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Matt Aselton Interview

There Were Motherwells, Picassos, And A Few Basquiats. It Was Truly Shocking To Me.

24th November 2019
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“Lying and Stealing” is the newest heist drama in (film) town and it tells the exciting story of art thief Ivan, played by the wonderful Theo James. Alongside the way, Ivan has to deal with a new woman in his life (Emily Ratajkowski), his bipolar brother (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), his debts and the cops chasing him.

It sounds like a very intriguing film. We wanted to know everything about it and so we spoke to director Matt Aselton (“Gigantic”). We talked about “Lying and Stealing”, art and his passion for film.

Liselotte Vanophem: Hi Matt. Congratulations on your “Lying and Stealing”. Where did the story come from?

Matt Aselton: The idea for the movie came from a party I went to in Los Angeles when I was much younger and fresh to town. I somehow got invited to this massive house in Beverly Hills, and it was full of drunk people and with all kinds of rare and highly covetous art. There were Motherwells, Picassos, and a few Basquiats. It was truly shocking to me. Just a bunch of folks walking around these pieces all fucked up. I had only ever seen these pieces in museums. It stuck with me, and over time I developed it into this film. That was the germ.

LV: This movie is mostly about art stealer Ivan who is played by Theo James. How did you cast Theo for this role?

MA: I sent the script to Theo, who I had yet to meet, but I had a hunch he was the right guy for the role and over two years or so we developed the script and the character together.

LV: How did the other cast got involved and especially Emily Ratajkowski and Fred Melamed?

MA: I first met Emily after casting Theo. I was interested in Emily, she’s very alluring obviously but she’s also quite shrewd. The character is a grifter. I’m not saying Emily is a grifter mind you, but she’s a hustler. She’s funny, she’s sharp, and she had a great take on the character. I really liked that she wasn’t exactly the first actor that came to everyone’s mind. I think she’s a real femme fatale, obviously, she’s beautiful, but she’s also somewhat sinister-looking and I really like that. We talked a lot about Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde.

As for Fred, I was a big fan of him and brought him up to the producers. They arranged a meeting and we sat for several hours one morning at the Beverly Hills Hotel, which was a fitting locale for the movie and talked about Harvey Weinstein and how to draw from him as a piece of character development. We wanted him to be scary, but smart and sort of an art philistine. Which is what I always thought of Harvey. This was just before all of the shit went down with Harvey. Fred is also an unlikely cruel, misogynist, art thug and I thought this was a better choice than a simple nefarious bad guy.

LV: One of the first scenes in this movie takes place in the big mansion of a poet that’s full of art pieces. The setting looked amazing. Where did you find that mansion to shoot in?

MA: The mansion we shot the first scene, in where Ivan steals the Jeff Koons bunny, was in the San Fernando Valley. It’s a mid-century modern glass structure, up on a hill and it was one of Frank Sinatra’s party pads back in the ’60s and ’70s. It’s a terrific spread.  

LV: During this movie, we see Ivan stealing many works of art. Which theft was the most difficult one to film?

MA: The hardest piece to film was the Koon’s bunny. It’s an unwieldy sculpture, and in the movie he puts it in a trash bag with a liquid hardening foam. The sculpture has small attenuated hands and limbs and they were all easily snapped off. So it was delicate. It was also shot at 4 in the morning very early on in the movie. Maybe that had more to do with it.

LV: This movie is mostly about art thefts. Were there any real art pieces on set and which was the most impressive one to you?

MA: All of the ‘famous’ pieces were replicas, including the Jeff Koons bunny which recently sold at auction for 90 million dollars. We made our own and had Jeff Koons consult on it. There are only four real bunnies and they’re all in museums or private collections. As for the Guston, the Wyeth, and the rest we printed them and then added additional features to give the paintings contour. The film is also peppered with real work from Louise Bourgeois, Rob Reynolds, and various other Los Angeles based artists.

LV: Are there any art pieces or paintings you owe or that you would like to have? It doesn’t have to be one of the ones you used for this movie.

MA: I’ve always had a deep appreciation for Philip Guston. If I could own any one piece, it’d be a Guston. He’s a remarkable artist and he’s my favorite.

LV: Films themselves are also a work of art obviously. Where did your passion for film come from?

MA: My love of film, I assume comes from where it for everyone comes from. It started young and it never stopped. My father loved westerns and war movies — so we’d watch them over and over — Rio Bravo, The Searchers, The Outlaw Jose Wales, Patton, MASH and the like. They were really great building blocks for narrative storytelling. Anyway, it all starts with John Wayne.

LV: When did you know that you wanted to become a director/writer/producer?

MA: We made movies as kids, we edited on VCR’s, we were obsessed with all of it, so my interest in movies and the like started as long back as I can remember.

LV: So far you’ve always been behind the camera. Will there be a movie coming out during which we can see you acting? Or do you prefer to stay in the director’s chair for a while?

MA: I think I belong behind the camera, not in front. I’m a terrible actor. Often I’ll perform something in front of the actors, mostly to show them a piece of blocking and then I get very self-conscious and retreat behind the camera in a shame spiral. I don’t have the confidence for that job.

LV: Do you already have more upcoming projects you’re working on?

MA: I’m in the middle of developing an episodic television series.

Read our review of “Lying and Stealing” here.

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