Swiss Army Man
Daniels in conversation
Images by Joyce Kim
“Men are weird. Girls are weird too.
Bodies are weird in general.
That is what our movie is about: How fucked up our bodies are.”
— DANIEL KWAN
Daniels is the Los Angeles-based writer-director duo of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. Their debut feature film Swiss Army Man premiered at Sundance 2016, garnering the Dramatic Directing Award and a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize. Daniels have won acclaim for their interactive short film Possibilia, which premiered at Tribeca 2014 and won the top prize at the Future of StoryTelling conference. Their short Interesting Ball screened at SXSW in 2015. Daniels have also been nominated for two Best Music Video Grammys and won the MTV Best Director VMA in 2014 for DJ Snake and Lil’ Jon’s “Turn Down for What” video.
SWISS ARMY MAN
Written and directed by Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert (or Daniels), Swiss Army Man premiered at Sundance 2016 and won the Dramatic Directing Award. The film stars Paul Dano as a man deserted on an island and Daniel Radcliffe as the talking corpse he befriends on his journey home.
A 1999 film written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Magnolia portrays interrelated characters searching for meaning in the San Fernando Valley. Starring Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy and more, Magnolia garnered critical acclaim for its storyline and performances and was nominated for three Academy Awards.
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, or Daniels, as they like to call themselves, have co-written and co-directed movies together since 2009. These include DJ Snake and Lil’ Jon’s “Turn Down for What” music video with its 450 million views on YouTube and the short SXSW film Interesting Ball wherein one Daniel takes an anatomical journey through the other. The two are set to release their feature film Swiss Army Man, which won the Dramatic Directing Award at Sundance 2016. The film stars Daniel Radcliffe as a flatulent, talking corpse who befriends and rescues a man stranded on a desert island, played by Paul Dano. The Daniels discuss Swiss Army Man, delving into personal territory and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia.
Daniel Scheinert: You used to be very actively religious up until we met and a bit through us knowing each other. At the same time, you and I fell in love with the same movies—we both really love some really fucked up movies. Do you look at those movies differently now than you did back then? What was it like for religious Dan Kwan to watch Magnolia?
Daniel Kwan: As a religious person, Magnolia was really interesting. You can take any story and turn it into a religious allegory—it doesn’t matter what it is. And then the movie is okay because it’s like mythic Old Testament where everything is horrible. But things that happened in the Old Testament are way worse than what happens in Magnolia. Actually, Magnolia ends with Exodus 20—a plague.
DS: I guess that’s one of the cool things about religion—about Christianity—is that it has that ability to speak to so many themes. It’s all over the place, but in a kind of beautiful way.
“I think a lot of the time we make
movies as therapy.”
— DANIEL SCHEINERT
DK: I remember going to a screening of Zack Snyder’s classic 300 with a bunch of Christian guys and my college’s Christian group. Watching it I was like, “Dude, this is gory and there’s violence and sex—I wonder what all these guys are going to think?” Even amongst the group, I was a bit more liberal than some of the others, and it was interesting to watch them wrap very Christian values onto this narrative—to view it as, like, Christian soldiers putting on the armor of Christ. I think in Ephesians they talk about the different metaphorical pieces of armor you wear and how you use it to fight against the many demons in our day-to-day. They wrapped [this into] the underdog story of 300 Spartans versus the Persians. It’s interesting because you can do this in any movie. In Magnolia, there is a sense that everything is connected and there is potentially a reason for everything. There’s a higher power overseeing it all.
You wanted to quit filmmaking after making this movie. What were you going to do?
DS: I was like, “I’m going to act because then [the final product is] not all my fault.” I specifically wanted roles where I would be the butt of the joke, the villain or the stunt man. But I OD-ed on being in charge and started judging other people who were in charge, like, “Look at you on your high horse. You love being the boss. You suck!” It’s a weird feeling. No wonder it drives people crazy to be CEO.
DK: Yeah, it’s not fun.
DS: No wonder Donald Trump is crazy. You can’t stay sane bossing everyone around all the time.
DK: That’s why they say that sociopaths are better CEOs.
DS: Do you remember at Sundance during one of the screenings when I turned around and said really passive aggressively, “Are you fake laughing during our screening to make other people laugh?” Was fake laughing helping you? Did it make it more pleasurable for you? And then the follow-up is: Were you angry at me for asking you to stop?
DK: Yes and yes. It just shocked me. I was trying to get through that movie again. We’d seen the movie so many times that, oddly, it was comforting to physically laugh during it.
DS: You were already in a vulnerable place, and then I turned around and was like, “Hey, Vulnerable, quit being so vulnerable.” I know you so well that I know your fake laugh, so it was making the movie excruciating.
DK: I figured that was the case, but at the time I was a little bummed. It was a hard screening to get through. If I die tomorrow, what movie would you make? Would it be my biopic?
DS: I’ve told you that there were a lot of times during Swiss Army Man that I was like, “Fuck, what will happen if one of us dies?” We’d have to finish it, and then the movie would be so powerful in a Dark Knight kind of way. They’d be like, “Oh my God, I know—this is about these guys.” I feel like the movie would be more successful if you would just please go ahead and die.
DK: Or die right before the movie comes out. You know what happened with Paul Walker in The Fast and the Furious movies—it ended on a very moving note because of [his death]. It actually works. You watch these actors go through all these movies together, and you’re like, “Holy shit. This meta-narrative of making seven movies seeps into the actual film.”
DS: But my answer: I think a lot of the time we make movies as therapy. If you died, I would take a huge career turn—teach math for a year trying to wrap my head around feelings and then probably make your biopic. But it would take me a while, and the biopic would be really meta and Moby Dick-ish. It’s not even about Dan Kwan, it’s about this bird, but Oh my God, it’s clearly…
“It felt like the whole crew was rocketing
across the ocean on Dan Radcliffe’s farts.”
— DANIEL SCHEINERT
DK: How many times did you cry in production?
DS: I almost cried. I feel like I’m a numb grown-up. The closest I get is wishing that I was crying. And I got there probably three times in that last week and 12 times during Sundance: accepting awards, during screenings, during Q&As, when my mom told me she liked the screening.
DK: It’s the altitude.
DS: Did you cry a lot during this shoot?
DK: No. I was lucky because I was so close to falling apart all throughout pre-production. Right before we started shooting, I reached a fever-pitch of neurosis and fear. I was like, “If I don’t cry now…” So I listened to music from high school, which made me cry uncontrollably. The hardest thing leading into this movie was getting in the headspace of I’m able to make this movie. I’ve got to do what I can do every day.
DS: I remember you talking about that with us in the first rehearsal, and being so excited. It set the tone of rehearsals to have the director start by saying, “Hey guys, welcome. I was so scared about this movie that I cried a whole bunch.” It led to all of our rehearsals being just wonderfully intimate. There wasn’t ego or a lot of fear.
DK: So the lesson here is: If you are a filmmaker, cry in front of your actors on your first rehearsal. How often did you masturbate at night during production?
DS: I’ll be candid in this interview and say that usually if I’m separate from my girlfriend and stressed, then it’s a stress relief.
DK: It is. Evolutionarily, your genes are like, “Oh, I’ve reproduced.”
DS: You’ve done your task. I just want to feel like I’ve achieved something. I achieved sex!
DK: Not only are you actually empty, but you’re emotionally empty and purposeless because you did the thing that you were supposed to do.
DS: Men are weird.
DK: Men are weird. Girls are weird too. Bodies are weird in general. That is what our movie is about: How fucked up our bodies are.
DS: Since we are getting into the themes of the film, do you think you are less poop-shy now than you were before making a movie that explores body shame?
DK: It’s hard to say. I probably have just a tiny bit less poop-shame. But I don’t know if it was from making this movie or because of dating [my fiancé] Kirsten. What was your favorite memory while we were making this movie?
DS: Do you remember when we were rehearsing with Paul [Dano] and Daniel [Radcliffe] in your backyard and started having a giggle-fest? I remember them looking at us like we were insane. And I was thinking, “We have these incredible actors, and we’re being man-children.”
DK: Mine is when we were out in the ocean watching Paul Dano ride on the little boogie board. That’s probably one of the only times that I’ve had a very visceral, emotional response to filming something.
DS: We gave him the gift of dragging him across the ocean for real, while blasting music and laughing and letting him just scream at the top of his lungs.
DK: It was like a rollercoaster ride made specifically for him. You could see he was having so much fun. I felt very alive and surreal watching this person be so joyful. Filming it felt magical because we were also zooming along, physically moving in space as we watched. Everyone had a blast. It was a fun, weird thing that we created.
DS: It felt like the whole crew was rocketing across the ocean on Dan Radcliffe’s farts.
DK: Can I tell you something?
DS: Of course.
DK: I’m really nervous that you are going to hate me soon. Like, you are going to find stuff out about me, and you’re just going to hate me.
DS: What do you mean?
DK: You’re a director, and you have so many good things, and you seem so put together. All straight and put together without any problems.
DS: I lost my gun.
“Do you want to kiss me Dan?”
— DANIEL KWAN
(The score from Magnolia begins to play…)
DS: I lost my gun. After I left you today—and I’m the laughing stock of a lot of people. So I wanted to tell you that. I wanted you to know. It’s on my mind, and it makes me look like a fool. I feel like a fool.
DK: Wait, no.
DS: You asked me. You asked that we should say things. That we shouldn’t lie about things. And I’m telling you this: I lost my gun, and I’m not a good cop. I’m looked down at, and I know that, and I’m scared that once you find that out, you might not like me.
DK: Oh my God. Daniel. Daniel…that was so –
DS: I’m sorry.
DK: No, that was really great. That was really great what you said –
DS: I haven’t done an interview since I was married, and that was three years ago. Daniel—whatever you want to tell me—whatever you think might scare me won’t. And I’ll listen. I’ll be a good listener. Ok? To you—if that’s what you want? And I can judge sometimes, I know, but I won’t. I can listen to you, and you shouldn’t be scared of scaring me off. So just say whatever you’re thinking, and I’ll listen to you.
DK: You don’t know how stupid I am.
DS: It’s okay!
DK: No, you don’t know how crazy I am.
DS: It’s okay.
DK: I’ve got troubles.
DS: I’ll take them. Everything at face value. I’ll be a good listener to you.
DK: I’ve started this, didn’t I? Fuck!
DS: Say what you want. You’ll see.
DK: Do you want to kiss me Dan?
DS: Yes, I do.
They lean across the table and kiss each other. CAMERA DOLLIES IN SUPER QUICK as their lips touch.