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Clean Director Paul Solet on His New Crime Movie Starring Adrien Brody and a Huge Gun


Clean Adrien Brody
Image via IFC Films

The gripping documentary Tread made my Top 10 list of 2020 and marked director Paul Solet as one to watch, so when I was offered the chance to check out his latest movie, Clean, I jumped at it.

Solet co-wrote the gritty crime movie with its Oscar-winning star Adrien Brody, who plays against type as a garbageman with a violent past whose deadly instincts are triggered when he and a friend are threatened by a group of dangerous thugs led by Glenn Fleshler (Joker).

RZA, Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump) and Richie Merritt (White Boy Rick) co-star in the indie film, which was shot prior to the pandemic, so don’t expect to see any COVID-related questions below.

Instead, Solet talked about reuniting with Brody and DP Zoran Popovic after their previous collaboration on the 2017 thriller Bullet Head, as well as Brody’s off-camera contributions, from the original idea he conceived to the score he composed and the huge gun he designed for the shoot.

Solet also addressed the tragedy that occurred on the set of Rust last year. Please enjoy our chat below and check out Clean, which is now playing in select theaters as well as on digital/VOD platforms.

Paul Solet
Image via IFC Films

Below the Line: Can you describe your relationship with Adrien prior to this movie and how you wound up co-writing a script together?

Paul Solet: Adrien and I met on Bullet Head and at the time he was just taking some time to do art. He was in the South of France, he was painting, which is a big part of his life, and I don’t think he had any intention of doing any movies, but I think his agent sent him the script and I love him, and I loved him for it, and he really responded. We jumped on an early version of a Zoom and hit it off right away. We just really have similar sensibilities and I think by the time we finished Bullet Head, we had a really good time together and we really trusted each other. We’d spent a lot of time in eastern Europe together at that point, and we were sort of looking for something else, and he had this sort of emotional vision for a character, something he really felt in his gut that he was interested in bringing out and I was like, ‘I’d be happy to help.’

BTL: I feel like this is a bit grittier than some of the films we’ve seen starring Adrien Brody. Was he just itching to play this kind of action hero-type of vigilante?

Solet: It’s for Adrien to speak to that stuff, but I know that Adrien is concerned with honesty and truth. As an actor, you don’t get performances like that without that being your number-one focus. I think he had been feeling something really acutely, he had been disturbed by certain things in the world, like violence and certain forms of violence, and the horrible opiate [situation] we have with that, so he felt that stuff acutely and he wanted to bring it out, and that’s not a gentle thing. Those things lead to something really raw, and this is a movie about a very bad man trying to do the right thing, and what happens when you give a man like that a reason to be bad again. And what happens is a beast comes out, and so that’s what it is.

Clean Adrien Brody
Image via IFC Films

BTL: Can you tell me about the collaboration between yourself and your DP, Zoran Popovic, because I think he did a great job capturing the gritty feel of this environment?

Solet: Zoran is a genius. Zoran is my work husband, I don’t work without Zoran. I love Zoran. He is just an artist and a technician, like no other, and a really great friend, and just a highly-evolved human being. You can get good cinematography, technically, by understanding what it is to understand light, but great cinematography really doesn’t happen without a facility for story and for people and for humanity, and Zoran has that stuff. He’s just a very highly-evolved human being, so I fucking love Zoran and we’ve shot a bunch of movies together all over the world at this point.

BTL: What movies did you guys look to for inspiration regarding the visual style of Clean? Were there any visual touchstones?

Solet: We didn’t so much do that here. This was pretty intuitive. Certainly, some of the films of the 70s had that level of grit, but there are some things that are stylistically not so much like some of those movies, too. Some of the decisions are almost on the Michael Haneke end of the spectrum, like allowing the camera to hold, so I think at this point, the three of us — Zoran shot Bullet Head, so Adrien and Zoran were close at that point also — so we just sort of all danced together and let ourselves kind of trust our instincts, and this is sort of what came out.

Paul Solet Adrien Brody
Image via IFC Films

BTL: I didn’t realize that Adrien composed the score for this film. Did he have a clear idea of what he wanted the music to be, or did he sort of need to see how the movie turned out first? Can you speak to that aspect of your collaboration?

Solet: Adrien had a really clear sense of where he wanted the score to go, and my job was to sort of help facilitate that. Adrien’s been making music for a long, long time, it’s something that a lot of people don’t really know about him, but he’s been collaborating with some great people for many, many years, sort of quietly, but Adrien goes home and he makes beats. That’s what he does and he loves doing it, and this was really a chance for him to stretch and push himself. Film music is no fucking joke, it’s a real craft, and it’s an incredibly complicated thing. I think he did a really good job of curating the right sort of technicians, and that’s the job, to a large degree. To have the vision for what it is and then to understand how to execute it. And there’s a steep learning curve and I think he did a great job. It’s a very, very interesting score.

BTL: Yeah, I really liked it. Are there any other below-the-line collaborators you’d like to call attention to? For example, I really liked the production design in this film, because I really liked some of the flophouses you guys created.

Solet: The editor, Arndt-Wulf Peemöller, did a really wonderful job. He’s just a quiet, consummate professional, German, meticulous, and I loved working with him. We’re so lucky, really. For a movie like Clean, it has to be said that the stunts and stunt coordination, we had Manny Siverio, who’s an old school New York stunt master, and he just came with it. He and Adrien knew each other from way back, they probably worked on Spike Lee’s movies, and they just worked. They put in the work and Manny’s team is amazing. Those guys just got the shit kicked out of them. I don’t really know where to stop with them.

Clean Adrien Brody
Image via IFC Films

BTL: Can you specifically talk about Adrien’s gun, because there are certain gory shots in this movie that I did not see coming so can you talk about designing that prop?

Solet: Those things that you’re referencing are all Adrien. Those two things are totally Adrien. He had a vision for a gun, 100%, and I take zero credit for that. That’s Adrien’s fucking gun. Adrien said ‘it’s gonna be like this, and I’m gonna cut it like this, and I’m gonna pull the fiberglass out of it, and it’s gonna be fuckin’ wild.’ So there was that, and the flare gun. Adrien was like, ‘what about a flare gun?’ and so my job at that point is to say, ‘that’s fucking awesome. That’s a fucking insane idea, let’s do it, and let’s do it right.’

BTL: Talk to me about working with Glenn Fleshler, who’s one of my favorite character actors working right now, and can you address the lesson he’s trying to teach his son in this film?

Solet: Anybody who has worked with Glenn Fleshler is crazy about Glenn Fleshler. I have to thank Paul Sheehan, the casting director, who put us together with Glenn Fleshler. My god, I love Glenn Fleshler, he’s so good, he’s so easy to work with. He hears everything. I mean, go watch him in Joker. And in this movie, Glenn really got to flex. He gives a monstrous, monstrous performance in this thing. Watching him and Adrien go at it, it was like watching two titans.

[As far as the lesson goes], he’s trying to teach his kid the same thing that every father is trying to teach his kid, he just has a really fucked up context for it. He wants to see his son evolve into a person that he can be proud of and that holds the values that he holds. It just so happens that the values he holds aren’t really the kind of values that you and I might hold. So it’s both touching and chilling. He has that confessional scene where you’re just on him and he’s just so earnest that it really makes your skin crawl, but you also sort of believe him. You believe him. I fucking love Glenn and can’t say enough about him.

Clean Adrien Brody
Image via IFC Films

BTL: Did you feel like this movie brought you back to your genre roots a little bit?

Solet: I never left them, really. I grew up with genre movies and I have a huge appreciation for horror films and action films. Like, I grew up on John Carpenter, and there’s something about movies that are visceral and kinetic and unapologetic, and I think when you bring a little bit more attention to thematics and you pull those things into the genre and you allow yourself to build characters that are real and that have enough dimension and really feel like they have something under the hood, it just makes genre films great. You care about them and you believe in them, and they feel like they have a real history.

I watch Adrien in this movie and he’s a fucking force of nature, and I believe that Adrien did the work. It’s there. You see the iceberg, but you know there’s a lot under the surface and I believe in the history that he has. And you see it, you see it in the relationships onscreen. Like Adrien and RZA, I loved watching them together. They’re friends and you feel it, and that stuff is invaluable.

BTL: As someone who makes independent movies that feature guns, what was your take away from the tragedy that occurred on the set of Rust, and what steps do you plan to take on future productions to ensure that something like that never happens on one of your sets?

Solet: I knew Halyna a little bit, she was someone I hung out with a little bit pretty early in her career. She was so nice and clearly such a hard worker and a good person, and it’s a fucking absolute horrible nightmare tragedy. It’s all of our nightmares. And the reality is that that cannot happen without so many of the protocols that the professionals that work in this business have in place failing. It’s just astonishing.

We work so hard to make sets safe. Just follow the rules. We have to follow the fucking rules. Go watch, on set, what happens in the United States when there’s a gun introduced. Watch what happens. The way it’s supposed to work, it’s impossible. It’s not possible for that to happen. So many things have to not work in that situation. It’s a nightmare. A fucking nightmare.

Clean Adrien Brody
Image via IFC Films

BTL: What was your favorite film this past year?

Solet: I’m a new dad, I have a six-month-old baby boy, so my movie watching has been pretty minimal. I watched Dune, it’s not even really watching… I, like, soaked up Dune… twice. I got to see it in the Directors Guild theater out here with a couple friends and it was just such a beautiful film. He is just such an astonishing director and such a humble guy, I’m so rooting for him. I can’t wait to see the rest of the Dune movies come out. I mean, I grew up on that, and Dune for a 15-year-old kid, it was like, ‘what the fuck? This is fucking wild! Oh my God!’ So my hair stands up when I think about that one. For me, it’s all about Dune. I’ll watch Dune again and again and again.

BTL: Would you ever want to make a large-scale epic like that?

Solet: Oh my god, yes, are you kidding me? Who wouldn’t?

BTL: So what is next for you, Paul?

Solet: It’s funny, I don’t really like to promote stuff until it’s ready to promote. I’m not good at it. It’s just not my thing. There are people who know how to promote this stuff. When it’s time to promote the stuff, we do it. I have another doc I’m doing with the same team [as Tread] that I’m super excited about, about a really powerful subject, and that’s been a long time in the works, so I’m excited about that. There are a couple of scripted things, something potentially touching on the Massachusetts area in a way I think you’ll appreciate, but you’ll see.

Clean is now playing in select theaters as well as on VOD and digital platforms.

Clean movie poster

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