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Interview: Mike Mills Begins

By Andi Teran
Photography by Hamish Robertson

Beginners, the second feature film from writer/director Mike Mills, stars Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, and Mélanie Laurent. Inspired by the true-life tale of his father coming out of the closet at the age of 75, just a few years before succumbing to cancer, Beginners is a modernist love story about a father and son, a boy and a girl, a mother and son, and a man and his dog. It’s the rare type of film that weaves its way into your heart quietly—and humorously—before bursting it open in moments of real, touching honesty. Andi Teran sat down with Mike to discuss his creative process—both as a filmmaker and visual artist—as well as ghosts, fireworks, humans, and talking animals.

What does the word “beginners” mean to you? Where did the title come from?
Well, to me, I liked that the end was the beginning. At the end of the film the couple is really just starting; they’re getting to the beginning of a relationship. My dad’s end was a beginning. Having such huge change and burning through all of these things that held him back for so long—like self-hatred and his fears about being gay—he got past all that and started this new thing at the end of his life. It seemed to be key to the story. He was just beginning.

As a filmmaker, typically of the indie persuasion, Beginners seems to reach out to a wider audience.
I’m sure a lot of people will describe this as an indie film, at least in my eyes. I’m writing about love, about someone dying, and about someone coming out at 75. It’s much bigger than a bunch of Transformers walking around blowing things up or pirates that don’t exist. My dad was born in 1924, and that generation was very big and grand, very socially engaged and inclusive. In my film, that portrait [of him] was part of the spirit. When am I ever going to get a story that deep and human again? It’s my dad and my parents! This was as big as I could possibly get, and I wanted to feel that as I was making it.

Because it was so personal?
In your personal life there are key moments when the depths of your humanity are revealed to yourself, and this was one of those pivotal moments [to me]. It’s not all the time that your dad comes out at the age of 75, or that your second parent passes away, or that you really fall in love. I love “This American Life,” Fellini, Cat Power. I love Leonard Cohen. They all start from incredibly personal places that are sometimes concrete and specific, often very revealing, but with a goal to reach out and not just make a small thing looking inward. I felt that was my best bet—to really talk to people, make it specific, human, and real.

This is just an excerpt. Read the entire feature in Issue 2, available here.

  • Originally published in (2011)
  • Mike Mills, photographed by Hamish Robertson.