Interview with Charlie Paul and Lucy Paul

FNGR - Charlie
Left to Right: Ralph Steadman, Director Charlie Paul, Johnny Depp
Photo by Lucy Paul, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Charlie Paul (Director) and Lucy Paul (Producer) Interview on behalf of the film, For No Good Reason 

Sarah Knight Adamson: First, I want to tell you that I enjoyed your film immensely. Congratulations. It’s just a beautiful piece of art.

Lucy Paul: Thank you, Sarah.

Sarah: I was talking with my art class about your film and I guess what I’d like to find out from you, is how do I explain Gonzo journalism or Gonzo art?  Can you tell me a little bit about that and how I get that point across?

Charlie Paul: Ralph is the last Gonzo standing really.  I think the best way of describing Gonzo as kind of an outlook, you know, with both Hunter (Hunter S. Thompson) and Ralph (Steadman), they did what they did without any kind of fear of the repercussions.  Both of them produced work that became about reality, but, in fact, it’s fictional and often very funny.

Lucy: Actually, the film puts Gonzo into three very simple sentences: Paint the story.  Immerse yourself.  Become the story.

Sarah: Yes.  I remember that. That’s a great way to think of it.

Charlie: And so when you read, Kentucky Derby, Decadent and Depraved, or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas you think you’re reading a factual account of someone else’s experience of running around these things. In fact, they’ve made the story around themselves. It’s a beautiful thing and that’s what turned me on to Ralph’s work.

Lucy: In a way, it was the beginning of all our, kind of, obsession with voyeuristic TV and journalism today.  Isn’t it?  You know, all the Big Brother stuff.  It was the roots of that.

Sarah: Sure. That does make sense with the reality TV.  We have so much of it here in the United States.

Sarah: Yes.  I wanted to talk a little bit about Ralph Steadman.  Of course the movie’s all about him. I did not know who he was.  I was in college in the 70’s and I do remember his artwork though.  I was so impressed that I learned so much about him. I learned that he’s really a kind and gentle man. The artwork visually, it’s profound yet it’s a little scary sometimes to look at. Do you know what I’m saying?

Charlie:  Yes.  Absolutely.

Lucy: Not pretty to look at.

Charlie: No, and that’s one of the things when you describe Ralph, people go, “Oh, you know, that’s really uncomfortable work and so on.”  But I think what’s brilliant about Ralph is that he has managed to make us aware of his art and therefore the message of his art through this.

Lucy: Powerful work.

Charlie: Yeah, powerful, aggressive material that we might find uncomfortable, but on the other hand, it’s there.

Lucy: Full spectrum of emotion of our human existence.

Charlie: Absolutely.

Lucy: He doesn’t shy from the difficult, the uncomfortable, and the ugly side of life.

Charlie: At the same time, he’s the most genial and peaceful man.

Charlie:  The film is a true document of the last fifteen years in his studio, and in all that time, I would guarantee that that is Ralph.  He is consistently this warm and generous man. Every day I’ll go to the studio and he’ll produce these incredibly poignant, and yes, aggressive sometimes, and angry responses to the world around him. I think Ralph survived by doing that, really.  He manages to use his art in a way of getting these things out of his system.

Sarah: The animation that was in the film of Ralph’s work, did he have any input in that? How did that come about?

Charlie: Ralph is notoriously someone who won’t let things go if he doesn’t want to go that way. He has always refused offers to animate and bring his stories to the animation process. Because how often is he approached to do a full animated version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? He’s always said “no.”  It was about half way through, and we tested, I knew I wanted to bring animation to the film because, again, I knew I wanted to reach an audience where I was engaging with younger people.

Sarah: Yes.

Charlie: Seems that was the media. It was vital to have that effect.  So it was about five years through the process of making the film and we’d done tests, tried to model, you know, I’m an animator.

Sarah: Yes, I read that.

Charlie: I was a fine artist at art college. I came out of art college and my attraction to Ralph’s work was…it felt like it was trying to go somewhere, trying to move.

Sarah:  Yes. I would agree with that.

Charlie: So, I always knew that I wanted to approach Ralph’s work in the animation process.  When I was working with Ralph in the early years we tried to model his work and tried to create characters out of his characters that we could then manipulate in a three-dimensional space and we were failing.  We knew it wasn’t working.  I would show the stuff to Ralph and I could see that it wasn’t making an impression. Then, Ralph told me a story unconnected with the attempts to make animation work. He was telling me a story about his art and he was saying that his art is like, if you were driving down a freeway at 90 miles an hour and a fly hit your windscreen, his art is that moment the fly impacts on your windscreen.  That splatter. That got me thinking, hold on a sec, maybe we can approach the animation the same way. So, we did some tests where we actually took his art and we animated the preceding ten, fifteen seconds up to the drawings and then the last frame you see, is in fact, Ralph’s art.

Sarah: Oh, wow.

Charlie: As a viewer, you were left with Ralph’s art as the impression you see. The minute we did that and a test of Ralph and Hunter driving in the car, I turned to Ralph and he got it.

Lucy: It felt right.

Charlie: We got it.  Everyone said this is the way forward.  And that became the process we employed from then on.

Sarah:  That’s fantastic. Thank you for that story. I’d like you to use three words, if you can, to describe Johnny Depp, Hunter S. Thompson and Ralph Steadman, in your process of working through the film and researching them.  If you could describe them, not their physical characteristics, but just as people.

Charlie:  I think Lucy’s good at this as well, but I would say, Johnny…

Lucy:  Generous.

Charlie: Generous, engaging and irresistible to the eye.

Sarah:  I like that. Go ahead.

Charlie:  The camera loves Johnny.

Lucy: It was a real pleasure working with Johnny.  One of the difficulty’s of working with Ralph is, if you point him North, guaranteed he’ll go South.  So in terms of film-making we just had to be very gentle and observe him. Hence why it took so many years to get it.

Sarah: Yes.

Lucy: And once Johnny was involved in the film, Charlie had a pretty good structure of the film in place, so Johnny was very conscious that if they were looking at particular publication and discussing it, Ralph would no doubt look at something else or decide to talk about something else.

Sarah:  Oh, no.

Lucy: Johnny just was truly a phenomenal professional and just gently guide back to what they were supposed to be looking at and talking about.

Sarah: Sure.

Lucy:  He was a real treat to work with.

Charlie: Yes.  Three words for Hunter.  I would say something like, Hunter’s aware of himself, cautious and..

Lucy: Whilst at the same time, dangerous.

Charlie: And dangerous, absolutely. In the film, in fact, Jann Wenner, the owner of Wenner Media, who published Rolling Stone Magazine and put the two together in the first place, said that Ralph is possibly more dangerous than Hunter.  And that’s the truth in a way.

Lucy: In his work.

Charlie: In his work, absolutely.  Ralph took risks and said things that even Hunter would shy from saying.

Sarah: Interesting.

Charlie: Three words for Ralph.  It would be unpredictable.

Lucy: Uncontrollable.

Charlie: Uncontrollable.

Sarah: Oh, my goodness.

Lucy: He has amazing empathy.

Charlie: That’s the third word.  Empathy. Ralph has empathy.

Lucy: Yes.

Sarah: That came through very clear in the film, particularly for children.  I noticed that and I appreciated that in him.

Sarah: What I saw in the film was a very strong relationship and friendship with Johnny Depp and Ralph. Could you speak to that?

Charlie: Yeah, absolutely.  The reason Johnny was involved in the film is because when I was working in Ralph’s studio I would come across photographs of Ralph and Johnny hanging out at Hunter’s house, at parties and at gatherings around the world. So, I already knew there was a relationship between the two, but when I got the two together in Ralph’s studio, I recognized that there was this bond that often didn’t need words.

Sarah: Wow.

Charlie: They just got on.  So at that stage it was a matter, really, of the director allowing their relationship to dictate…

Lucy: Space.

Sarah: Sure.

Charlie: As you can see in the film, those long sessions where the two of them are looking at a piece of work, you know.

Sarah: Oh, I know, you captured it beautifully.  I so appreciate that, it didn’t need words.

Charlie: Thanks.

Sarah: You just, kind of, watch.

Sarah: What do you hope that people will take away from this film?

Charlie: I do hope that my film is inspirational to students and to a generation who will learn and find out about Ralph for the first time, and hopefully, carry his torch into the future.

Sarah: Oh, I think you have accomplished that.  I really do. Thank you both so much for chatting with me.

Charlie: Lovely talking to you.

Lucy:  Have a good day.

Sarah Knight Adamson ©May 15, 2014