When Paul Solet signed on to co-write and direct Clean, he knew the importance of capturing the essence, nuance, and vision of star Adrien Brody's passion project. He previously worked with the French Dispatch star and Academy Award-winner (for The Pianist) on 2017's Bullet Head. The film focuses on a tormented garbage man with a troubled past, who attempts to have a quiet life of redemption, but soon finds himself forced to reconcile with the violence of his past. I spoke with Solet about seeing Brody's project to the end, the film's 1970 inspirations, themes, casting, and filming in New York.
"[Adrien] had a sort of a sense of a character that he wanted to explore sort of an emotional, atmospheric, sort of visceral sense of this guy in a sort of a sense of some things in the world that have been bothering him violence and certain forms of violence," Solet said. "We got to talking, and that's talking about the films of the 70s inspired us and from that 'Clean' was born." The Dark Summer director evoked two iconic films that starred Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro, respectively. "I think this stuff really ranges all the way from 'Chinatown' but also to 'Taxi Driver.' The 70s is the period time where we just had filmmakers really had a sort of freedom to be courageous, honest, and gritty in a way that was just really had not seen before."
As far as any direct inspiration as the title character, Solet said the journey to Brody's Clean didn't simply come from an individual, but a series of experiences. "I don't think he was channeling anyone character at all," he said. "I think really the whole formulation of the character really sort of came from inside of him, something that he was feeling. I think he had sort of experiences moving through the world and moving through New York, and growing up in New York. There was just a lot of really intense, really passionate sort of sense of sensitivities to some of the stuff that had been going on around him. That really was where it came from."
While much of the story is Brody's, Solet also poured a bit of himself when co-writing the script. "There's a lot of stuff in this movie that's very personal to me," he said. "There are some themes like recovery, faith, fatherhood, and violence. Some of these things are intensely personal to me, and they touched my own life. So there's a lot of personal stuff thematically in this movie for both of us. As far as the movie itself goes, it's impossible for a director not to put their fingerprints all over anything they're working on. There are certain themes that I'm always drawn to, one of them being characters that are very good at doing something very bad. This is very much a movie about that."
Solet credits "old school New York" casting director Paul Schnee for finding all the right pieces for all the roles in the film. As far as any specific challenges during filming, he admits being resourceful is key regardless of the budget you have to work with. "Anytime you're doing action in an independent film, you're going to be pushing," he said. "I think it's that way on every movie whether you're working on a $150 million movie, a $50 million movie, or $50,000 movie, you're always trying to do more than you have to work with. The $150 million movie is supposed to be a $350 million movie, and they're killing themselves to get it done. So we didn't have any challenges that anyone else on any other movie wouldn't have there. It's the same stuff. It's time challenges, logistical challenges. We were shooting in upstate New York in the middle of winter, and that's a motherfucker for a crew. It really is very, very challenging to work in that in that kind of weather. Of course, it's beautiful. People spend millions and millions of dollars having weather like that movie. It's the same stuff as any film."
IFC's Clean, which also stars Glenn Fleshler, Richie Merritt, Chandler DuPont, RZA, and Michelle Wilson, is in theaters, digital, and on-demand.