Interview with Jesse Peretz by Paul Sherman

From The Boston Herald 14th August 1998


Cambridge native Jesse Peretz's debut movie, "First Love, Last Rites" (which opens today at the Coolidge Corner and Janus theaters), isn't the sort of peppy exercise in pop culture you might expect from a music-video director.

After all, Peretz co-created and co-directed the hilarious "Jimmy McBride, Cab Driver" promos for MTV a few years back (along with co-director Clay Tarver and actor Donal Logue), and his best-known video is the Foo Fighters' Mentos commercial parody, "Big Me."

Now he's made "First Love, Last Rites," a darkly atmospheric and purposely unflashy adaptation of a short story by Brit Ian McEwan about two teen lovers. It stars Giovanni Ribisi ("Saving Private Ryan") and Natasha Gregson Wagner ("Two Girls and a Guy").

But the background of 30-year-old Peretz, who was a founding member of the band Lemonheads, goes beyond music and is more varied than he sometimes lets on. Just as post-punk teens Lemonheads (which Peretz left in the early 1990s) didn't announce to the world they were from middle-brow Cambridge, so too has Peretz been coy about the fact that he attended Harvard, excluding such info from his press biography. (His dad is editor-in-chief of "The National Review," by the way.)

"The Lemonheads was always this glorified hobby," Peretz said. After directing his first video for Lemonheads (while still its bass player) and graduating from Harvard, he moved to New York to get film work and started directing videos for people he knew, such as Juliana Hatfield.

The Jimmy McBride spots became his calling card to higher budgeted videos and commercials. Although he still directs commercials ("to make a living," he said), Peretz hasn't done a video for two years, most of which time was spent on "First Love, Last Rites."

"To me, they're such different things," he said of videos and movies. "I guess at the end of the day you're playing with the same tools. But in a video you're telling a story with succinct images. You're working much more on the surface.

"And doing a feature, especially a feature like this that is so actor-driven and so about how a relationship develops and changes, takes going to a much deeper, internal place. There are no easy visual solutions. It was about working in a deeper way with actors, in a way you would never think about doing in a music video.

"All of the visual elements of the film were really secondary to me. I actually took some time off and directed a couple of plays, because I wanted to shake all the impulses to rely on cinematic problem-solving, and try to deal with things on a dramatic level."

Ironically, Peretz adapted the short story with David Ryan, his former rhythm section mate in Lemonheads. 
"We did everything in a back-ass way," he said. "We had this first draft of the script, but no producer or rights (to the story)."

A fortuitous joining of forces with producers Robin O'Hara and Scott Macauley ("Gummo"), and Peretz's idea of having the band Shudder to Think record soundtrack songs with such guest vocalists as Billy Corgan, Liz Phair and Robin Zander, helped to push along the budget-raising process and allow Peretz to shoot his movie in late 1996.