Lucas began his career as an award-winning writer, authoring
Tony-nominated plays including Prelude to a
Kiss and The Light in the Piazza and the
landmark gay film Longtime Companion, he has
recently made inroads as a film director. His latest film,
Birds in America, stars Matthew Perry, Ben
Foster, and Ginnifer Goodwin as a trio of very dysfunctional
siblings. It's set to premiere at the Sundance Film
Festival -- which launched his directorial debut,
The Dying Gaul, as well as The Secret
Lives of Dentists, which he wrote the
You have a great record so far when it comes to
getting into Sundance. Has it become old hat for you yet?
No! I'm not a
very social person -- I mean, I'm not inept or anything,
but I don't love big crowds. Movie people frighten me.
[Laughs] So it's always a challenge in that way,
but every time I've gone I see great movies that I might not
have seen otherwise.
Having experienced it before, do you go in with a
different plan of attack this time?
difference is that the last time I was there I was still
drinking. That just brings out the worst in me -- I say
unseemly things, I misbehave. Everything has gotten
easier in my life since I stopped: I get along with
people better, I don't take things so seriously, and I
don't get angry. So I'm sure it will be more pleasant -- not
only for me but for anyone coming into contact with
Tell me what I should know about the film that
isn't in the Sundance guide's description.
Hmm. What do they
say in the Sundance description?
It says, "Three siblings couldn't be more different
or more neurotic, but when they find themselves
converging at the family manse, they become
surprisingly indispensable to one another."
Oh! There's a
much better description out there.
Do you want to summarize it in your own words, then?
Well, that's not
what I do. I'm not a publicist, I don't summarize. I'm
not trying to be evasive, but I could go on for four hours
about the movie, and I don't know if it's easily
surmisable. In fact, I find that movies that can be
described in a short blurb are often really boring.
It's a meditative and very thoughtful script, which is why I
wanted to do it. The behavior and family dynamic are
very specific. I think most of us have grown sick of a
certain kind of quirky, dysfunctional family where
yuks and zingers abound. What I liked about this is it felt
based in things that I had genuinely experienced and
Tell me a bit about the fractured family at the
center of the story.
siblings -- the older one raised the two young ones after
both of the parents died in quick succession when he
was 17. He couldn't deal with it, so he's left behind
this 11-year-old sister and 7-year-old brother. He
feels ashamed that he didn't do a good job with them,
because they are extremely boundaryless kids. Now one
is in his 20s and one is in her early 30s, and they're
both living on the edge. The brother lives in a ravine
and is questionably mentally unstable...the sister lives in
her car and takes glamour photos of transvestites.
She's a chain-smoker who's not averse to taking pills
This is a script that came to you -- you didn't
write it yourself, unlike your last film, The
Dying Gaul. What was it about it that first
sparked a connection?
What excited me
about the script is that when the three siblings come
into the foyer of the older one's house, they don't touch.
They kind of stand there and don't even go through the
motions of hugging and kissing, which I found shocking
and kind of emblematic about how it's hard to love our
families. You don't choose them, and often they deserve to
be beheaded! [Laughs] I think it's easier to
accept friends and their difficulties. You can put as much
distance between you and a friend as you want, but
it's very difficult to impose distance on a family
member. There's so much guilt and shame and
How did this project come to you?
I heard that they
were looking for somebody last-minute -- they had just
lost another director, and they had a "go" date and no
director. I was hesitant to step into that situation,
but I looked at the work of the cinematographer, and
the actors already hired were people that I admired,
like Ben Foster, Hilary Swank, and Matthew Perry. Then they
let me cast the rest of it, so they let me cast Gary
Wilmes, and they let me cast Daniel Eric Gold -- an
actor who I don't think is as heralded as he someday
will be -- and they let me cast Ginny Goodwin and Lauren
Is this a different side than we're used to seeing
from those actors, especially Matthew Perry?
I like actors
that do less, and I was attracted to Matthew in this part
because he's so emotionally shut down. He's constipated
physically, he hasn't had a shit in six weeks. I
didn't think that was possible, but I called a bunch
of doctors, and they said it most emphatically is! Nice,
right? [Laughs] Part of normal life is being
able to express yourself, and this is someone who will not
give himself permission to express almost anything.
His stomach gurgles throughout the picture as a result
of it. So I thought this would be a real challenge --
and a good one -- for an actor who's good at expressing
everything with his body and his face and his voice.
He's a master at a certain kind of comedy, and I
thought, This is like casting Elizabeth Taylor
in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? This is asking him
to do something I'd never seen him do.
It seems like a departure for you as well.
I'd never done a
comedy like this, and I certainly never directed one.
I'd directed comedies in the theater, but I'd never done
something that had this sort of Chekhovian tone. I was
interested in that formally, and I wanted to try it.
Everybody thinks all I can do is gay killers!
[Laughs] The funny thing in the movie business is
that you make something and everyone thinks that's all
you're interested in. Every single studio called me
with every dying-person picture they had. It can be a
trap. I'm not interested in that. Next I'd like to do
something absolutely different, like an out-and-out comedy.
A free-spirited comedy, since the comedy in this film
is based on awkwardness, an inability to find the
right means to love. It's not a gross-out comedy, it's
not an absurdist comedy. I'm just so sick of all of
that. This is about grown-ups in trouble, and that's what