“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
~ James Gray
Frenzy On Blog Archive for November, 2010
I’m a little late on giving thanks, but I do have quite a few things to be thankful for this year. First and foremost is you, my loyal readers, who make it worthwhile for me to spend time in front of my laptop for hours at a time. I know a lot of you by name from our e-mails back and forth, others I just know are there, and most I hope to hear from in the future. With the new format here, I’m excited to be able to communicate with you in the comments. Anyway, thank you for thinking that my silly scribbling is worth your time.
I’m thankful for David Poland for continuing to give me more space in his center of the internet universe and for Kim Voynar for painstakingly editing all of my columns and making me look good every week. And of course, the rest of the MCN staff (Pride, Dretzka, Pratt, Wilmington, Klady) who I’m honored to see my name next to on bylines.
I’m thankful for all of the great movies I see every year and for those that I’ve yet to see. This year I’m especially thankful for David Fincher’s The Social Network, which continues to impress me every time I think of its various accomplishments. Fincher has firmly established himself as one of the top three or four directors in the field, someone whom I will gladly line up for, despite the projects he chooses. I have no doubt that his remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will be vastly superior to the mediocre and overpraised Swedish version.
I’m thankful for the great performances this year by Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone), Rachel Weisz (Agora), George Clooney (The American), Annette Bening (The Kids are All Right), Robert Duvall (Get Low), Tilda Swinton (I Am Love). These actors are almost always worth watching and this year, they were especially convincing in their roles.
I’m thankful that Steven Spielberg finally got the cojones required for him to make his long-gestating Lincoln biopic. But I’m even more thankful that Daniel Day Lewis has replaced Liam Neeson in the title role. I’ve gone on record more than a few times that I think DDL is the greatest living actor (and it’s not even close). He works so rarely, so the fact that he’s taken time out to make this film leads me to believe that this will be one of Spielberg’s “good” projects. I’m certainly more excited to see this than Robopocalypse and Tintin.
I’m thankful that I’m still surprised by the movie industry sometimes, like when I heard that Francis Ford Coppola was secretly filming a horror movie called Twist Now and Sunrise with Val Kilmer (my favorite actor for much of my young adult years), who badly needs a reclamation project. After Coppola’s last film, Tetro, which I thought was a masterpiece, I have high hopes for this one. It’ll also be nice to see the best young actor you’ve never heard of on screen again (Alden Ehrenreich).
I’m thankful that I still have so many gaps in my movie-watching history, allowing me to see films like Rocco and His Brothers for the first time. It gives me comfort to know that there are thousands of great films out there, waiting for me to discover them.
I’m thankful for my favorite filmmakers: Lukas Moodysson, Arnaud Desplechin, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, David Fincher, Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Rebecca Miller, The Coen Brothers, Michael Haneke, Gus Van Sant, Steven Soderbergh, Noah Baumbach, Sidney Lumet, Todd Field, Darren Aronofsky, Alfonso Cuaron, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Richard Linklater, Larry Clark, Harmony Korine, Lars von Trier, David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Terrence Malick, Judd Apatow, Susanne Bier, Steven Spielberg, David O. Russell, Mike Nichols, Walter Salles, Alexander Payne, Jonathan Demme, Sofia Coppola, Francis Ford Coppola, Jim Sheridan, Gabriele Muccino, Peter Weir, Fernando Meirelles, Danny Boyle, Roman Polanski, Spike Jonze, Pedro Almodovar, Michael Winterbottom, Cameron Crowe, James L. Brooks, Alejandro Amenabar, David Wain, John Cameron Mitchell, Julian Schnabel, Curtis Hanson, Stephen Frears, Sam Mendes, Doug Liman, Frank Darabont, the Wachowskis, Milos Forman, Whit Stillman, Ang Lee, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, and so many more that I’ve forgotten.
For all those who think “they just don’t make ’em like they used to,” I’d like them to take a look at the list above and name me a time when so much talent was behind the camera at the same time. These filmmakers give me so much to be thankful for, whether I enjoy their films or not; because I know at the end of the day, they make films that I’m glad to have seen.
I could go on about the great things in my own life, from wonderful friends to an amazing family, but each and every one of those people knows how truly thankful I am to have them.
The single thing I’m most thankful for, though? The feeling of walking into a film, expecting greatness, every single time. Hope you all have a wonderful holiday.
I saw Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer on an airplane a few months after it came out. As soon as it came out on DVD, I knew I had to watch it again, to get a better feel for the complexities of this tightly-wound thriller. It held up and it continues to hold up as one of the better films released this year. So when I had the opportunity to talk to Pierce Brosnan and Olivia Williams about their experience making the film and working with a master filmmaker like Polanski, I jumped at it.
Williams is a woman that every geek fell in love with in Rushmore and has done solid work ever since, while Brosnan has made some fascinating choices since hanging up the James Bond tuxedo nearly a decade ago. They filled me in on working with Polanski, working with each other, and gave me some info about their upcoming films.
Olivia Williams: Sorry, I’m not very good at these three-way things.
Noah Forrest: Yeah, I feel like the ringleader of a strange carnival. But I wanted to start by saying that I liked The Ghost Writer a lot and I wanted to congratulate you on that.
Pierce Brosnan: Thank you.
Olivia Williams: Thanks.
Noah Forrest: I wanted to ask both of you whether you came to this film because of the material or for the chance to work with a director like Roman Polanski? And I guess we’ll ask Olivia first.
Olivia Williams: Oh, that feels all wrong.
Pierce Brosnan: It’s exactly right, Olivia.
Olivia Williams: Well, it would have to be a combination. I would have worked with Roman in pretty well anything, but I was very, very lucky that it was this character. And I completely responded to her immediately. Not least, without giving too much away, but I had Roman Polanski working very hard on my own denouement. So I feel consider myself very lucky and privileged to have worked with him and got to play this.
Pierce Brosnan: You had Roman working on your what, Olivia?
Olivia Williams: My own dénouement. Maybe that’s arrogance to call it that, but it felt like that.
Pierce Brosnan: Oh no, not at all. [Pause] For me, it was definitely working with Roman. He’s such an iconic figure on the landscape, so when I got the call – when I was in London – to go have lunch with him, I hopped on the train and had a most delightful three hour lunch with this great man. And luckily I had a wonderful part to play as well.
Noah Forrest: And did you and Olivia know each other before filming began or was this the first time you had met?
Pierce Brosnan: It was the first time we met.
Olivia Williams: We have some mutual friends, so I had heard he was delightful, but that can always be a lie in Hollywood.
Pierce Brosnan: We were on that wonderful island, Sylt, and I got a call and knew she was coming in the afternoon and I got a call from her saying, “Let’s have dinner. I’d like to have dinner and talk.” So we hit the ground running.
Olivia Williams: I felt that we should at least have dinner, considering we were supposed to have been married for twenty-five years. [Laughs]
Noah Forrest: It’s the least you could do, I guess… [Laughs]
Olivia Williams: I’m not much of a method actor, but I felt that was a good place to get started.
Noah Forrest: It’s interesting because you are playing husband and wife, but you don’t share much screen time with one another. So is it difficult to come up with an idea of who your spouse is or what your marriage is if you don’t get to develop that on screen? Or do you have to develop that off screen?
Olivia Williams: I’m not being facetious when I say that the dinner was actually very useful for that, to have a sort of genial time before we started sniping at each other. A lot of it, for me, was set up because I pestered poor Robert Harris with e-mails and he wrote this wonderful paragraph of things to heed of, that I have to love my husband though it seems in many ways that I’m using him.
Noah Forrest: Well, I think that’s a tough kind of line you both have to balance – giving hints away without giving everything away. And I guess you have to rely on the other actors to do the same. So was the difficult for you to know what your character is, without letting the audience know immediately.
Pierce Brosnan: Well, not in my case, I don’t think. I feel that he’s a man about to burst, his brain’s open (and he finally gets his brains blown out) because he knows that he’s in a damaged relationship and its been like this for some time. The wolves are at the door for him and the long knives are out and he’s hanging by a thread, he’s a very pathetic character. When he sits on the sofa and he feebly asks, “What would you do?” It’s the ultimate humiliation. He succumbs to that. Olivia is so strong in her work, she cuts like a knife with her performance…it made me feel great in my own sick way about this character.
Olivia Williams: Having two really tough women fighting over him, having two lionesses protecting him, and the moment when – I think we’re talking about the same scene on the sofa – essentially Ruth says, I bow out, take him with you. Drama film is about people at the extreme of their lives and you meet all these people when they’re already up against it. You’re introduced to Ruth, she’s screaming and slamming the door…she’s already behaving just about as badly as any of us ever will. And then it cranks up. That’s what Roman does – he just keeps on cranking you up and cranking you up. And that was such a pleasure to act.
And, as you say, playing one thing and doing another. There’s a trend in scripts of people saying what they feel all the time and that’s not as much fun as an actor, it’s much more fun to say one thing and do something else.
Noah Forrest: Well, it’s much more true to life that way, I think. Often, we’re not saying what we feel. But Pierce, you bring up that scene which is so wonderful because it exposes what is supposed to be one of the great leaders of the world and he’s really just a sad man at the end of the day. I think the message there is very subtle, yet direct and I really admired that about the film. Were you wary of being Tony Blair? Because there were so many allusions – namely, being the former Prime Minister. I was wondering if that was something you were fearful of?
Pierce Brosnan: No, I wasn’t fearful of that. Roman sort of released me from that on our first lunch. I said, “Am I playing Tony Blair? Because it’s already been done brilliantly by Michael Sheen.” He said, “No, you’re not playing Tony Blair.” Which made absolutely sense because whatever I did it would turn out to be Tony Blair anyway. All roads lead to Tony Blair. Robert Harris is a good friend of his as well.
I did look at Tony Blair’s work as Prime Minister, I watched his speeches. But I didn’t try to indicate or play this fellow.
Olivia Williams: You got the grin, Pierce.
Pierce Brosnan: I got the grin, I got the grin. I used it once.
Olivia Williams: And the sadness killed me. I think you’re talking about the moment, Noah, that I loved when the Ghost says, “It looks like Rycart Publishing set all this up.” And Pierce says, “Can you ask them to stop?” Because there was such sadness and powerlessness in that moment.
Noah Forrest: The thing is, I don’t think you’re playing Tony Blair. I just asked that because I think you sidestep a lot of traps that one could fall in. And I think it was well-done that you managed to create this character that was uniquely its own.
Pierce Brosnan: Well, he’s an actor. He’s a born actor. You take the emblems of the script. He’s really this fellow with Peter Pan syndrome. He plays at being the Prime Minister, he’s a puppet.
Olivia Williams: That’s a brilliant phrase, actually, “the emblems of a script.” There were some things about the Blairs that were very important to honor to make the script work. And one of them was what Pierce was saying, the fact that he was the charismatic one, the one that people immediately responded to and loved of the two.
Noah: It’s almost an interesting feminist take on it because this really takes that saying of “Behind every great man is a woman” to its logical extreme. But I wanted to ask both of you – I mean, Roman Polanski is one of my favorite directors and he’s kind of renowned for being a controlling filmmaker. Did you find that to be so?
Pierce Brosnan: I had a baptism by fire with the fellow. My first day’s work was really my last scene with the character – it was on the airplane, on the jet. I walked straight into this vortex of Polanski and after that day’s work, he left me alone. I could see him get twitchy and I could feel his energy and I think we were all on our game because you just don’t want to get found out by Roman. You don’t want to have this guy coming up to you saying, [in Polish accent] “Why do you do it like this? Why? Why?” [Laughs]
Olivia Williams: Well, the point is that he’s worthy of being one of your favorites because there’s nothing accidental on that set. Nothing has happened by accident. It’s happened because Roman has seen it in his head and he wants it to be there. And therefore he really deserves the title of a great director or a great auteur. It is a terrifying experience to work with, but we were all in. As Ewan [McGregor] used always said, “You can argue with him, but he’s right, you do it his way and the whole machine works.” If you rebel, the machine doesn’t work. For him, filmmaking is very painful. The man is in quite a lot of pain most of the time, it feels like.
Pierce Brosnan: Especially when he can’t get the right lens. [Laughs]
Olivia Williams: And when it’s not right, he actually said to us that he closes his eyes and sees in his head this model vision. And he’s trying to force everyone and every object there to recreate that vision. I would be really upset if what I’m saying makes him sound like a difficult person to work with because that doesn’t come into it. There is a vision and we must all try to make it happen and then you, the viewing audience, will see what this man has created in his head.
Pierce Brosnan: You get a lot more from his camera, from the positioning. As you work on a scene, he will really take time to find the best dramatic angle. In relation to what is Olivia is saying, he really takes the time. That day when we were on the airplane, I was ready to go and Ewan was ready to go, it’s a six or seven page scene. But he spent the morning, as we sat there, just finding the angle. He worked backwards and forwards, backwards and forward. You could feel him generating this energy and you’re thinking, “Well Christ, I’m here, Ewan’s across from me, just put the camera here and shoot it.” But, he didn’t. He spent the morning looking at the guns, looking at the laptops, dealing with the props…
Olivia Williams: He never quite recovered from the disappointment of never finding the right slippers for under the bed.
Pierce Brosnan: Oh really? [Laughs]
Olivia Williams: And he was angry to the end of shooting and beyond that these slippers weren’t disgusting enough to be an old man’s abandoned slippers. And Ewan said that he brought him hundreds of wheelie suitcases that the Ghost carries with him in every scene, that wheelie suitcase had to be right. That matters to him as much as an actor, almost. Would you agree?
Pierce Brosnan: I would whole-heartedly agree. He gets involved in every detail, the squib, the blood going off in my head, the bullet wound…But it was an exhilarating experience to work with him and I would go out again, in a heartbeat, to work with him.
Noah Forrest: Does this aspect of his, where he’s very demanding and exacting, does that carry over to your performance as well? Like he does he do line-readings?
Pierce Brosnan: Yes.
Noah Forrest: Oh really?
Olivia Williams: I would call it a demonstration.
Pierce Brosnan: A demonstration. My line, I remember, “Give my ghost a Calvados,” I mean he had so many variations on that. I tried. I said, “I’ll try my best,” but it always sounded like I had a Polish accent, so it didn’t work.
Olivia Williams: It’s interesting because you’d resent it if he wasn’t right. I made some objections and wanted to change some stuff in the dinner scene and he said, “No, I’ve eaten this meal.” The food was designed around the scene. What we ate, the way it looked, how long it took to chew it. And so, to go in and say, “My character wouldn’t say that,” actually insults the amount of work and preparation that went into it.
Pierce Brosnan: Did he really say that about the food?
Olivia Williams: He really did, he absolutely did. He literally said we timed the scene. I wanted to make a line shorter and he said, no, I timed it.
Noah Forrest: Wow.
Olivia Williams: But he said that he and Robert had actually made the meal and had eaten it when they were writing it.
Pierce Brosnan: Oh my.
Noah Forrest: That’s pretty exacting, yeah.
Olivia Williams: I was kicking against it and I was trying to bring something of myself to the playing of the character, but after he explained his process, I backed off. “Let me do anything I can to recreate your vision.” And that was the pleasure of it. The pleasure wasn’t to kick against it, but to give yourself entirely over to his process because that’s when you “get it” with him, I believe.
Noah Forrest: I suppose there’s a certain school of directors who believe that acting is an act of submission. That’s gotta be so difficult for an actor to get to that point, where they’re willing to trust the director.
Olivia Williams: Well the fact that he has such a track record and he’s not 24 is working in his favor. I think if most 24 year olds tried to do that with their actors, they’d get kicked in the teeth. But I think there’s too much of a fashion possibly with directors who are saying, “That was great, do you think maybe possibly you might mind trying it this way…” And I think if you’re going to have directorial greatness, you need to be…You know, Wes Anderson who I worked with, he’s also exacting but in a different way.
Noah Forrest: Well, I was going to ask you about Wes Anderson because Rushmore was the first film that I saw you in. I think I was 15 or 16 when it came out and I was so totally blown away by it and I was going to ask you if they had a similar process because he seems very precise as well.
Olivia Williams: They couldn’t be more different as people, but there is definitely a comparison to be made in how exacting they are and how clear their vision is. I worked with Wes when he was very young and starting out and I think it’s interesting that he had such a pleasure with puppets on Fantastic Mr. Fox because he can really make them do exactly what he wants. [Laughs] And that is said with love.
Noah Forrest: And Pierce, I’ve been following your career for a long long time. I remember seeing The Lawnmower Man when was I was very young and being like, “That guy is gonna be a star!” But I think it’s interesting the direction your career has taken because it seems like you’ve built up this image and you’ve spent the past decade kind of slyly subverting it with movies like The Matador or The Tailor of Panama. And even now with The Ghost Writer. I was wondering if that’s a conscious decision on your part of if these just happened to be the roles you found most attractive?
Pierce Brosnan: It’s 50-50 really. You set your intentions to do something, like I did when I came here in 1981, which was to be as successful as I possibly could be in movies. Well, I got a TV series. Beggars can’t be choosers, so I ran with that for all it was worth. And of course, doing Remington Steele, I created this image for myself that ultimately led to James Bond. So, you find yourself painted into a corner, so you have to find your way out and find parts that will lend themselves to your own creativity and potential. So yes, there’s certainly a conscious effort to re-mold, re-define, change. I believe I can play more than one character, so hopefully one can play more than one note. So that’s the task at hand, always has been. You know, I’ve managed to stay employed throughout this career. I’m really a working actor and I’m always happy to go to work. I don’t like trying to toil over the next direction of where I should go. Sometimes I’ve just had to work to feed my family. It hasn’t always been the work I want, but I’m working and that’s the greatest joy for any actor: to work. And you have to have patience. So it’s nice to make twists, to make sharp left turns. The Matador was certainly a wonderful experience and one that I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t make it myself, because you get pigeonholed. People don’t take risks, so that’s why having one’s own company or having a partner as I do in Beaumarie St. Clair at Irish DreamTime, it’s been the most exhilarating and exciting work for me.
Noah Forrest: And both of you have exciting movies on the horizon. Pierce, you have Salvation Boulevard coming out next year. And Olivia, you’ve got Hanna, which is Joe Wright’s next film. So is there anything either of you can share with us about those films?
Pierce Brosnan: We went back out to the desert there a month or so ago to put an added scene on it, which I hear works like gangbusters and that’s as much as I know. I haven’t spoken to anyone about it. George Ratliff is directing from a book with the same title; Ed Harris, Greg Kinnear and myself. Just wasn’t enough of Greg. We kicked the movie off and then it goes off in different directions. I had a great time doing it. It was wonderful to be with Greg again.
Noah Forrest: Well you and Greg Kinnear had great chemistry in The Matador. And Olivia, what can you tell us about Hanna?
Olivia Williams: It was interesting movie from Polanski to Wright. He’s another director with an extraordinary vision. It feels like it’s happening much more on the set, his vision and gift. This film is so many things. The script just jumped out, I loved the script. It’s part assassin thriller, it’s part road movie. I’m in the road movie section of it, so I was driving a huge hippie truck around Morocco with Jason Flemyng and Saoirse Ronan. She’s astonishing. I have quite a small part in it, but I was like, come on, this kid is gonna be trouble. She was so phenomenal in Atonement and she was only 12, now she’s gonna be 16 and a pain in the ass. [Laughs] She’s absolutely delightful, humble, beautiful. When she turned those blue eyes on me, I was like, “Okay, you’re gonna be a huge star.” And Cate Blanchett, you just can’t argue with her…you really can’t argue with her, it’s very difficult. [Laughs] I haven’t seen it, but I can’t wait.
Noah Forrest: Well, I’m gonna get you guys out of here on this question, which is what I ask everyone before they leave: what is your favorite film of all-time?
Olivia Williams: Pierce, you go first, give me time to think!
Pierce Brosnan: [Rushing] Uh, um, There Will Be Blood!
Noah Forrest: That’s a good one!
Olivia Williams: The Man Who Would Be King.
Noah Forrest: That’s another great one. Two wonderful choices. Well thanks to the both of you. I really appreciate this.
Olivia: Thank you.
Pierce Brosnan: Okay, I’ll see you later tonight Olivia. Noah, goodbye!
Yesterday I had the immense pleasure of speaking with the lovely and talented Tilda Swinton. I recently caught up with her performance in Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love and was rather moved by it. By any standard, Swinton is award-worthy for the tamed intensity she brings to the part. It’s a melodramatic film, but one that definitely has a bolder artistic vision than the average melodrama.
Speaking with Ms. Swinton by phone yesterday, she had a lot to say about how the film was made and such, but what I was most struck by was how warm she was. Often, she is cast as a cold figure, so I was surprised by the tenderness of her voice. I would ordinarily upload this as a podcast, but the quality of my taping wasn’t easy to listen to, so I’ve transcribed it for you.
Tilda: Hi Noah.
Noah: Hi Tilda. I just wanted to say, first of all, I’m an enormous fan. I’ve been a big fan of yours since I saw The War Zone when I was 17.
Tilda: Thank you very much.
Noah: I Am Love, I just saw it yesterday and I was really impressed by it. And I was just so curious how you became involved in the film and what attracted you to this particular story and this particular character?
Tilda: Well, Noah, as you may or may not know, this film is something that came out of my relationship with Luca Guadagnino. It’s something we devised together. We started talking about a film like this about 11 years ago and we started building up the narrative about 7 or 8 years ago. It was a film that we talked for a long time before we had any idea about what the milieu of the story might be, about the kind of film in which melodrama would slip into tragedy somewhere along the line. And a film that I would call “sensational,” that wouldn’t be particularly dialogue-based, a film that worked on all sorts of “language of cinema” levels.
We had made an essay-film together about 7 or 8 years ago called The Love Factory, which is an interview between Luca and I, in which he talks to me and it’s just a close-up on me. And during the course of this conversation, we talked about love. And afterwards, when we were editing the film, we decided to take this idea, the germ of this concept of a revolutionary love in the life of a woman who I would play and we would place that at the heart of the narrative. So that was the first we had, this woman who I would play who would come across some kind of revolution in her life based on love. Thereafter, we started to think that she would be some kind of alien in some kind of milieu that she hadn’t been born into. It was a time when we didn’t know it would necessarily be set in Italy, but fairly soon we decided to set it in Italy.
It took longer to work out where she was going to come from, but at a certain point she became Russian. Not only because we were reading a lot of Tolstoy at the time [Laughs] but also because we worked out that because we wanted to set the film in this very kind of haute bourgeois milieu in Milan, we wanted to set it at the highest point of milieu, which is about ten years ago at the start of the century. And so if you go backwards from that, that makes her a Soviet Russian and we wanted her to come from a world that she could never return to. So all of these things, it kind of became a detective story, working out how things had to be in order for the feeling to be right. So it took a while.
Noah: In a sense, you’re kind of an alien to this material as well because you’re playing a Russian who is playing an Italian…
Noah:…so I think that’s very interesting. It did remind me a bit of Anna Karenina in a lot of ways…
Noah:…but it actually reminded me a lot of the Kubrick film, Barry Lyndon, which is one of my favorite films.
Tilda: Not only because Marisa Berenson is in it [Laughs].
Noah: [Laughs] Right, I was going to say, Marisa Berenson being in it really brought that home. But just because every shot is so deliberately composed. And I was wondering, as an actor, do you feel it gives you more or less freedom when the frame is so, uh, composed. I mean, when it’s so fixed? Because it seems like every shot is so well-staged that I was wondering if you like to be able to roam around or is it good to know the constraints of the frame?
Tilda: I mean, to be honest with you: you always know what the constraints of the frame are whether the camera is hand-held or not. It’s always important to work very closely with the camera because the camera’s all you got really, frame is everything. So if the frame is fixed, as you say, and very iconic, that tells you absolutely how you’re going to operate within it. But by the same token, if you’re being followed by a hand-held camera, that’s also a constraint if you like. That’s also a dance. One of the things that we really wanted to do from the very beginning was to approach a film about rich people in a kind of humanistic way. Very often – and I know this from working on a film called Orlando with Sally Potter, which was also about rich people in a humanistic way – there’s a sort of mesmerism that seems to happen when you make a film about rich people, like the camera gets sent into a sort of sleep. Very often, people find themselves grinding to a halt, filming in a very theatrical, static way. And we wanted to play with this, so that we would have the possibility of being back in a very cinematic way, having long wide-shots so you actually get the full milieu. But then at the same time we wanted the camera to be quite free so that it would also be able to come in very closely and be round the back of someone’s ear or under someone’s armpit or actually very, very close to their features so that you could see them as humans and not just as some theatrical animals on a set. And this is one of the reasons that we worked with Yorick Le Saux, who is this great cinematographer who I worked with on Julia and who I introduced Luca to, who had that capacity to be on the one hand very formal, but also very intimate and very fluid. So we wanted to shake it up, but at the same time we wanted to have – I will tell Luca what you said about Barry Lyndon, because that’s an enormous compliment to him and to us because Kubrick is one of our favorite filmmakers and Barry Lyndon is the pre-eminent modernist look at that kind of formal setting. And I think that’s a great compliment.
Noah: It’s also a film about this perpetual outsider, which Emma [Swinton’s character] certainly is. She’s trapped in this gilded cage. Speaking about the way the film was shot and edited, I think that makes the ending even more satisfying because it’s just this kind of burst of energy which hits you on such a visceral level.
Tilda: The very strange thing about the ending is that the ending is in many ways the first thing we had. When I say we worked on the film for 11 years, what I mean is that those early years, before we even knew what the narrative was going to be, we were thinking about a kind of emotion that we wanted to hit. And the most excited we could be was a film that ended in a certain way – even outside of any details of what the narrative would be, we knew that we wanted a film that the denouement of which would be silence. Just have no dialogue. And would have a relationship with music and a relationship with movement that was more choreographic, that was more like a ballet or more like an opera than traditional cinema.
So I would say that from the moment of the “pool scene” (for readers who don’t know what we we’re talking about), from that moment on there’s really nothing spoken. And we had that fixed in our mind – not the details of what would actually happen – but we had the emotion, the color, this incredibly high, operatic feeling and we had this in our mind. I always say it was like we had an apple and we put in on the top of a pedestal and we knew that in working out the narrative for the rest of the film, it was like building a staircase up to that apple. Because we knew where we were going to end, but we just didn’t know how it was going to start [Laughs] or what the middle was going to be, for the longest time.
So that was really the challenge, to find a way up to the apple; and it was touch and go and I’m sure there are people who don’t think we got there, but it was a very particular challenge to work out the end of a film before the beginning or the middle.
Noah: I think that’s a fascinating way to work. The only other time I think I’ve heard about a filmmaker doing something like that is I believe that Paul Thomas Anderson, when he did Magnolia, he knew the last image he wanted on the screen…
Noah: …so the whole film was kind of like a way to get to that image.
Tilda: Yeah, how interesting.
Noah: You’ve worked with some of my favorite filmmakers – everyone from Bela Tarr to Jim Jarmusch to David Fincher to the Coen Brothers. Do you think it’s more important to work with a great artist behind the camera or is it more important to find a great piece of material?
Tilda: Well, I’m never one for finding material. I mean, I always find the people first. That’s just the way I’ve worked. Luckily, I’ve had the very good fortune of starting by making films with people and making the material with them, so they always came first just in terms of the chronology. And I’ve had the really blessed experience recently with people like the ones you mentioned coming to me with pieces of material. But it’s always the people that I’ve gone into a dance with – in my view whatever material Jim Jarmusch comes up with or Bela Tarr or the Coen Brothers – I’m always going to want to go and dance with them because I really love them, for a start, and I really think that the dialogue and whatever they’re going to do is going to be interesting. I’m trying to think if I’ve ever had a piece of material come my way – I’ve always made my deal with the person. It’s an arrangement that I’m very happy with. It’s what I’m interesting in really – the conversation with the filmmakers. And friendship, to be perfectly honest, because I’ve been really blessed and some extraordinary people ring me up.
Noah: Do you ever have any interest in directing yourself? Or dancing with yourself, so to speak?
Tilda: No, I’m really trying not to direct. Really, really hard. [Laughs]
Noah: It’s a constant effort to not direct?
Tilda: There are some friends – Luca is one of them – that are constantly teasing me, but I’m not going to give in. I like to be in communication, in a sort of dialogue with someone else. Collaboration is my forte, so not at this moment, it’s not what I’m interested in, no.
Noah: Do you have any people on your wish list of people you’d like to work with that you haven’t yet?
Tilda: Of course. [Laughs] But I’ve had the happy experience of meeting them around the corner. It’s a very strange thing that people do tend to meet themselves in this meal pond that we work in. And certainly in the milieu that I work in, which tends to be coming from a kind of – if not underground, then certainly independent world where people really understand collaboration and the need for fellowship. In that world, there’s a lot of comradeship around and people do tend to bump into each other and introduce each other to other people and it’s very easy to make relationships. And I’m happy to say that I’m constantly finding new relationships.
For example, at the moment, I’m starting to develop a piece of work with Apichatpong Weerasethakul [Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives]. He’s someone that I’ve been in communication with for a while and we’re now beginning to get down to talking about the film we’re going to make together. And that’s just wonderful.
Noah: I read that you have a movie coming out with Lynne Ramsay, who is fantastic and works so rarely, so what a great opportunity.
Tilda: Yeah, yeah, well we all, including she, wishes she wouldn’t work so rarely. So let’s hope that she doesn’t work so rarely from now on. But this is something we’ve been developing for a few years together and at last we’re cutting it now and we’re very excited about it.
Noah: Ah, well I can’t wait for that. And news just broke either today or yesterday that you may or may not be attached to Wes Anderson’s new film [Moonrise Kingdom].
Tilda: I may. He’s the most recent lovely person who has sent me an e-mail [Laughs].
Noah: I know you’re busy, so I’ll let you go, but I have one more question and it’s something I ask everyone I interview. What is your favorite movie?
Tilda: So unfair, that question. If you asked me what my 100 most favorite movies would be, that would be easier. Oh lord. I was asked recently online what my 5 favorite movies are, and I randomly picked 5 out of my head and within a few minutes, I wanted to pick another 5. But one is really cruel. Let me just quickly think.
Well I always say Au Hasard Balthazar and I always say I Know Where I’m Going. And I very often say To Be or Not to Be by Ernst Lubitsch.
But tonight, because I just finished watching it with my children, I’m going to say What About Bob?
Noah: Oh what a great movie, I love that one!
Tilda: [Laughs] So tonight my favorite movie is What About Bob?
Noah: Well that is one of the greatest answers I’ve gotten to that question. Well, thank you very much for your time, I really appreciate it.
Tilda: Thanks Noah, have a good night, bye!
I was perusing this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly and I came across Mark Harris’ latest piece entitled, “Thanks, Mel. Seriously.” For the most part I really enjoy Harris’ writing and I find him to have some pretty sharp insights into the goings-on in Hollywood. However, as I was reading his latest essay, I found myself befuddled by a position he takes.
I don’t know Mel Gibson personally, so I find it odd to write the following: he seems like a fairly despicable person. Between the racism, the antisemitism, and the rage-fueled taped phone calls that I couldn’t avoid, he doesn’t exactly seem like a person I would want to hang out with for any length of time. But I do believe that the man is a talent, both behind and in front of the camera. When this whole brouhaha about The Hangover 2 came out – Mel was supposed to have a cameo, but then because of his transgressions, was let go – I was excited to see him play the role. I enjoy seeing the man on screen. Even after his whole drunken antisemitic rant in Malibu a few years ago, I still saw him in Edge of Darkness and liked it well enough. I have the ability to separate the character he plays from who he might be in real life. I mean, I think Spike Lee is one of the greatest filmmakers we have, but I disagree vehemently with some of his political views. To take it a step further, I think Woody Allen is one of the best filmmakers of all-time, but I find his actions with his (now-wife) adopted stepdaughter abhorrent. The actions and opinions of these two men don’t make me enjoy or despise their output any more or less. When Tom Cruise jumped on a couch and spouted his ridiculous political opinions, I didn’t give a shit because what he does outside the realm of a movie screen doesn’t concern me.
So I found it odd to see Mark Harris write that the maxim of “It should be all about the work” strikes him as “peculiar.” And I found it especially strange when he writes that, “[T]he ability to take a great deal of proof that someone is a loathsome creep and tuck it away in a corner of your brain that even you can’t find just so you can enjoy some dopey comedy doesn’t feel to me to be evidence of a healthy perspective but rather of a weirdly over-developed ability to compartmentalize.” Wow, that’s a lot of judgment about people who go to the movies. Because, you see, anybody that has ever enjoyed a film has “a weirdly over-developed ability to compartmentalize.”
Compartmentalization is what we do when we go to the movies, except we call it “suspension of disbelief.” Unless you feel like Robert Downey, Jr. actually is Iron Man, then guess what? You’ve compartmentalized. It means you have the ability to believe that what is actually happening on the screen doesn’t necessarily correspond to what is happening in real life, that you can believe that an actor is the character he is playing rather than the actor himself. Just because one particular actor might have done some despicable and disgusting things in their private life doesn’t mean that the character they are playing is influenced by those actions. And if you are influenced by those actions, then that doesn’t make you a more caring, sensitive person, it means that you are unable to suspend disbelief with one such person. But I find that to be strange because if you can’t believe that Mel Gibson is anything other than the racist pig that he (probably) is, then how can you believe that Brad Pitt is anything other than the (fill in the Brangelina reference here) or that George Clooney is anything other than the (insert womanizing liberal reference here), etc. etc.
I have my opinions about Mel Gibson as a person, but I also have my opinions about his talents as an actor and they do not inform one another. I’m not saying I have the correct view, but I do think that Mark Harris is wrong in saying that my ability to compartmentalize is “weirdly over-developed.” Like I said, we all do it every time we go to the movies.