On the day of his 35th birthday, here is our chat with Narnia‘s and The Royals king William Moseley, back in Italy at the 78th Venice International Film Festival.
We met him at the Excelsior Hotel for breakfast the morning of his departure from Venice. Sporty outfit, headphones in hand, and wet hair; he sat at the table with a breakfast, for us Italians, a bit to make us to turn up our nose, even for those who spent a decade like me in the English capital, making their own every custom… and he was probably aware of that: “You’re probably a little shocked by this breakfast…”
William Moseley was in Venice for the world premiere of Land of Dreams, alongside his co-stars Sheila Vand, Matt Dillon, and director Shirin Neshat.
Land of Dreams is a political satire set in the near future where America has closed its borders and become more insular than ever. The story follows Simin, an Iranian American woman, on a journey to discover the core of what it means to be a free American. She works for the most important government agency of her time, the Census Bureau. In efforts to understand and control its populous, the government has begun a program to record the citizen’s dreams. Simin, one of the Census Bureau’s lead dream catchers, is unaware of this devious plot. She herself, being among the last immigrants allowed into the country, is torn between her appreciation for America’s acceptance, compassion for those whose dreams she is recording, and a truth she must find within. Playful and poignant, Land of Dreams acknowledges the greatness of the American experiment while offering a warning beacon for what could come.
But we also talk about Italian cinema, glamour lifestyle, being an artist in the US, in the UK, and in Italy, his next project Raven’s Hollow, Saving Paradise, our mad world, life, and, obviously, about DREAMS.
WM: “First of all, sorry for the cereals noise…Okay. So what I think about the film is: I think it will receive mixed reviews because it is a political film and not everybody likes to go see a political film. You know, some people, it’s just not for them going to see something that it talks about racist and socioeconomic problems, geopolitical problems, problems with tech, problems with immigration,…”
C: ” …and Mexican law.”
WM: “Yeah, exactly. And also, sometimes people aren’t going to be receptive to that and that’s okay. It’s not a big blockbuster film, you know, it’s not purely French entertainment. It’s a movie to have you think. We made it during COVID, it’s not perfect. People don’t really want to fund a movie that necessarily isn’t gonna have a great big return at the box office. And so we made a film, a small film, but we tried to make a film that really had an impact, that really could have a voice and speak. And so when people go see it, be aware that you are not going to see a great big piece of entertainment. It’s not Fast and Furious. I mean, I love Fast and Furious, but Land of Dreams it’s not it, it’s an art film; it’s an art film with a lot of heart, a lot of emotion, and when you sit down and watch it, just make sure you have the time to enjoy it”.
My coffee and his tea arrive and he thanked the waitress with a perfect Italian.
WM: “So, I don’t mind if people like it or don’t like it, I just hope that they see it because I think it has a lot to say.”
C: “I like the fact that you called it a small movie even if you were shooting while all the world, besides the USA was in lockdown, during a worldwide pandemic; and then it was chosen for the festival, it had a wonderful review from the Hollywood Reporter and you keep calling it a small movie…”
WM: “Well, you know, I started with Narnia, my first movie was Narnia so, to me, that is a big film. The Chronicles of Narnia is a gigantic movie. The thing is though, it doesn’t matter if a film has a 2-hundred million budget or a ten million or a five million budget, the important thing is if a film has a heart. Land of Dreams has it, the actors believe in what they’re saying, and the director believes in what she is making so it can have just as much of an impact, you know? I had only seen the film for the first time at the premier. And, you know, I felt really proud of it. I felt like I’ve made something in my life that I’m truly proud of it. Not that I’m not proud of my other works, I’m proud of The Royals, I’m proud of all the films I’ve made in my career, but there was something special about Land of Dreams. You know, there’s something that really touched me. I felt very emotional when I watched it. And, it reminded me of like Paris, Texas; or it reminded me of just one of those art films that I used to watch.”
C: “After the screening, I started to think about the movie and I realized that I was touched by the fact that they were stealing dreams, something that lately we know really well. We were living our everyday life, and then, out of the blue, our normal life was taken away. For example, I used to travel to London and to New York, like every month. The last time I went to London was just a week before Italy went to the first lockdown, the big lockdown for The Brits and I was thinking about how tired of airplanes and traveling I was; and then, a week after that you are in lockdown and you don’t know for how long you are not going to be able to travel again. And you say, my gosh, how much do I miss that? I was tired of it, but now I’d pay anything to have my old life back again.”
WM: “Exactly, and I also like that the phrase land of dreams is magical, right. But what are people’s dreams? What do they want in their life, and what freedom do we have to dream of? Like a lot of people that go to America with a dream; you’re following your dream and at one point these dreams are oppressed by the government because not everybody can be an artist, right? We are artists but we could have been doctors, lawyers, or people working for the government like Simin. We have to encourage people who are artists. We have to encourage people to think differently. We have to encourage people that have a dream to do something with their life. That is why I like the part in the movie where Simin’s character, it’s kind of an actor. She’s kind of an impersonator. The thing that she enjoys in her life is emulating, and pretending to be these people. She acts, I act, that’s her dream even though she doesn’t get paid to do it, even though she has no other way to medium her; social media is her audience and she’s an actor and that’s her dream, and they try to take it from her. As soon as they try to take the dream from her, although they think she’s sort of exposing what her job is, abusing it, well as soon as that happens, she says: well, this is a right for me. If I can’t do this sort of job for you and you won’t give me even 10% to me, it doesn’t work. You know? And I’m talking about the lockdown, we had a big uproar in England about the government. There was like a picture of a girl hanging up her ballet shoes, sort of hanging up her dream, and underneath was a big slogan saying: you know, Tracy doesn’t know it yet, but her next job might be in tech, might be in government watch job. It was like, so she had a dream her whole life: being a ballet dancer. Now we’re in a pandemic. The government won’t help you. And so now you have to go work as a surveillance expert over the government. I mean, it’s a real thing.“
C: I think that with the pandemic, we understood what all the governments think about art.
WM: “My father was a cameraman and it is quite a personal story, but his father was a businessman. My grandfather started with nothing became successful, bought homes around the world, he was very successful, but my dad wanted to be an artist. My dad wanted to be a cameraman from a young age when he was young, he made no money. He had nothing. And my grandfather was always saying to him, you need to get a proper job, a real job. You need to be an accountant. So my dad went to accountancy school for a while and obviously, he didn’t work for him. He didn’t like it, it wasn’t him. And he just kept doing the film work, kept doing the camera work and he made a good life and we have a beautiful home now. He followed his dream, and I always think of him like going for it, you know, in a way that maybe that set me up to do what I’ve done. I think the thing of dreams and following a dream and pursuing a dream it’s something to be proud of. And it’s something to be not ashamed of and something that is not to be denigrated for and something to be great, cuz it’s very brave. You know, it takes a lot of courage. People always ask me what do you think of all the people in L.A.? They’re all trying to be actors. Nobody ever makes it. People always go there, everybody there’s trying to be an actor, no one ever makes it. I always reply that to be honest, I think they’re kind of amazing people. You know, they have this idea that they’re gonna get there in their car from a small town in the Midwest or something or some random place with their dream. I mean, I, I know a person, I won’t name her, but she’s one of the most successful actresses in Hollywood right now, like really at the top. I did a screen test with her and I went back to her home and she lived in her house in Santa Monica, very small at the time because she wasn’t famous at the time, so a very small house, very like, you know, not a big deal; and her whole family had moved with her cause they believed in her. And I was like, you mean that your mom and dad because they thought you could make it as an actor, they just came here with you? And she was like, yeah, we all did it together in the car. And I was like, it’s kind of amazing. It’s wild. Right. It’s a little bit crazy, but that bravery and that sense of believing in her, like maybe I will make it, maybe not but I’m not gonna give in and say no when something could be something amazing. And this girl now actually is an Oscar winner.“
C: I lived the same kind of experience when I moved to London so I can really relate to that. How do you feel about being here at the Venice International Film Festival?
WM: “I’d say this is the first big festival that I’ve done. Actually, I’ve done Toronto but that’s not like this, you know, this is another level and it’s a lot of glamors. I’m kind of surprised by how glamor it is. It’s the most glamorous, and I’m like, it’s beautiful and everything, but we have to remember that we make the films, the films are what we are here for. The glamor is beautiful as it’s dressing up or taking pictures and everything. But the film itself has to be beyond glamor, has to be beyond the exterior, and it has to have depth; otherwise, the people watching it will feel nothing. And like they’ll get nothing. And especially trying to make an art film like Land of Dreams, you have an even narrow audience because there is not that much glamor so you have to be good, your film has to really work, otherwise, people are just not gonna go for it. It’s interesting to me to be here talking about glamour because even if you go back to the sixties and Fellini and Mastroianni made quite glamorous movies and they were about the glamor of life. 8 ½ for example is about the glamour of a director who’s trying to find himself, he can’t figure things out, but he’s around all these, you know, successful people; or when you look at Sorrentino who made The Great Beauty, which in a way is a kind of a modern 8 ½, it’s quite similar, it’s about a guy that’s a little bit lost too, he’s going around his party, he’s all successful but he’s missing something, something doesn’t feel right within himself.
There is something, that’s very clever about Italian filmmakers, like Fellini and Sorrentino: they understand that, beneath the glamor, there’s a kind of emptiness, souls that these guys might have traded off on. They might have traded their life away to drive that car or to have the book that they’ve written published or to have friends and they’re looking at their life now and they’re saying, what did I do?
And, I think that’s very interesting, but then Italy also has films about the very poor people with so much depth like The Bicycle Thieves. I dunno how you say it in Italian.“
C: Ladri di Bicilette
WM: “Right, exactly. That’s another film, that’s got so much depth, but it’s about very, very low-class people. And they’re almost the opposite of the glamour movies’ main characters because they are trying to be positive; like Roberto Benigni in Life is Beautiful. They have nothing, but they try to lift themselves out of it. They try to be positive and they try to be light and happy while he’s working for the Nazis while he’s trying to get his boy along, trying to tell him that it’s fine and it’s good, look up to me, I’m your father. There is so much beauty here, in Italy and there is so much depth that you actually don’t find in France. The thing with French filmmaking, which I love, by the way, is that they can be cynical sometimes. I love their films, but sometimes there can be some cynicism; the French, the Parisien can be a little cynical. But I do love films, world films, and European films and I love seeing how each country has its own identity.“
C: Here it’s really difficult, you have to be really careful about how you say things, we can’t have on national channels series like The Good Wife or Brain Dead like in the US or something like The Crown in the UK.
WM: Yeah, I’m sure but you have great movies about World Wars…
C: You can bet on it. For example, in the school where I teach, I always show The Silent Mountain, the movie you shot in Italy about the Great War and my students love it every time and are always deeply touched by this film.
WM: “The Silent Mountain was a film I really wanted to make actually. I wanted to play a soldier at some point in my life and I got to do it. The reference we were working with was a Russian movie about World War II. We worked on how the character started in, just like a mountain boy, like quite an easy guy, and then how he ended up aging over time, how war aged him and how it kind of changed him; and how it affected him as he went on through the movie. And, honestly, that was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, making the film, being in the Dolomites, making something that I believed in, it was a real privilege.“
C: So what’s the first thing that you look for in a script? I mean, as one of the questions was supposed to be how do you feel about being an actor, do you think that it’s important to send a message? When you receive the script, what do you look for inside the story?
WM: “It sounds funny but really, I’m not an intellectual, you know, a brain box, I just have to read it and see if I like it. And it’s as simple as that. I know it sounds crazy, but it really is just like that. Like you just pick it up and I just think, oh, I like, this is good. I like the story. This is cool. I’m into it. And then I like when they create the world. For example, they’re creating the world in my next film where I’m going to play Edgar Allen Poe (Raven’s Hollow, now in post-production, ed.). We’re doing like a Gothic kind of horror, and it’s quite a carve and it’s a bit spooky, but it’s a cool world. It’s set in an old town from the 18th century and there is a lot of black, like in Sleepy Hollow or something like that. I read the script and I see the character with like the black hair and he wears a west point uniform and like, and I see him like going through, trying to find out information, and then I see the horses and I just, it’s just visually in my mind and my imagination, it’s like, I can feel it already, like how I felt it when I read Land of Dreams; I felt the land, I felt the mountains. I felt the sun and the dust, and I felt the character’s point of view, I felt that loneliness and that isolation, and I, I felt, all these problems in America that are in the story, but I felt like all the goodness in America as well, how there is a place where people can dream and where your dreams can become a reality. I think that still exists in America. I think that’s still a thing, you know? And that’s why I connected with the character, Mark because he’s a dreamer, he’s a romantic, he’s someone that has hope.
And he’s someone that isn’t cynical yet, he’s innocent in a sort of way. He’s not being beaten down by the world. They haven’t, they haven’t got his soul and just crushed him, you know?“
C: And they can’t change him.
WM: “Exactly. He falls in love for the first time, and there’s no part of him that says, well, in my parameters, this can’t happen. Or in my life, this can’t happen. I imagined him kind of like going off to South America, like traveling around meeting writers and painting and listening to people, becoming a universal lecturer when he got older, or have been being someone who said yes instead of saying no, he said, yes inspiring young people to like say yes to their life. Jean-Claude Carrière wrote an original history draft and I felt very honored to play this character so that’s what I look for. I just look for a feeling really. And I just look for something that gets my imagination going.”
C: So when you read the script, you felt what the director was trying to say? In an interview, Shirin Neshat said that for her, this is a real personal story. Even if it is slightly different, it’s a real one. So I was wondering, how did she make you understand what she was feeling? How was shooting there?
WM: “It was good. And you know, it’s a good question. Cause when I watched the film and I saw, Simin at the end of the film, sitting in the circle of photographs, I felt really sad. In a way, it was like she’d left people behind. She lost from Iran, people that were part of her life, people that could have been a part of her life at some point and were now gone. And to me, that was what I imagined Shirin feels, living in exile in America. Like I felt her pain in leaving your family, having to say goodbye to everybody there, she has never been able to go back to Iran, you know? And I felt it through Simin.”
C: Now there is also Saving Paradise out now, a different kind of movie…
WM: “Very different kind of movie. I made Saving Paradise I think a year ago or maybe two years, maybe two years ago. And it was all about the American dream to me. You have a dream and you sort of become rich. For a lot of people, this is the American dream: I come to America, I become rich. I become somebody. I can be somebody here. Take my character, Michael for example. His father filled up a pencil factory and he became something great. He became something in the town. He supported people and his son Michael ends up becoming a money guy, he becomes one of the corporate structures. And he ends up becoming sort of the antithesis of what his dad is, taking these companies, kind of like liquidating them, sending them to China or Mexico to literally cheap labor. And of course, he has to learn what the values are, although America is about money, not always being American it’s about money, it’s also about caring for people. There is something that’s in the institution of America is like being a fellow man, you know, we’re in this immigrant thing together, it’s about supporting people. And especially during current political times, it seems that people lost sight of caring for each other. Some people lost the side of it. So at that point, that was two years ago, I wanted to make that film and I wanted it because I wanted to put that message out. Cause at the beginning of the pandemic everyone was, oh, this thing is gonna change us, we are gonna be better but we are exactly the same we were…“
C: We are more selfish than we were…
WM: “Exactly. It was so hopeful at the beginning. Everyone was like: everything’s gonna be alright. Everything’s gonna be okay, we’re going, we are going out of this and we will be better because we learned an important lesson and now? If possible we are even more angry and selfish than before. I think they need to teach the Saving Paradise message in business school and at Harvard, in a business school, they need to say, look, you become a multimillionaire, better give back. Cause it’s very bad karma not to. And this country needs to give back, you know? “
William Moseley’s phone rings consistently, he checks the screen and comes back to us.
WM: “I’m so sorry, I have to go like in four minutes. I have to get the flight back today. So what was the last thing I was gonna say? Saving Paradise is a small film. Well, it didn’t have a big budget. We shot it on a very low budget, but I believed in the story and I think it’s good. I think people would like it. I think that what big studio films have to be careful of doing is that you have to be careful that the film doesn’t lose its message. You know, every film has a message. It has something to say. If the characters are in extraordinary circumstances, it’s fine, it’s great, they can be in space or on the moon, shooting each other, but that can’t be the whole movie goal of having them in space shooting each other. There has to be a reason for them to be there, there has to be a sense of the human spirit going through something. Or there has to be some sort of love or some sort of commitment or some sort of dream. They have to do something that makes us follow them. Because when we watch a movie, we’re kind of following the character through, we’re following him or her and we’re following them, and we want to feel that they have a heart as well, that they’re doing something, that we can get behind, that we can believe in them, so it’s very important that studios don’t lose sight of that even if people need to be entertained too, especially now. They have to be able to relax. They have to be able to let go for a bit. People’s lives have been very hard recently with COVID, especially if you work in any kind of job, that has anything to do with COVID, it’s been stressful recently. And if you haven’t worked, it’s maybe just as stressful. So people need some places where they can let go. They can enter the cinema world and they can just be taken off, into another sphere out of reality.“
C: So that’s on your shoulders. Can you cope with that?
WM: “So it’s on my shoulders and I’m happy to take the shot, I’ll take the responsibility. I’m ready. You know, let’s, let’s do it. I wanna make people’s lives better. I wanna make people feel good, and feel better. I’m up for it now. I know that’s my responsibility. And I can do that. I’m so sorry but I think I must go.”
C: One last thing… are you a dreamer?
WM: “Yes I am. I always have been and I always will.”
An hour has flown like a breath of wind, and we are well aware of having spent it with a soul so deep, simple, and sincere as his sight, full of hope for the future… a blue land of dreams.