Yes, octogenarian actor-cum-filmmaker Clint Eastwood can do it all. He’s been nominated for a whopping ten Academy Awards and won four – Best Picture/Director for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. He’s directed 32 feature films and tackled westerns, wars, romance, cops and robbers, and outer space. He won the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award Oscar – a lifetime achievement award – in 1994, and was nominated for seven of those Oscars after.
It’s his late-career creative renaissance that is particularly impressive, since it’s such an anomaly in Hollywood. Whereas other great directors seem to drop off as they get older (see: Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen, Jean-Luc Godard) Eastwood is in his prime.
In the 2000s, he’s directed the brilliant drama Mystic River; the heartbreaking character study Million Dollar Baby; a pair of impressive war films – Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima, covering WWII’s Battle of Iwo Jima from both the American and Japanese perspectives; the tale of a crabby old kook who comes to terms with his closed-mindedness in the race-relations drama Gran Torino; and, most recently, the Nelson Mandela/Apartheid-themed drama, Invictus. That film introduced Eastwood to Matt Damon, whose role as South African rugby star François Pienaar earned the actor his second Oscar nomination for acting, and first, surprisingly, since 1998’s Good Will Hunting.
One of the only genres Eastwood hasn’t tackled is the supernatural thriller—enter Hereafter, Eastwood’s latest film. In the vein of The Sixth Sense, the film is centered on three people – a factory worker who can communicate with the dead (Matt Damon), a French journalist who survives a tsunami (Cécile De France), and a London boy (twins Frankie and George McLaren) who loses his twin brother in an accident – and how the people are affected by death in different ways.
MMM attended the New York Film Festival press conference for Hereafter where director Clint Eastwood and star Matt Damon dished on aging in Hollywood, an Affleck/Damon reunion, their own brushes with the supernatural, and more.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: Clint, how did this project come together?
CLINT EASTWOOD: Let’s see. Where were we? Steven Spielberg called me one day and said, “I have script I’d love to send over to you,” and I said, “Fine, send it over.” He and I have worked together on a few other projects, and I read it and I liked it. So I just called him back and I said, “I’ll do it.” I didn’t realize I was last on the list, however, I said,“Yeah, I’ll do it.” So he was going through a minor divorce there with Paramount Pictures or something, so it became a little confusing as to where this would have its life, but I have a relationship with Warners so I said, “Well let me take it to Warners.” Warners liked it and so there we were. I liked the script immediately. There were a few little ideas I had but I just put those in the back of my head. I thought it was good the way it was; it didn’t need rewrites. I haven’t shot a picture with any blue pages in it in a long time; you either like them or you don’t. But I liked this one. Most religions seem to ponder the afterlife but I thought this was interesting because it wasn’t really a religious project. It had a spirituality about it but it was not necessarily tied in with any particular, organized thought. I think everybody, whether you believe in the afterlife or the chance of a near-death experience and you come back and you see some semblance of it, whether that has happened or not I don’t know, but certainly I think everyone’s thought about it at some point or another in time. And it’s a fantasy that if there is anything out there like that it would be just terrific, but that remains to be seen.
MMM: Could I ask you to talk a little bit about the conception and creation of the tsunami sequence?
EASTWOOD: Let me just regress a little bit. I thought the unusual aspect of the script was taking actual events and placing them into a fictional story. And so the tsunami of four years ago out in the Pacific was one, and then the London bombings of course. I thought that was a unique thing to do. But the tsunami was very difficult to do. I kept having fantasies of huge hoses and thousands of gallons of water running down the streets and what have you, and I figured out how to do that. I figured that would be prohibitive; where would we do that? In the old days I suppose you would have done that on the set and you would have done little set pieces and turned a lot of water loose. But with the element now of computer generated elements you could go ahead and do it, even though water is probably the most difficult thing to do in a CGI basis. I have a fellow named Michel Owens who has worked with me on “Letters from Iwo Jima,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” and back as far as “Space Cowboys,” so he kept very much hip on the technology as it has been improving over the years. We went through it and figured out what shots we would need to do live and then we did it. But it took a lot of different places. Cécile was in a tank in London for nine hours without getting out too much, and she had to have a skin replacement afterwards. But then we went to Maui and shot in the ocean and on the streets of Lahaina. We had to preplan it in order to piece all the elements together with the connective shots and what have you. If you don’t preplan CGI it’s the most expensive thing in the world, so you have to plan every single shot and that’s normally not the way I shoot, but in this thing it worked out rather well. We hired a company named Scanline and they did a terrific job.
EASTWOOD: What was the old John Ford thing; ask him a long question and he went “Cut.”
MMM: There’s a really interesting theme in your films about remaining relevant as one gets older in any profession, in things like “True Crime,” and “Absolute Power,” and as far back as “Unforgiven” really is where it starts I think. It’s just a really interesting theme that runs through your films and I was just wondering if you have any comment.
EASTWOOD: I like to think there are different themes in every film. I don’t know if there’s an ongoing theme. Is that what you’re suggesting?
MMM: There seems to be. Even as far as “Letters from Iwo Jima” there’s a real sense of people struggling for control and respect as they get older, and it’s not always an easy battle.
EASTWOOD: You know, it’s very subjective. That’s a very difficult one for me to answer. I think it would be easier for someone else to evaluate than it would be for myself because I don’t think of it in that way. Everything to me is spontaneous. “Unforgiven” is probably an example of a script where I like it right away but I said, “This is great but I’d like to do this when I’m older.” So I stuck it in the drawer for 10 years and then took it out. Other projects just come to me. “Perfect World,” or whatever, they just sort of fall. And I have no real rhyme or reason; I wish I could give you some sort of pseudo-intellectual thing that would be great, and maybe if this was a French cinema class I’d have to fake something. But I’m not really the person to ask on that. If I start evaluating myself I would be afraid that I would not be able to think intelligently about every project and the various meaning thereof.
MATT DAMON: I actually asked a similar question of him on “Invictus,” but it was about directors as they got older why was it that they historically seem to fall off? I said what is that? I remember asking him because he’s obviously completely avoided that. And he thought about it for a good 10 seconds and then just said, “I don’t know. It doesn’t make any sense to me.” Because it never did to me either because presumably the older we get, the wiser we get, the more knowledge you have about filmmaking, the more different types of films you’ve made. That whole CGI thing, he kind of just plowed into it with utter confidence and that sequence is incredible. And so it is kind of mystifying to me that historically the great directors, not all of them, but many of them, kind of fell off as they got older. And it never really made sense to me so I asked that question of him.
EASTWOOD: I was always sort of shocked. I knew Frank Capra a little bit and I spent some time with him at June Lakes, where he lived in the summertime. He was always so bright I always figured why isn’t this guy still working? And I also knew Billy Wilder somewhat and he had actually stopped working in his 60s, and I thought god, that’s amazing. Here’s a guy who is bright and lived well into his 90s and didn’t work. I never could figure that. I figured your best years should be at a point when you’ve absorbed all this knowledge. Now, maybe they just didn’t keep up with the times, or they picked material that didn’t work and they have a few pictures that don’t do so well. People are very fickle, Hollywood is very fickle, and they kind of move on. There’s a Portuguese director [Manoel de Oliveira] who is still making films at over a hundred years old, and I plan to do the same thing.
MMM: Could you please talk about the two young brothers, who I feel are kind of the heart of the film, and directing them through scenes of such sadness and getting such wonderful performances out of them?
DAMON: Well he cast them, and I remember talking to him during that process. I think we were pretty resigned to the reality that we’d have probably non-actors in those roles, because it’s an 11 or 12-year-old kid you’re looking for, so you’re not going to find a Julliard graduate. And Clint just loved their faces. I remember talking to him and he said, “I think these faces of these boys are really just terrific,” and they seemed to be from the same neighborhood that these kids are actually from. They went and shot the first two stories without me, so I would get reports about how the boys were doing. But obviously the movie comes down to that scene in the hotel room, and there’s a lot made of how few takes Clint does, but he does the number of takes that are required. We both went into that day going we’re really going to have to get this from these guys. And one really smart thing that Clint did was he interchanged the twins. Even if he was only going to use one of them he let them both do the scenes. So I think that took a lot of pressure off both the boys. And it also for that scene allowed us to play them off one another. I would take one of them aside and get all of this information, like did his brother have a girlfriend or whose farts were the stinkiest, things that they would think were funny. And then when the camera was on them Clint and I would start asking them and revealing these things so that we got really real reactions from them. Little tricks like that just to help them, because movie sets can get tense and people can get nervous pretty easily. Never on his sets, but that’s all by design. And so he kind of created an environment where they wouldn’t know that they really shot a movie. I think they had a really good time and they’ll probably be surprised when they see the movie.
EASTWOOD: The interesting thing with child actors is kids are natural actors. They’re wonderful actors and most kids are acting all the time. They’re out in the yard playing and they’re imagining things happening and they can get very vivid. But unfortunately, once they’ve been organized into acting and you get a stage mother sitting there saying, “No, do it this way.” And I’ve watched many times over the years in other films that I’ve done where a director will try to undo a lot of bad habits that had been instilled. And so when I looked at people for this picture, young kids, I picked the two that were the least experienced. In fact, they had no experience; they’d never been in film before. They said they’d been in some grammar school plays but I doubted that. But they had the faces and I’m one of those guys who believes if you cast a film correctly, and that’s with professionals or with amateurs, you’re probably 80 percent there. If you cast a film incorrectly then you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle. But I just figured I could pull things out of them without them knowing it better than trying to get somebody organized. And we auditioned about three or four sets of identical twins. They looked great but there was a lot of acting going on, and so I said these guys have the right face, they’re from the right neighborhood, they had certain elements that these kids needed to have built into their system, so they didn’t have to get in there and act like something else that they weren’t.
MMM: How did the film affect you? It had to raise questions in your mind or you had to feel something that you responded to because anyone in the audience has to react in one way or another.
EASTWOOD: Yeah, it raises a lot of questions, but that’s where it ends. The questions are here and you pose the questions and it’s up to the audience to meet you halfway and think about it in terms of their own lives and what their thoughts are or what experiences they might have had. There may be some near-death experiences out there and it would be interesting to see what the answers were, but they’re going to have to come up with those answers. As far as the technical thing, like doing the tsunami, I took all the imagery footage that had been shot on that particular tsunami when it was happening, we took that and used that as our influences to get going. But everything else has got to be in the imagination of the performer. Cécile talked to anchor people in French too, or what have you. Everybody has their way of preparing and I just allow everybody to do that on their own, and then if something isn’t working it’s another thing. But if you have people that do that inner research they bring that to the table. So I’m a firm believer in research, but I’m also a firm believer in utilizing the instincts that are within your soul or your body or in your stomach or wherever they reside.
DAMON: It was a terrific script, too. It was just a terrific script. It was really tight. When anybody asked me about it I said, “It’s just a really tight script.” It read like a play in a sense where sometimes when you do a play you don’t have to do anything, you explore the material and every answer you need is there. I’m somebody who does a lot of research normally on my own and I didn’t feel, for one, as Peter said, I didn’t really want to go down the rabbit hole. If somebody was recommended to me as like this guy really is fantastic, then I would have gone and spoken to him, but nobody like that came up and it was really all on the page in terms of getting ready. I had to do some forklift training; that was about it.
MMM: Have any of you experienced an otherworldly experience that you could talk about?
EASTWOOD: Everybody’s had some kind of a…I remember when I was very young my dad was taking me into the surf on his shoulders and I fell off. I can still remember today, even though I was probably four or five years old, I can still remember the color of the water and everything as I was being washed around in the surf before I popped to the surface again. But at that age you don’t think too much, I mean you’re just kind of going…well you hadn’t learned any obscenities yet but a lot of them were running through your mind. And then years later, when I was 21 years old I was in a plane – we ditched a plane off the coast of Northern California in the wintertime. And I must say that as I was going into shore I kept thinking about should I be thinking about my demise, but all I was thinking about was as I saw lights in the far distance I said, “Somebody’s in there having a beer and sitting next to a fireplace and I just want to be in there. So I’m going to make it.” And that was the determination, but there was no sense of fate out there or anything like that. I don’t think you get a chance to think that much. When you get that much of a chance to think you’re usually going to be okay.
MMM: Matt, I’ve heard it’s been reported that you’re going to reunite with Ben Affleck on a movie and that you’re going to be directing it. I wonder if there was a part for Clint Eastwood?
DAMON: What movie is this? That would be a project I’d love to do.
MMM: So it’s not true?
DAMON: No, I think he and Casey were going to write this movie and I guess he was quoted recently as saying he’d love to have me direct it, but there’s no script yet.
MMM: Clint, in terms of any films that you’ve directed what was the hardest during production and what was the easiest, and why?
EASTWOOD: I don’t know. I was thinking back on doing “A Perfect World” years ago, where I had a kid actor [T.J. Lowther] and he had some experience, but he was a kid that had great body English and everything, but kids are like animals; they’re good for one take and then their attention span, they kind of go off into another little journey in their head. But then I had professional actors working with them and they wanted to rehearse and they wanted to be organized or feel in a comfort zone, so that became a big dilemma of how to do that. So I had to cover the kid mostly by himself at the beginning or at least favored the kid, because I knew that eventually, when we got around to other coverage of the professional actor the kid was going to be bored with it all. So you have to make adjustments on every project. In this case it was no problem, and Cécile does speak English well so it was no problem. She knows French very well, too. And Matt?
DAMON: Some English.
EASTWOOD: It all just comes together. It’s amazing that any of it ever comes together; I guess that’s why I’m still doing it. I’m always amazed that this is actually kind of working. And then of course, as I’ve told Matt many times, let’s not think too much about this. Let’s just go and roar with it.
MMM: What’s the easiest film you’ve ever done that you’ve directed?
EASTWOOD: This one. Except some of the technical stuff, but it was easy because the people were all great. It was the best ensemble I’ve worked with.
MMM: When I saw the trailer I was a little disappointed that we saw the tsunami in the trailer. Did you fight the studio on that?
EASTWOOD: Well I don’t know if I want to go too far into the explanation of what it’s about and what they’ll see, but the trailer, you bring up an interesting point. Most of the time you’re fighting the studio a little bit because they want to tell the whole story in a matter of 30 seconds, and so they try to put a little bit of everything in there so you end up with a lot of nothing, really. They made some trailers that had accentuated the story and then some that accentuated the tsunami. The problem with accentuating the tsunami is all of a sudden it becomes an action movie and everybody goes there with the expectation that maybe they’re going to see two hours of flooding, and that may not be the case so much. But if you go into the stuff with the kids and you go into a lot of detail then they’ll think maybe this is a story that doesn’t have as much action-adventure.
DAMON: It’s a tricky story to sell.
EASTWOOD: Yeah, it’s a tricky story because this particular screenplay you have to flesh out all the characters and it’s tough to do. It’s tough to market a film like this.
MMM: Would you have preferred it without the wave in the trailer?
DAMON: Well any marketing department I think is always going to want to try and show the scope, right? And it’s an incredible sequence. I understand obviously you want people to be totally surprised by it, but at the end of the day they’re in that situation where they want people to come see the movie too. I remember with “The Informant!” I kind of jokingly went on David Letterman and intercut scenes from “Transformers” into the trailer to try and get people to go. Just to say, “Yeah, it’s about a whistle blower, but a lot of shit blows up too.”
EASTWOOD: Yeah I would have preferred to not show the tsunami and have it just sprung on everybody, but that’s just not the practicalities of life. You do want people to come in and see it, and hopefully they’ll enjoy it.
MMM: Have you ever gone into a project and been concerned how it would be received?
EASTWOOD: No, you try to put it on the way you perceived it when you first read it yourself, and so you get your own opinions and go with it.
DAMON: He said something interesting to me about being a director. He said, “I’m a tour guide, and I know why I’m giving the tour and you’re invited to get off the tour if you want. I’ll invite you on the next one but I’m making the tour for me.”
HEREAFTER is now playing in theaters nationwide.
At the tender age of 7, a young girl from Newton, Massachusetts, took an interest in the theater. In an effort to impress her parents, she drew her sister into stagings of children’s stories. Then, at age 9, she became involved with the Boston Children’s Theatre. She became the youngest member of Julie Portman’s Theatre Workshop of Boston at age 15, and then, in the first of many travel explorations, went to Paris to study with L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq—all before graduating from Oberlin College with a major in mythology and folklore.
Taymor made her proper theater directorial debut with the 1986 adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” for the Classical Stage Company in New York, and, in 1991, she was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship – a.ka. the “genius grant” – for her contributions to theater. After winning a pair of Tony Awards for designing the costumes and directing the 1997 Broadway smash hit musical “The Lion King,” Taymor shifted her focus to film, directing “Titus” in 1999 (an adaptation of the Shakespeare play “Titus Andronicus”), and the biopic “Frida” in 2002, based on the life of eccentric artist Frida Kahlo. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards. In 2007, she helmed the critically acclaimed film musical “Across the Universe,” which refashioned the songs of The Beatles set against the turbulent backdrop of ‘60s America.
With her latest film, The Tempest, Taymor’s career has come full-circle. When Prospera’s (Helen Mirren) throne is usurped by her brother, she is sent off on a ship to with her four-year-old daughter. Prospera, a sorceress, ends up on a remote island with Miranda and soon butts heads with Caliban (Djimon Hounsou) over her efforts to raise Miranda. The film boasts an all-star cast, including David Strathairn (Alonzo), Russell Brand (Trinculo), Alfred Molina (Stephano), Ben Whishaw (Ariel), Chris Cooper (Antonio), and more.
MMM attended the post-screening Q&A with theater legend Julie Taymor – whose upcoming musical “Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark” is scheduled to begin previews on November 14 – as she chatted about the decision behind Prospero’s gender change, her love of Shakespeare, and being a female director in Hollywood.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: Why The Tempest, after Titus? Why did you choose this as your next Shakespeare adaptation?
JULIE TAYMOR: Actually, The Tempest was the first Shakespeare play in 1986 with Theater for a New Audience, and I fell in love with the play then, and I directed it three times. And after Titus, in 2000, I decided if I were to do another Shakespeare it would be The Tempest. It’s one of his greats. I had loved it. I fell in love with it in the theater. I don’t think I’d have liked to do a Shakespeare film without trying it in a theater first because the paired down minimalism—what you have to do in a theater—you would have to really do it with the actors first. It lends itself to the cinema. It’s extremely visual, and in fact his most visual play.
MMM: Having worked on the play several times, what has subsequent readings revealed to you?
TAYMOR: One of my favorite scenes is the one where Prospera, in this version, and Ariel talk about compassion and forgiveness. She say, “What do you think spirit? Shall I forgive him?” And he says, “I would if I were human.” And I just find that compelling, both emotionally, and what Shakespeare is saying that all the joy and run of revenge is ultimately about forgiveness and making your way through that. It’s very different, and in many ways this [film] is saying some of the same things about the play, but my version in the play was a black sand ground with a white site, so the image of the clowns—the fools—was in the original production, in the silhouette. There are many things that haven’t changed, but once Helen Mirren went into the play, without changing the lines, things changed immensely. Not just because she’s a great actress but also because the dynamics were so different. In my stage version, it was a male Prospero, and a female Ariel, although it was just a floating head. Caliban was with a New Guinea mud man mask, and in the film, I didn’t want to hide Ben Whitshaw’s face or Djimon Hounsou’s face, so that brought a different sensibility to those characters as well.
MMM: What was your rehearsal process like for the film, in comparison to the stage?
TAYMOR: In the theater, you get all your actors on day one, and you get them for five or six weeks before you go into tech. Helen worked on it for four weeks. We did a reading a year in advance because it was extremely critical to both Helen and myself that this wasn’t a gimmick, that it had validity as a Shakespeare play, and it wasn’t about putting a woman in, because obviously you had to change many of the words, the he’s to she’s, the lords to what, the master to what. It’s very interesting because we kept the word master because the word mistress doesn’t mean the same thing. It’s incredible in the English language about what words change and which don’t. We used the word Mum as opposed to mother, and this process of the reading informed us about where we needed to go. We rehearsed in London with Russell Brand, Felicity Jones, Reeve Carney, and Helen, those actors for about two weeks on and off. And then in Hawaii, where we shot most of the film, I had what we called the court—David Strathairn, Tom Conti, Alan Cumming, and Chris Cooper parts—for not very long, because these actors are very busy. But I did have Djimon, Russell, and Alfred Molina in LA for a hilarious four or five days as well. And we did rehearsals in a bare room where you can really engage with the language and the physicality of it all, before we go to shooting.
MMM: In recent years, the character that gets the most scrutiny is Caliban, for obvious reasons. Talk about your conception of that part.
TAYMOR: It was very interesting, in my other three productions, I had African Americans or Africans play that role. It is a non-white role. If you want to be technical, his father is black and his mother is a blue-eyed hag. He’s just not European in the sense of the world. This play is written in a time in which there were many explorations, many journeys to the New World. He may have been called a monster because he was a Native American, and whatever he was, he was the other. Now, in this version with Djimon, I take Shakespeare at his words, I take him literally. So when he writes, “Thou earth thou speak” or “moon calf,” all these wonderful words to describe, “thou fish thou” I incorporated. He is made of the earth. He is representative of the island because the main theme in this play is nature vs. nurture. And nature, the actual island itself, is Caliban. Is he wrong to have been attracted to Miranda when she comes of age? You watch this conflict in Prospera; she’s a monster at that point for putting Miranda on this island in close proximity with other human beings and its only natural. It’s about civilization in that sense. So it’s very touchy to put a black man into a slave role, but it felt more honest. It’s not politically correct, whatever that means, but he also has webbed fingers, he’s got a blue eye. He’s got the moon, the two-tone skin that he’s half black, and half white. He’s got this circle—even though that’s not what a moon calf means, I love the idea he looks like a calf, a cow, with these spots. So unlike the theater piece—which I put him in clay as well—he is slightly monstrous in his physical appearance.
MMM: How did you conceive of the timing and rhythm for this play for cinema?
TAYMOR: Titus was long. It was two hours and forty minutes. And The Tempest is four hours in its full, unedited, unexpurgated version. Now Shakespeare’s plays were never meant to be shown in full, and I had already cut it when I did it years ago to an hour and a half version, and this is probably a little less dialogue and a little longer because I wanted to have certain moments of breathers from the language, but there isn’t a lot. Maybe my feeling is that it is Shakespeare and knowing audience attention spans, I didn’t just allow us to go into these visual massive panoramas—although there are a few—because there is a momentum in the play. It takes place literally between 2pm and 6pm. It’s interesting because the play is very confusing because she says “Three days hence, I’ll free thee” and at other times she says in three hours. So we played with the idea in time. It was a revelation when I went back to that speech in which she says “I have bedimmed the noon-time sun” and I realized that it was a solar eclipse. So I realized that if I have an eclipse when she starts to do the dark magic on the court, we will be able to go into a theatrical, highly stylized world. It’s very hard to shoot in broad daylight all the time; you can’t control it. And we’re in landscapes where you can’t bring in lighting – we were in cliffs with winds and rain. That’s real stuff. But it was wonderful to pull this sense from the script itself and then bring it to the landscape, and then shoot in green screen or blue screen later on for the highly stylized moments.
MMM: I always thought that it was problematic that Prospero destroyed his magic and gave away his book and I know the speech says “What strength I have is now my own” and that’s the usual interpretation, but clearly the evil is still abound. Sebastian isn’t any better than what he was and neither is the brother. I wonder about your thoughts on this?
TAYMOR: I love it because Shakespeare was a realist, and he did these silly things where the bad guys are fully punished and the evil is truly gone. He is so cynical about the world and the most beautiful thing about Shakespeare is that he can be passionate, romantic, and cynical at the same time, and one doesn’t give weight to the other. He can have the most beautiful story about first love, first sight. And think about Ferdinand and Miranda—we talked a lot about the chess game, where she says to him, “You should cheat” and it’s like she already knows what’s in store for her. So what is he saying there? He’s already saying that this youth, this innocence, is already on its way to corruption.
The character of Prospero and Prospera has done everything in service of the daughter. “I do this for thee my daughter thee my loved one.” I think in this version what we feel really strong about is when Prospero gets his robes back, he just becomes the duke again. But in ours, because it’s a corset, and you go from these androgynous free clothes that you wear on an island and be comfortable, back into that severe female corset, she’s not just giving up her magic, she’s giving up her freedom.
MMM: Could you talk about the film’s aesthetics?
TAYMOR: The island of Lana’i, I don’t know if any of you have been there, but I was there ten years ago, right before I did “Frida,” and I had been thinking about The Tempest. But I went there and there’s this place called The Garden of the Gods and its where you see Caliban carrying the sticks and there were these giant red boulders, it looks like Mars, and then I saw these giant cliffs and then I saw these giant forests that look like labyrinths and its almost unpopulated. There’s two Four Seasons Hotels, which was very nice for us, and there’s a little town, but it’s so beautiful and so small that I knew it was the island of The Tempest. There’s not one palm tree in the film. When you think of Hawaii you think of Blue Lagoon or LOST, but you don’t think of what I think is the most gorgeous part of Hawaii which is the volcanic landscape. The idea of the volcano is so profoundly part of the design, not just part of the landscapes but in the costumes that Sandy Powell so magically did. That robe she wears is volcanic shards. It’s shaped like a volcano. She is a volcano. That fire in the cell is the fire of the volcano. It’s this bubbling anger, this fire inside of her that is in the landscape and the person. I always try and find an ideograph when I do theater, and film. If you just shoot in landscapes, you really have to feature the actors in the foreground because the landscape is a character.
MMM: Could you talk about your conception of Ariel?
TAYMOR: I cast Ben Whishaw. I love him, and I thought he and Helen would have this chemistry, not necessarily sexual, but there’s the tendency of the old woman with the young man and having a relationship and it seemed to me it could be very cool. The thing that happened was that Ben wasn’t available for the shoot in Hawaii, so instead of casting another actor, I took it as one of those restrictions that could be a plus, and it was an enormous plus. And had he been there, he would have been on the ground, and he would have been 5’9’’ and on the ground, and all of his shots would have been like me up here. What would we do? So the fact that he wasn’t there made me come up with a concept, and I always wanted him to be able to be transparent. So by not having Ben on location, it freed us up for allowing him to transform. He was air, he was water, he was fire, he was lava dogs, he was frogs, he was harpies. The harpies is not a visual effect either. He is with giant wings, on a glass table, in blue screen. I wanted it to be as real as possible. I didn’t want it to be a CGI character because the power comes through the actor and we, even in some of those two shots in the cell itself, we could make it transparent in post and we were able to control the corporeality of his presence. And the one scene where he’s not effected is where he says, “I would if I were human,” because he has to be there, and that’s just the real Ben, almost in the Bhutto white make-up, which helps to create this non-human androgynous figure, and we did want him to be androgynous, hence, he is. But we did want this duality there of a male-female spirit.
MMM: There are not many female directors in cinema, and did you see this adaptation as a political mission at all?
TAYMOR: Not for me. That wasn’t the intention at all. There was no mission, period. The idea of having a female wasn’t really the idea of having a female, it was wanting Helen Mirren to play Prospera. And I was going to do it with a male but I didn’t have a male in mind that excited more than the idea of working with Helen Mirren. And there are only a few Shakespeare plays, which we both agree. We had met each other, and we were talking about Titus and how few roles there are for women of her age in Shakespeare, and she said, “I can play Prospero as a woman,” and I said, “Do you want to?” because I had already been thinking about it and working on it and I wasn’t ready to offer it but at that moment I said let’s do it and she asked if it would be in the theater and I told her film. And then we had to raise money, and we casted, and we did the reading to make sure it would work. When I did the research on this, three times, the speech of Prospera where she makes the ring of fire, when she renounces the magic, that speech is a direct lift from Medea [the speech is actually by Medea in Ovid’s Metamorphosis]. Shakespeare just lifted it. And I was surprised that it was a female speech; that it comes from a sorceress originally. So when we started to look at this play we realized that it does work with a female in that role. The mother-daughter relationship is very different than the father daughter relationship. When she has the young prince Ferdinand it’s not about her competition with him, it’s because she knows her daughter can get hurt. I think that a lot of the elements come from Helen’s performance. It wasn’t because of any mission on this, it’s just one of those revelations that this works, a great Shakespeare play that works. In this day and age it shouldn’t be such a big deal.
THE TEMPEST opens on December 10, 2010.
In a field that included films from Oliver Stone, Woody Allen, Olivier Assayas, Mike Leigh and others, a documentary filmed on a $2 million budget was heralded as the best film at Cannes in a poll of 19 top film critics conducted by IndieWire. That film is Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job – a sprawling documentary chronicling the causes and impact of the global economic crisis.
Ferguson, a former political scientist and software entrepreneur, is no stranger to exposing corruption. His debut, the 2007 Oscar-nominated documentary No End in Sight, focuses on the two year period following the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003, and the Bush administration’s failings in the initial Iraqi occupation. Time magazine called the film “without question the most important movie you are likely to see this year.”
Three years later, Ferguson has chosen to document the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Narrated by Matt Damon, Inside Job provides a comprehensive, easy-to-follow analysis of the events surrounding the global financial crisis of 2008, which came at a cost of over $20 trillion. Meticulously researched and containing loads of interviews with key financial insiders, politicians, journalists, academics, and even a Wall Street psychologist and Wall Street madam, Ferguson’s film vividly captures an out of control industry that’s corrupted everything from politics to academia.
The film is also beautifully shot – no small feat for a film about finance – with IMAX-like helicopter shots that transport you from the luscious hills of Iceland to the picturesque Manhattan skyline. “It might well be the most important film you see this year, and the most important documentary of this young century,” said Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir.
MMM attended a post-screening discussion of Inside Job with filmmaker Charles Ferguson at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater as part of the 2010 New York Film Festival.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: One of the things that struck me about the film is what you describe is really a through-line that goes from the 70s/80s to the present and covers both Republicans and Democrats. Considering how polarized our government is, it seems this is one area where there’s a lot of agreement.
CHARLES FERGUSON: Unfortunately, yes. It makes the problem much more disturbing, and much more difficult to deal with. The fact that the problem is completely bi-partisan also makes it more difficult for the American people to understand what to do.
MMM: What happened to the whistleblowers? How do people look at them now?
FERGUSON: There was a guy who’s actually in the film, Dr. Rajan, who’s now at the University of Chicago. At the 2005 Federal Reserve Conference, there was a fete for Alan Greenspan, and he gave a paper that said, “You guys are heading for the biggest crash that there ever was,” and he laid out how, why, and when it would happen. People like Larry Summers stood up and called him names, and he was almost booed off the platform. Even now, I don’t think he gets a lot of credit for it.
MMM: Clearly, when you’re interviewing all these people, word must have gotten around that there was this guy Charles Ferguson who made a well-regarded film about Iraq and is asking a lot of questions. Was there some technique you used to nail down these interviews?
FERGUSON: I was terrified that that would in fact be a problem, and in some cases, it was. Some of the people who declined to be interviewed knew what I was doing and clearly didn’t like it. In the case of Glenn Hubbard and Frederic Mishkin, we interviewed them three days apart – Hubbard first. I crossed my fingers for 72 hours that they weren’t going to talk during that period. One thing – this is funny and it’s also not funny – that helped me in this regard, in the case of Hubbard and a number of others, they were so embarrassed, ashamed, and fearful at the end of their interviews, that the last thing they wanted to do was tell anybody what had occurred.
MMM: With the downfall of Lehman, why didn’t you look at the antagonistic relationship between Henry Paulson and Dick Fuld? Many people point to that as the reason why the government didn’t decide to save Lehman Brohters.
FERGUSON: The question of why Lehman was forced into bankruptcy is one of those questions like why the Bush administration started the Iraq War. There are 20 different possible explanations; each of them probably has some degree of truth. I would love to be Henry Paulson’s psychiatrist. Unfortunately, I am not. Let me give you the list. One is that Richard Fuld has apparently antagonized just about everybody on the entire planet just with his personality – arrogant, abrasive, etc. Second, most of the other Wall Street firms, the top management of Lehman Brothers was primarily – with just one exception, a cousin of President Bush – composed of Democrats who were substantial contributors to the Democratic Party. Third, Paulson really did care about the moral hazard argument and wanted to make an example of this company. Fourth, he didn’t have the faintest idea of how much damage Lehman’s bankruptcy would actually cause. Fifth is that Lehman had been emerging in the previous decade as an increased competitor to Goldman Sachs. Finally, there’s also the possibility that there was an ego issue; that there was no easy way for Paulson to back down, personally, when the British said that they wouldn’t [bail out Lehman] unless there was a federal guarantee. So, that’s the list. Choose what you like.
MMM: Were there things in the film that you wish you put in but weren’t able to?
FERGUSON: There are many things I would have liked to put in the film. I would’ve liked to put more in the film about the specific cases where congressional action was the result of lobbying or influence of the financial services industry. There just wasn’t time.
MMM: Did you ever think of including the Tea Party movement – who want to deregulate the economy – and Stephen Shwarzman, who has become the bête noire figure of Wall Street?
FERGUSON: Again, there are many people who weren’t in the film for time or priority reasons, basically. Scharzman would be one. Pete Peterson, the founder of Blackstone, would be another. Jimmy Cayne, the chairman of Bear Stearns, would certainly be another. We actually had him in an earlier cut for kind of black humor purposes. How many people know this? When Bear Stearns was going down the drain, Jimmy Cayne was too busy to pay attention to his company because he was playing bridge at a bridge tournament in Chicago with two Italian professional bridge players who he pays half a million dollars a year to play bridge with him. There are many stories about Jimmy Cayne – marijuana, which he consumed in quite large quantities even though he was a conservative Republican, etc. We just couldn’t include it and I do have regrets about that. With regard to the Tea Party, one reason we couldn’t include it was time since we had to finish the film at a certain point. And the other was it’s not clear to me how important that phenomenon is. It could turn out to be important and lasting in American politics, it could turn out not to be. I would say I’m agnostic about that question.
MMM: How did Matt Damon get involved?
FERGUSON: Two ways: we asked him, and he said yes. He was the only person we asked. We thought he would be better than any person we could imagine. So, why did we like him? He’s somebody whose voice and character is very well known, is known to have political concerns in an intelligent way. And why did he say yes? It turned out he made a thriller set in Iraq called “Green Zone,” and while he was preparing for the film he saw my documentary about the occupation of Iraq, and apparently liked it. He turned out to be absolutely great – not just for the narration, but he had clearly read the transcript of the entire film quite carefully, and he had very intelligent suggestions about the precise places where we ourselves regarded as problematic. We had this very clunky, convoluted ending, and the ending we have now in the film owes quite a lot to his suggestions and our discussions with him about what to do. And, needless to say, given that the total budget of this film was $2 million, he worked for substantially less than his normal rate. [Laughs]
MMM: Do you think this is essentially a film about addiction – to money, power, sex – and the refusal of recovery?
FERGUSON: That’s actually a very interesting question, and a very perceptive one. The material in the film about that is there for two reasons: I do think there’s something to what you just suggested, and the other is that that environment led these guys to be remarkably disconnected from the things that would discipline you or me if we tried to behave in a similarly egregious fashion. They had so much money and insulated themselves in this bubble. I personally find it strange that somebody who already has $400 million would be willing to risk this in order to get more.
MMM: In terms of looking forward, do you see for consumers, the appointment of Elizabeth Waren [the new head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau], as another case like Brooksley Born [who attempted to regulate derivatives and was stopped], and do you see Larry Summers going back to Harvard [as a professor] where we’re instilling the same type of education that’s going back up the chain?
FERGUSON: Elizabeth Warren’s appointment is probably not going to do much good. Her appointment is temporary. She has a dual appointment in reporting to President Obama and the treasury secretary [Timothy Geithner], whom she is not friends. It’s pretty clear, given the overall pattern we see in the administration, we’re not going to expect much or get much from this agency in this administration. With regard to Summers going back to Harvard, yes it is quite ironic that he’s going to do as much damage there as he did in the previous administration.
MMM: One thing I like very much is how you bring in international perspectives, the IMF, the interviews with Singapore, China. I’m wondering how your idea of bringing that aspect in, and were there more international agencies?
FERGUSON: There were many more, and that’s one of the regrets I have about length limitations on the film. There were a large amount of extremely interesting people, several of whom are about to be indicted. The former prime minister of Iceland, who I was told last night, is soon going to be arrested and tried. He was trained as an economist in the United States. [Laughs] We interviewed him, and one thing I very much regret is that I asked him if there ever been a time in economic history when an entire nation’s banking system in a five year period has borrowed 10 times its GOP. And the pained laughter of his response was just priceless. But somehow it didn’t make the cut.
MMM: One of the things that’s startling about this film and “No End in Sight” is these very public problems that are presented that have never been shown in such a way before. I wonder if you could talk about the media, which is absent from both movies, and their complicity in both Iraq and this story. Do you think they were lied to, or their interests are complicit with their subjects, and how do you see non-fiction filmmaking as a remedy for that complicity?
FERGUSON: It’s a complicated situation. On the one hand, it is certainly the case that the business and financial media did not do as good of a job as they could have done, and the nature of these problems has not been explained as widely as discussed, not as deeply investigated while they were building. It is not the case that you couldn’t read about this anywhere. There have been, actually, quite a number of good articles and books about different aspects of this subject. But, it is unquestionably true that the majority of the specialized press, the relevant specialized press—and this was also true of Iraq with our foreign policy military press—did not go as deep, did not push as far as they should have. Part of the problem I believe is the nature of access journalism, as significant measures come to be, what makes you good as a journalist is that you get an exclusive interview with this powerful guy, he gives you some fact, and you publish it tomorrow morning since you’ve got the scoop. It’s hard to practice that on a long-term basis if you are tough and critical. And perhaps because of the financial pressures on the media, or other reasons, investigative journalism is not in bountiful supply in the traditional media. And I hope and believe that the web and documentary film are taking up some of that slack.
MMM: As Elizabeth Warren certainly has Obama’s ear, are you doing anything specific to get her to see the film and make her comment in any way? And is Frederic Mishkin really back teaching at Columbia?
FERGUSON: Yes, Mr. Mishkin is certainly at the Columbia Business School, and this might stun you, but if you were to see the full interview that we did, he would look much worse. [Laughs] Actually what happened was that we had an earlier cut, and a couple people, including Michael Barker of Sony, came back and said you can’t do this, because people are going to have sympathy for him because you have destroyed him so completely. You’ve got to ease up. So we actually did. I won’t go into details. Mr. Mishkin does not come off well in the film. He and everyone else in the film have been invited to see it. He declined to come but sent a public relations executive to come report back. In regard to Elizabeth Warren, I’m sorry this might pain a number of you, and it’s somewhat politically incorrect, but Elizabeth Warren is not the solution to all of our problems. I admire her; I admire her work, but the only way she’s been able to get to where she is, is by being extremely careful not to criticize the Obama administration outside of the extremely specific issue that she is now, kind of sort of half in charge of dealing with. I spoke with her privately at great lengths, and she declined to be interviewed on camera for exactly this reason.
MMM: Were you pressured in any way to not put any of these interviews in, or was there anyone trying to influence the film?
FERGUSON: The simple answer is no—no one tried to pressure us. Several people tried to retract the permission for their interviews but we already had their signed released forms and that was that. In regard to pressure, I have to say something about the Sony guys—Michael Barker and Tom Bernard. They have been, and excuse me I’m going to be a bit vulgar to make my point, they’ve been totally fucking amazing. I was really scared when I started making this film I would get calls like this guy is my neighbor, this guy is a major shareholder, etc. Never once. Never once. And they are now supporting this film extremely strongly. I have my quibbles with the movie distribution business but they have been incredible.
MMM: When did the five-act structure of the film come to you? You obviously had a very high ratio of stuff you shot to what you actually used.
FERGUSON: I would say it’s about half and half. By the time we started editing, I had done an enormous amount of research and I knew what was in the interviews because I had conducted them. At the same time, there was an extraordinary amount of material. We filmed about 70 or 75 interviews, and most were about an hour and a half long, and some were even two or three hours long. In addition, we had an incredible mass of documentation of every kind—books, articles, lawsuits, government documents, and academic articles—huge quantity of stuff. So the editors were critical. The two editors, Chad Beck and Adam Bolt, are much more than what you think of normal editors. The structure of the film really emerged. I had about half when we started editing, and the rest emerged while working with them. And they worked really hard. The last four months, they were working 6 days a week, typically ‘til 1 or 2 in the morning. And I was typically in there with them for about 6-8 hours a day.
FERGUSON: I think we have a rough five years ahead of us, and possibly a rough generation. The American economy and American society are troubled, and there’s all of this, which is a big thing, and then there are all of the other important things that aren’t being attended to because the people responsible just don’t care about attending to them. The high school graduation rate in South Korea is 96% and in the US its 78%, that’s a problem. With regarding convictions, I think there will only be convictions if the American people get angry enough.
INSIDE JOB is now playing in select theaters nationwide.
Two veteran actors sporting wildly divergent backgrounds.
One: Bill Murray. After starting on “Saturday Night Live,” he built a reputation as one of the most celebrated comedic actors with hits like “Caddyshack,” “Ghostbusters,” “Groundhog Day” and much more. Following a few less than stellar choices in the mid-90s (“Larger than Life,” “The Man Who Knew Too Little,” “Wild Things”), he reemerged stronger than ever as a midlife crisis-suffering rich father in Wes Anderson’s 1998 film “Rushmore.” From there, he reinvented himself as a multi-dimensional actor with dramatic roles as the disillusioned movie star in “Lost in Translation,” which garnered him an Oscar nod, and a nostalgic bachelor in Jim Jarmusch’s “Broken Flowers.” He’s also reteamed with Anderson on “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”
The other: Sissy Spacek. A cutesy Texas native, Spacek made an early splash in film as the murderous Holly in the Terrence Malick 1973 classic “Badlands.” She followed this landmark film with a star making and Oscar nominated performance in the 1976 horror flick “Carrie,” in which she played a humiliated prom queen coming to grips with puberty and her telekinetic powers. Spacek would win a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of country music singer Loretta Lynn in the 1980 biopic “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Although she continued to appear in film and television during the late 1980s and 1990s, Spacek devoted most of that time to her family. Then, in 2001, she returned to the big screen with a powerful performance as the grieving mother of a murdered son in 2001’s “In the Bedroom,” which earned her a sixth Best Actress Oscar nomination.
Their latest film is GET LOW. Directed by Aaron Schneider, the films centers around Felix Bush (Robert Duvall), a bearded hermit living deep in the backwoods of 1930s Tennessee. Rumors surround him, and the locals think he’s a killer. The town is thrown into disarray when Felix suddenly shows up one day, demanding a “living funeral” for himself. Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), the owner of the local Funeral Parlor, sees an opportunity for some money, and agrees to Felix’s terms: letting the townsfolk tell Felix Bush the stories they’ve heard about him at his “living funeral.” Things get messy when an old mystery is brought back by Quinn’s protégé, Buddy Robinson (Lucas Black), involving a local widow named Mattie Darrow (Sissy Spacek).
MMM sat down with Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek during the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival for a long chat about GET LOW, their first loves, their storied careers and, last but not least, all those “Ghostbusters III” rumors.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: I was just talking to the film’s producer, Dean Zanuck, about the way you do business – solely through your lawyer, as opposed to having a manager and/or agent. What are the advantages of doing it that way?
BILL MURRAY: Well when I had an agent they have people there whose job is to reach you on the telephone. I never had an answering machine in my house or anything like that so if someone would say, “Get me Bill Murray on the phone,” and that person would dial your number and let the phone ring 90, 100 times.
SISSY SPACEK: During dinner?
MURRAY: During any hour of the day. You think I’m not getting that and the phone would just keep ringing for minutes. And you’d think why would I ever want to talk to anyone that would let the phone ring that long? So first I got this 800 number and that was really the key to it; it just eliminated that completely. And then getting rid of the agents, that was like…
MMM: Can you talk about your process of actually signing on to “Get Low?” I’d be interested to hear your version of the story.
MURRAY: It gets more boring each time I say it. I got a message that this fellow was going to write me a letter, and it was a letter from Dean. And I thought that’s kind of interesting. Zanuck. I know who their family is but I don’t know this guy. So I call him on the phone and had a wonderful talk with the guy. He’s not like other people in show business. He’s a really real, genuine, wonderful guy. He turned out to be a fantastic producer – just consistent and constant, didn’t get emotional. But then they slowly get you pregnant like they do. I got a letter from Aaron.
SPACEK: Did you get my letter?
MURRAY: I don’t know if I got your letter. I don’t think so. Then there’s a letter from him and then he sent this DVD of his movie that he made that he won an Oscar for. He made a short called “Two Soldiers” that’s a really great thing. I thought it was going to be five minutes long. It’s 40 minutes and you go, “This guy’s good, this is good.” The key was I watched on this DVD, they have the making of, behind the scenes stuff, and that’s really interesting because then you can see what these people are really like.
SPACEK: Was he eating?
MURRAY: [Aaron] has a gargantuan appetite. It’s insane. He eats like for four people every meal. But watching him behind the scenes with all these people he made this little movie with. He was really kind and genuine and I thought, “Well, alright.”
SPACEK: How bad could it be?
MURRAY: How bad could it be? And then I didn’t know Sissy was on until after I was already doing it. I figured, “Well, no one ever asked me to work with Robert Duvall before. That would be swell.” And then I said okay and then they said, “Okay, and Sissy’s going to do it too.”
SPACEK: Well I was waiting to hear if you were going to do it.
MURRAY: They didn’t tell me anything about casting. They didn’t say anything. So then I was like, “Sissy?” Because we did ‘Saturday Night Live’ together.
MMM: What about these characters that you’re both playing? They seem to be like the proverbial fit like a custom made leather glove or something. It just seems shaped and I understand they weren’t.
MURRAY: Well, that’s the deal. I think I speak for any good actor, or one that thinks that he is or she is, and you get the script and your job is to do it every day and make it better than the script. So that’s what you do. It’s like a winning streak: you do it every single day. But the writer, this Charlie Mitchell, and Chris Provenzano did the original. [Chris] was there every day, always really encouraging. His writing is really, really fine.
MMM: Did you guys enjoy working in that period and investigating that period in various ways? And of course the music must have touched a note for you.
SPACEK: All of us were wild about the music. I liked the 1930s, I mean I loved investigating the 1930s, but women wore so many undergarments then. In that respect it was a real bummer.
MURRAY: And that was a bummer for me too, baby.
MMM: You were pretty dapper there.
MURRAY: We had a great costumer on this movie, one of the best I’ve ever worked with, named Julie Weiss. Everyone’s clothes – Bob’s clothes are unbelievable. Everyone had amazing clothes. And you had amazing hair too.
SPACEK: Yeah my hair took them four hours. But I like to point out, every time I would come out of makeup after four hours of sitting under a hairdryer [Bill] would say, “Hey Grandma!”
MURRAY: Well she had my grandmother’s hairdo. [Laughs]
MMM: The movie is about true love in a way so can you tell us about your first loves and what you remember about that experience?
SPACEK: I have a great story about my first love. His name was Clifford Zack Cane. He was just the cutest boy. We were boyfriend and girlfriend from like five years old on. In fourth grade a new girl moved to town. In the meantime his mother, Imogen, who was a friend of my mother, said, “What’s Sissy’s ring size? Cliff wants to give her a little ring.” So she measured my finger. A week later Cliff presented me with this beautiful sterling silver signet ring with his initials on it. I was just thrilled to death! Well, several weeks pass, and a new girl moves to town and she’s got breasts. I can’t remember her name but he quickly broke up with me, wanted his ring back, and next thing I knew his girl had the ring on her finger. There’s a moral to this story: never give a ring that you’ve measured for one girl to another girl. Because it got stuck on her finger and so her dad cut if off with metal clippers and gave it back to him in two pieces when she broke up with him. I would cut my finger off before I’d cut the ring off. That’s the story of my first love. Heartbreak. Isn’t that sad? Men.
MURRAY: Can we move on?
MMM: I don’t get to hear about your first love?
MURRAY: No I can’t top that. Forget it. I’ve got nothing. I’ve got nothing.
MMM: You’ve never done standup comedy.
MURRAY: No. When I lose my mind I will do standup comedy.
MMM: Why is that?
MURRAY: Because they all just seem so unhappy. They seem miserable. We used to go to the clubs and see them and they all just seem miserable. It was like golly, I’m glad I don’t do this. But I mean if you were at the end of your life and you couldn’t move or you were immobile, they could roll you out in Vegas and you could do a show. I don’t think it’s that impossible. But it’s really about hating the audience. It’s weird. It doesn’t suit me.
MMM: So you just went right into improv? That was your start, improv comedy?
MURRAY: It wasn’t just comedy. You learned how to improvise in any sense. Even comedy’s playing straight so you learned how to exchange and you learned a lot about rhythm. You always had to be available and don’t try to do the same thing twice.
MMM: Were there improvisational opportunities or moments in this film that you guys were able to employ at one time or another?
SPACEK: Occasionally that would happen when they would rewrite the scene and forget to give us the new pages. So after we shot the scene, we did a little improvising then.
MURRAY: The script is in two dimensions and it doesn’t take into account the third dimension, so when you actually do it in space there’s a different thing that happens that you can’t write on a page. So that’s what being trained in improvisation does for you. It enables you to go from this is happening in space now, how do I get from this moment to this moment? And it’s physical as much as anything else and it’s being able to go, “Now this is how we resolve this scene.” It’s usually audio, it’s usually a word or something, but most scenes end on a noise, on a sound. You just have to figure out the sound, the pitch, that ends that scene.
MMM: While you were shooting the film did you realize it would be a good one?
MURRAY: I’ve developed this mantra where I say I’m not a worrier so I don’t worry about it. As far as the jobs go, I sort of realized a long time ago that I’m just going to do the ones I like and one of them is going to hit. People feel like I’ve got to have great success to pay for my house or whatever, you’ve got to have this success thing rolling, and I just said, “I’m going to do the ones that I like and something’s going to hit,” and they do. You always know it’s pretty good. I don’t think we do bad ones anymore. We’re sort of through the reef in a way. Now, whether or not a movie is financially successful you can’t have any control over, and that makes a career. You make a movie that’s a good movie and no one sees it. It happens all the time. You make a movie with a studio and everyone quits or gets fired six weeks before it gets out, so the movie doesn’t happen. Or you can make something that everything goes well and it’s a big, big thing. But as far as knowing it was good, we knew the script was really good and we knew the other guy, the old guy [Duvall], his thing was ridiculous.
SPACEK: The hardest part was doing a scene with him and not just kind of thinking, “Oh! I’ve got the next line.” Unbelievable.
MURRAY: Yeah it’s really kind of mesmerizing because he’s so powerfully present. It really touches the walls. It’s really powerful; it passes through your body.
SPACEK: But what he [Bill Murray] did was equally powerful on the other side.
MURRAY: Even better.
SPACEK: Because it balanced it out. It gave it buoyancy.
MMM: Your character is surprised when he realizes that this kooky hermit has hatched this plan.
MURRAY: Well it’s really good writing and [Duvall] is so good. He really has that effect because he knows what the intention of every line is. He knows that script inside out. It’s like a radiant heat. You just get this heat of it all in your body and he really informs you and you really get the information physically. It’s a really powerful thing working with the nut.
MMM: Did you guys talk about it or did you just go in and do it?
MURRAY: Talk is for losers. Shut up and work. Turn the camera on, let’s go.
SPACEK: Hit your mark and speak.
MURRAY: Just hit your mark and show up on time.
MMM: What was it like driving those old cars?
MURRAY: Driving the old car was really fun. It’s about an 8,000 pound Hearse and when you got going 40 it was like a train. It would take you 300 yards to stop the thing. It was kind of scary. We did a little stunt driving and the guy who owned the car would run after us. He’d really say, “Not through the woods!” He thought we were going to go really just into the woods.
MMM: There was an interesting point made by Zanuck that you’re superstitious about signing things, especially contracts. How did you handle that earlier in your career? Now that you’re who you are I can understand how people would go along with you. But when you’re just starting out how do you get people to agree to you not signing stuff?
MURRAY: They just want you to work. It’s not superstitious, there’s just a bunch a bureaucrats going “sign your contract,” and I’m like “Sign your contract? You have me confused with your mother or something like that okay. I’ve got to go to work tomorrow. I don’t have time to be reading this stuff.” I just show up and work. My word is my contract.
SPACEK: It used to be we never signed contracts and they wrote them up, but you never signed them. Your word was your bind. But now it’s different.
MMM: What do you think the most significant motivation is for his quest? Is it about life and death?
SPACEK: Felix Bush? I think he was riddled with guilt. I think he wanted to punish himself and to listen to people tell horrible stories about him so he could cleanse his soul before he really died. I think it was just another form of more punishment. But maybe I’m wrong.
MURRAY: I’d say that’s right. He didn’t know how to do penance; he couldn’t get it out of himself, he couldn’t speak the words. So he went off and became a hermit for 40 years. And now that anger and that toughness about him, he was so angry that even flagellating himself like this and doing his penance, it still didn’t feel good. He wasn’t over it yet and all he could think of was what if everybody said horrible things to him. As far as my guy goes, well, Frank gets to see, and I think all the characters in the film and even the audience get to see, what if this were myself? This is me. I’m going to be there, he’s just ahead of me in the row. What have I done with my life and what about my regrets and how can I change the sort of behavior that’s made me the kind of guy or girl who would take a long car ride with all the money in the car and think about maybe not coming back, and yet I can’t up on myself yet, I’m going to come back and try again.
MMM: So he does change? Frank really becomes a nice guy due to this?
MURRAY: Well I think everyone is affected by this. I think Felix is affected and I’m affected. Certainly Sissy’s character has this staggering revelation, which is really the news, and is probably most devastating to her more than anyone else. And to have to come to some sort of peace with that, even though the pain of it is jarring and disturbing and everything, the idea that some mystery, some question that you never had answered was answered.
MMM: Bill, what’s going on with “Ghostbusters III?”
MURRAY: This started, and it’s really the studio starts this stuff. They start saying “Ghostbusters,” they want to do it. And it’s really the world of sequels and bringing these things back again. And then some wiseacre said, “Hey, we’ve got a couple of new writers that are going to write something. And I thought, “Well, maybe there will be some writers, and there was always this joke, half-truth, half-joke thing of well I’ll do it if you kill me off in the first reel.” That was my joke. So, supposedly, someone was writing a script where I actually got killed in the first reel and became a ghost, and I thought that’s kind of clever anyway. But then these guys [Lee Eisenberg & Gene Stupinsky from NBC’s “The Office”] that were supposedly to be the writers who were going to do it, they wrote a film [“Year One”] that came out and people saw the film and went, “We’re not going to do it after all, are we?” So it’s just kind of a dreamy thing. They want to create a new generation of Ghostbusters. They’d just like us to pass the torch.
MMM: If it happened it wouldn’t actually be a nightmare for you right? It’s a great thing in your past.
MURRAY: Well, it’s true. We made a great movie and then… we made another one. We went to the well twice and it’s almost impossible to do the second movie as well. Only horror movies get better as they go along, because they have more money to spend on crazy effects. I actually thought the other day, it’s become so irritating, but I actually heard young people that saw the movie when they were kids, and I thought maybe I should just do it, maybe it would be fun. Because the guys are funny and I miss Moranis and Annie and Danny. I miss Moranis. He was a really big part of it.
MMM: The two of you seem to be in a mutual admiration society. Do you have a favorite Sissy Spacek movie and do you have a favorite Bill Murray movie?
MURRAY: Sissy does this thing in this TV show called “Big Love” that I find is so different than anything I’ve ever see her do. She’s this really scary dame. She’s really scary and she scares the scary Mormon people on the scary Mormon show. So it’s really a big time creepy performance and I’ve never really seen that out of her.
SPACEK: I’ve tried to protect you from that side of me.
MURRAY: Well, there are glimpses. I love lots of things that she does, and she can sing really well. She really is a good singer. I just think that “Carrie” was such a misunderstood young girl.
SPACEK: Poor girl. I love “What About Bob?”
GET LOW opens on July 30th in select theaters.
The highly idiosyncratic bodies of work amassed by seasoned filmmaker Neil Jordan and film star Colin Farrell bear a striking resemblance to one another.
Jordan, a native of Sligo, achieved early acclaim with gritty crime films like 1982’s “Angel,” set in his native Ireland during ‘the troubles,’ and 1986’s “Mona Lisa,” set in the seedy London underworld. These critical successes attracted the eye of Hollywood, where he floundered with the comedy flops “High Spirits” and “We’re No Angels.” Then, Jordan returned to Ireland with his 1991 IRA psychological thriller “The Crying Game,” which vaulted him back to the top. He won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and the film’s revealing climax remains one of the most shocking film twists of all-time. Since “The Crying Game,” Jordan’s career has been a mixed bag, with his smaller efforts in the UK and Ireland (“The Butcher Boy,” “The End of the Affair”) proving far more compelling than his Hollywood productions (“In Dreams,” “The Brave ONE”).
Farrell, a native of Dublin, made a name for himself as the sleazy brother in incest drama “The War Zone” and brash antihero in Joel Schumacher’s Vietnam War flick “Tigerland.” Then, Hollywood came calling, resulting in a string of, shall we say, ‘disappointing’ projects: “American Outlaws,” “Daredevil,” “S.W.A.T.,” “Miami Vice,” and, of course, Oliver Stone’s disastrous epic, “Alexander.” And yet, Farrell has peppered his resume with potent turns in smaller films: as the chrome-domed thug Lehiff in the Irish black comedy “Intermission”; a Golden Globe nominated performance as a melancholy hitman in “In Bruges”; and most recently, a country music superstar in “Crazy Heart.”
Jordan’s latest film, Ondine, conflates several of his recurring cinematic themes: unusual sexuality (“The Crying Game,” “Breakfast on Pluto”) and fantasy (“The Company of Wolves,” “High Spirits”). Syracuse (Colin Farrell) is an Irish fisherman who discovers a woman named Ondine (Alicja Bachleda-Curuś) in his fishing net who he believes to be a selkie or mermaid. The locals conjure up different theories about her origins as she slowly but surely becomes a part of the community. Syracuse’s disabled daughter, Annie (Alison Barry), believes her to be a mystical creature, while Syracuse himself falls in love with her.
MMM sat down with Neil Jordan and Colin Farrell during the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival to chat about Ondine, Irish mysticism and Farrell’s bad boy reputation.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: I’ve got to find out about your swimming skills.
COLIN FARRELL: Nonexistent. Can I swim? No. I won’t even take a bath.
NEIL JORDAN: Can you swim?
FARRELL: Not really, no. It depends on how close I am to shore. I’m not a good swimmer. I’ve got a family of good swimmers, all the kids. My brothers and two sisters are great swimmers, particularly Claudine was like a tadpole when she was born, but I could never swim.
MMM: Why is your mermaid so special and different from all the others that we’ve seen in film? Johnny Depp is going to have a mermaid in “Pirates of the Caribbean 4.”
JORDAN: And Johnny’s got an island. Why is mine so special? It’s the Irish legend. The seal woman, they have seal hair and this beautiful picture emerges out of it and you fall in love with them. Then, they mess you up and they go back to the sea.
MMM: Why is the mermaid so special to you, Colin, and why is she so different from the rest of them?
FARRELL: In the film she’s very different. Although Syracuse is living in a town he’s given the chance once and he comes from a dissolved marriage, a marriage that was probably very painful and was about the mutual destruction of each other, and so he stopped believing. He’s someone that equates love to loss. His mother has just recently passed. His daughter is terminally ill. So he just equates love to loss and he’s kind of fine with that. There’s no kind of self-flagellating pity going on his life. He’s okay with it and then this woman comes in and she’s very different. By the mere nature of catching her in the fucking net it’s a little bit odd from the start. It’s not like he met her in a pub or over a nice portion of fish and chips at the local chip shop as so happens romantically in Ireland on Friday night. This woman brings something into his life that he doesn’t quite comprehend or stop believing that he could comprehend. She represents that thing that transcends the drudgery of everyday existence, the kind of wee insertion of love into his life.
MMM: You have a history of fractured fairy tales, the introductions and the endings are sort of that way. Is there a meaning behind that for you?
JORDAN: The reason that I like fairy tales – this sounds stupid – is that even when I was doing “Mona Lisa,” Bob Hoskins kept relating his character to the Frog and the Prince. I like stories or characters that don’t fully understand themselves. I’ve never made an entirely realistic movie ever in my life. I suppose that I was told too many myths and legends and fairy tales when I was a kid. My father was a national school teacher and he used to terrify the life out of me. Everybody in Ireland comes from some weird rural background but he told me a lot of ghost stories that I’ve probably never recovered from.
MMM: I see that you have a couple interesting film projects coming up including “The Graveyard Book”–
JORDAN: Yeah. It’s a great book. I’m trying to make it. Studios don’t seem to want to make anything that’s remotely interesting at the moment. It’s kind of depressing. I was meant to be doing it in September but I’m doing a TV series for Showtime about the Borgia Family. So hopefully, I’ll start preproduction in September. The money is gradually falling into place but it’s a bit of a struggle.
MMM: Do you find any difference in directing actors on film than for a television series?
JORDAN: I’ve never done a television series. I haven’t got a clue, but I’m enjoying writing it. It’s like writing an enormous novel. Normally, in scripts, like I made a movie called “Michael Collins” about a big huge chunk of history and if I’d been able to make a forty hour movie out of that the subject matter would’ve embraced it and I would’ve been thrilled by it in a way. So, this “Borgia” thing I’m doing, we’re writing the first ten hours at the moment and it’s brilliant because I’d written the screenplay before, of the movie. That didn’t get going and it’s brilliant to see how a long format enriches the material.
MMM: Colin, when you heard that this was a bit about the myth of the Selkie did you do any readings on that or were aware of it already?
FARRELL: No. Syracuse is a man where one of his greatest strengths is his ignorance in many ways. He’s very much a hero but also just pursuant in the idea of the present.
JORDAN: And he moves his head when he reads.
FARRELL: And he moves his head when he reads. So, I didn’t feel the need to indulge in any of those kinds of things. I remember some of the tales from when I was growing up. My father plagued me in other ways. He was a football coach for the football team that I played for and so those were the kinds of nightmares he gave me, but it was very clear from day one that all I needed was in the script, from page one, and I didn’t really have to go outside the script. I just thought about a lot from the first time I read it to the time that I agreed to do it. You become consumed by imagining what it’ll be like to walk in this man’s shoes and to immerse yourself in this world. I spent some time two weeks before we started shooting on the boat spending every day about the fisherman and we just trolled up and down the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean. It was just a magic, magic time.
MMM: You’ve played some brutal and aggressive characters in the past. So what was it like playing this gentle, loving guy?
FARRELL: It was so boring. I didn’t get to scalp anyone. I did it in one take. He might use it. It was really lovely. It was really nice to be able to play a character that wasn’t burdened by the notion of responsibility or wasn’t consumed with the idea of pretense, even in an unaware way. He cared a lot but seemed to care a lot about some very important things and cared not a lot for those things that consume a lot of us that aren’t really that important. So, there was a simplicity and a humility to the character that was really, really lovely. It was somebody that had both removed himself from the societal grid and had also been kind of ostracized from the community as well. It was the first time in twelve years to play a character that I wasn’t looking forward to leaving. The first time in twelve years that I felt, like, “I’m going to miss Syracuse a bit,” even his name.
MMM: Can you talk about what drew you to this story that’s so rooted in magic and Ireland?
JORDAN: What brought me to it is that I’ve made a lot of harsh movies in Ireland. I’ve made a lot of movies with violence. I thought, “Could I make a film that was terribly simple and terribly forgiving where nobody dies in the end and nobody transforms into some ghoulish, monstrous thing?”
MMM: Is there a comfort in shooting in Ireland that you like?
JORDAN: No. Ireland is very expensive to shoot in, or it did get very expensive for about ten years. There was a thing they called a Celtic Tiger, this mad building boom and the area that we shot this film is one of the few places on the western seaboard that’s not been ruined by building hotels and all the other stuff. So that was one of the reasons that I wanted to do the film, too. I didn’t want to prettify the country but there is an extraordinary beauty to that landscape and I thought that I would love to get to photograph it before I die. That’s part of the reason that I wrote the film.
MMM: Can you talk about Christopher Doyle’s work as DP? I think that’s part of the beauty of the film.
JORDAN: Well, Christopher is a very interesting man. He should stay off the Heineken though. I didn’t say that. I did say that every movie he does seems to have a different aesthetic, the Wong Kar Wai ones, the stuff that you’ve done with Gus Van Sant and he said that’s because each of them demands a different aesthetic. I was kind of probing him, “How are you going to do this movie while we work together?” We went down there and he’s the most amazing chooser of stocks that you’ve ever come across. He does all these tests and looks at them in different exposures, but he knows the camera. He knows shutter speeds and all of that stuff. It’s almost like he put on a wet suit and got in the water for the entire movie. So, if your cameraman is willing to do that, you do get this beautiful natural world that’s so present that becomes it’s own thing.
MMM: Is there a shorthand for you two being from the same culture?
FARRELL: I don’t think so. Maybe per capita there would be more similarities for those that share a cultural history together but there are plenty of Irish people that I’d have more in common with or Americans that I could introduce you to. So, what I’m saying is that I think it transcends just culture. It transcends national backgrounds. I like this fella and we got on really well and worked together and it was really easy from day one. I don’t know how much of that is to do with being Irish.
JORDAN: When you find an actor that you’re going to explore a character with, for somebody like me who writes and directs, it’s a real gift and you can explore all the hidden bits in the character, the longings and all the unexpressed things. It’s a great thing to find an actor that you can do that with.
FARRELL: Maybe your cultural background and your heritage inspired you to write the script that you wrote and maybe my natural inclination would allow me to understand it, in a way.
JORDAN: There’s a kind of dialogue that’s a lot more underneath than what’s said.
FARRELL: I did feel like it was one of the three or four things that I read that completely from the second that I read it I went, “Oh, God, I get it. I understand it and I feel it in my belly.”
MMM: Can you talk about your female leads and the character of Ondine?
JORDAN: It’s hard to put together independent movies at that moment. It’s like, “Okay, you’ve got Robert Duvall and you’ve got Johnny Depp. Can we also have Jennifer Aniston or we can’t sell it in Hong Kong,” or something. So I cast Colin and they give the project to this international sales company. They do what they call running numbers.
FARRELL: I’m not too big in Hong Kong either.
JORDAN: But people would say, “If you have Colin Farrell…” and so and so. For Alicija [Bachleda] I thought she should be unknown because I want to see someone that I’ve never seen before which very rarely happens unless you cast kids. I saw a lot of East European actresses and Alicija came in one day and she gave this reading, read the part and I thought, “She’s really making this work. This will be interesting.” Then, I watched her work and I thought she was a really great actress. She had a very difficult part to play because her character, she’s playing the interpretation that other people put onto a character. That’s a very difficult thing to do. I suppose that you can’t let it rip at any stage.
MMM: And working with your daughter, Colin?
FARRELL: Alison, yeah, she’s lovely. She’s really smart, really bright and really kind and loads of fun to be around. Some of my favorite scenes in the film are the scenes that are just Syracuse and Annie while she’s going to get dialysis. There’s a real kind of simplicity to them and an unspoken depth of love. She lacked ambition completely. She didn’t have stage parents. She wasn’t somebody who was pushed into this or pulled into it or even suggested and somehow you found her but she didn’t come in for the audition, did she? A schoolteacher said, “I have this girl.” She’d never thought of it anyway and so she didn’t come with any kind of ambitious drive. She was just really, really pure and had no habit.
MMM: You didn’t get a lot of credit for “Crazy Heart,” but when I talked to Scott Cooper he said you were one of the most humble, modest and intelligent people he’d ever met.
FARRELL: We only spent three days shooting. He doesn’t know me.
MMM: Why do you think you’re misrepresented in the press?
FARRELL: I don’t know. We all as human beings probably do a good job of misrepresenting ourselves a lot of the time. The press has got its space to fill. I’ve read some nasty, nasty things written about me through the years and I’ve read some really nice things written about me. Neither of them really hold the essence of truth as I would like to ascribe my thoughts to it.
MMM: There’s a lot of myth versus reality in this film. Do you see a lot of myth versus reality in your career as an actor?
MMM: But who you are and the kinds of characters that you want to play?
FARRELL: No. I mean we all have possibly a responsibility, an obligation, a really exciting opportunity to design our lives to a certain extent. Some of us are born into a particular demographic or situations which are very hard to design anything but the needs of survival in that. But I’ve been very fortunate in my life and I’ve had a chance to design where I want to go or what questions I want to ask or what issues I want to take a look at, just personal issues or human issues or existential issues in my own sort of way. So, with that in mind, the work is really interesting. I don’t do it for therapeutic reasons at all. I would be a basket case if I did, like if it was therapy. But it is interesting to approach the idea of walking in another man’s shoes. I don’t think I answered any of your question.
MMM: It just came out in the press that you turned down Terry Gilliam’s much beleaguered “Don Quixote” interpretation.
FARRELL: Did it? Where?
MMM: I talked to Robert Duvall on Monday and he told me that you had turned it down six months ago.
FARRELL: Okay. Six months ago that wasn’t even me. That was another incarnation of me.
MMM: What’s next to come then?
FARRELL: I don’t know. That’s all I know, that I haven’t got anything lined up and I’m just reading a lot of stuff. It seems to be an interesting time, you’ve probably heard, for filmmakers, and obviously more and more and more importance is being placed on the big tent pole films and it’s kind of hard for the lower bracket, the middle range, the $20 million films to be made.
MMM: Is there a comfort to shooting in Ireland, Colin, or maybe is there a greater feeling of pressure when you’re shooting there?
FARRELL: No. The only kind of element of fear would be going home to people from where I’m from not thinking that I’ve changed and all that kind of stuff that’s understandable and childish and you get over quick enough. I love Ireland very much. It makes sense to me. It uplifts me and it frustrates me and my relationship to it is the same. It’s beautiful. One of the most beautiful parts of the world that I’ve ever been to is the Beara Peninsula and I did my first job there twelve years ago. I did a four-part mini-series for the BBC called “Falling For a Dancer.” It was great to go back to that part of the world and work with a director/writer that I’d wanted to work with for seven or eight years on a story that was so inherently beautiful and was so predominantly about the necessary need for hope and the need to believe that transcends the real world as you perceive it – was just a perfect storm for me. So it was cool. And I worked with some of the drivers and caterers that I’d known for twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years. Those are happy days.
ONDINE opens on June 4th in limited release.
by Lita Robinson
Living in Emergency is a great medical drama—like ER or Grey’s Anatomy, it is charged with adrenaline. Its characters must constantly choose between the lesser of various evils, and in their spare moments they debate the ethics of saving one patient instead of another, or of abandoning their patients altogether. Unlike those pop-medical shows, however, Emergency is all the more compelling because everything in it is real. That’s because the film follows four volunteer physicians who each spend 6 months working on “missions” for Medecins Sans Frontiers, or Doctors Without Borders.
All the doctors are stationed in incredibly impoverished parts of Liberia and the Congo, countries that have been rent apart by decades of war. As they struggle against insurmountable problems—one nearly snaps because no one can ship him any sterile gloves—the filmmakers give us an unvarnished view of what life and medicine in these places is actually like. Suddenly, we’re in an operating theater as a doctor uses a hand-cranked drill to put a hole in a man’s skull (he lives). A moment later, a second doctor matter-of-factly mentions over breakfast that the child he has been trying to revive all morning has abruptly died. People are shot for no reason; children die of diseases that would easily be cured in the West.
That’s the most shocking thing about this documentary; it is devoid of histrionics. The fact that the filmmakers allow their subjects to speak for themselves, at length, turns the film into something more than just a document of their collective experience. Instead, Emergency becomes something huge, weighty and allegorical. One young doctor realizes that she can’t continue doing this work indefinitely, and her imminent departure from the people she’s grown attached to nearly wrenches her apart. An older doctor, who has been on many missions, tells the audience frankly that for him death has become an everyday occurrence rather than a monumental event. He looks exhausted and rubs his eyes.
All the doctors realize that at best they are making a temporary improvement to a desperate humanitarian situation. As the film goes on, each of them has to make peace with the fact that they can only do so much, and then they must extricate themselves in order to keep from being totally overwhelmed. The film is eloquent and well-constructed enough that it can show the plight of people in this part of the world without being sanctimonious or patronizing.
Indeed, its neutral but urgent tone is what makes it so compelling—the film doesn’t tell, it shows.
After having made the festival circuit in 2009, Living in Emergency will be in limited release in New York beginning June 4th. I highly recommend it—but you may want to pass on the popcorn.
by Steven Eliau
This riveting documentary, taken from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “Commit a crime and the earth is made of glass,“ centers on Jean-Pierre Sagahutu and his emotional journey to find the men responsible for the 1994 murder of his father and family in Rwanda. Sagahutu’s father, a prominent Tutsi doctor in the town of Kibuye, was executed along a road near his house after the militia had ruthlessly slaughtered Sagahutu’s mother and seven siblings before his eyes.
Sagahutu survived the massacre by hiding dozens of feet underground in a sewer for two months. A local villager periodically lowered food to Sagahutu, who rationed his food as he had no idea how long he would have to remain hidden.
The film is not a typical war documentary, with news footage of carnage seared in our minds. Instead, it’s a journey of hope, discovery and redemption that takes place 15 years after the brutal African genocide, where a staggering figure of over a million people were brutally slaughtered in a three-month span.
The film deftly balances history of the conflict with Sagahutu’s struggle for closure as he returns to his hometown of Kibuye.
Filmmaker and Tribeca Film Festival alum, Deborah Scranton (The War Tapes) delivers a wonderful and heartfelt documentary, allowing us to see what Sagahutu witnesses and takes us on a compelling, fact-finding journey.
Sagahutu has vowed to find his father’s killer, not out of vengeance, but rather to bring a sense of closure and reasoning to a time and place where only madness prevailed. Not only wanting to close the chapter on the murders, he feels a sense of duty to his family and two sons whom he feels should know the truth about his past.
His journey culminates in a climactic scene where he confronts one of the men responsible and is finally able to reach the closure he has so desperately sought.
Under President Paul Kagame, Rwanda has proven to be an African success story. Since coming to power in the summer of 1994, he has widely been credited for ending the genocide. The past few years has seen a building boom, cleaner, safer streets, and a more civilized social structure. Kagame, considered a national hero by many, has instituted a system of local tribunals in which citizens serve as judge and jury for those who might or might not have been complicit in the genocide.
Following the end of the conflict in the late summer of 1994, millions fled to nearby Congo, where many responsible for the atrocities found safe haven. Now, 15 years later, President Kagame has been responsible for bringing back many of the refugees – many of whom were killers whose goal was to “ethnically cleanse” the enemy – and rehabilitate them as productive members of society.
Kagame’s belief is that these men’s return to Rwanda as law-abiding citizens is a crucial part of the reconciliation process. Rwandans by and large have accepted this and the arduous process of healing wounds has slowly begun. Because there were so many people responsible for genocide, the truth is many killers will never face trial or receive punishment.
Belgium in the 1930’s literally measured the heads of Rwandans and instituted a social divide by branding two groups The Hutus and the Tutsis. The term Tutsi has been defined by Rwandan historians as those having 10 or more cows and Hutus having less. The change in definition by Colonial powers was the perfect recipe for tyrannical leaders supported by the French government to gestate into genocide.
Perhaps the most important legislation Kagame has been responsible for is changing Rwandan identity cards. Since the end of the war, citizens are no longer identified as a Tutsi or Hutu, slowly removing any stigmas. The terms “Tutsi” and “Hutu” are neither racial nor religious groups but rather contrived social groups created during the time of Colonialism.
Now 80- years later identity cards simply say “Rwandan. “
The film also places much of the blame on France. Hutus, the predominantly French-speaking sect, had despotic leaders who vowed to kill all Tutsis. The documentary explains the main reason for France’s economic and military support for the genocide against the Tutsis as a result of the late Prime Minister Francois Mitterrand’s desire to have a French-speaking Rwanda.
Rwandans have undergone a transformation and nowhere is that more evident than in their capital. Kigali, is now home to a genocide museum, commemorating not only the Rwandan genocide- but the Holocaust and Armenian genocides as well.
Many Rwandans still struggle with the horrors of 1994, and many have been unable to pick up the pieces. Through Sagahutu’s eyes, we see there is hope looking to the future of Rwanda and its citizens.
While many countries stood by and were complicit in the genocide, the soft-spoken Kagame has championed his country into the 21st century with hope. Rose Kabuye, one of Kagame’s closest aides and strongest allies has also been an unwavering leader and pioneer for truth, justice and hope for Rwanda. Imprisoned in Paris by French authorities on questionable charges in November 2008, she was finally released in April 2009 and reunited with her country and family and has remained a leader in Rwanda today.
While the healing is slow and painful, the country is beginning to feel a sense of hope. Kagame, Kabuye and Sagahutu are the true heroes whose determination and love for their country has been nothing short of inspirational.
At the end of the film, Sagahutu’s son summarizes the sentiment of hope. When asked how he identifies himself and his friends, he answers softly “We are all Rwandans.”
Deborah Scranton’s raw, honest and impactful documentary was certainly the highlight of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
Underwhelming would probably be the best word to describe the 2010 edition of the Tribeca Film Festival.
Founded in 2002 by Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro and Craig Hatkoff in response to the September 11th attacks and the consequent loss of vitality and commerce in the TriBeCa neighborhood in Manhattan, the festival, now in its 9th year, has always suffered an identity crisis. Now that the TriBeCa neighborhood is not only revitalized, but one of the most exorbitantly expensive places to live in the city, it’s not quite clear what purpose the festival now serves other than to provide a nice platform of film viewing for the rich and famous. The fest, which ran 12 days from April 21 – May 2, serves as a taster of sorts to the more high-profile film festivals: Cannes in mid-May and Toronto in September.
According to their website, the mission of the festival is “to enable the international film community and the general public to experience the power of film by redefining the film festival experience.” But how exactly does the Tribeca Film Festival redefine the film festival experience?
Appointing Sundance’s Geoff Gilmore in 2009 as Chief Creative Office of Tribeca Enterprises, which runs the festival, was supposedly the first step towards legitimacy. Gilmore spent 19 years serving as the festival director of the Sundance Film Festival, the premier independent film festival in the world, and has a stolid reputation for providing robust film fest lineups. But, alas, in the two years since he’s been in charge, Gilmore has failed to fully bring the goods programming-wise. He has, however, increased the festival’s industry presence. According to Tribeca’s press release, 767 industry representatives attended the festival vs. 608 last year. This increase comes despite the fact that many in the industry still question the event’s viability as a marketplace, given the fact that every year the fest occurs just prior to the big kahuna of international fests, the aforementioned Cannes International Film Festival (this year running May 12 – 23). And so far, no major acquisition deals have yet come out of the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.
This year’s festival included an outrageous number of films: 85 features and 47 shorts. The fest is so oversaturated it’s hard to weed out the good films from the “Tribeca” films—yes, the term “Tribeca film” has entered into the film critic lexicon, denoting a no budget feature with awful acting, weak narrative and poor camerawork; in other words, a film that should never have been made in the first place. Furthermore, the opening/closing night films at Tribeca have become a longer running joke than Cannes. This year, the bland-looking Amanda Seyfriend starring romantic comedy “Letters to Juliet” opened the festival, and James Franco’s so/so documentary on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” entitled “Saturday Night,” closed the fest.
Nonetheless, attendance for the festival remains solid with a 95% overall attendance rate for the screenings and panels held during its 12-day run, with overall attendance for the fest hitting 410,000. This number includes the estimated 300,000 who turned up for the Tribeca Street Fair and Sports Day May 1, as well as the free outdoor screenings that, according to the fest, attracted some 10,000 viewers over three nights. Theater attendance hit 94,000 for screenings and events.
The things that really set Tribeca’s fest apart from the others are the events not exactly geared towards twenty/thirtysomething cinephiles: family-oriented events. There’s the Tribeca Family Festival Street Fair on May 1, on Greenwich Street, in Washington Market Park, at Church Street School for Music and Art, and at BMCC in Tribeca. The all-day festivities are filled with fun performances, activities, local merchants and more. Also, there’s the Tribeca Drive-In series, offering free outdoor screenings of classic films. This year, the 1988 film “Big,” starring Tom Hanks as a young boy whose wish to become big is granted – a personal favorite of mine – attracted tons of festivalgoers. Below is a nice segment on the “Big” drive-in event produced by Lillian Young:
And then there’s the parties. Put on (mostly) by the fine folks at SHADOW PR, movie afterparties attract a coterie of douches, model-types, actual models, leather jacket hipsters and actual celebrities. I slacked off a bit on the party crawl compared to last year’s insanity, but I did manage to hit up a few interesting bashes, namely the afterparty for “Vidal Sassoon: The Movie,” chronicling the rags-to-riches story of the Israeli hair guru. The party was held at The Standard Hotel by the Highline in Chelsea’s Meatpacking District where I gorged on some lovely lobster rolls and some cocktail concoction with Stoli vodka and Martinelli’s sparkling cider that was delicious. Check out “Vidal” director Craig Teper and Sassoon’s son, Elan Sassoon, picture below. The other noteworthy party me and the +1 stopped by was the afterparty for the documentary “Freakanomics,” based on the bestselling book of the same name. The shindig was held at Thalassa Restaurant in Tribeca and attracted a strange, decidedly un-hip crowd. However, the movie’s contributing documentary filmmakers, Alex Gibney and Morgan Spurlock, made their presences known. Documentary filmmaker Gibney is the toast of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, with two completed films – “My Trip to Al Qaeda” and “Freakanomics” – and one work-in-progress film that was a special screening, “Untitled Eliot Spitzer Doc,” at Tribeca. Does this man ever sleep?
As far as Tribeca’s awards go, the German drama “When We Leave (Die Fremde)” and the American documentary “Monica and David” scored the top kudos for Best World Narrative Feature and Best World Documentary Feature. The filmmaker awards went to Kim Chapiron for “Dog Pound” (narrative) and Clio Barnard for “The Arbor” (documentary), while “Monogamy” won Best New York Narrative Feature.
But, Tribeca awards be damned, we know what you’re really waiting for… the annual MMM Best of Tribeca Awards! So, without further ado…
BEST FILM: The Arbor (Dir. Clio Barnard)
Clio Barnard’s fact/fiction hybrid film blend proves a dazzling debut feature. The film traces the life of British playwright Andrea Dunbar (1961–1990), whose work chronicled her miserable existence in the West Yorkshire housing project where she grew up, along with all her life’s hardships: terrible men, rampant alcoholism, and the many problems facing her troubled eldest daughter, Lorraine. The film blends archival material along with a live staging of Dunbar’s titular play in the West Yorkshire housing project of her youth, with actors lip-synching the words of the actual interviewees. “The Arbor” presents a new brand of bio-doc filmmaking that is entirely absorbing. “The Arbor” so far lacks a distribution deal.
BEST DOCUMENTARY: My Trip to Al Qaeda (Dir. Alex Gibney)
This screen adaptation of author, screenwriter and journalist Lawrence Wright’s one-man play about his search for the roots of Islamic terrorism isn’t a very showy affair, but it offers an informative, often spellbinding look at our recent history. Wright, an expert in the field whose 2007 tome, “The Looming Tower,” is viewed by many as one of the most insightful studies of the cultural climate that led to the 9/11 attacks, is an affable Oklahoman with a commanding screen presence. He offers an insider’s look into the events that led up to Islamic terrorism due to his friendship with Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law (since murdered) and his time spent teaching students in Saudi Arabia. Wright doesn’t reach any startling conclusions (Saudi Arabia is up to no good, the U.S. reacted to 9/11 the way bin Laden hoped it would), but his arguments are pointed, well-researched, persuasive and fascinating. It should also be noted that Wright co-wrote the screenplay to the prescient 1998 film “The Siege,” a Denzel Washington/Bruce Willis vehicle about a terrorist attack in Manhattan leading to Muslim internment camps in New York City. “My Trip to Al-Qaeda” will be broadcast by HBO later this year, and may also see limited theatrical release.
MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM: Micmacs (Dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
Oh, Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Once again, you’ve crafted a visually sumptuous film boasting warm colors, captivating countenances and quirky scenarios, but, alas, “Micmacs” never quite hits the mark. A man (Dany Boon) who works in a video store and spends his days watching movies catches a stray bullet to the brain and winds up in a wild movie himself this outlandish caper, which will conjure up comparisons to “Duplicity” or “Yojimbo,” where a savvy fella serves as intermediary between two powerful rivals and engineers their mutual destruction. The flick is chock full of Jeunet’s trademark quirk – offering near-toxic levels of it, actually – and tries to get a pass on whimsy alone, but never provides any sort of emotional connection to the material. It merely offers a continual string of beautifully-designed set pieces and a handful of one-dimensional characters. Come on, JPJ. You’re better than this.
BEST ARGUMENT AGAINST MORMONS: Sons of Perdition (Dirs. Tyler Meason and Jennilyn Mertem)
In an effort to debunk the cultural myth fostered by TV shows like HBO’s “Big Love,” documentary filmmakers Tyler Meason and Jennilyn Mertem have placed Warren Jeffs Fundamental Latter-day Saints sect in Colorado City, Arizona – known to its inhabitants as “The Circk” – in their crosshairs. A polygamous society needs far more females than males, so, over the years, thousands of boys and men have left – or been told to leave – Colorado City and found a home in nearby St. George, Utah. These typically young men have no education, birth certificate, place to stay and virtually no understanding of the world around them. Some of these men don’t know who the president is and haven’t even heard of the Holocaust. This fascinating film follows a few of these Jeffs exiles through their difficult transition into becoming full-blown Americans and the stories are just heartbreaking and incredibly thought-provoking.
Vibrant color palettes. Crane shots. Orphans. Peculiar countenances. Marked idiosyncrasies. Such is the modus operandi of the distinctive French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Jeunet began making short films while studying animation at Cinémation Studios. There, he befriended Marc Caro, a designer and comic book artist. The duo would collaborate on a series of five award-winning short films from 1978 to 1989, set mainly in surrealist dystopias. Their first feature film was 1991’s “Delicatessen” – a black comedy set in a famine-plagued post-apocalyptic dreamscape, in which an apartment building above a delicatessen is ruled by a butcher who kills people in order to feed his tenants. The film starred squish-faced, diminutive actor Dominique Pinon, who would eventually appear in all of Jeunet’s films. They next made “The City of Lost Children” – a dark fantasy about a mad scientist who kidnaps children in order to steal their dreams and stall his aging process. Hollywood soon called, and Jeunet decided to fly solo, helming the fourth movie in the “Alien” franchise, “Alien Resurrection.” Though visually sumptuous, the film was handcuffed by Joss Whedon’s weak script and flopped with U.S. critics and moviegoers alike.
Jeunet returned to France to seek inspiration. The result was 2001’s “Amélie,” a beautiful confection of a film set in the director’s own neighborhood of Montmartre, and starring Audrey Tautou as a woman who’s so wrapped up in doing good deeds for others, she cannot find love for herself. The picturesque film was a smash hit, and received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Foreign Film and Best Original Screenplay. It’s since become a cult hit, with the movie’s poster gracing college dorm rooms around the country. In 2004, Jeunet released “A Very Long Engagement.” Starring Tautou and adapted from the novel by Sébastien Japrisot, the film chronicled a woman’s search for her missing lover after World War I.
Jeunet’s latest film is MICMACS. The film concerns Bazil (Dany Boon), a man who was orphaned as a youngster when his father was killed by a mine. Years later, Bazil is hit by a stray bullet in a freak drive-by shooting incident. He traces the shell casing to an arms factory and, after banding together with a team of quirky, salvage artist misfits who live in a junkyard, they use their magical scrap heap creations to wage war on two power-hungry weapons manufacturers.
MMM sat down with Jean-Pierre Jeunet for an in-depth interview touching on his filmmaking style, disdain for French cinema, Hollywood, his cinematic inspirations and so much more.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: It’s been five years since your last film, “A Very Long Engagement.” Had you been planning “Micmacs” the entire time?
JEAN-PIERRE JEUNET: I worked two years on “The Life of Pi,” an adaptation of Yann Martel’s book, for Twentieth Century Fox. I wrote the story, made location scouting and made a storyboard. To imagine the storyboard, I built a model and, with my video camera, I took maybe 3,500 pictures. The film was ready. We drew everything and it was six months of work—for peanuts, because it was too expensive. After two years, I said, “OK, I quit because I need to make a film!” And then I wrote “Micmacs.”
MMM: You’ve assembled quite an acting troupe for “Micmacs.”
JEUNET: Each time, I try to find a family of interesting faces. I follow the tradition of films from the 40s – at this time, there were so many interesting faces in France. I often work with the same because there are not thousands and thousands in France. I’m looking for interesting faces and characters actors, and it’s not for everybody.
MMM: Also orphans.
JEUNET: It’s the subject of all my films and it’s not on purpose! Each time I write a new story I say, “Oh my god! This is the same story!” It’s pathetic, in fact. But I love a guy with a handicap – like Mathilde in “A Very Long Engagement” – with a weak character they must be much stronger to fight. It’s more emotional, and that’s it.
MMM: What was it like collaborating on this with your longtime screenwriting partner Guillaume Laurent?
JEUNET: I need to find the concept of the film. Once we have the concept, we open the box of details we collect and we choose the best details. When the box is packed with details, at this time, we start to write the story. He writes the dialogue scenes and I write the visual scenes.
MMM: How do you choose your acting troupe?
JEUNET: Each time, I do some tests with everybody – even Dominique Pinon, my favorite actor. For example, with Yolande [Moreau], it was only fifteen minutes, but she found the witch aspect [delivers witch cackle]. And I said, “Oh, it’s perfect!” I do that with every actor, one-by-one, and if I can, I rehearse. One day, we are all at the same stage at the same time. It’s like an orchestra. If you rehearse with the trumpet and after, with the violin, when you’re shooting with everybody, you can see it works.
MMM: Do you have a lifetime contract with Dominique Pinon?
JEUNET: He surprises me all the time so I don’t see any reason not to hire him. And he’s a neighbor. Just joking. He has a beautiful face. You have two definitions of beauty: Greek statues and African statues. Pinon is definitely an African statue. I don’t like Greek statues.
MMM: Was “Life of Pi” supposed to be in English? And do you have any desire to make another English language film?
JEUNET: Yeah, in English. It was pretty much a war movie. But why not? Paris is done. I’ve shot everything I loved in Paris. A city I would like to shoot in is San Francisco. My wife is from the Bay Area and I love the city.
MMM: Because of Hitchcock?
JEUNET: Yeah, maybe! It’s like a toy. You have the bridge, the beautiful tramway.
MMM: What about shooting a film in New York?
JEUNET: You’ve seen New York so many times. A friend of mine came to New York for the first time last year, and she wasn’t stunned like I was when I first visited in the seventies because she’s seen it in so many films!
MMM: So what inspired the scenario for “Micmacs?”
JEUNET: I hate this question! [Laughs] I will be short. Three feelings: the bond of silly people, the revenge story and the weapons deal; three different feelings.
MMM: Had you always wanted to make a sort of heist film?
JEUNET: A little bit, yeah. “Mission: Impossible” was a great inspiration. I was a big fan when I was a kid. Now, when you watch “Mission: Impossible,” it was so cheap! Everything was shot in L.A. Even Russia was shot in L.A.! I remember they had a big dinner scene with a Mafioso and there was this tiny piece of chicken on a plate!
MMM: Did you visit and interview any arms dealers?
JEUNET: We did. We visited a very interesting arms factory in Belgium. We met four or five interesting people. They have a passion for technology and only the technology. They could work for another industry. They completely forget the final destination of what they do. We were pretty honest with them. I didn’t say this was a film for weapons. Now, there is a new philosophy for weapons: it’s more expensive to hurt people than to kill people. It’s terrible. When you have a band of guys on the battlefield, if someone is dead, he’s dead. If someone is injured then they have to take care of him, so six people are busy. During “The City of Lost Children,” we were walking just beside the missile industries and we used to see nice people in the afternoon in the restaurants. It was interesting to think of the paradox of a nice guy who invented bad things.
MMM: You have a very distinctive look to all your films. I understand you experiment a lot with color grading, but how do you achieve this vibrant look?
JEUNET: Tools I have. Warm color, childish spirit, short lens, stupid jokes. [Laughs] It’s a kind of style. I love when you recognize the style of a director. Ang Lee, for example – he doesn’t have a real style and changes his style for each film and he’s a great director, but I prefer Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, Emir Kusturica or, a long time ago, Stanley Kubrick or Fellini. You can recognize their style after ten seconds – if you like them, of course. If you don’t—I used to say, “If you like my film, welcome. I have a fish restaurant. If you don’t like fish, there are some beautiful places across the street with meat.”
MMM: I spoke with Louis Leterrier recently and he said that blockbusters are really attractive to him because when he was 10-15, there weren’t any films for him in France and he relied on American films. What films inspired you when you were a kid?
JEUNET: Strangely, when I was a kid, I watched “Tom & Jerry” and the Disney movies like any kid. My first revelation was “Once Upon a Time in the West,” and I was 17. The second one was “A Clockwork Orange,” when I was 18. I saw it 14 times in the theater. But after “Once Upon a Time…,” a couldn’t speak for three days. I was in shock. My parents were like, “What’s the problem? Are you sick?” And I said, “You can’t understand.” It was a revelation! You can give pleasure to the audience with close-ups of the eyes, crane shots, sound effects. It was amazing.
MMM: When did you start experimenting with filmmaking?
JEUNET: I started at eight. At this time, I didn’t see any movies but I made a small theatre with puppets. I destroyed the lamp of my parents for the lighting. And they had to pay! I was producer, too. And later, I had a View-Master, and I used to cut the frame to change the order and I recorded my friend with a small tape recorder. It was a kind of movie.
MMM: You’re rumored to have turned down big Hollywood productions like “Hellboy” and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” in the past. Was this because of your experience making “Alien: Resurrection?”
JEUNET: Not “Hellboy.” Just “Harry Potter.” No, I’m tired of hearing that! So many people would like to hear it was a nightmare. For example, the guy who made “Up in the Air” [Jason Reitman], he put a joke of the dwarf and he said, “It’s like in the French film” [“Amelie”]. Then, he said in an interview, “He was kind of a master, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, because it was a nightmare for him to make ‘Alien’ and he had the courage to leave.” No! It was not a nightmare! It was just difficult because you have to convince a lot of people to fight and to struggle. In France, I have complete freedom. It’s a big difference.
MMM: Would you ever do another studio film?
JEUNET: Why not? I read a lot of scripts from my American agent. “Life of Pi” was for 20th Century Fox. But, in reality, I would like to find a way to direct American actors but with a French production. Luc Besson does that.
MMM: Are there any American actors you’d love to direct?
JEUNET: I just spoke to Jodie Foster and she’d love to do a film in French. She speaks better French than me! And I’ve heard so many times Forest Whitaker would love to shoot with me. I say, “Why the frustration? Why not?” I love the English actress Emma Thompson. She’s great.
JEUNET: No. We use very old, French expressions for the blank guy. If I shoot in French, it’s to play with my own language. And we know we’re going to lose in foreign countries because I’m lucky that my films are sold everywhere. But we know we’re going to lose something. If I want more, I’ll have to shoot in English.
MMM: How did you cast Dany Boon as your lead?
JEUNET: It was the exact same story as how I cast “Amelie.” The guy I had cast [Jamel Debbouze, “Amelie”] had passed maybe ten weeks before the shooting, so I hired Dany. He’s the perfect actor for me – like Audrey Tautou – because he’s a technician. He’s a director, an author and very creative and imaginative. You never have any bad takes with him.
MMM: You’ve been rumored for the third “Tintin” film…
JEUNET: I was maybe the first one. After the Belgian guy who made “Toto the Hero” [Jaco Van Dormael], he was writing the script, and they didn’t like it. They reached me and I had an appointment at the Tintin building. They told me, “You will have someone over your shoulder checking you.” I went, “Oh my god!” And I made “A Very Long Engagement.” I am tired about sequels and remakes. Everyone speaks about that now. Maybe because I am getting older but I don’t like superhero action movies now. Remakes are not very satisfying to me.
MMM: Could you talk about the application of technology in your films? They all seem to incorporate this very future-primitive quality.
JEUNET: I don’t know. I love beautiful, old objects. Some people think, “Oh, he’s very conservative because he lives in the past.” It’s completely fake! We use new technology for visual effects, sound. I have the iPhone! [Laughs]
MMM: What about your musical influences?
JEUNET: Oh! Anything from Massive Attack to music for yoga. It’s very wide!
MMM: Any recent French films you’ve enjoyed?
JEUNET: Let’s see… I am not a big fan of French cinema. I have a passion for French cinema from the ‘40s, like Jacques Prévert. I collect some old scripts. I rebuilt the personal archive with the Cinémathèque française because they were in an old basement in Boston, believe it or not. My favorite film is “Le quai des brumes” (1938).
MMM: What do you think is the problem with French cinema nowadays?
JEUNET: The young director with talent, they want to make all war movies, shoot in Hollywood and make bloody, stupid films. The others are so intellectual and they want to make intellectual movies. More, it’s ugly in terms of picture, writing, acting then art.
MMM: What about recent films in general? Any you enjoyed?
JEUNET: Oh, yes! I love “Mary and Max” from Adam Elliot. Fucking masterpiece! I met him in Australia and would love to help him. He’s going to send me a puppet from his film!
MMM: So what are you working on now?
JEUNET: I read. I read one book per day because I would like to make an adaptation and I found the book in the end. But, the author, who lives in New York, wants to make the adaptation himself. He’s not a director. He’s a screenwriter. And I think it’s a shame and a bad idea. It’s “City of Thieves” by David Benioff. It’s a masterpiece. It’s tough because when you fall in love with a book, it’s like a love story where, in the morning, your partner says, “I got married. Bad luck!”
MMM: Any other filmmaking ideas?
JEUNET: I have a nice idea about robots. It will be both live-action and robots.
I have to work on it! I won’t tell you anything! It’s so difficult because we have fifteen films opening in France every week. I would’ve wanted to make “Micmacs” in 3D, but it was too early.
MMM: Are you and Audrey Tautou planning on working together soon?
JEUNET: Yes! We finished a trilogy because I made “Chanel No. 5.” It was a beautiful commercial. I had an appointment here in a beautiful office overlooking Central Park. In ten minutes, I sold them on the story. Then, I said, “OK, but we need a budget.” And they said, “Mmhmm.” They gave me complete freedom. I was the artistic director, author, producer. It was four months and we made a beautiful thing.
MMM: But now that the trilogy’s over, will you no longer be working together?
JEUNET: No! I need to find a story. I make a film every three or four years, so I need a story, and if there is a character for her – or Jodie Foster – I would be happy! I’m getting old though! I teach a master class in Provence and I realized that many of the kids weren’t born for “Delicatessen” and I think, “Oh my god!”
MICMACS opens on May 28th in select theaters.