I think that it’s a thriller that studies sex and race and the coming of age of a boy to manhood. Pete Dexter adapted his own novel, something that novelists aren’t always comfortable doing.
How did you work with him?
There was always Pete Dexter’s screenplay. Pedro Almodovar [who at one point was planning to direct the film] had written a draft also. But Pete’s was sort of the one I based my spin on. He wrote a script and I sort of rewrote, added on to what he wrote. He did a great job. I had my own take on it. I had a very specific take on race. Look, I had just left Selma, so I had that race issue in the ’60s bubbling up in me, waiting to explode. And I took a lot of that and laced it throughout Paperboy, which added another element to the story.
You’ve got a very high-profile cast. How did it come about?
Casting was a circus. It was crazy. We kept losing actors because we kept pushing the start date. We started out with one cast and ended up with another. We started out with Tobey Maguire and Sofia Vergara and Bradley Cooper and we ended up with Zac Efron and Matthew McConaughey and Nicole Kidman. Crazy. I think the universe plays it exactly as it’s supposed to. I couldn’t be prouder of each of the actors in the film. They serviced Pete’s characters magnificently.
Zac Efron is the relative newcomer in the cast. How did he hold his own?
Zac Efron, he is hungry. That is the best way to describe Zac. He is hungry and eager. He really gave it to me, man. He brought it home for me.
How did the invitation to come to Cannes come about?
They kept asking. I wasn’t even done. We were about six months pregnant with the film. It was almost there, but it wasn’t quite there yet. But the producers were like, “We’ve got to go to Cannes, we’ve got to commit to Cannes.” For me, I don’t do movies for festivals. I like to wait until the movie is finished and then figure out where the film is supposed to be placed. Cannes felt a little early. But I had no say because I don’t own this film like I did with my others. I was a director for hire. But it all worked out for the good.
You’ve been to Cannes many times before, both in the festival sidebars and last year selling rights to The Paperboy. What’s it mean for you to finally be in the Competition?
This one is an out-of-body experience because it’s in Competition. It sounds corny to say it, but I’m humbled. That’s the only way to describe it, but I’m still sort of in shock and humbled that I’m in the Competition.