Irrelevant Interviews: 'Adult World' Director Scott Coffey
I first met Scott Coffey on set when I was a production assistant—a lowly PA. To people not up to speed on the dynamics of the film industry, a PA is a young, idealistic former film student, who gets paid in dry cat food to do all the boring and demeaning labor on a movie set in hopes that one day the “opportunity” to let the higher-ups use them to wipe their asses might arise. Scott never seemed to buy into this dynamic in the way other directors gobbled it up. His on-set decency and friendly repartee seemed to transfer onto film. As if his presence inspired everyone to forget their own faded dreams, and care.
To be fair, though, I knew of Scott’s work long before I decided he’s a great human. He had directed a handful of beautiful music videos for Wolf Parade, the Handsome Furs, and (blech) the Head and the Heart, as well as a feature, Ellie Parker, starring Naomi Watts. That movie told the story of a struggling young actress in LA with a realism that made things like Girls possible. Lena Dunham actually brought Scott into an audition for season two just to tell him that Ellie Parker had been a huge influence on her work. Which was a legitimate request because before Scott starting directing, he was an actor. He was in Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, Tank Girl, Shag, Wayne’s World 2… even in the classroom scene of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. And, growing up in Hawaii, I can only assume that he smoked pot with a young Barack Obama in between gorging himself on Spam sliders.
Adult World, Scott’s latest film, is opening today at the TriBeca Film Festival. It stars Emma Roberts as a recent college graduate who wants to be a poet and John Cusack as a grouchy bard named Rat Billings who influenced a generation. She makes him her mentor and then finds a job at a dildo shop. It should be a fun film, especially if you have had previous wet dreams about John Cusack reading poetry to you or Emma Roberts playing with dildos. (Everyone fits into one of these two categories, right?) Find screening times here, New Yorkers, then watch it and gloat to your friends around the country that you got to see it and they didn’t.
VICE: Can you tell me a little bit about your elementary school?
Scott Coffey: I grow up in Hawaii, and I went to this bizarre, very post-war 1950s school that was all old and crumbling and weird. I was the whitest, freckled-ieist, red-headed kid in the world, and small. Everyone wanted to beat me up, but I also grew up in total paradise. Hawaii still felt very post-military, post-World War II, at least when I was growing up in the mid-70s and 80s, which was totally surreal.
When you were growing up, who was your role model?
Woody Allen and Robert Redford. That was when I was really young, though. That was before I discovered Joe Strummer.
What was your favorite movie when you were 15?
At the age of 15, my favorite movie was La Luna that Bernardo Bertolucci directed. It was about a mother and her son. She’s an opera singer and she takes her 15-year-old son to Rome with her after her husband dies. Then her son becomes a heroin addict, and they have a weird incestuous relationship together. It’s a beautiful, kind of amazing movie. I sat by myself at the theater, because a bunch of friends of mine were all to the beach and I was like, “I want to watch this movie instead.” So they all went to the beach, and I went to the movie, and it totally changed my life. Years later it was on cable, and I sat next to my mom and watched it again, and it was the most awkward film experience I have ever had.
Can you describe your first date?
My very first date was with this girl—even though I don’t make out or go on dates with girls, anymore. When I was in eighth grade, I had a date and went to this party with her, and I was dressed as Luke Skywalker, and she was dressed as Princess Leia. I had on a karate robe, and my mom’s go-go boots. We were all playing Spin-the-Bottle, the bottle hit us, and we had to go in the bathroom together. I didn’t really want to kiss her, but she wanted to kiss me. A few weeks ago, that same girl was dating a friend of mine, Mark, who I had a crush on. She was telling me what they did, how they kissed, and then she was like, “So anyway, here’s Mark,” and then she kissed me. It was very surreal. And I was like, why is she pretending to be the guy she used to date? The one that I totally had a crush on. So, that was weird.
Have you ever hitchhiked?
Oh yeah, a lot. Tons. I hitchhiked all over the place. I hitchhiked all over England. I hitchhiked all over northern Italy, and Switzerland. When I was a kid I used to hitchhike home all the time, especially, like, when I was in tenth grade. I’d hitchhike home over the mountains because I hated waiting for the bus. The kids were so mean to me on the bus, too, so I’d be like, “Fuck them,” and hitchhike.
What was some of the weirdest drivers you can remember?
Oh God! So many. I mostly had really good experiences, but I have two really great ones. One, this guy picked me up and made me roll a joint from his glove compartment. Then he pulled over on Pali Lookout in Oahu, which overlooked the side of the island I grew up on. He got me really stoned and gave me a blowjob. When I got home, my mom knew I was stoned the second I walked through the door. I was like, “Hi!” And from the kitchen, she was like, “You’re stoned!” She had no idea about the blowjob though. The other time that was really great was when I was outside of Paris. I didn’t want to start using my Europass until after I was in Paris, so I hitchhiked and this young guy in his Volkswagen Bug picked me up. He took me to where his mother lived, and she made me a huge meal. Then that night he drove me into the city—into Paris—and showed me around. It was really fun. It was wild. Nothing really scary or strange happened hitchhiking. It is kind of different growing up on an island, though. You can usually totally get away with hitchhiking and that sort of thing. There were these girls I knew in elementary school, that got picked up and they were raped—one was murdered—by truckers in Hawaii. That was pretty bad. After that, nobody was really hitchhiked anymore.
What’s the best Halloween costume you’ve ever come up with?
Once in eighth grade, I dressed as a hippie. And my mom and her sisters were hippies, and they were horrified that it was actually a Halloween costume. They were so mad at me. That’s probably why it’s my favorite, just because they were so furious.
Your favorite Golden Girl and why?
I like that one, Maude, um, you know, Bea Arthur. I thought she was a man for a really long time. I realize that she was actually a woman, but I really did think she was like a drag queen. Some friends of mine had some great stories about her, too. They were at a dinner party together and—God, it was some really bawdy horrible thing she said. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but something really dirty came out of her mouth, something you would never think of somebody like her saying. You wouldn’t think she could be so X-rated, but she said something really nasty that caught everybody’s eye. “I’ve had more men in me than a Trojan Horse,” I think it was something like that.
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