Cosmatos, the Canadian-Italian director and screenwriter behind Beyond the Black Rainbow, sat down with The Reel Roundup to discuss Mandy, and how this insane film came to be.

This film is insane to watch. I really enjoyed it. What is something that you might want to say to viewers to preface what they'll see in this movie?

Cosmatos: Uh, Jesus Christ. Be ready for anything, I suppose.

There are a lot of very interesting notions of grief and how Red deals with it. It was quite a beautiful story, quite insane. And not only did you direct this film, you co-wrote it as well. How did you come up with this story that has such insane elements?

Cosmatos: Generally, the way I'll create something is that I'll get fixed on a genre, and then I'll start growing visual elements around that, allowing them to take on a life of their own.

Was that brainstorming process difficult for you?

Cosmatos: It's not difficult, it's just naturally what I do day in and day out, whether I want to or not. It just can be very time consuming; sometimes it'll take years for all the elements to fully come to life.

In transitioning this vision and this idea from the script to the big screen, was there anything that didn't make it? Was there anything very difficult to turn over?

Cosmatos: No, I think everything that we intended to do we ended up being able to pull off; being able to raise miracles and through dogged determination.

The soundtrack to this movie is amazing. It's the last one scored by [the late] Jóhann Jóhannsson, and there are plenty of references to metal throughout. So, thematically was this film inspired by metal?

Cosmatos: Yeah absolutely, it was inspired by the metal album covers I had growing up, and the kind of sensation metal [they] would give me as a kid — one of escape and pure fantasy. I told Jóhann early on in the movie, it was essentially a rock opera, in a way.

So tone wise, this film is very clearly divided into two parts. There's the dream-like beginning and then there's the drug-fueled bloodbath in the second half. They're very different from each other, so was it difficult to establish tone while filming? I assume you didn't film in chronological order.

Cosmatos: Yeah, no we didn't. That's just part of the process, always keeping your foot on the gas pedal and on the brake and calibrating every move.

Andrea Riseborough is so captivating in this, not to mention Nicolas Cage's insane performance. Was the casting process difficult? Or did you always have Nicolas Cage in mind for Red?

Cosmatos: Originally I wanted Nicolas Cage to play the villain and Red was going to be a bit younger, but giving it some thought I realized that it was a gift from the heavens to have Cage play that character. The character is quite simple on the page, and having someone that has that much creativity and dimension playing him would really make it special.

One scene in particular stood out to me — that really weird macaroni commercial. What was the inspiration for that?

Cosmatos: That was an idea that came up in pre-production while we were in the office trying to kill time. And we became so obsessed with Cheddar Goblin that we realized had to put him in the movie in some way. So we called our friend Casper Kelly, who made a short film called Too Many Cooks, that's a surrealist masterpiece. So we said, "Hey man, we've got a thousand dollars. Can you make a Cheddar Goblin commercial for us?" He said, "Yes, I can do that." And next thing we knew, we had Cheddar Goblin.

You use plenty of color, particularly red, throughout the film. Visually, a lot of what we see feels like we're in a drug induced dream. Were these lights practical effects? It seemed like there were a lot of practical effects used in the film.

Cosmatos: Yeah, I'd say 95% practical, smoke and lights on-set.

What is the significance of the year 1983? This is the year that this film is set and also for your other film, Beyond the Black Rainbow, right?

Cosmatos: Yes. It's just a sort of a amorphous time in my life, I was a young child playing video games and watching television. But when I was trying to create these mythical realms, I realized that 1983 was a beautiful canvas for that. It's not a literal 1983, it's a mythicized, mythological landscape of memories, of dreams, of nightmares.

Can you tell me more about the beings on bikes? Where did they come from? And those were practical costumes as well, right?

Cosmatos: Yes. They originated in a nightmare I had where I was in this house with these malevolent figures that were covered in black tar. They were unsettling, and soon after I realized that would be the perfect manifestation for the bikers in this film.

Considering this is your second feature, what was it like for you to see Mandy make it to Sundance, and to Cannes?

Cosmatos: It was a dream come true. I mean, I never in my wildest dreams thought that this film would do as well as it is doing. You know, you never know. I knew that at some point it would find its audience. I made movies for people like me and [my] friends, and I knew that there were other people out there like us. I knew that eventually it would find its audience, but the fact that it was embraced so warmly by Sundance and Cannes is so wonderful.

I was also wondering about the title cards that are shown throughout the movie. What inspired those?

Cosmatos: I just really like graphics in film. It really started with the Mandy main card of the film. The other cards grew out of that. It establishes this world, a way that ties in with the those books that inspired Mandy.

Do you have any plans in motion for what's next? Are you planning another movie?

Cosmatos: I've got my pots on boilers, and I'm just waiting to see which ones I have to tend to the most. I keep a bunch of notebooks, and I'm sort of waiting for one to start talking to me and demand that I make it.

Mandy is now playing in select theatres.

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