Mental arrives from the filmmaker behind Muriel’s Wedding, Peter Pan and My Best Friend’s Wedding and tells a story that is awfully close to his heart. While growing up, writer-director P.J. Hogan found himself a twelve-year-old boy whose mother was taken away to a mental institution.
One day, his father picked up a hitchhiker and asked her to be his kids’ nanny. The film, teased in the Mental trailer, follows this character, named in the movie Shaz (Toni Collette), as it explores what it means to be mental. Like, who defines crazy?
“I don’t think anyone could have come from a more dysfunctional upbringing than mine,” Hogan said and laughed. “One of the things about Mental is it asks, ‘What is normal? Does it exist?’ My personal feeling is no. Some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met have been completely off their rockers.”
We caught up with Hogan for an exclusive interview where he talks about the making of Mental, why he adores Collette so much (his star of Muriel’s Wedding) and how legendary producer Jerry Zucker has a comic best friend in the Australian helmer.
Movie Fanatic: You got to be your own boss on this one. That’s so rare in films, how nice was that?
P.J. Hogan: I made the film I set out to make, for better or worse.
Movie Fanatic: Loved his work for years, and I see that Jerry Zucker (Airplane) is one of your film’s producers. What is it like to work with such a comic mastermind?
P.J. Hogan: This is my third film with Jerry. The first time I worked with Jerry was on My Best Friend’s Wedding. He sent me the screenplay based on his liking Muriel’s Wedding, which was my first film. I don’t know what he saw in it that made him think I was right [laughs] to direct this romantic comedy. But, I’m glad he asked me. I had a great time making it and it was very successful. I was in awe of Jerry because there’s nobody that knows more about comedy filmmaking. I’ve learned a lot from Jerry. I think one of the reasons we get on so well is we share a sense of humor, but we’re also very different. Jerry always says, "You just go a little further than I go P.J." And I always say, “Come on, Jerry… Ruthless People… that walks the edge.”
Movie Fanatic: Another person you’ve worked with several times now is Toni Collette, on Muriel’s Wedding and now Mental.
P.J. Hogan: I love working with Toni. I wish I could make every film with Toni.
Movie Fanatic: What is about her that you keep bringing her back to your world?
P.J. Hogan: We made our first film together. It was both our first films. That film gave us both careers. We also toured the world together on that movie because nobody had heard of us. We were everywhere, like a rash trying to convince people to see the movie. Toni and I have wanted to work together again for a very long time. In fact, when I was directing Muriel’s Wedding, I talked to her about the character of Shaz, because it’s based on a real person. Toni would often say, “Why are we making a film about your sister, Muriel? We should be making a movie about this total lunatic Shaz. There’s a part I would love to play one day.” That stuck with me and I just had to figure out a way to tell the story. The real Shaz stayed in my life for so long. I met her when I was 12, just like in the film, but unlike the film, she stayed in my life for another 20 years.
Movie Fanatic: Is it tough to write and produce a film that is so personal or is it cathartic?
P.J. Hogan: It’s actually really easy. Muriel’s Wedding was a little bit tougher because that was one of my first films and two, it was a very personal story. But, you know what? I learned something on Muriel’s Wedding. I don’t know what kind of filmmaker I am yet, but the less I bring of myself to my films, I don’t think they work very well. I didn’t have an orthodox upbringing. I’ve been a freak from an early age and remain one. I see the world in a certain way. I think it’s normal. I really believe that if a filmmaker has anything to say, it’s probably something from within. If you’re a filmmaker, your voice has to come from life experience.