One-on-One with Alan Ball on "Towelhead"

When you first adapted the novel, how did you find yourself relating to the racism issues, since obviously it's not something you personally experienced --

Well, being gay, I know what it's like to have people hate me just because of who I am. I grew up in the South in the late 50's and early 60's, so I'm no stranger to racism and racist attitudes. It just felt very real to me, you know? It felt very -- I loved the fact that the book allowed its characters to be flawed, to be racist, and to do really, really destructive things; and at the same time it never wavered in seeing them as human beings who had their own pain and their own suffering. It didn't judge them. The book didn't tell me, "Okay, you should hate this guy." When it first described [Jasira's father] Rifat, it didn't say, he's got a sneer on his face! And he looks... You know, whatever. The book has compassion for all of its characters. I tried to do that with the film, as well, because that's something I really appreciate. I'm not interested in a movie that's gonna tell me what I'm supposed to feel every step of the way. So I tried to make a movie that wouldn't do that.

It occurred to me that the movie is all about contradictions. Like... Mr. Vuoso wants Jasira to be a sexual object but he gets really angry when she says she wants to be in Playboy, she's being told that she's beautiful by everyone but she's not allowed to show it, and of course the minorities themselves are guilty of racism. Would you say that that was your intention?

Well, I think that it's very true. And I think we live in a culture that want to quantify and simplify everything into very simple black/white polemics. I think human experience is a lot more complicated than that. If you don't allow yourself to see the subtle shades of grey, then you're not really taking the whole picture into account, you know what I mean? I think part of that comes from the general culture of fear that we live in. We are so encouraged to be afraid into mass security through finances and personal possessions and to really think of ourselves as under attack. That's certainly something that I believe the power structure of our culture is actually doing. And I think fear clouds understanding.

What I love about Alicia's book and what I tried to translate into the movie is this is a movie that try to understand how something horrible like this could happen. It was not an attempt to vilify this person or victimize this person. It was attempting to understand how someone can come out of that experience, survive that experience, and become a stronger person more in charge of her body, her own life and her own destiny. Without... "Now she's a victim for life." Because that's usually how these stories end up when we see them dramatized.

It is really unique how this movie is actually empowering to women who went through this experience...

It's empowering! Yeah. And I think THAT may be something that's ticking people off a little bit, 'cause it doesn't fit into the victimization mold. It's like, "How can you say that it's a good thing that this happened to her?!" or "She wouldn't react that way! She'd be totally traumatized and be destroyed for life!" You know what? This happens to, like, some estimates place it as high as 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men. I know people it's happened to, and honestly, it happened to me when I was a kid and it didn't destroy me. I refused to -- along with the culture of fear, there's the culture of victimization. "Oh, my special thing is that this happened to me. This is what I had to deal with. Look at it. This is what makes me special." I just think that you just get stuck there with that approach.

This movie ended with a birth scene, Six Feet Under and American Beauty ended with deaths. Am I correct in assuming that --

But there was a big birth in the last episode of Six Feet Under. Usually the moment when people die, there is a birth...

Yeah, ah, where I was going with this was... am I correct in assuming that True Blood is going to end with an... undeath?

There are a lot of undead people in True Blood. There are a lot of people who get killed. [Laughs] Yeah!

[Laughs] Not to change the subject too much...

No, but it's true. Obviously, life/death issues are compelling fodder for drama.

Was that the reason that initially drew you into this, um, you know, story that isn't usually your forte?

You know, what drew me into it was how much fun it was. It was really fun. It felt [like] a relief. It was, "Ahh!" It's vampires! It's kind of fantastic that you can't take it too seriously. And you can just have fun. Charlaine's books are wildly entertaining. I tried to take the cue from her and make the series entertaining. It's the most aggressively entertaining thing I've ever done.

I haven't seen it but I'm looking forward to it [Note: I have since this interview watched the show and I LOVE it]. Do you see it going on for a long time?

It could go on for many many seasons. She's written 8 books and the 9th is being published this year. We basically used Book One for Season One.

Oh, so you pretty much got eight seasons there!

You could! Yeah.

Well, are we going to see you more interested in genre films, then?

Maybe, yeah. The stuff I'm reading and the stuff I respond to these days seem less navel-gazing and more sort of plot and extreme circumstances. Yeah, I would love to branch out and do different things because I feel it's important as an artist to keep challenging ourselves.

I think people would love to see you take on a horror movie or something like that. I remember when True Blood was first announced, people were like, "Alan Ball? Vampire show?"

Yeah, yeah. We'll see, we'll see. It's been really fun. There's a lot of horrific moments in True Blood and those are really fun to do. There's a book that I pitched to Warner Bros. that's a total horror movie. I've been waiting to hear from them if they're interested in pursuing it. I'd like to do a Science-Fiction movie. I have an idea for one, actually, that I'm trying to get off the ground at some point in the next year.

You seem very busy.

I'm a workaholic.

That's not a very bad addiction to have.

It's better than Crystal Meth! [Laughs]

***

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Sep
18
2008
Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.

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