Thomas Harris chats with Hotel Artemis writer-director Drew Pearce…
Drew Pearce has had a pretty impressive rise to stardom. He started his career writing for BBC Drama Lip Service and in the space of five years he was writing for Iron Man 3 and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.
Meeting in a spacious hotel room somewhere in Soho, I had the pleasure to talk to Pearce about his latest, Hotel Artemis. We talk architecture, Jodie Foster and our shared adoration for Father John Misty.
Note, interviewing talent often feels akin to standing on a conveyor belt, shouting your questions in the hope that they stick. Pearce felt like an old friend.
How are you?
I’m great, just checking out your ink instantly. I like your leaf, what’s that…
This continues for a few minutes, we talk tattoos, which is Pearce through and through, like catching up with an old friend.
How recently did you get back into London?
I flew in yesterday, fly back out on Thursday, but I’m good, it’s lovely to be back and catch up with people. So thank you for taking the time.
Congratulations of the film, has this project been long gestating, you’ve had a fairly busy few years?
Yeah, yeah it has. I think I first started thinking about it during [writing] Iron Man, so around 2011/12, and I’ve been looking for a right project to direct for that whole time and there are a lot of other spec scripts that I wrote, some of which nearly made it and in the end [Hotel] Artemis happened because people responded to the script which made it easier to cast and because it’s a bubble piece. I was able to make it on a small budget. That’s the interesting thing, it’s coming out in the wilds of the summer against very big movies and we’re this little indie movie that a bunch of us shot for the love of it in downtown LA for 33 days last summer. So it’s exciting but it’s also a little bit intimidating.
How about the hotel?
We had to actually build it piecemeal. Originally, ideally we were going to find one hotel, turned out that was impossible. Then we were going to use different bits of different hotels and in the end we built a set for the inside of the Artemis, which by the way was only a third of that floor because we didn’t have the budget to build five bedrooms. Literally once every three days we’d chainsaw up one of the mural, repaint the room do it for another three days, yeah it was terrifying. It meant as a first time director I didn’t have the ability to go back and pick up other stuff later in the shoot. But then we used the roof of the Roslyn Hotel as our roof, the lobby of Hotel Cecil and the tunnels of another hotel somewhere downtown. So we pieced the Artemis together but if it was based on any of them it was probably the Roslyn.
It vividly reminded me of Barton Fink?
It had the wallpaper peeling…
Totally a reference. Not least because I was worried about using green and then when I was watching 1920s hotel movies, like I really bought the green in Barton Fink. I mean, it’s literally set in one of the hotels that Barton Fink taps into. There’s this amazing area of LA that was the most fashionable and thriving area of LA in the 1920s and by the 70s it was completely fucked. So there are all these giant, beautifully crafted art deco buildings that lay completely derelict. That was a part of what inspired us organically for the Artemis being one of those because a bunch of them are still burnt out. Though gentrification means that they’ll become juice bars. But one of the fascinating things is that they were all so ornate that set designers, wood workers and marble carvers would moonlight at the weekend making the details at the hotels. There’s a really interesting theatrical aspect to the buildings themselves that actually links up with the Hollywood system.
Can you talk about bringing together the cast? There’s something charming about seeing Jodie Foster playing a slightly cantankerous old woman…
Oh yeah, my god. She was the first cast member to sign up. She somehow got hold of the script before we had taken it out, she won’t tell me how but she had been in the business for 52 years so I suspect she has her own secret underground network and I was lucky enough that she wanted to do it. I think it’s because it afforded her the chance to actually play something different, to pay a character ten years older than herself, with a different voice than her own. Jodie quite rightly feels that when there are roles for women and there aren’t enough anyway, then they are often just a version of themselves and she hadn’t recently had the chance to play characters. And I think there was a run of movies that she, if not playing a version of herself, then playing a version – that flinty, woman on a mission vibe – and the Nurse was just a massive change for her so I think that’s what attracted her to it. Then I accumulated this brilliant, eclectic cast around her. Look, I got really lucky that they all wanted to do it and I also got really lucky that in the year and a half since I cast it, the Goldblum renaissance has occurred, Sterling [K. Brown] has won every award going.
Bryan Tyree Henry is everywhere.
Yeah absolutely. And so when I first met a bunch of these people that wasn’t necessarily happening. I got lucky. No one got paid for this movie, it’s done on a budget, but they all did it because they loved the script and it’s the same behind the camera. I think that’s why the eclectic cast came together, it’s a bunch of people not necessarily playing the type of character they usually play so it was actively exciting for them to do it.
I was looking through the credits, and I caught onto Josh Tillman. I adore Father John Misty but without the beard…
First of all, the final song in the movie is a track he wrote as the theme tune for the film “Gilded Cage,” he’s one of the four bank robbers at the beginning, wait I can’t say what happens, it’s a spoiler. Basically, it comes from the fact that as a kid I loved watching Repo Man and that kind of ear slightly hand made sci-fi and another thing that got backed into my cinematic DNA is you would always find one cool musician. Don’t get me wrong it was usually The Clash but in Jim Jarmusch’s stuff. And in the right role, and often it’s a slightly more limited role, I just always loved that. I loved the fact that it was someone from a slightly different role and I worked with Josh and I knew him well and I think he’s brilliant on camera.
He’s so watchable.
He’s magnetic. And so that’s why I put him in there. Also he was growing his hair back out at that point. Ironically, the look of Acapulco [Charlie Day] is based on Pure Comedy era Father John. He’s got the mustache, the fantastic open shirts, the kind of slightly bequiffed look.
There’s a small group of us who are going to get very over excited about his inclusion now.
It’s good though. You never know, maybe Pitchfork might celebrate him getting shot.
So what’s next for you?
Well, what’s next is seeing if people like the film. My ideal, I’m a screenwriter and producer on massive stuff as well, I love doing that. But I also love directing and producing my own things. I don’t necessarily want to cross those streams just yet, I really enjoy making Artemis on a budget because I want to protect and hermetically seal it. So I want to continue doing my own writer/director pieces that have as much of my own personality in them as possible. But then I also love playing with the big train sets. There’s a couple of things and something that’ll probably be announced soon but I can’t talk about it just yet.
Hotel Artemis opens in the UK on July 20th and features a cast that includes Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Brian Tyree Henry, Jenny Slate, Zachary Quinto, Charlie Day, and Dave Bautista.
Many thanks to Drew Pearce for taking the time for this interview.