The star of Gaspar Noe's dizzying meditation on death, drugs and reincarnation tells us what it's like to enter the void
There has arguably never been a film quite as mind-bending, strange and ambitious as Enter The Void, Gaspar Noe's tale of a hallucinogen-loving teen who gets blown away – in the first five minutes of the movie – while tripping his face off on DMT. For the next two-and-a-half hours his soul floats around a pinball machine-like vision of Tokyo watching his sister (Paz del la Huerta) strip, recalling his parent's horrific car accident and plummeting through wormholes in time and space that come in the form of everything from lightbulbs and headlights to vaginas and eyeballs. Imagine the last sequence of Kubrck's 2001 and you are getting close to the aesthetic, but this is actually way more surreal. The unfortunate death-tripper is played by Nathan Brown – a non-actor who was plucked from his day job in American Apparel and thrown into a wild and unpredictable shoot that sounds pretty much like it took form as it was actually being shot. Here, he tells us what it was like to work with France's eminent auteur and spend six weeks thinking about his own mortality.
Dazed Digital: Was it hard to get your head around such a film with such a dizzying narrative arc?
Nathan Brown: It was hard for me to understand the script at all when I first read it. I mean, it was just such a hyper-existential drug trip. When I first met Gaspar a week before we started shooting I said, ‘I don’t really get what this movie is about.’ He just said, ‘Don’t worry about it, we picked you guys because we want you to just act like you guys – just act like you are on drugs and it will come out fine.’ From reading the script you wouldn’t have known what the film was going to look like at all. I don’t even think Gaspar knew. Tokyo directed the film in a sense – the lights and the landscape.
Dazed Digital: The film is pretty much a big question mark about death...
Nathan Brown: Yeah, I mean death is the hardest thing for anybody to figure out. Nobody has any idea what it is like. Gaspar was just asking, ‘Is this possibly what it is like when we die?’ Or maybe even that this is how it should be after we die, because it’s so fucking crazy! There are a lot of deep and hard to fathom concepts being tossed around in that film, and it’s really hard for me to say there has ever been a darker place for me to go. Shooting it was kind of harrowoing but it changed the way I think about a lot of things, because death is not something you think about too much at 20 years old.
Dazed Digital: How did you wind up being cast in the role, you had never acted before, right?
Nathan Brown: I moved to New York when I was 17 because my parents were having issues and then I just stayed. I started doing odd modelling jobs and washing dishes, but I got to know this casting director who kind of took me under her wing. Out of the blue she called and I got that little tingle I got whenever she called because it might mean a job that wasn’t washing dishes! I did the casting (which freaked me out because it was a bit like a model casting) and I didn’t think anything of it, then she called me back and said Gaspar wanted to meet me. When I met him he pretty much just said you’ve got the part!
Dazed Digital: That must have been daunting...
Nathan Brown: Well, my agent asked if I knew Irreversible, which I didn’t. She gave me that film and said, ‘Before you say yes, make sure you watch this!’ I had already made up my mind, though. I was like, ‘Of course I’m going to fucking do a movie in Tokyo, even if it’s a fucking porn movie!' I watched it, then I called her the next day and said I wanted to do it even more. I have to admit that I thought Gaspar would be really intense but he's not, he's actually very relaxed and, well... I guess he's kind of like a great big over-excited kid. He's just so positive about everything.
Dazed Digital: How did your on-screen relationship with your character’s sister (Paz de la Huerta) evolve. There have been people that found the incestuous nature of it gratuitous...
Nathan Brown: Well, my character is very fucked-up with a lot of issues and problems in a very deep way, and he has this incredibly close relationship with his sister, which we had to develop while we were shooting because we had literally no prep time. There is a scene where she is kissing him on a rollercoaster but Gaspar says that’s not incestuous: it’s just kind of a nightmare vision the character has in this limbo dream state where he kind of revisits all these moments in his life a fucked-up way.
Dazed Digital: In a way the whole film is about dreaming becasue DMT occurs in the body naturally and is supposed to secrete into the brain when we dream and when we die...
Nathan Brown: Yeah, but when you are tripping on DMT you have no sense of time at all – you can be on it for minutes and feel like you have been there for hours – so you float through hours of time in a matter of minutes. If anything, I think the film is shorter than what you would get on a trip. There were no drugs on the movie-set, though. One of the reasons it was set in Tokyo is because Tokyo is the anti-drug city of the world – well, at least on the surface. The sentences in Japan are just ridiculous – you will kind of dissapper off the grid if you get busted and that’s where a lot of the the tension in the film comes from... man, you know what? After this whole experience I just hope the next thing I do is half as conceptually rich as Enter The Void because I think most films are going to seem pretty mundane in comparison!