jonathan lethem

Interview: “Complete Unknown” director Joshua Marston

The guy who made "Maria Full of Grace" talks about the vagaries of an indie film career, his latest movie, and casting Robert Redford as Oral Roberts in his next.

I met Joshua Marston in 2004 in the lobby of a downtown Portland hotel. He was on a press tour promoting his acclaimed debut feature, “Maria Full of Grace,” accompanied by the film’s star, Catalina Sandina Moreno. It was a tough call which of the two was more charmingly fresh-faced: the 35-year-old, California-raised director living his cinematic dream, or the 23-year-old Colombian-born actress making a memorable film debut as a pregnant, reluctant, drug mule.

“Maria Full of Grace” was the sort of calling card that could have led to a profitable career toiling in the Hollywood tinsel mines, but by the time Marston’s second feature, “The Forgiveness of Blood,” was released in 2011, it had become apparent that he had other priorities. That film demonstrated his continued interest in using non-professional actors to tell stories with a global perspective—in this case, that of an Albanian family torn apart by a blood feud and an ancient code of honor.

Having paid the bills and honed his craft over the last decade with TV credits (including episodes of “Six Feet Under” and “The Newsroom”), Marston is back with a belated third film under his arm. “Complete Unknown” is a more typical American indie production, with a couple of recognizable faces (Rachel Weisz and Michael Shannon) and a New York-set tale about a woman reconnecting with an old boyfriend fifteen years after she abandoned her old life and took up the art of serial identity re-invention.

I reconnected with Marston last week. Our phone conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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