By Christine Westwood

“I want to introduce the beloved and talented Diego Luna,” said Trevor Groth, director of programming at The Sundance Film Festival’s world premiere screening of Luna’s Mr. Pig. Luna (the director of Abel and the star of many notable films including Milk, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Frida, and many more) announced, “I couldn’t be more blessed and happy. I am very lucky to have a fantastic cast including Danny Glover, who is going to be watching the movie for the first time tonight and I’m freaking out. Thank you for the love that you gave the film! And to Maya Rudolph. This was a love letter to my father, and he’s also in the audience. I’m enjoying a second chance with my father. It’s also a love letter to Mexico. We were very lucky to film in a beautiful place, so I’m dedicating it to Jalisco, and to my kids.”

In Mr. Pig, Danny Glover plays 75-year-old Ambrose, a pig farmer who illegally smuggles his prize hog across the border into Mexico, and on the way reunites with his estranged daughter Eunice, played by Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids). With side glances to cruel pig farming practices, the lyrically beautiful Mexican landscape and notions of redemption in old age, even for an alcoholic with a failing business, Mr. Pig features tender and humorous moments, with heartfelt and graceful performances by its two leads.

Diego Luna on set
Diego Luna on set

“The journey was the best experience,” Diego Luna tells FilmInk. “The beautiful thing about road trips is that you’re always leaving something behind and heading somewhere new. You’re transforming somehow on the way, and this journey certainly transformed me. I was very lucky that I could do something to express the love that I have for my father, and that I could talk from this more mature perspective of being a son but also being a dad. This film is about the second chance that life gave me with my father by telling the story of this farmer who creates a distance with his daughter, but on this journey, they have the chance to reconnect. This is why it’s so personal. Everything that I’ve done as a director feels very personal, but nothing like this. I also had so much freedom. We shot the scenes in order so we could include everything that was happening to us on the way. And what I learned from Danny – oh my God, he reminded me that this this job is about passion. If you have that passion, it never ends. He loves telling stories, and I love seeing that because he’s been there for a long time. No one would have chosen to do this film if they didn’t need new challenges, and he’s looking for those after everything that he’s done. That’s amazing.”

At the after-screening Q&A, Luna raised a laugh when he spoke to the audience about casting. “I wanted to be authentic, so I wanted to cast an American pig, but American pigs are not allowed to go to Mexico. I had to cast a Mexican and teach him how to play an American. It was two months of training.” More seriously, he adds, “I wrote this script with Augusto Mendoza, and every time that I closed my eyes, Mr. Pig was my father. One day, I said, ‘This is not about my father’ and my casting director said, ‘Danny Glover.’ There is nothing further than Danny from my father! I met Danny and he said so many beautiful things about the script and about his life and his childhood and the farm of his grandfather and the pigs that his grandfather had kept. Then he spoke of the relationship that he had with his daughter and where he was in his life. I realised that I was in front of someone who had more to say about Mr. Pig than I did! Then we created everything around Danny.”

Danny Glover, Maya Rudolph, and a scene stealing pig.
Danny Glover, Maya Rudolph, and a scene stealing pig.

An emotional Glover told the audience, “When you do a film, you work on it, and you do a process and a journey. I saw it for the first time as you did today. It’s overwhelming. I was with my father when he took his last breath. There was something so genuine about him. I don’t remember crying when I said goodbye to him. I was so full of the joy of having him in my life but, watching this, I remembered the moments and the conversations that I need to have with my daughter. The film touched us in so many different ways, and I just want to say [to Luna, and the cast and crew] thank you for the privilege of working with you.”

On the press line before the screening, Maya Rudolph was equally connected to the material. “I’ve definitely had my share of making people laugh,” the former Saturday Night Live star said. “For me, this film is personal. It’s so much more vulnerable to be emotional, and I was ready to do that. This is a time in my life when I was really comfortable to do it. You just shed a lot of layers as an adult. For me and Danny, the story required us to be so present. It didn’t feel like we were working, we were just being. It’s a very special project.”

In his interview with FilmInk, Luna describes why he thought Mr. Pig had been chosen for the festival. “Sundance takes risks,” he says. “Their programmers don’t have an opinion until the film ends. Normally programmers have different agendas and they’re thinking about a red carpet or a party or about themes. But you should just watch the film and find out if it’s something that matters to you. Then you work out what role it’s going to play in your festival.”

When FilmInk asks what really drives him in his multiple roles of director, producer, and actor, Luna tells us that he sees himself “first as part of the audience. As an audience member, I want to make sure that there are films out there that matter to me. I want the voices that I admire to be heard, so I decided to participate in the process of making sure that type of cinema actually exists. I fell in love with the process of doing it from every angle. I love being an actor and I love helping to be a tool for other points of view. I love producing. We have a company [Canana, founded with fellow actor and oft-co-star, Gael Garcia Bernal]. We have produced films for more than 11 years now, and I love to be there to help someone else’s perspective t get out. With Canana, we have no expectations other than making sure that we can execute every project that we believe in, no matter the size and no matter who’s behind it.”

At a panel discussion with other indie directors during the festival, Luna talked more on the diverse aspects of the film business and the differences between the Mexican and American industries. “For us, success is what we are experiencing,” Luna said. “Gael and I had this impulse to create a company where we could be welcome in the whole process of a project. As an actor, sometimes it’s schizophrenic; you can be part of an intense project, but it’s for such a relatively short time. It’s much more organic in the life of a director or producer. The idea starts, you polish the idea, you get your team and finance, then you shoot, then you edit, and then you show it. As an actor, you execute, and then you are out. As an actor, I’ve felt alienated many times.”

Diego Luna with the cast of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Diego Luna with the cast of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The experience of shooting Mr. Pig was a far different one than his previous job, with Luna bouncing into Sundance from the set of the highly anticipated Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. “Just the catering budget was higher than the whole budget for Mr. Pig,” he laughs. “Coming to an indie movie festival like this is a good reminder that you belong to this community, and that there are people like you out there. It puts your feet back on the ground. Mexican law means that there is a certain amount of money that the government has to spend – you just have to do a cool presentation about it. On Mr. Pig, I had to lie a little bit because we didn’t know exactly what the film was going to be. We found the story along the way. I told them that it was a love letter to Mexico, and that they should support it, and everyone said yes! This freedom comes out of a depressing reality that Mexico is a third world country with the film industry having to be paid by the government to exist, but at the same time, those who have access to these funds are given freedom like no one else. When you’re shooting, you’re not hearing anyone’s voice but yours. Then you finish the film and you go out and it’s completely yours.”

Luna concluded the post screening Q&A with an impassioned speech about the need to live with more awareness, and the more sensitive values that he had endeavoured to follow in the process of filming Mr. Pig. “Nothing any more is about the journey, but rather about the result,” he said. “Everyone wants to comment about something before they even know what they are talking about. Every company wants to do more than the other without caring about what they’re creating or generating. The pig farmer just wants to do his job right, and make sure that those hogs have a nice journey and then become food for someone else. This guy loves farming because he loves feeding people and the whole relationship to that food. We don’t think about how things get to our plate and what’s behind what you’re experiencing. What happened before matters. It’s about having fun and making sure that those around us are having fun. And if they’re not having fun, let’s fucking do something about it!”

Mr. Pig will screen at The Sydney Film Festival, which runs from June 8-19. For session and ticketing information for Mr. Pig, head to The Sydney Film Festival.


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