20 Questions: David Michôd, Director of ‘Animal Kingdom’

Animal Kingdom is racking up some major critical nods, with a combined 83 score over at Metacritic and perfect 10 scores from Salon, the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal, as well approval from the Sundance crowd. So, it’s quite impressive that the film is the feature debut of young Australian director, David Michôd. Michôd has helmed many short films that have made the festival circuit, including Crossbow (winning Best Short Screenplay at the 2007 AFI Awards) and Netherland Dwarf (named the 2009 Aspen Shortsfest’s Best Drama). This prodigious talent now pauses his busy career to take PopMatters’ 20 Questions.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

Rabbit-Proof Fence and Whale Rider, two movies from 2002 about the Australasian indigenous experience. They were a while ago now, but they just kill me. I cry watching movies on planes all the time, but I think that has more to do with the altitude than the movies. I cried watching an episode of Intervention the other night too, but that doesn’t count because I feel like I was tricked into it.

I don’t think I’ve ever cried reading a book. Do people cry reading books?

2. The fictional character most like you?

Derek Zoolander… insecure and delusional, but basically a really nice guy.

3. The greatest album, ever?

Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin. Either that or Shadows Collide With People by John Frusciante.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Wars. It was only the second movie I ever saw and it blew my little five-year-old mind. I was so young when I saw it that I thought my parents were taking me to see a cowboy movie.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Books. I love reading them. I miss David Foster Wallace like crazy.

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?

Animal Kingdom. When I left film school in Melbourne, I had no idea how I might go about having a career in the film business, let alone ever get to make a feature film. That I chiselled away and did it — and that it has now been so well received — is something I’m pretty proud of.

7. You want to be remembered for…?

Being a good person who made some stuff that excited people as much as the stuff that has excited me over the years.

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?

Jacki Weaver and Ben Mendelsohn, two of my favourite actors on the planet who have been honing their talents for decades. And now, finally, people all over aforementioned planet are getting to see how good they are. (This is a plug for Animal Kingdom, sure, but the sentiment is 100% pure.)

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Andrew Dominik could retire triumphant now if he wanted to. I would’ve liked to have written the song “Stagger Lee” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds too. Dirty and dangerous and great.

10. Your hidden talents…?

I am pretty prodigiously good at tennis. Many a cocky trash-talker has been roundly humiliated by my racquet.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

One of my best friends, Michael Cody, told me to get out of my apartment in Kings Cross (which is Sydney’s red-light district) and move to Bondi Beach. It’d be good for my health and my sanity, he told me. I didn’t believe him, but I did it anyway. And I’ll never forget that first night, unloading the furniture from the truck and sucking in the sea breeze and feeling happier than I’d felt in a long time.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

My latex matress. I spend more than enough time in bed to warrant getting rid of the futon and splashing out on a good night’s sleep. I bought this mattress. They’re pretty difficult things to steal.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?

Levis. What I love most about where I live in Sydney is that it’s perfectly acceptable to roam the streets barefoot, which I do.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Jesus because I think they’d all be really nice to me (although I think they’d freak me out quite a lot too).

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

The Jurassic period. When I was a little kid I was so obsessed with dinosaurs I wanted to be a paleontologist — the first big word I ever learned. I would kill to go back a couple of hundred million years and get a look at those big suckers.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

Swimming in the ocean. I live only two minutes walk from a dizzyingly beautiful ocean beach and there’s nothing better for my brain than throwing it in the surf. Doesn’t matter how I’m feeling beforehand, I was always feel good afterwards. I never regret a swim… (except maybe for the couple of times I’ve gotten stuck in a rip on a big-swell day and almost died — I regretted those ones a little bit).

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?

Oh boy. I just salivated looking at that list. But you left out water. I have only recently discovered, probably way too late in life, that drinking water is the key to everything (and by water I mean from the tap — bottled water has to be one of the greatest scams ever perpetrated on our lamely impressionable species).

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

City. Sydney specifically. But I find great solace in knowing the country is out there. This is what I love about Australia — outside a few great cities, like Sydney and Melbourne and Brisbane, the rest of the continent is pretty much wild and empty. I find that comforting and captivating and terrifying all at the same time.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

I don’t know who I’d be talking to. At time of writing, we’re only three days after an election with no winner. It’s as yet unclear whether Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, will be given the opportunity to lead an ever-increasingly ineffectual left or whether we will be forced to live with the most terrifying conservative throwback since… well, since the last one.

I’m gonna go ahead and assume I’m talking to Julia and say to her only this: be inspirational. It’s about time somebody was.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

Trying to figure out what I should be working on now…