Paul Solet breaks down the messiness of his new film ‘Clean’

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Provided by IFC

Writer/Director Paul Solet teams up with Adrien Brody, adding him as a co-writer for their new film, Clean.

Tormented by a past life, garbage man Clean (Adrien Brody) attempts a life of quiet redemption. But when his good intentions mark him a target of local crime boss (Glenn Fleshler), Clean is forced to reconcile with the violence of his past.

Check out my interview with Paul!

This isn’t the first time that you’ve worked with Adrien Brody, but what was it like working with him as a co-writer for the film?

Paul: Yeah, we worked, initially together on a movie called Bullet Head and I think by the time we were done with that, we had a really good rapport and really trusted each other and understood that we had these very similar sensibilities and sensitivities. We already kind of had a shorthand by the time we started working on Clean. Adrien had sort of an emotional vision of this character that he wanted to play, sort of a visceral sort of sense of some things that were bothering him in the world, certain forms of violence and the opiate crisis, things that were just infuriating him and he wanted to explore that stuff and channel that. So, that was sort of the genesis of it and the process was a really fun, light development process together, even though the subject matter was really challenging and really intensely personal for both of us in a lot of ways. We just enjoy each other a lot. He was on “Peaky Blinders” playing his Luca role in Manchester and I went to see him and I just remember walking around the city with him, enjoying the industrial landscape and sort of dreaming together of this character in this world. And drinking a lot of heavily caffeinated green tea. And when he was in LA, we would get together, we’d spitball, we’d go work, we compare notes. When I was in New York, we’d get up and walk around the city and it was actually a pretty quick process as far as movies go. It was a two year development process all in, but that’s pretty fast. In my experience, it’s not unusual for me to spend seven years from the first time I start an idea to when it’s delivered. 

The title of the movie is Clean, but it’s also the name of Adrien’s character, can you explain those choices?

Paul: Yeah, with his character, there’s definitely double, triple probably, more meanings to it but I’ll probably leave a little bit to the audience’s interpretation. Part of it is his clean style, you know, he’s a guy with a fade, he’s meticulous, he’s also a sanitation worker, he is focused on cleaning up his neighborhood even in his off hours. He gets off work and he’s upcycling recycled goods and selling them and taking the money and buying paint to paint abandoned houses. And what you come to realize is that he’s a guy who’s sort of doing penance, he’s doing what people in recovery would call a living amends process. He’s trying to make right harms that he has caused, and you don’t really know exactly what they are, but as you start to understand him, you realize that he’s a very bad guy who’s working his ass off trying to be a good guy. And the movie really is about that, and then about what happens when you give a very bad guy a reason to be bad again and the sort of a beast that comes out of him. And what you get is a performance from Adrien Brody unlike anything you’ve seen from Adrien Brody, which is saying a hell of a lot given that we all understand and accept that he’s one of the greatest actors that we have ever seen. This is really new territory for him and he fucking comes with it. I think everybody will leave this movie saying, ‘holy shit, he’s a fucking real action hero!’ And there is heart in his character, you know, he’s isn’t mindless. We really did both bring a lot of very, very personal stuff to this movie and it’s there. It’s there.

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With Clean’s mission and his work, it’s almost like the complete opposite of the way the film is because the film’s very gritty and it’s very dark and whatnot. How did you approach juxtaposing those two ideas?

Paul: Yeah, those are core thematics and they’re dueling thematics. The themes are dueling with the execution and it’s in the cell structure of the movie. So those kinds of ideas are the kinds of ideas that you can like put on index cards on your computer when you’re working, you know, and they can sort of inform every decision like, you can look at every location, you can look at the way people are dressed, you can look at the choices in the way the camera moves or doesn’t move. It’s everywhere. And I love that. It’s a fun, interesting, academic film school kind of computation, but it doesn’t need to be an academic conversation. That stuff comes across emotionally, like any viewer is going to feel that stuff, whether they can articulate it after one viewing or not, sort of depends on what kind of a film it made. 

Can you talk about Clean’s weapons of choice? 

Paul: I gotta give all weapons credit to Adrien. He was very, very, very specific about the weaponry that Clean was going to use. Featuring the flare gun was entirely Adrien’s idea. The shotgun that he adapts, as he adapts it, was entirely Adrien’s creation. He knew exactly what he wanted to do, what he wanted to cut it with and what he was cutting, it was awesome. And he was so excited about shooting that scene, and you see it, you feel it. I mean, it’s a preparation scene, and it’s easy to dunk on a preparation scene in an action movie, like a sort of low hanging fruit, to criticize, but it’s very, very fundamental, like the morphology of a folktale, Joseph Campbell shit. Like, if you don’t get that scene, you miss that scene. It’s like a blues song, you know, like the chord changes are the same, but Buddy Guy and Robert Johns are gonna do it totally differently. And so the question is, what’s your approach? And, the approach, I think that we had to that scene, I feel really good about. He was so passionate about that, and I had so much fun with it and we had a bus that was cut in half, which is sort of  an ode to Bullet Head. If you haven’t seen it, there’s like a crazy action scene where they’re on a bus, and that stuff’s actually really fun to do.

Chandler DuPont stole her scenes. What was it like working with her?

Paul: Oh, Chandler’s astonishing. She and Richie Merritt are stars. I mean, they’re just stars. They’re so natural and intuitive. Someone else asked me, ‘when you’re working with young actors like that, do you feel that you’re shaping them?’ And it really never even occurred to me, they’re real professionals, like, they’re fucking great. He’s a great actor, and just so honest. There wasn’t an ounce of bullshit in their performances, and that was sort of the core value, that really was the kind of the North Star for Adrien and I both, that’s one of the things that we initially connected over. You’re really trying to identify any bullshit or pretension or cowardice and extinguish it and allow something honest to grow in its place. And so, having a cast like this, and we had a just incredible cast top to bottom; we had Chandler, Michelle, Richie, Glen Fleshler, RZA, Dinora Walcott, you know, really down to the day players, we had an incredible cast. 

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Clean will be in theaters and everywhere you rent and buy movies on January 28, 2022.