It’s not unusual to see odd sights at the Cannes Film Festival — people in costumes, dwarfs, even a horse wandering around. But one of the more striking sights I’ve seen in my three years coming here was perennially pale Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, in a suit, standing on a French beach. It was a sunny Friday afternoon and he had the air of an aimless vampire about him — though he was definitely there with a purpose: beating the drum for the band’s upcoming IMAX 3-D film, Metallica Through the Never, which opens in the U.S. on September 27.
Ulrich had been invited to the ribbon cutting of the American Pavilion (one of many international pavilions on the beach where Cannes attendees can gather with their own countrymen), where he managed to deliver one of the more bizarre performances of his life: Grimace-filled with extremely slow scissor work. “I was trying not to create an international incident!” said Ulrich, who’d been warned that the French only cut the ribbon three-quarters of the way through. Former senator Chris Dodd, now head of the MPAA, was standing next to him and ended up having to push his hand down the rest of the way. I caught up with Ulrich afterward to ask how his Cannes was going and find out more about the movie, which mixes concert footage with a fictional narrative about a Metallica crew member who runs out for an errand and finds himself in a futuristic city.
This is your first time in Cannes. What’s your impression?
It’s insane. Everything that you thought it would be, times 10,000. I mean, it’s great and it’s overwhelming. Everything is just sort of accelerated and everything is exaggerated and it just moves so fast. The only bummer about the whole thing is I’ve come to the realization that when I leave Cannes in two days, I will not have seen a single film. And as a film fan, someone who’s passionate about film, that kind of bums me out a little bit, because I was sitting with the schedule a couple days ago, like, ‘I’m gonna see Noah Baumbach’s new film [Frances Ha], I’m gonna see Lynn Shelton’s new film [Touchy Feely], and I wanna see this film,’ and it’s just like, uggggghh. I wanted to see Sofia’s film [The Bling Ring] last night. Actually had tickets for it.
There’s always something that comes up. There’s another dinner I have to go to or some other interview I have to do. The one thing that I didn’t realize about Cannes is that this place is basically all business. When you just hear about Cannes, you hear about movie stars walking down the red carpet. But that’s not really Cannes. Cannes is business and financing and deals and distributions. The whole infrastructure of the movie business is here, and I didn’t realize it was at that level, which is I guess also why I’m here, or why I was flown here. [Laughs]
I thought you have distribution.
What we’re going for is independent distribution in each of the major territories. So we have Picturehouse [representing us] in America and then Exclusive Media representing us for the rest of the world. And what they do is go into each territory and get the best deal and hook up with the people that understand our film, that understand who Metallica is. With each territory it’s different. We are fighting fiercely to keep this as independent as possible. We’re financing the film ourselves. We’re not taking any money, we don’t owe anybody any favors or anything like that. This is as self-contained and autonomous as it gets around here, which is obviously a great thing. But because of that, then we have to micromanage more rather than just hand it over to one entity.
You’re doing that to keep control?
We like control, yeah. [Laughs] It’s also, I guess, a pride thing. It’s a protective mechanism. We’re basically in a situation in 2013 where we own everything we’ve ever done, every record we’ve ever made, every master we’ve ever made. Anything we do we’ve maintained all the rights to it. We can do with it what we want. People have a tendency to confuse control with greed. And it’s not a greed thing or a financial thing, so much as, if it says Metallica on it, then you’ll know that it came from us. It’s that simple. We can look our fans straight in the eye and go, “We did our best and it’s straight from us to you.”
Why make this movie? You already did a documentary, 2004’s Some Kind of Monster?
Increasingly so, Metallica likes to operate as much out of our comfort zone as possible, and making films is definitely out of our comfort zone. But films are fascinating. Music is my life, but film is my passion. And I have more friends in the film world, I have more acquaintances in the film world, I spend more time in the film world than I do in the music world.
Did you personally direct any part of the movie?
We brought in Nimród Antal (2010’s Predators) to direct. We’re producing it and we’re starring in it. We created a concert rather than put ourselves on tour, and there’s a dramatic narrative that runs throughout the film. And we hired the biggest movie star in the world five years from now, Dane Dehaan.
Ha, that’s very prescient of you.
I’m trying to be somewhat comical about it, obviously. But he’s the greatest. I don’t know how many of his things you’ve seen, Chronicle or Lawless or Place Beyond the Pines, but he’s magnetic. You just can’t take your eyes off him. And with the two Spider-Man films, 2 and 3, that he’s signed up for [to play Harry Osborn], it’s great.
What happens in the film within the film?
Dane plays a character named Tripp who is what is called a runner, do you know what that is?
Kind of an errand boy.
Right. He works the Metallica gig as a runner and he’s sent on an errand that leads to many, many bad things that happen to him on his journey through this unnamed city. So we follow his journey through the night and we keep cutting back to the Metallica concert, which is, I guess, the anchor of the film, but it’s really about his journey. We’re trying to do a kind of different take on the concert experience instead of, “Here we are on the last tour in Latin America for a week and we better film it before we pack the stage away,” that type of thing. It’s just a different approach. And the concert was created for the film. It’s not a tour, and the 20,000 people who are at the concert, I think you could consider them extras rather than a paying audience.
How did people get to be extras for that? Did you auction off tickets?
We did stuff with tickets for food banks in Vancouver and charity stuff. So it’s a controlled environment. There’s that word again!
[Publicist is pulling him away] Any chance to take walks on the beach?
I wish. God, I fucking wish. Just work, work, work.
What was happening up there with the ribbon cutting? You said you didn’t want to start an international incident.
This is what they’d told me, in France you don’t cut all the way through. In France you cut three-quarters of it and then the senator came over and was wondering why I didn’t cut all the way through, and he cut all the way through. I do as I’m told!