While David Gordon Green may be more at home in brutal and outrageous comedies such as Pineapple Express, it’s clear that this indie director has no issue with experimenting in his career. After another outing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, his latest film Joe marks an interesting change in pace with a rejuvenated Nicolas Cage starring in the title role. We chat with the man from Little Rock on working with Cage and more.

Your latest film, Joe, played at the Edinburgh Film Festival as did your first film [George Washington] with both receiving very positive responses. So would you say EIFF has been somewhat of a lucky charm for you?

Yeah, I’ve always had a great experience there. I was trying to get there this year but I wasn’t able to because of my schedule. I remember being at the festival a few years ago when I used to watch a lot of films and it was there where I seen Billy Elliot for the first time After that I then cast Jamie Bell in Undertow.

How do you think Joe will play to a bigger audience?

I’ve been travelling the world since August and we premiered Joe at the Venice Film Festival last year. What’s been exciting is to see how audiences outside of America react to the movie. It’s nice to take the film outside America because I think it shows a realistic portrait of rural Southern American life that people don’t see very often in movies, you know? Most portraits of the South made by Hollywood movies are pretty cute, cleaned up and stylised. With Joe we really wanted to shoot in real places with real people. Make something with texture, authority and honesty. I think it’s played really well because of that.

Do you pay much attention to critics’ reviews?

No. You know what, I feel like if you’ve made a movie and your curious as to how it’s playing then there’s reasons for checking out reviews. When I made Pineapple Express I looked at reviews, some nice but for the most part people wouldn’t give it a break. The whole reason I made the film was to have fun, let loose and not be so critical. It kind of taught me to make films for myself and for my own specific reason. When I have a really good time on a movie it’s less important to me how it is received critically.

This film sees Nicolas Cage in an altogether different role. What made him ideal for the title role?

What made him ideal is that he has an incredible international perception as not only an action hero but also an Oscar winning dramatic actor and successful comedic leading man who brings all these complicated genres to the table. He’s challenging perceptions and perspectives to bring all the right layers and complexities to the character.

How was it for you to work with someone like Cage?

It was just a pleasure working with him. He is a magical, mysterious, man who is a truly dedicated worker and fearless actor.

Any of his infamous ad-libbing?

There was a lot of that in Joe, all the stuff with the cigarette lighter. He had this very specific lighter that he wanted to use as a prop. The whole scene with him and Tye Sheridan drinking and the conversations were all improvised. There were so many small rich details that he brought to the character that weren’t in the script that really gave it an authority.

I think it’s fair to say that Joe has the feel of a Western with Cage as the outlaw, anti-hero, figure…

Absolutely. As personal as it is a novel on Larry’s life and as honest as I wanted it to be in terms of a portrait of America and backdrop of real life, I also wanted to play on a genre level as a crime thriller and Western. It has those great themes of redemption and revenge.

This film is also a bit of a change from your previous work, so what attracted you to this film?

I’d been doing a lot of comedic work; coming off of doing Prince Avalanche and a season of Eastbound & Down. So I was really excited to roll up my sleeves and get back into something more dramatic. When Gary gave me his adaptation of Larry’s book it made perfect sense. Here was something I could film in my own backyard, do it on a low-budget level and get a big movie star in to play the part.

How does a comedy set like Pineapple Express compare to that of a more serious film like Joe?

If you were to take a picture you’d see a lot of the same crew. A lot of it is very similar with a lot of the same guys working on it. Instead of being on a Hollywood sound studio with a crew of 400 hundred people we were in a rustic rural location with 25 people. On a movie like Joe you know the names of everyone that works with you. Whereas on a film like Pineapple Express there are so many different people who are changing every day, it sometimes becomes a little less personal. Ultimately in any project I am trying to design an intimate environment for me and the actors to have fun and joke around but get serious when the cameras rolling.

So how did you keep things fun on set during filming?

I was always getting Nicolas Cage to do David Lynch impersonations and those are the funniest things you’ve ever heard. He sounds exactly like him. They are hysterical. Just him telling stories about his time working on Wild At Heart was great, I could do that all day. I would talk to him a lot. Look at his body of work and the number of directors he has worked with. The people he has worked with are incredible and don’t think there is any other movie star that can match it.

It must have been quite fun to be out in the wilderness like that in small-town America?

It was great, that’s where I grew up. I’ve always lived in the South and I just wanted to bring an honest portrait of people I knew and voices of real people. A lot of the performers in the movie were not actors. They came from various backgrounds but they were real people and I wanted to use real people as much as I could in the movie. Everyone other than Nicolas Cage in the movie is a Texan. It was a very beautiful and non-traditional experience.

You cast a local homeless man, Gary Poulter, who gave arguably the best performance in this film. How did it all come about?

My casting director met him at a bus stop in downtown Austin and he had been living on the streets for nine years. We brought him in to audition as the guy cutting up the deer. I thought it was a good audition and asked him to come back to play the guy who ran the convenience store. So he came back, read for that and I just started talking to him about his life. Listening to his hardships, where he was and how he was trying to get his life back together. I then asked him to read for the Wade character and he came back the next week and just blew us all away.

For you, what did Poulter bring to the role that a trained actor couldn’t?

Reality. He knew that character; he knew those demons, frustrations and insecurities. An actor can do research all day and pretend but until you’ve lived on the street for nine years I don’t think you really know what it’s like to be a misguided vagabond. That look in his face, his eyes. The authenticity there is unmatched by a Hollywood casting call.

The jacket he wore in the film that said “G-Daawg”, did he bring that to set?

No, we found it but the “G-Daawg” was actually his email address. It was our costume designers who put that together and did that. We called him that or Ozzy because of all the different Gary’s on set and things were getting confusing.

His final line in the movie was quite unusual…

Yeah, that was improvised. It was not in the script. I asked him what the last thing he wanted to say and he said that. That’s the most fucked up thing to say before he did what he did.

Last year there was a spoof April Fools trailer for “Pineapple Express 2”. In all seriousness, what are your thoughts on doing a sequel?

We’ve talked about it a lot over the years. I was actually on set of This is the End when they were doing that bit. It was so good that the only way to make that sequel would be to do it like that. It’s getting close to being too late if we don’t do something. Right now we are the distance between Bad Boys and Bad Boys II, so we could pull it off in the next couple of years. Maybe. I want it to be like Patriot Games and be about cocaine wars and stuff. J

Joe is released in cinemas on July 25th.