Michael and Mark Polish have a lot more vivre than the quiet and reclusive conjoined twins they play in "Twin Falls, Idaho," their dark-but-uplifting feature debut as writers and actors.
For one thing, the movie's timid twins Blake and Francis Falls probably wouldn't have the chutzpah to make locker room asides about Penny, the good-hearted hooker they latch on to in the film. But Michael, who also directed the picture, has little compunction about airing a libido-based opinion on Michele Hicks, the intrinsically talented model who plays Penny and leaves an indelible impression in her acting debut.
"Man, she's got a great f**kin' ass!" he offers, and his brother nods in toothy-grinned agreement.
To be fair, I probably sent the conversation in this direction as we discussed Hicks' magnetic beauty after finishing a more introspective Q&A about their movie, an eccentric and engrossing story of companionship and individuality in which these triple-threat siblings play strangely synchronous Siamese twins who develop their first real friendship with the prostitute, Penny, as she cares for them when one brother falls ill.
Earlier in the conversation, before the testosterone kicked in, the Polish brothers praised Hicks exceptional natural talent, too, and talked about the risks of putting an untested actress in the film's pivotal role, as you'll read in the interview below.
Tall and slender, but looking more robust than their screen personas, the oddly handsome twins are on the last leg of a long publicity tour for the picture. But if they're tired of talking about making "Twin Falls," it doesn't show. Youthfully passionate about their chosen art, and demonstrating great ambition and lofty goals, the Polish brothers are articulate, (Michael especially, being the director) about implementing their vision as movie makers.
|Since you've been doing this for two weeks now, I'll let you tell me what question you're the most sick of hearing, and be sure to avoid it.|
Michael Polish: Everybody asks it so different every time. I think the one everybody starts out with is, "I hear you guys are fascinated with Siamese twins." And that's where we should have re-written the press package, because it wasn't that we were fascinated, it was just intriguing. It's not a fascination in the sense that we collect stuff on them. We don't.
|You don't have pictures of Chang and Ang on every wall.|
Michael: Just that picture in the Guinness Book of World's Records. That was the one that was like, wow, that's pretty cool!
|So, with such an odd story, were you afraid of people writing in the margins what they wanted to change as you shopped the script around?|
Michael: Yeah, yeah. Do they really have to be Siamese or can they just be really, really close? Or can it be a gag and at the end of the day they unwrap and they're two separate people? But after a year and a half of writing it, going out for financing -- doing the stuff that we thought would get the movie made -- we were pretty much at a dead end. So we thought we'd start raising the money ourselves, which we were kind of doing in the mean time.
Mark: We were doing a lot of pre-producing. We did the body rig suit and a lot of the prosthetics before we had money, just to keep ourselves motivated. Just to say, can we do this? Can this work out?
|And I suppose to some extent that helped when you presented the project to investors, you could say, "Look we're ready to go. Just put film in our camera."|
Mark: That's exactly what it was. We had this pre-produced, we were just looking for the money. And a private investor out of Seattle who was funding small pictures related to the story because she had sisters who were identical twins. That's pretty much how it happened, and it was the ideal situation. She liked the story. It reminded her of her sisters and how they feel about each other.
|The movie starts out with a bit of a creepy, Cronenberg-Lynch air to it, with the dilapidated hotel and the unavoidable focus on the physical oddity. But becomes a really loving and emotionally satisfying movie. Was that your intent?|
Michael: It was deliberate to play to what the audience expected this movie to be like, and then when you don't know it, we flip it on you.
Mark: It's like as you see any oddity, like walking down the street, you're gonna be creeped out about it. So we played into that, and then we gradually turn it into the humanity that exists in these people. So a lot people might think it's (like) a Lynch film. But it flips over because of the love story. We feel it's gradual. So if you were to see the first frame of the film and the last frame, you wouldn't think it was the same film. Even in the character of Penny, even her look, she has like eight different looks -- from coal-eyed all the way through completely natural.
|I think the key to that transition is that Penny, after initially being creeped out, becomes really open to not only a friendship but a relationship.|
Michael: Yeah, yeah. And we had to find the heart of why a character like (Penny) would stay with them. How would you get her to stay in a room with them? And we figured, like a sick animal, or any creature, she'd want to nurse them back to health. That's a human quality we all have, so we figured she would stay by their bedside.
Mark: And besides, they're harmless. They're not going to do anything.
|Any worries about the hooker with the heart of gold cliche?|
Michael & Mark: Oh, yes.
Michael: Yes. But I think she's shadier than the hooker with the heart of gold because she does take off. She just comes around like anybody would...and her character brings a lot of issues out. I mean, they can't even pay somebody to have someone have sex with them -- or to have a relationship with them. Not to mention that in a weird way they're both making money off their bodies, even though (the twins have) made it off a side show, in a more innocent way.
|But in some ways a more exploitive way.|
Mark: Yeah, exactly. And her in a more private way.
|Well, and there was so much more going on in her character. She obviously has a lot of...|
Michael: She's pretty haunted. She had a lot of demons.
|And the fact that she's a hooker doesn't come directly into play. There's more to it than that.So as long as we're talking about Penny -- Michele Hicks, what a find!|
Michael: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah! She's easy on the eyes, huh?
|Well, she's a doll, but her performance was amazing. There were so many levels and so much intensity! Were you worried about that model- turned- actress thing?|
Michael: Oh my god, we fought that every minute. The biggest fight was, when you want to finance an independent, it's about getting a name to bankroll the film.
|Somebody big in a supporting role.|
Michael: Right. So if all else fails, they have an insurance policy and they can sell it to video. So when we went after Michele Hicks, me and Mark had to go do a test with her. I paid to do a test with her on 35mm to prove to the people that were paying for this film that this girl is the real deal and that this is what you want a film to be about -- the story, not the star. That was a big, big...
Mark: ...A big hurdle for us. Michele had never acted before, and so we knew she had the look, but the only real direction we had to give her was to think -- to be in the moment. Do worry about saying you lines, don't worry about how you're going to say them. Just be. Just breathe. Don't worry about acting. The more comfortable you feel, the better it's going to be. And she was really good. She learned early on that less was a lot more with her.
|I'm sure that she -- and you guys -- are getting all kinds of offers off this film.|
Michael: Well, I'm not acting any more. I just did that for this.
Mark: Yeah, I'm getting a few offers. Nothing as good as playing conjoined twins!
|So, how do you follow this up?|
Mark: I know! Because if you do another oddity role, you're typecast.
|Yep. You're stuck. The industry will be like, "You think you two could write a 'Twin Peaks' for us? We'll use it to rescue UPN."|
Mark: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Or something of that nature.
Michael: I don't know. I think what I'm more attracted to is just finding a good story and getting down to the truth of it.
Mark: I don't think we'll be able to do a more personal story than we did with "Twin Falls," but we can do another good truth story.
|You guys have two more scripts named after Northwestern towns. Is there anything about them that's trilogy other than the titles?|
Michael: No, that's pretty much the (extent of the) trilogy. They may make reference to each other, but they're all in different times and different places.
|So, pardon me for drawing the parallel, but like Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Red," "White" and "Blue."|
Michael: Yes. Kieslowski's a very big influence on us.
Mark: You might be able to look back when the three are done and say, "OK, they're thematically the same" or "They're trying to say similar things"...
Michael: But my intention is to be an American filmmaker. To tell American tales, American stories. The Americans perhaps being oddities, but they're just as American as a boy next door story. America has some very dark, humorous stuff that can be just as normal.
|So does it look good for the other two films?|
Michael: "North Fork" is on its way. We should be doing it this winter?
|And what's after "North Fork"?|
Michael: We don't know if we'll do the third one yet. But it would be "Jackpot," after Jackpot, Nevada.
|OK, back to "Twin Falls." There's so many levels of subtext and symbolism. Some of it inevitable and incidental, but so much of it spiritual and subliminal. Putting all that together, all those levels, was that all planned early on?|
Michael: No. We just started peppering it (in) as we re-read the story. Like the chopsticks (in one scene Penny hesitantly splits a pair of restaurant chopsticks), that was something that we just had her eating Chinese food (before we struck on it). We had these little symbols that would just (pop up) as we were writing the screenplay. That stuff takes time. You definitely can't nail that stuff on the first, second or third draft. And you know what's funny? The lower the budget goes, the more creative you get with things like that.
|There were a lot of references to Christian mythology, too. The hotel neighbor named Jesus, the character of the mother as a Mary Magdalene figure...|
Michael: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
|Ultimately, what are you hoping people will take away from all this?|
Michael: Ultimately, besides the message and stuff, I just hope people come out and say, "That was a good story." Regardless of the oddities and the symbolism and stuff. I hope they walk out and say "I enjoyed that story. That was a good film." Ultimately that's what you want to achieve. I wouldn't want people to come out thinking it was about conjoined twins and that's it. After that, I hope the issues of companionship and relationships (might have) people looking into their own relationships.
Michael & Mark (excitedly): Oh, yeah! Yeah.
|I was fascinated by that movie as soon as I realized it was about a couple working through a big bump in their marriage. It's about temptation, resisting temptation and making the relationship work.|
Michael: That's exactly what it is! Isn't that great? That's a great theme and we haven't seen it (before).
|That's far more daring in Hollywood than the erotic thriller everyone thought it was going to be.|
Michael: Yes! It's a movie about commitment. It says a lot about Stanley Kubrick's commitment to the craft of filmmaking -- it's right there with the commitment of that marriage.
Mark: It's full of great metaphors and great -- I just love that movie.
|I thought the orgy scene was a little silly. Visually it was great, and it was effective at unsettling you, but people don't stand around naked, wearing masks, posing like statues, I don't care how rich and eccentric the host is.|
Mark: Yeah, but I thought it was scarier than s**t.
|Now you have a costume party in your movie, too, a Halloween party, which is the only time the twins feel free moving about in public. That was a brilliant touch.|
Mark: I wish I could have had five days on that.
Michael: That was half a day.
Michael: Well, we shot the movie in 17 days and that was half a day, into a night. I wanted to do two or three more shots and we just couldn't. I wanted it to be way more over the top. I wanted it to be very surreal. I mean, I wanted it to disorient you. It came out great, but it didn't come out exactly like I wanted it to.
|Well, it may not match the vision you had but it works beautifully, demonstrating the acceptance they feel on that one day of the year.|
Michael: Good! The message got clear.
|Did you guys go out in public in costume?|
Michael: Once. The result is the park scene (where the twins, feeling dejected, sit on a park bench to be gawked at by passers-by). Because it happened to us in real life, we said, OK, this is something we should communicate it in our story.
|After all the rehearsals you had to do to get the synergy to work, I'll bet you guys could kick ass in a three-legged race.|
Mark: Yes, yes!
Michael: We had to learn how to play the guitar together. We had to learn how to walk (in unison).
Mark: We did a lot of Morse Code for the choreographing of looking at the same time. It was either one of our hands on the other's lap, (tapping) this way to look right, to look left. Or tapping to blink at the same time.
|You've got all kinds of party tricks now.|
Michael: Yeah, but I'll never get in that suit again!
Mark: We have it hanging in our house! We don't know what to do with it. If Planet Hollywood wasn't going under we might give it to them. (Laughing)
|Yeah, if this indie turns into a $100 million movie somehow. (Laughing)|
Michael: We could action it off. (Laughing)
|Did playing these roles change your relationship to each other?|
Michael: No, we had to be close in the first place just to do it. But I think it defined our roles professionally, in the sense that I'm really sticking to directing and Mark is really sticking to acting.
Mark: We found our differences more on this film.
Michael: Which actually makes the film a lot better, knowing what he brings and what I bring, and what I lack, and what our strengths are.