Paul Solet is a filmmaker who has been making strides in the movie industry for over a decade. Coming onto the scene with the brutal and unique zombie film GRACE. He went on to solidify his name as a creator to keep eye on with work as one of the main writers on the space exploration series MARS for National Geographic as well as continuing to spearhead his own film projects like the true-crime documentary TREAD, about a fortified bulldozer that wreaks havoc on a small town, and the thriller BULLET HEAD, featuring Antonio Banderas, John Malkovich, and Adrien Brody as three criminals trapped in a warehouse with a seemingly unstoppable guard dog.
Solet recently reunited with his BULLET HEAD lead, and Academy Award-winning actor, Adrien Brody for a project that is very personal to the pair- a gritty action yarn titled CLEAN. Here is the film’s official synopsis:
Clean, a man with a violent and criminal past, seeks redemption after being awakened by personal tragedy. He dedicates his life to his broken community, and the safety of young girl who reminds him of his daughter. When her life is put in danger, it ignites a return to the darkness and violence he’s worked so hard to leave behind. In his attempts to save her, he might very well save himself.
I had the opportunity to speak briefly with Paul Solet about CLEAN and his working relationship with the film’s star ahead of its release last weekend.
CLEAN is playing in a sandbox full of well-worn genre tropes. What did you feel like you could bring to it to keep it fresh and interesting?
I love genre movies. I grew up with genre movies. They’re in my bones and in my blood. I really look at them the way I would look at a blues song as a musician. The core changes are going to be almost the same. It’s just a matter of how you do it. Buddy Guy and Robert Johnson are going to play the blues very differently. So that’s the question, what are you going to bring to it? For me, it is enormously important to bring something honest to the characters, something that is personal and real and truthful. And it’s always been my experience that the movies that have something under the hood thematically, that have characters, that feel like they are real and have history, that those are the movies that I respond to.
I think with genre movies, those are just much more effective if I believe in a character and I care about a character, I of course, care much more about what happens to them. So, the stakes are much higher and I find that I leave those movies thinking. So, what I wanted to bring to CLEAN and what Adrien wanted to bring the CLEAN, I think was something more honest and without some of the pretensions that you might see, but that will leave you thinking and reflecting a little bit.
What were some of the challenges with directing the action sequences in the film?
Action is certainly a logistically really complex thing. Easy to sort of take that for granted, but when you understand how much goes into it, it’s almost a ballet. We had a great stunt coordinator on this, named Manny Siverio. He’s just a legend. Adrien and him have a lot of history going back to Spike Lee’s movies. And when you have someone like Manny and you have an actor like Adrien, who’s so committed and so studious and hardworking, who’s so willing to really push himself, and push himself physically at that. Adrien really did a ton of work to make sure that those action scenes were authentic, and that they were an extension of his performance and who he believed this character was. My job is really just to facilitate their work and help communicate the atmospheric and kind of emotional vision for the movie that I have, make sure that things are staying on target as far as the overall tone of the film goes, and really to kind of clear the way for those guys to do what they do.
Tell me about your working relationship with Adrien.
Adrien and I met on BULLET HEAD in, I guess, 2016, 2017, and right away, we hit it off. It was really clear that we had the same sensibilities and sensitivities, and the same taste in movies, and similar backgrounds, we’re both from back East and had similar upbringings. We both had a lot of people in our orbits, some tough people. And I think by the time we were done with BULLET HEAD, we really had a good shorthand and really trusted each other. It was sort of a no-brainer at the time whether we were going to do something else together.
How did that eventually lead to CLEAN? Was it a concept that you came up with together?
Adrien had a really clear vision, emotionally and viscerally, for this character that he wanted to explore, and it was from a sense of things in the world that were really bothering him- injustices and certain forms of violence and the opiate crisis. All these were things that he really felt strongly about and wanted to explore more deeply, and flesh out, and find structure for, and that was the sort of the genesis of it. From there, we both brought a lot of very personal stuff to the movie. There are definitely themes in the movie, and storylines, and certain characters in the movie that are more Adrien’s world and certain themes and characters and storylines that are sort of more familiar to me. But ultimately, I think the movie is a much better film than either of us would’ve made alone, because we both were excited about incorporating the other person’s experiences and material.
Going off the idea of collaboration, how would you describe your directorial style in the way you work with actors like Adrien?
I think everybody needs something different. And everybody needs something different on different days, I don’t think it would be sort of reductive and kind of prescriptive to try to say I have one way of doing things. My way of working with actors is to try to understand them and try to understand what they need for them to be able to do their best work, and those are just basic intuitions and sensitivities to the assets and challenges that people are having on any given day.
And then of course, to help people navigate their way through the overall emotional landscape and map of a movie. Because you shoot a movie out of sequence everybody’s very tired. So, I try my best to be the sort of eye of the storm, if I can pull that off, I do not always pull that off. But to try to just be someone who is safe for them and allow them to feel that. To sort of engenders confidence in them that they know that I have their back, and that they can just see where their feet are, and do what they want to do [acting-wise] in real-time, in the moment in that character, instead of looking out for all kinds of bullshit that’s happening around them, or sort of second guessing themselves, and that’s always different. It really is always different.
With an actor like Adrien, he’s so studious, and hardworking, and so clear on his own vision for a character that, a lot of the time, you just clear the way for him as best you can and step out of the way. I think directors who need to inject themselves in those moments are sort of undercutting a process. And I’m very, very… [pauses] I trust Adrien as an actor in a way that is sort of hard to articulate. I’ve never, ever given him anything that he hasn’t made better, not a single thing, not a single line.
CLEAN is currently in theaters and everywhere you rent and buy movies.