Neil Young & Daryl Hannah Talk New Netflix Western 'Paradox' Ahead of SXSW Premiere

Neil Young, 2016
Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Neil Young perform during the 30th Annual Bridge School Benefit Finale at Shoreline Amphitheatre on Oct. 23, 2016 in Mountain View, Calif. 

Neil Young and Daryl Hannah are not looking for Academy Award buzz or even critical kudos as they prepare their new, Netflix-bound film Paradox for its premiere Thursday at South by Southwest.

“It’s just fun,” Young told Billboard on Wednesday (March 14) at Austin’s Four Seasons Hotel. “We had talked about making a movie for awhile, just how fun it would be, and Daryl had some ideas. She’d always wanted to do a kind of Western-style thing. We shot the whole thing in three or four days with a bunch of our friends, and I knew the movie would be fun and something I could believe in.”

Hannah, who directed and wrote Paradox, called the movie “an accident. Everything was spontaneous and organic. It was going to be a short; I wrote about a 10-page script, and then everyone got into their character and it just kind of ballooned as it shot. We didn’t want to make it just a music video, so we decided to just kind of cobble it together, and it all fit. Obviously we just made it for fun and we kind of hope people will take it in that spirit. It’s a lighthearted kind of thing even though it does have some themes and messages we care about.”

The low-budget, single-camera “Paradox” is an impressionistic, fable-like tale that stars Young as the enigmatic Man In Black, accompanied by members of his current backing band Promise of the Real -- including Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas (Jail Time) and Micah (The Particle Kid) -- on a quest for physical treasure during the days and creative discoveries by night. Nelson also appears in the film, which begins streaming March 23 on Netflix alongside a limited theatrical release, with a soundtrack album by Young and Promise of the Real out the same day. Thursday’s premiere at the Paramount Theatre in Austin will be followed by a Q&A with Young, Hannah and other cast members.

It marks the first time Young has been directed in an acting role by anyone other than Bernard Shakey (aka Young himself, who’s listed as the film’s co-producer), but he said the adjustment was not difficult. “I have a lot of respect for Daryl; she knew what she wanted to do and she had good direction,” Young said, acknowledging that it was easy to relate to the muse-driven character he plays. “Y’know, she wrote it, she put it together, and I just followed the directions. I followed the dots and we had a great time.” Hannah, meanwhile, said Young made contributions in helping to run the set in the Colorado mountains, where the band was preparing for a short tour during the fall of 2016 before the Desert Trip festival.

“We did not have a crew and there was no [assistant director] or anything, so Neil was very helpful,” she noted. “He loves making movies, so it was really helpful to have him, but he totally refrained from backseat direction. I don’t believe Bernard ever made it onto the set. Everything had to be approved through Bernard, but he was very hands-off. He let everything happen.” Micah Nelson added that, “They’re a good team, and Neil trusts [Hannah] a lot. I think he enjoyed taking a back seat and just being an actor.”

The soundtrack by all telling, was created much the same way, using unrehearsed, first takes of songs such as “Peace Trail” and “Show Me,” the orchestrated and acoustic versions of “Tumbleweed” that came from sessions for Young’s 2014 album Storytone and covers of The Turtles’ “Happy Together” and Leadbelly’s “How Long?” “We really didn’t set out to do anything,” Nelson said. “Even the campfire scene, we were making up verses on the spot. The script said ‘Campfire jam, sing-along song,’ so we set it up and whatever happened.” Hannah recalled that, “We hadn’t even finished setting up the microphones when they started to play some of the songs that were in the film. If we could capture it, we were lucky. Nothing was planned in terms of what songs there were going to be. It just sort of happened.”

Young says some of the material came from music he was working on with Promise of the Real after finishing 2017’s Peace Trail, including “a couple jams for instructional passages for different things, then I recorded a bunch of electric guitar and stuff to go with the scenes.” He likened the material to his score for Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 film Dead Man. “There’s a lot of Dead Man in this film,” he said. “All of us like Dead Man.”

The Netflix alliance, meanwhile, is “outside the box for me,” Young acknowledges. “It’s something I’ve never done before and Daryl’s never done before. Usually we try to go out and present our stuff and go to the people who we know are going to love it and present it. It’s made for them, so we find ways to locate them and let 'em know it’s happening. This is not like that; this is like we’re on the world stage. Anything can happen. People who have no idea what to expect, they’ll probably shoot it down ‘cause it’s not made by Cecil D. Eastwood or something; it’s not the best western they were looking for. So the jury’s out. We’re still kind of coming to grips with what it is and working on this platform.

“But we just wanted to have fun. We just made this movie for fun. It’s already a hit, as far as we’re concerned."

Festivals 2018