The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU professor Susanne Scholz in the West Bank in 2018.
SMU professor to return to campus after being trapped in Gaza for 12 years
Sara Hummadi, Video Editor • May 18, 2024

Playing in the “Mud”

With his newest film “Mud” opening in theaters on Friday, writer-director Jeff Nichols has completed a cinematic hat trick with three projects under his belt that he fostered from the page to the editing room, a rare feat for someone of Nichols’ quality.

“Mud” is a very southern, “Tom Sawyer” inspired feature that follows a wanted man, played by Matthew McConaughey, and the two fourteen year old boys who find him evading law enforcement from a boat stuck in a tree.

Equal parts whimsy and grit, “Mud” marks Nichols’ return to his Southern roots as the Arkansas native shot his biggest project-to-date, in both budget and star power, on the banks of the Mississippi River.

For Nichols, the south is a better storyteller than he’ll ever be.

“The south is beautiful place with a vibrant culture and people who are just naturally good storytellers,” Nichols said during a stop in Dallas. “I really don’t have to do much talking… I can just sit and listen to stories much better than I can come with.”

Nichols began writing “Mud” during his time in college and spent the last decade launching his auteristic career that includes “Shotgun Stories,” his debut, and 2011’s “Take Shelter,” a film that garnered him critical praise at Cannes and beyond.

Nichols claims to have drawn inspiration for the film from his own heartbreak at a very young age. While “Mud” features McConaughey as it’s mysterious lead, the feature makes it a point to focus on its two adolescent counterparts – Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland).

“These kids are wickedly smart,” Nichols said of the two young actors. “I don’t know many teenagers but if they’re all like this, then I don’t know what’s wrong with America. These guys showed up just knowing what to do.”

Even though “Mud” marks Nichols’ first foray into making a film for a larger audience, one aspect of his filmmaking has remained the same – the presence of Michael Shannon. Shannon has been involved with Nichols since “Shotgun Stories” and returns under Nichols’ direction in “Mud” as Galen.

“Michael Shannon is the greatest actor in the world. I mean that without hyperbole,” Nichols said. “He is, without a doubt, the most talented person I’ve ever worked with. He brings a focus to everything, having him around elevates everything I do.”

Shannon took time out of his schedule shooting “Man of Steel,” where he plays the Superman reboot’s villain General Zod, to shoot “Mud.” Nichols didn’t realize the risk he was running having Shannon on set.

“When Michael showed up, every producer decided to come on set too,” Nichols said. “Apparently they had purchased some sort of insurance that said we would pay for ‘Superman’ if Shannon got hurt.”

Even though Shannon was required to dive underwater numerous times, Nichols and his team, luckily, did not have to finance one of this summer’s most anticipated releases.

As Nichols’ profile continues to gain clout, more and more producers are willing to finance his film, resulting in bigger budgets. “Mud” gave Nichols his biggest budget by far, so much so that the director claims to have wasted money.

“I had this idea for a big helicopter scene at the end, and after I saw it, it just didn’t fit,” Nichols said. “We ended up going with this very simple, very cheap, shot of the camera on the front of boat on the Mississippi.”

Perhaps Nichols won’t make the same mistake on his new project, which he says is a “sci-fi chase film.”

For now, catch Nichols’ “Mud” in theaters this Friday. 

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