Mike Mills: ‘I want to bring fans back to their earliest formative experiences’

I was a little surprised at how clever the song is, but, let’s face it, it doesn’t take much intelligence to figure out the ingenious gimmick of mashing a banned civil rights anthem with a straight-up country tune, and calling it “I’m a Tickle Monster.” Keep in mind that the subject matter is civil rights/gay rights combined, and you can get far more nuanced insight into “tickle monster” without even listening to Mike Mills’ record. Mills says, “What people seem to want is an emotional highlight or a really terrible rendition of a great song, but I wasn’t trying to make that work. I’m interested in the moment you’re in when you first hear the song, the unfamiliarity. If the song has something to say, it will say it, but if you listen to the song and laugh at the lyrics or think the song doesn’t even exist anymore, that’s OK, too.”

It’s still hard for me to hear music, and to commit to it. I was always a bit embarrassed about that side of myself, but I think the songs I did when I was 15 helped me out a lot. I remember writing to Allen Ginsberg at age 16 and making a very concerted effort to know his lyrics. There’s a very nice moment when he acknowledges that very thing.

Mills had seen me perform Beckett’s There Are No Children Here at a festival, and he called it up. So he gave me the idea to perform a similar Beckett monologue with an original song. And then I met Joaquin Phoenix. We were both wearing clothing from Target, and our collection really suggested why we were the modern equivalents of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. He seemed as open to “C’mon C’mon” as I was.

The only song in the film that I sing is “Falling”, the original song from my film. I wrote it because I realized that only someone who is losing their leg is dying, but I was also thinking about a song that someone who is lying is losing their life, and my leg was touching my husband’s face, which was not going to happen. It sounded sad.

I was very interested in the character’s loneliness. If you think about it, you’ve got to be truly alone to really understand the loneliness of it all.”

“The Ministry of Silly Walks was right. It’s great to create a song and sing it to stop time, but it’s kind of embarrassing when you forget the words because you’re trying to nail it. You come to that moment where you’re getting ready to sing it and you start messing up. It’s a dance and it’s hard to keep up. The lip sync was great, though. Having it piped in over the story was key to drawing the music into the story. There was no point in trying to shoehorn the music into a contrived narrative.

As an actor, I’m interested in having a dialogue between every story. There’s always another side to every story, and when a character comes to a place where he or she doesn’t care who his or her friends are, I don’t care who he or she is. I think in life and in music, we all come to that place. It’s great to have an opportunity to pay tribute to people who really struggle.”

The film’s intense soundtrack will be released on 19 September 2018

Listen to ‘C’mon C’mon’

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