Mister Korine

By Kyle Buchanan

Originally published on Advocate.com May 01 2008 12:00 AM ET

When Harmony
Korine wrote the screenplay for the 1995 drama Kids,
he was just a kid himself. Now 35, he’s
directed three films (including cult classics like
Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy) and is
preparing to release his latest, Mister Lonely. The
story of a Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna)
who is drawn to a ragtag group of celebrity wannabes
by a woman posing as Marilyn Monroe (Samantha Morton),
Mister Lonely debuted at last year’s Cannes
Film Festival and is being hailed as the eccentric
auteur’s most mainstream work yet.

Advocate: Harmony, I don't know if you’re aware of
this, but I think you have a big gay fan base.

Korine: Are you
serious? Really?

When I told people I’d be interviewing you, all
my gay friends just lit up.

Really? Shit,
that's exciting!

You've never noticed it before?

To be honest with
you, I live in a place where I wouldn't really know who
my fans are. I live in Nashville, so the people around me
don't really care so much, you know? But that's great
to know.

Maybe it's on account of Gummo? There's a lot of
homoeroticism in that film, including a long scene
where you drunkenly flirt with a dwarf. Did men
ever hit on you based on that scene?

It maybe used to
happen more when I first lived in New York. Now it
doesn't happen at all, since I'm married and I live in
Nashville. [Laughs] Although my favorite gay is the
Southern gay. There's just this Southern gay
subculture: acid-washed jeans, strip malls -- it's
kind of more dandyish. A lot of those guys would probably
be churchfolk had they not been gay, and a lot of them still
are churchfolk -- not to say that you can't be gay and
be churchfolk. They still have all those qualities of
a church person, but they like to get freaky as well.
[Laughs]

In the film, Michael is accused of having an affair
with Marilyn. Is his interest in her romantic?

I don't know. You
tell me!

It didn't seem that way to me. In fact, I thought
his sexuality might have something to do with his desire
to impersonate Michael Jackson.

You know, it's
hard to say. I think you could take it a lot of different
ways. Maybe he has a little bit of that interest in her, but
maybe he doesn't feel it so much. I don't know. I
mean, I have my own ideas and opinions on characters
and relationships, but there's no right or wrong way
to see them.

What appealed to you about using Michael Jackson in
this film?

The reason I
liked the idea of focusing on a Michael Jackson impersonator
is that Michael Jackson, in some ways, is symbolic of this
person without sex. A boy, a man, white, black, young,
old…there's this ghostly presence. And when
thinking about it, for me, it felt like, He should be
Mexican.
I'd seen Diego in movies and I met with
him and there was this boyishness, this ethereal nature
and this charm. It just felt right.

There's a scene early on where Diego is doing his
Michael Jackson dance moves on a busy French street.
Were the reactions candid?

Some people would
walk by, others would shrug, some would become
confrontational. We did it in Paris, and I don't think they
dig him so much.

Who, Michael Jackson? I thought he was still
popular in Europe.

I guess not in
Paris!

Did Diego learn the moves easily? He was in Dirty
Dancing 2,
after all.

No, no, no, he
could never replicate that performance! [Laughs] We
spent time with him, but he also worked with a real
Mexican Michael Jackson impersonator. I never met him,
but I guess Diego found him on his own. He's a famous
Michael Jackson impersonator in Mexico City.

And you've known Samantha Morton for a long time, right?

I met her first
at my apartment in New York -- maybe 1995, '96. I think
it was her first trip to America. I'd just done a lot of
mushrooms -- like, three to four days' worth of eating
mushrooms. She came in and I think she just held my
hand and we talked for a little while.

How was it working with her? I’ve heard she can
be a little strong-willed about…

Everything. Yeah,
she is. She has a very definite idea of what her
character is about. You know, I've watched her career and
what she’s done, and I’ve always thought
she was one of the best actresses working.
She’s someone who’s just fun to watch.
Samantha’s got a lot of depth, and you can take
her to a deep place.

Your wife, Rachel, plays a Little Red Riding Hood
impersonator in the film -- but Red's a fictional
character, not a celebrity. What gives?

Originally she
was gonna play Britney Spears. When we were figuring out
who the celebrities were as we wrote it, we wanted them to
be iconic, instantly recognizable -- and then there
were certain people whose mythology I thought was
interesting and could maybe bleed into the narrative.
Then we put her in a Britney Spears outfit and she just
looked like a slutty teenager. There wasn't anything
behind it; there wasn't anything visually interesting
about it. I couldn't come up with a new replacement,
so I went on some sites and talked to some people, and for
some reason I saw tons of Little Red Riding Hoods. Maybe it
was a children’s birthday party thing?

Fashion designer Agnes B. was one of Mister
Lonely
's producers. How did the two of you
hook up?

I met her at the
Venice Film Festival with Julien [Donkey-Boy].
I guess she really liked the movies I was making, and when
we sat down I just loved her. We started talking about
starting this company together and not just making
movies but making things. I remember when I first
moved to New York and I lived on Prince Street, her store
was a couple blocks away. I would walk by and she
always had the best posters in the window; I would go
in and try to steal them and someone would shoo me
out. I guess I've had a relationship with her since then!

Do you still have much of a relationship with the
fashion world?

No. I'm
done.

You're rejecting it?

It's not that I'm
rejecting it. I have friends and a lot of people
involved in it, so I don't want to belittle it -- it's just
that…well, I was in the Marc Jacobs campaign.
[Laughs]

You joined the ranks of Marc Jacobs models like
Posh Spice and Dakota Fanning. You must be very proud.

I know, that was
great! I got the call from Juergen [Teller, the
photographer] asking me if I would do it. I just thought it
would be a goof, that it'd be funny.

You've directed commercials yourself, haven't you?

Three. In some
ways, it confused me a little bit whether or not I should
do them. But sometimes you see ads that are kind of
interesting, and in the end, you gotta eat, you know?
It took me eight years to make this movie, and it's
hard to sustain any kind of living at that pace.

Are there certain companies you'd never make a
commercial for?

Yeah. Like I
would never do something for the Army or the police
department. But I would definitely do a douche commercial!
[Laughs]

Well, now you’ve put it out there. Thanks, Harmony.

You know
something? That’s really great about my gay
following. I think maybe I should make a movie about
Southern gays.

Just be prepared to spend a lot on mint juleps.