Bill Pohlad directed and produced Love & Mercy (2015), a biopic of Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys fame. This is Pohlad’s portrait of the talented singer and composer Wilson and is not a “cradle to grave” biopic as he puts it. The film focusses on two different parts of Wilson’s life that is punctuated with his mental illness, which is a phase that not many of us maybe familiar with.
The first phase takes you into the heart of the meteoric rise of The Beach Boys, and the second part takes you to one of the most difficult times in Wilson’s life – his breakdown and treatment in the hand of Dr. Eugene Lundy (Paul Giamatti). While Dr. Lundy helps him in his recovery he also ends up controlling Wilson’s life and keeps him as a virtual prisoner. But, Wilson somehow finds the courage to break free from Dr. Lundy’s clutches with the help of Melinda Ledbetter (Emily Banks). Paul Dano plays the role of a young Wilson and John Cuscack as the older Wilson.
I got an opportunity to interview Pohlad in 2015 in San Francisco when Love & Mercy was shown at the San Francisco International Film Festival. We spoke about the making of Love & Mercy, Paul Giamatti, his love for music and his role as a producer and working with Ang Lee and Terrence Malick. Pohlad helped produce Lee’s Bri Award winning film Brokeback Mountain and Malick’s Tree of Life.
Bill Pohlad’s “Love & Mercy,” is a compassionate film about Brian Wilson, the gifted and creative co-founder of the Beach Boys. This California band defined American music in the 1960s, and were a huge source of inspiration and influence to many musicians in the US and around the world, including the Beatles.
“Love & Mercy,” is not a biopic film from “cradle to grave,” Pohlad explains. And yet, it is not a definite portrait of Wilson he adds. “This is my portrait of Brian Wilson,” he says. Wilson went through a lot in his life and we only see a part of it in the film he adds. What we see in the film leaves us with a better understanding of Wilson and his struggles and how love rescued him. Need I mention that the music in the film is a treat to fans of the Beach Boys? And if you have never listened to their music – my suspicion is that you might like their music once you hear it.
“Love & Mercy,” is unsual in that it has two actors playing Wilson at different stages in life. Paul Dano essays the role of a young and tormented Wilson during the height of the band’s popularity. John Cussack plays the older Wilson, who is under medical treaatment of Dr. Eugene Landy played brilliantly by Paul Giamatti. You’d think having two actors play the role of Wilson would not work. Oddly enough it works very well. Dano captures the young Wilson’s nervous energy and creativity brilliantly, while Cussack captueres the nervous mannerism and that strangely wooden expressions of the older Wilson. The film looks at two different periods of Wilson’s life that is filled with love, angst, abuse, addiction and music.
Elizabeth Banks is superb as Melinda Ledbetter Wilson Wilson’s love interest and the person, who rescues him from the cluthes of the controlling doctor.
LISTEN: BILL POHLAD ON “LOVE & MERCY,” BRIAN WILSON AND THE BEACH BOYS
We start off our interview by asking Pohlad why it took him so long to make his second film? How did he become interested in making this film on Wilson? Why did he cast two different actors to play Wilson? We explore the musical synergy between the Beatles and the Beach Boys during the 1960s and how they influenced and inspired each other. We talked about the connection between the Beach Boys “Pet Sounds,” and Beatles “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Even today “Paul (McCartney) and Brian (Wilson) are still good friends,” says Pohlad. He worked closely with Wilson and his wife while making the film.
We also spoke to Pohlad about his role as a producer and how he worked with Ang Lee on “Brokeback Mountain,” and Terence Mallick on “Tree of Life.”
“Love & Mercy,” releases June 5, 2015 in San Francisco bay area. The film stars John Cussack, Paul Dan, Paul Giamatti and Elizabeth Banks.