Interview: Filmmakers Charlie & Lucy Paul on ‘For No Good Reason’

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CHICAGO – You may not know the name Ralph Steadman, but you most certainly have run into his cartoon art. The surrealist was a partner with Hunter S. Thompson, illustrating books like “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” and is a subject of a new documentary entitled “For No Good Reason,” directed by Charlie Paul.

Charlie Paul’s wife Lucy is also his producing partner on the film, which features Johnny Depp as an observer in Ralph Steadman’s studio, and as an occasional interviewer as the story unfolds. The title is an answer to Steadman’s activism, in which he used his artist’s pen as sword against the hypocrisy of the historic events of the late 1960s, through the tumultuous 1970s. “For No Good Reason” isn’t a negative term, it just understands the circumstances of the time.

Ralph Steadman, Charlie Paul, Johnny Depp
Ralph Steadman, Charlie Paul and Johnny Depp of ‘For No Good Reason’
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Charlie and Lucy Paul – from the United Kingdom like Steadman – sat down with for the following interview. Their enthusiasm for the project played out in the interview itself, as they passionately discussed the life and perspective of Ralph Steadman. Besides the art of Ralph Steadman, what was fulfilling about the documentary was the philosophy of Ralph Steadman. At what point in the documentary building process did you feel a shift towards the philosophical nature of Ralph?

Charlie Paul: Immediately. I was drawn to Ralph because of his art, and his philosophical outlook. His message permeated the U.K. through the whole of his career. I came out of art college as a punk, and interested in alternatives in everything, and Ralph as an artist offers those things. His subject matter, and his approach to his subject matter, appealed to me immediately. So for me it was a matter of finding Ralph, because I had to. Since this was your first documentary, what decisions along the process of building it established the unique style in which you presented the material?

Charlie Paul: Ralph informed me through his art on how to approach the film. Ralph’s technique of layers and media, and paint splats on top of that, informed me as a filmmaker on how to make a film about his style. When I came to Ralph I had already adopted that style as a filmmaker, and made it my own. It’s where that art and filmmaking meet to create that final film.

Lucy Paul: Charlie is a fiercely independent filmmaker. He’s always collected cameras, he has studio space to make his films, all formats of camera photography – including a Betamax camcorder he found in a taxi – so that’s always been his multi-media approach. It starts with the art and artist, and it then Charlie delivering on film an exploration and access for the audience. You did some animation of Ralph’s drawings in the film. What was his reaction to seeing that movement in pieces he had done years ago?

Charlie Paul: The animation process took awhile to get going. Ralph has famously rejected offers to animate his art, and to get it to work I had to consult with him. He defined his art as if you are motoring down the freeway at 90 miles an hour, and a fly hits against your windshield – his art is the moment of that splat.

We thought about this, and we approached the animation in that way. Whenever there was movement in the animation, the last image of that movement was Ralph’s actual drawing. So we animated the journey, and the destination is Ralph’s art as the impression. Ralph was satisfied with that.

Lucy Paul: We used one animator, Kevin Richards, who was classically trained. He understands body weight and fluidity, and he got inside Ralph’s head.

Charlie Paul: And Ralph approved it every step of the way, and would even hand me drawings for Kevin to do. The documentary presents the notion that Hunter S. Thompson and Ralph Steadman were each other’s muses. At what point in the spectrum between Thompson’s writing and Steadman’s art did the two intersect most strongly, in your opinions?

Charlie Paul: Well, the work that energized me as a filmmaker in every aspect of my life is when I read ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.’ When you read that book, and see Ralph’s drawings that accompany it, you can’t separate the two – so much so that everyone thinks Ralph was on the trip, because the drawings are so inside the journey. ‘Fear and Loathing’ has a place in literary history because of the two of them coming into the one place. The gem of their relationship was that they ended up in that one place, and it was amazing. When you filmed the process of Steadman creating a new piece of art, it brought to mind how unique his soul is in the interpretation of what passes from his worldview to the end of his pen. What do you think is inspirational about observing an artist such as Ralph in this environment and work?

Charlie Paul: By the time we got to filming Ralph’s process, we had spent enough time with him to become as invisible as a film crew could be. When I’m filming the artist, I could not hold him up – as a filmmaker it was my job to keep up with him. It turned out to be impossible many times, but as we filmed multiple processes, I got to know his movements. If he reached for a particular ink, I eventually knew where to move the camera. I had to learn his language, to stay ahead of him. It was a big challenge.

Ralph Steadman
Classic Ralph Steadman Illustration in ‘For No Good Reason’
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics We live in an era in which images are posted and discarded at rates of millions per second. In your opinions, what do we lose in a modern context when we cannot focus on artists such as Ralph, because there are thousands of other images competing for our attention?

Charlie Paul: This is a subject of my next film. [laughs] The modern world is inundated with images, and we are in a place where we’re losing the value of those images, as we take a thousand pictures to save one. I want this film to emphasize to people and other artists that more can actually be less – it’s not about volume it’s about quality and saying something. Ralph pursues his art to the end. He won’t discard it or walk away from it.

Lucy Paul: He’s confident in what he has stepped out initially to do, and he’ll make it happen to the end, because that is the decision behind what he started out to do. Another notable quote by Ralph was ‘authority is the mask of violence.’ There are a certain amount of people in our society that desire all the wealth and power for themselves, and will use the mask of ‘freedom’ and ‘strength’ as oxymoronic terms to maintain that wealth and power. How do artists like Ralph Steadman speak truth to this type of power?

Charlie Paul: Jann Wenner [publisher of Rolling Stone Magazine] said in the film that Ralph was more dangerous than Hunter S. Thompson or anyone around him, because he says what he wants to say, through his art. What looks on the surface as something jovial, in Ralph’s hand can be loaded with context and messages. He leaves us to discover what he is saying. One of the memorable images in the film is Steadman signing multiple copies of his prints, and lamenting that he is conflicted at times to making more original works, because it might interfere with the cash flow. What does that say about the art market today, and the need for people to ‘own’ a piece of an artist?

Charlie Paul: What is nice about these signings is that people can get a personal connection to him. He might hate the idea that he has to sign all those prints, but he still has that modicum of individuality, and he never parts with the original art. So the only access to ‘ownership’ of a Ralph Steadman work is on a limited reproduction print with his signature. One of the great quotes that Ralph had in the documentary was ‘America is where all that was going wrong with the world was being nurtured.’ That seems truer than ever today. With global technology shrinking our perception of the world, how do you think America will maintain its cultural or political influence if everything keeps ‘going wrong’?

Charlie Paul: We are in the middle of a symbolic ‘fall of Rome’ for the United States, and anyone who doesn’t see it is blindfolded.

Lucy Paul: Also it is partly why we made the film the way we did, and worked with the musicians that we did, because Ralph’s message holds such resonance. We felt it was really important to put the film together in a way that it reaches a younger audience, and introduces Ralph to them.

Charlie Paul: This film was made because I’m aware that we’re going to hell in a handcart. I wanted to make this film to inform my kids, who are 18 and 22 years old, and to showcase someone who saw this coming, and whose art is still relevant and we can relate to it. Ralph Steadman is part of the show, but he also exposes the underbelly at the same time.

“For No Good Reason” continues its limited release in Chicago on May 16th. Featuring appearances of Ralph Steadman, Johnny Depp, Hunter S. Thompson, Jann Wenner, Richard E. Grant and Terry Gilliam. Produced by Charlie and Lucy Paul. Directed by Charlie Paul. Rated “R” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2014 Patrick McDonald,

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