Meet your maker: Uncle Frank director Alan Ball on his biggest influences
The Oscar and Emmy winner takes us inside some of the movies, books, and more that have inspired his work.
The Oscar and Emmy winner behind American Beauty, Six Feet Under and True Blood brings his most personal project to the screen: the road movie Uncle Frank (out Wednesday, Nov. 25 on Amazon Prime) starring Paul Bettany. Here, Alan Ball, 63, shares his iconic cinematic (and literary) inspirations.
“I was just so blown away by how powerful that movie was,” Ball tells EW of Martin Scorsese’s 1976 classic, which ignited a creative spark and, initially, made him want to act. “I spent a lot of years wanting to be an actor before I realized I’m actually a better writer.”
“He was like a mentor to me when we were shooting American Beauty,” Ball, whose original screenplay won the 2000 Oscar, says of the director. “I’d never done a film shoot and he allowed me on set, which is incredibly gracious because that’s usually not something people do with writers. Even though it was his first movie, I learned a tremendous amount from watching him, how he worked with actors.”
“That show came out when I’d just signed a TV development deal,” says Ball. “I had to come up with a TV show, and I remember watching Sopranos and going, ‘Wow, I never knew that TV could be like this: cinematic, incredibly made, with a really specific, strong voice, amazing performances, and moral ambiguity.’ That was a big turning point for me.”
When Ball began work on his first series, HBO’s funeral-home-set dramedy Six Feet Under, he was struggling to nail the tone until he read several books by poet (and undertaker) Lynch. “He writes with this combination of existential honesty and humor but, at the same time, appreciation of grace and beauty. It had a lot to do with Six Feet Under becoming what it became.”
To Kill a Mockingbird
“It’s such a beautiful story and one of my favorite movies and books of all time,” he says. “At the beginning of making Uncle Frank, a lot of people were saying, ‘Is this Beth’s story, or is it Frank’s story?’” Ball says of his uncle-niece road movie starring Paul Bettany and Sophia Lillis. “I sort of went, ‘Well, is To Kill a Mockingbird Scout’s movie, or is it Atticus’ movie?’”
Since Ball grew up in Georgia, Southern writers like Williams, Eudora Welty, and Carson McCullers have always impacted his writing. “I loved their work, and on Uncle Frank, my inner Tennessee Williams took over,” he says. “Also, because True Blood was set in the South, I leaned into the Southern-gothic themes I grew up with.”
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