――Congratulations on your film! It’s so beautiful and heart-wrenching at the same time, and brought me back a pure joy of being a child. What inspired you to make this film?
Alexandre Rockwell: I made a film called “Little Feet” with Lana when she was seven or eight and Nico was five or four, because I just wanted to get back to a very pure thing in cinema. When my kids came into my life, it made it very easy for me to imagine making a film about something close, something I loved. I had a lot of problems with Hollywood and I wasn’t so interested in this way of making films. One day, I was just watching them and listening to them whisper the games they played, and their imaginations were so alive. They were always inventing things, playing games with no money, nothing. They were such good kids, good people, you know, interesting. So I made “Little Feet” with them in Los Angeles, and it was like I discovered the fountain of youth. All of a sudden, I loved making films again. It was inventive and I did whatever I wanted.
――How did “Sweet Thing” come about?
Alexandre Rockwell: So then, Lana and I were talking later (about making another film), and I was a little nervous because when she was younger, she was very natural. She and her brother had a very good relationship and she is very charismatic with the camera, but it was a big responsibility for her to do “Sweet Thing.” It’s another level because now it’s not just playing in a rough world, but it’s actually hitting up against a rough adult world. So I was nervous for her because I knew I had to write something very honest, but at the same time, she wasn’t a professional actress, so I didn’t know. It was a big risk, but she surprised me so much when she did it. And the inspiration really came from Lana and Nico, and me like you trying to recapture this feeling of the magic of children, and the fact they can have a brutal life around them, but they still find joy, they still find poetry. This was sort of the inspiration of the movie.
――Lana, you were amazing in the film. How did you feel when your dad offered you the role?
Lana Rockwell: He first introduced it to me while we were here, it was a few months before he was thinking about having it happen. He showed me the script and said, “I can’t really think of anyone else who I really want to play Billie. So read it and tell me if you’re comfortable with it.” Prior to that, I didn’t feel like I had much acting experience. I really only did “Little Feet” with him when I was young and I wasn’t totally conscious of “acting.” Then I did a small student film with one of the students at NYU. But I wasn’t really intimidated by it. I thought it would be really fun and I have an interest in acting. I like the idea of creating something with a big group of people.
――In the film, Billie and Nico’s dad is an alcoholic. They have to take care of themselves and even their dad who is supposed to be their caregiver. The issue of so-called “young carers” (children who take care of their relatives) is a big problem in Japan as well. Why did you decide to tell this particular story?
Alexandre Rockwell: For me personally, my father was an alcoholic and it was not always easy. Because it’s mixed feeling when you love a parent who is an alcoholic. You love them so you want to protect them, and they are still your hero, strangely enough. But they are failing all the time and they are embarrassing you. I had older sisters like Lana is for Nico, and my sisters were my mothers in a way, and they really helped me get through it. That bond of friendship between me and my sisters and me and my friends really helped me survive some difficult times with my alcoholic dysfunctional family a bit.
Alexandre Rockwell: So you know what? If there are any people out there who have this kind of issue, I would really say, never lose faith because you are right. This person has a disease and you can still love them, but they have to take care of themselves and you have to take care of yourself. Strangely enough, I wasn’t an alcoholic and I was a good father to her, but Lana has an incredibly compassionate heart. She was able to love Will Patton who plays the father, and she really used her imagination. When I would watch her, it was like watching me as a young boy. She has such compassion and so much love and so much honesty that she could do this without any problem. Even though she doesn’t come from this kind of family, she has a real ability to have empathy for other people. It’s strange because as a father, you don’t know. But something in me kind of knows that about Lana. And I also know that about Nico, because he looks up to his sister and I know he follows her. Between the two of them I trusted that and it’s the best part of the movie for me.
――Billie is not an easy role to play, but how did you prepare for the role?
Lana Rockwell: I think one thing that I’ve learned through acting is listening to other people. I think someone like Billie is very observant and isn’t very reactive, and she’s had to be the adult in her own life, really. So I just kind of thought about, “Well, how would I do that?” I thought about the ways that I’ve done that in my life in whatever ways, definitely nowhere as extreme as Billie, but I tried to totally encompass that and do Billie justice in that way.
Alexandre Rockwell: She felt that Billie was a person who had needed a friend almost. Like Billie needed someone to take care of her. I remember you telling me, “I have to do this for Billie.” It was so moving because she really wanted to help a girl like Billie who would be without a mom and who had to take care of her brother. So she really held that girl Billie’s hand and helped her. I thought that was a really interesting way to approach it.
――How was it like working with your family?
Lana Rockwell: Working with my family is great, honestly. I mean, we have challenges of course, because we live with each other. So things that happen on set, we also bring home [laughs.] But it’s great because I have a really strong relationship with my dad and my mom and my brother, so I felt safe and secure on set.
Alexandre Rockwell: And she had an easier time working with her mother than her mother had with her. Her mother was more nervous. But even in the most intense scene with your mom, you were OK. After every take, Lana was like, “Oh, I’m OK.” And then Karyn was like, “Oh my god, oh my god!” [laughs] But Lana made her mother not so nervous, because she said, “It’s OK, you can get mad at me. It’s just pretend, you know?”
――The scenes with you and Nico were so sweet. Nico is very young but has the charisma. Are you two very close in real life as well?
Lana Rockwell: Yeah, we have our brother-sister moments where we fight and stuff, but he was great onset. He’s so natural, it’s ridiculous! He just does it. Just one take and he’s great. But yeah, in real life, Nico and I are very close and I think that definitely comes out in the movie.
――Does Nico enjoy acting?
Alexandre Rockwell: I wish he would, but you know, he wants to play basketball.
Lana Rockwell: I think he had a good time on set, I think he liked it. Just afterwards, he was kind of like, “OK, whatever” [laughs]
――Why did you decide to cast Will Patton as their dad?
Alexandre Rockwell: He was in “In the Soup” and he played Skippy the crazy brother. We had such a good time working together. He really liked “In the Soup,” and we always kind of followed each other. So I thought, “You know, I’ll give him the script.” Because first of all, I had no money, I made it with just nothing. So I knew I had to have an actor who was going to be dedicated, even if he wasn’t paid and he took risk. Will does a lot of different things. He does bigger films, smaller films. He does anything, he always follows what he wants to do. So he came in and he was very quiet and very honest. And he really helped Lana and Nico. They both loved him so much. Every scene with them is just so natural. There is a real affection between them.
――Also, Jabari Watkins who played Malik was fantastic. I read that he’s never acted before this film?
Alexandre Rockwell: We found him in a skate park in New York, and he was just wild and so full of energy. It’s like looking at fire. So I said, I want him to be in the film, because he just brings energy like life force. But it was difficult because he couldn’t remember any lines. He never acted before, but Lana was really good with him. She would make him stay there. She would even tell him his lines sometimes. They became very good friends like brother and sister.
――How did he react when you offered him the role even though he had no acting experience?
Alexandre Rockwell: He’s not complicated.
Lana Rockwell: Yeah, he was like, “Yeah, sure” [laughs.]
Alexandre Rockwell: But I think one week or two weeks before we were going to shoot, all of a sudden, I got a call. He goes, “Oh, man, I can’t do the film.” I said, “What!?” He said, “I broke my leg.” He broke his leg skateboarding!
Lana Rockwell: He broke his leg because he skateboards all the time. So he broke his leg right before we were going to start shooting! [laughs]
Alexandre Rockwell: Thankfully, he healed fast because he’s young. But it was like, “Oh, man!” [laughs] But he was very happy with it. When we showed him the movie, he thought it was a miracle. Because he doesn’t understand how you shape it. So he was really proud. I’m really happy for him.
――The title of the film “Sweet Thing” comes from a Van Morrison song. Why did you decide to do that? And how did it happen!?
Alexandre Rockwell: Almost impossible [laughs.] Because I did something nobody does, which is I wrote the film listening to the song in my head. I never even really thought about getting the rights. And then, Lana learned the song and she sang it in the movie. Then I titled the movie “Sweet Thing” because I love this line, which says, “I will never grow so old again.” It’s so beautiful. It says the heart of the movie. So I edited the movie and started to try to find if I could get the rights. And every door I knocked on was, no, no, no, no, and so much money, lots of money. These were all the big record companies. Then finally, I found Van Morrison’s manager through some person in Switzerland, and they got the recording to him of Lana singing it. When he heard that, he must have said yes, because we heard the next day that we have the rights. So no one should say something bad about him around me [laughs.]
――I heard that you made this film with your own money and also by using Kickstarter. How tough is it for independent filmmakers to get financed right now?
Alexandre Rockwell: It’s really hard time for independent film. In the states, we used to get support from Europe or Japan. “In the Soup” was partly made with Japanese support. Now, I don’t know what reasons completely, but in America, everything is controlled by Hollywood, really. Even independent film is controlled by Hollywood. I liked the time of Jim Jarmusch and Spike Lee and other people, we came up out of New York. Those guys make bigger movies now. But I don’t make big movies in Hollywood or with money from Hollywood, so I have to find a way to make movies. And I always believe people make movies, not money. It’s like, John Cassavetes would just say, “Come to my house this weekend” and we film. So you just create energy. This time, I had some money because I had a problem with my plumbing in the basement of my house, it flooded. So they gave me money to fix the basement, and I said to my wife, “Maybe we’ll fix the basement later if we can. Can I use the money for a movie?” [laughs] And she said OK. That’s Karyn. She’s great.
Lana Rockwell: True story [laughs.]
Alexandre Rockwell: So I put the money into the movie and I shot the movie with my students and Will and Karyn and the kids. Then later, I did crowdfunding when I needed to finish it to pay for the music and all the post-production. I couldn’t have done it without Kickstarter. I think Hal Hartley is another guy who does this.
――How do you feel that “Sweet Thing” is about to be released in Japan?
Alexandre Rockwell: I wish we could go. You know, my big regret is we’re not with you in Japan. I would love to meet the audience and share this part of the United States with them. I said this before, but there’s a Japanese filmmaker, the one who made “Shoplifters”… How do you pronounce his name?
――Mr. Hirokazu Kore-eda.
Alexandre Rockwell: Yeah, I feel like he is my brother. I admire him so much. I’ve never met him, but I would love to meet him because the way he films children and families with the difficulty and the challenges… He’s is an inspiration. I feel he speaks the same language, you know? So I think there’s a Japanese audience for the film.
――Lastly, is there anything you would like to say to Japanese audience?
Alexandre Rockwell: I would love to be there with you. I would just say, think of Lana and Nico and me holding your hands when you watch the movie, because it’s our letter to you.
Lana Rockwell: Yeah, our hearts are with each and every one of you!
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