AS: Nowadays does your agent get you your jobs?
MF: My agent is my dear friend, Ann Murtha. She has been one of my great collaborators and sources of support in my life so I have nothing disparaging to say about her. At all. She’s the most awesome and if it wasn’t for her I don’t think I’d still be doing this because sometimes you just keep banging your head against the wall.
But it’s not like anyone calls an agent, Who do you think should be in this movie? A casting director does that. If it comes from an agent usually it’s somebody calling for a designer more senior than me or more famous than me. If they’re not available why not try out this guy?
In my case I was in the streets in New York and it’s a small community there. I stumbled from place to place. The guys at Good Machine were doing some of the small stuff. And then they said, Maybe you can meet Ang Lee. Ang wasn’t as famous when we started The Ice Storm. He became really famous in prep because Sense and Sensibility came out. He’d done a couple of Chinese language movies in New York and that was it.
AS: What was Ang like to work with?
MF: Ang’s my dear friend. I started Gemini Man with him. But ended up having back surgery and having to leave the film. I did Billy Lynn with him recently. And we did two movies a long time ago. He went to film school with my wife. Ang Lee is a terrific man. He is not as particular about every detail of the set compared to Todd. He’s a little more bigger picture. Right now he happens to be obsessed with technology. And he’s very particular about that. But doing The Ice Storm with him was a turning point with me. Both as a designer and as a career it was a notch up from the little indie things I was doing. The Ice Storm was the first period movie I didn’t have to research. It’s about a 13 year old in 1976 which I was one. And I put some of my Dad’s furniture in Sigourney’s house!
We did Ice Storm together then we did Ride with the Devil together. And then Ang went on to start The Hulk and I was like, Great, now I’m going to become a Hollywood designer! Isn’t that what’s next? And I didn’t get to go. I was crushed. Rick Heinrichs got to do it. Because he knew how to do those movies and I didn’t. Computers and effects and all that was just starting. Nobody knew what they were and I’m just some upstart kid. And I was crushed!
Except Todd Haynes called me. Todd and I had gone to college together. I had sculpture class with Todd at Brown. He had such an advanced idea of what art could be even then. He didn’t hire me on some of his really indie, out-there stuff early on. I wasn’t wild enough for him but I was too artsy for everyone else! But we did come together on Far From Heaven. That was the sea-change moment for me when I realized I didn’t want to be only a Hollywood designer. Nothing against Hollywood. But it was the moment I realized I wanted to make the kind of movies I wanted to see. And my taste is more indie. Strange, challenging dramas.