“Free Your Mind” by Cut Copy is the story of a huge, charismatic cult leader, played by Alexander Skarsgård of HBO’s True Blood, who is loved by all but one man on the compound. Director Christopher Hill worked closely with the band on the concept for the video, which also ties into the over all marketing plan for the album. We talked to Christopher about the video, casting Alexander in the lead role, and the influences on the styling of the members of the cult.
Doug: Were you given complete freedom when coming up with the concept for this video?
Christopher: Yes. I’ve worked with the Cut Copy guys a few times previously and know them quite well so they had total confidence in running with whatever I wanted to do. That said, we had a number of meetings over coffee, lunch, dinner, drinks, picnics etc to discuss various ideas, not only to do with the video, but the marketing campaign of the album as a whole. The idea of the new age cult seemed to make the most sense in regard to the themes of the album. Any restrictions on freedom were the usual budget and time. For example, Alexander could only fit in one day shooting between feature film commitments.
Doug: What were you looking for in the main character and how did Alexander get involved?
Christopher: As a cult leader, the main character needed to have a natural onscreen presence and charisma. It needed to be someone that people would naturally gravitate towards. When first talking to the band they had mentioned becoming good friends with Alexander the previous year whilst on tour and we joked about how great it would be to have him involved. As I finalized the concept for the video and seeing Alexander in a few recent films I started to think that he would actually be perfect for the role. After some initial hesitation from the band I convinced them that it was a matter of a simple email that he would either say yes or no to. It was a long shot but he emailed back straight away expressing interest, and after reading my treatment / hearing the song he was completely enthusiastic.
Doug: Do you think having a recognizable actor in that role adds to the power and importance to the character in the video?
Christopher: Definitely it does, because people have a familiarity and attachment to him already. The character has gravity because of his expertise as an actor, but this is multiplied by the fascination people have with Alexander himself. Actually, Alexander already has somewhat of a personal cult following so on one level the video’s concept is actually playing off that fact. Interestingly, Dan from the band told me that a friend of ours watched the video 4 times without knowing who Alexander Skarsgard was. He was fascinated by the ‘unknown actor’s amazing performance’.
Doug: Was there something in specific you were looking for in the other characters in the video?
Christopher: Yes, I wanted a variety of different people that had a unique look that might fit into the world of the cult. Innocence and loss of innocence were two things I generally looked for during casting. The three featured roles of assistant, love interest, and antagonist had to play off Alexander’s role in an almost contrasting way. The love interest had to be a mix of innocent and seductive. Seductive innocence? The Antagonist had to have inner tranquility and strength. He had to be the opposite of Alexander, but look like someone that could stand up to him. Alexander’s assistant would basically be like his mother and best friend as she would theoretically spend the most time with him. I wanted her to be older and more frail which was the obvious opposite of Alexander, but she needed a certain flare that would match Alexander in personality. I love the idea of these two just hanging out on a day to day basis and I can imagine a whole script based on their relationship.
Doug: Was the style and look inspired by anything? Like the blue jumpsuits and elements like that?
Christopher: The overall look has a new age religious farmhouse vibe. Like a garden of eden or religious ranch. I imagined that the cult had money and had purchased a family estate as is and then tailored everything to their own needs in a makeshift way. Researching a lot of new age meditation technology I came across these strobing glasses which assist in meditation… so the production designer took that idea and designed the virtual meditation head sets we see in the video.
After looking at a lot of cults, one of the references I liked in terms of aesthetics was Heaven’s Gate, who wore purple robes and were all found wearing matching Nike sports shoes after their mass suicide. I like the idea of a cult being sponsored in contemporary society. The idea of the blue jumpsuits comes from various references. At the time I was revisiting some early Cronenberg, in particular Rabid which features a cosmetic surgery hospice and The Brood in which a woman gives birth to her repressed emotions in the form of a bunch of small violent children who at one point are wearing matching jumpsuits. Also a picture I found of an Australian cult called The Family where all the children are wearing matching blue jumpsuits. What I like is that jumpsuits are comfortable and practical – it’s like disciples in training for enlightenment. Blue is also meant to be a calming color.