David Gordon Green has carved out one of the most unique careers in filmmaking by showing himself equally willing and able to pursue intense drama and broad, satiric comedy.
That dichotomy — reflected in movies as different as “George Washington” and “The Pineapple Express” — is on full display now, as you can catch both the silly and the serious versions of the 42-year-old in two very different projects.
On the big screen, there’s “Stronger,” his genuinely moving dramatic rendering of the miracle recovery of Jeffrey Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal), the Boston Marathon bombing victim who lost both his legs and rebounded to walk again, becoming a symbol of Boston Strong in the process.
And every Sunday night, on HBO, you can see his directorial work on the other side of the spectrum in “Vice Principals,” the dark revenge comedy starring Walton Goggins and frequent collaborator Danny McBride.
amNewYork spoke with Green, who will soon be going in a completely different direction as the director of the upcoming “Halloween” reboot.
The inspirational true story is new terrain for you.
I’ve never done a true story before. The emotional weight. But also the approach to getting to an emotional story I really appreciated. Levity, complexity, characters that don’t feel cliché or obvious in the decisions and the struggles that they have. There’s just a lot of layers, and I was really drawn to this character who not only was facing physical and emotional hardship, but he was facing them in this tremendous spotlight, with this social and public pressure on himself.
What’s the larger meaning of Jeffrey’s story?
I think it’s important sometimes to look into the deeper layers of what makes a hero a hero and question that. I love digging into the backstory and seeing the complexity of his life, where he represents one thing and he kind of struggles with what he represents. At the same time, there’s a strength and an acceptance of this representation at a point, and that’s kind of what this film is studying.
What’s the key to avoiding self-parody in depicting Boston, given that so often Hollywood falls back on dropped-R clichés?
Boston’s a vast city with infinite accents within it. Jeff is from Chelmsford, which is 30 minutes outside of Boston, so when you think a lot of those accents, you think of Southie stereotypes. This was not a South Boston accent ... so it wasn’t as technical as that. We also had the real-life resources of the true characters there.
You’ve developed a dual identity in drama and comedy. What do you get out of the latter?
For me personally, working with an incredibly joyous group of people, having fun and making people laugh is very valuable. I’m not a clown myself but I love to mess around and have fun and bring out the humor in really talented comedic actors. Is it the most soul-searching, satisfying artistic achievement in my life? No, but if I did that every day, I’d be depressed.