Frank Marshall, best known for producing some of cinema’s most memorable franchises such as “Indiana Jones” and “Back to the Future,” hasn’t slowed down by any means over the course of his 40-year career. This year alone, he has produced/executive produced five feature films, including “Sully,” “The BFG” and “The Girl on the Train.”
Marshall, 70, also produced the fifth installment of the Jason Bourne franchise, “Jason Bourne.” The film reunites actor Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass after the two took a break from the fourth film, “The Bourne Legacy.” “Jason Bourne” was released on DVD/Blu-ray Dec. 6.
During an interview with Marshall a couple weeks ago, we talked about how much longer he thinks the “Bourne” franchise can go, what it was like to destroy 170 cars during a pivot action scene in the film, and how he feels as a producer spending over $100 million to make a movie. We also discussed the release of “The Other Side of the Wind,” an unfinished Orson Wells film from the 70s that Marshall helped complete.
What makes someone like Matt Damon such an interesting action star in comparison to some of the more conventional types like Dwayne Johnson or Jason Statham?
Well, I think he’s empathetic. The reason he’s so good as a spy is because he looks like your college roommate. People identify with his dilemma and try to put themselves in his shoes and say, “How would I feel if I woke up and had two bullet holes in my back and I could do all these things but didn’t know my name.” It’s an interesting dilemma to be in. I think people are fascinated about where he’s going to go.
Back in 2002 when this franchise first started, did you have any idea that it could go on for this long?
No, I really didn’t. It was hard enough to make the first movie. We did know there were two more titles. As you know, we took the basic premise of “The Bourne Identity” and created our own story. We just took the titles from the next two stories and took Jason Bourne on our own journey. I thought if we could do that, we could certainly go on after that. But I wasn’t thinking like that in 2002. It was hard enough to get that first movie finished.
Could you see Jason Bourne going the way of the James Bond character and having a different actor portray him ever 10-12 years?
No, I don’t think so because one of the things we use in the movies are flashbacks. I think it would be very odd for a different person to flashback and be with Marie (Franka Potente’s character), for example, or with Nicky (Julia Stiles’ character). I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think if there is anything, we would stay in the world like we did with “The Bourne Legacy” and have another agent in that world.
So, how long do you think this franchise can go?
Well, it’s all about the story. It took us a while to figure out this last one, so hopefully we’ll crack it for the next one. On these, we’re going one story at a time.
Were you on set for the Las Vegas car chase scene and, if you were, as a producer, what’s going on in your head as you see 170 cars get totaled?
Oh, yeah. (Laughs) I just thought about how cool it was. I love being on the set. I love doing things for real. I think it’s one of the best parts of the “Bourne” movies. They’re gritty and real and not CG. For almost 10 days we were shooting 24 hours a day. The first unit would go from 7am to 7pm and then we would switch out to the second unit on the strip from 7pm to 7am. It was pretty exciting all the time. It was a lot of planning. Las Vegas officials were very generous and their hospitality was great. They were flexible, so we were able to do a lot of things when we ran into a problem.
It doesn’t sound like you’re the type of producer who is asking, “Why are we blowing up 170 cars? Can’t we get the same effect with 160?”
(Laughs) Well, yeah, it is my job to do that, but if we’ve budgeted for 170 we should have 170! I also have to look at my stunt coordinators and the second-unit director and [director] Paul Greengrass and say, “OK, where is the high point of this chase? That’s where we’ll spend the money.” It’s all a coordinated effort.
On that note, when compared to other “Bourne” movies, “Jason Bourne” was less expensive to make. How were you able to accomplish that and still make the movie you wanted?
I think we’re very familiar with another element that makes the “Bourne” movies special, which is going to these real places. We’ve got that down. We’ve got travel down. We’re a really efficient group now when we go out and shoot. I do think that’s how we’ve been able to keep the cost of the last couple of movies the same.
Twenty years ago, it was insane to think about spending $100 million to make a movie. Now, if you’re making a blockbuster, it’s basically a given that you’ll spend at least that much. Does it worry you as a producer that spending can get out of hand sometimes?
You’re right, it is insane. If you told me 20 years ago that I’d be making movies that cost more than $100 million I would’ve laughed at you. It is the world we live in now where these movies have to top each other. The costs are going up and up and up. When you’re trying to deliver “bigger and better,” the way to do that is spend more money. My challenge that I relish is not doing that and trying to figure out a way not to have the movie be more expensive. I like that challenge.
You’ve been in this business for 40 years and have produced dozens of movies. Is it still as fun now as it was in the 70s and 80s?
Certainly things have changed a lot. I mean, when I look back on the movies that I made in the 70s and 80s, there were less names on the poster. We all got to be a part of a very small unit. Now, the credits go on for 10 minutes at the end of a movie. So, I do miss that. It was a lot more like an intimate family experience. I wouldn’t say I’m burnt out on [my job]. I still love what I do. It’s not work for me. I like entertaining the audience. The most satisfying moment for me is when I’m sitting there with an audience for the first time and we’re telling them a story they respond to.
In these last 40 years, I’m sure you’ve made a lot of relationships. With that said, can you say no to someone like director Steven Spielberg? I mean, you’ve made around 10 films with him, so if he came to you with a pitch and you didn’t like it, would you tell him?
I think we have enough respect for each other that it’s OK to say no. In order to work on a movie now, I have to be really inspired by it. Making movies is hard. I want to be spending my time on a story that I’m really attached to and with filmmakers I’d like to work with. Certainly, I like working with Steven. If he came to me with a movie that I like, I would do it. And if I didn’t, I certainly would say, “Eh, I don’t know if I want to go down that road at this point in my career.” I do have a lot of great friends in the business and I, unfortunately, have to turn some of them down because I’m busy. I’d like to be there all the time. I’m hands on and like to be on the set. Also, I might have something already in production. That’s part of the problem, too.
Can you give me an update on Orsen Wells’ “The Other Side of the Wind?” When will the masses get a chance to see the completed film?
Well, I’m hoping very soon. I’m hoping we’ll have something to show everybody next year.
Why did you want to bring this film back to life? There have been plenty of films in the past left unfinished. Why save this particular one?
For me, it’s because I worked on it and I was there. It’s the last movie Orsen directed, so just for film history I think we should finish it and make it available for the world to see.
You are, of course, known for producing some major blockbusters like the “Indiana Jones” and “Back to the Future” franchises. Is there something on a smaller scale that you would point audiences to that you produced that you are particularly proud of that they might’ve missed?
A movie I was a part of that I think is a wonderful, small, independent movie is called “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” I would also point to a movie we made with Steven called “Empire of the Sun.” It’s not a small movie, but a lot people didn’t see it. We made it back in the 80s and it stars Christian Bale. It’s a wonderful story. What I’m most proud of about that movie is that it’s way before CG, so all of the action in it is real—real planes and real explosions. It’s pretty cool.
In “Moonlight,” actor Trevante Rhodes plays Chiron (AKA Black), a gay drug dealer living in Atlanta who reconnects with someone from his childhood past. This is the third “chapter” of the film, which is directed by Barry Jenkins (“Medicine for Melancholy”). The first two chapters follow Chiron during his child and teenage years as he begins to question his sexual identity and survive an emotionally abusive life with his drug-addicted mother.
During an interview with me last week, Rhodes, 26, talked about how he hopes audiences see “Moonlight” as more than just a great LGBT film, and explains what he would tell close-minded people who today still do not accept the LGBT lifestyle.
What was it about the script for “Moonlight” that spoke to you?
Honestly, the script was the best thing I had ever read. I had never seen a narrative like this put to the screen. I had never seen black people or gay people portrayed this way. When you see a gay man [in a film], he is basically just flamboyant and that’s his contribution to the film. When you see a black person, they’re typical a gangster or a cop and that’s their contribution. I like that we’re able to show that we’re all multifaceted individuals.
Do you feel there is enough opportunity for you as a black actor in Hollywood?
I think we’re getting to a better place with movies like “Moonlight.” The last four directors that I’ve worked with have been black men. Obviously, we’re getting to a position where it’s relatively equal. At the same time, no. The answer is yeah and no. Most of what you see is predominately white. But we’re getting to a place where Asians and Hispanics are leads in shows. We’re getting to a place of cohesion. It’s not great, but we’re on our way.
Would you consider “Moonlight” the highlight of your career thus far?
I’m a little over three years in [the industry] and I’ve always been blessed with opportunities for whatever reason. I’ve been trying my best to maximize those opportunities. “Moonlight” has been the best of those opportunities. People are seeing my work.
Do you hope a film like “Moonlight” puts more LGBT films in the mainstream and gets them out of a niche genre category?
Absolutely. Again, I think we’re getting to a place where we have more [gay] characters. I want a film like “Moonlight” looked at not just as an LGBT film. I want people to see it as a film about human life and have these characters be at the forefront. I think “Moonlight” is something that is going to help push that envelope forward. It’s a phenomenal thing. Whenever you don’t see yourself on television, you feel like you’re underrepresented or nonexistent. The fact that we’re getting to a place where everybody in the world is being represented in a positive light is great.
How does it feel starring in what is easily one of the most critically-acclaimed films of the year?
It’s incredible. It’s the best sensation I’ve ever felt in my life. I put my heart into everything I do, so to have this incredible reception from everyone is validating. It’s how I feel about humanity. I’m very hopeful we’ll all get to a certain place where we all understand that love is the most important thing. The fact that people are receiving the film shows we are thirsty for that understanding as a collective. I’m super exciting about that and all the buzz [the film] is getting because that will prompt more people to go out and see the film. There might be a hesitancy for people to go see the film for whatever reason, but those are the people who need to see the film the most.
What do you say to those people who refuse to accept same-sex couples?
I say go see the film and love yourself. Listen, if you go see the film, you’ll understand that we’re all the same regardless of sexual orientation, race or gender. We are literally all the same and looking for the same thing—love and connection and understanding. Until they understand that, I would ask, “What is your contribution to the world?”
I was really disappointed back in 2005 when “Brokeback Mountain” didn’t win the Oscar for Best Picture that year. Some people said it was because the Academy wasn’t ready for a film like that. What do you think about that idea that Hollywood just wasn’t ready to fully embrace a film about two gay men? Do you think they are now?
I would assume so. I would hope Hollywood is ready now. It seems to me that the world is ready. The industry is a reflection of the world or it should be when it’s at its best. I’m hopeful that the industry is ready now.
Talk to me about the two young men who play your character earlier in his life. What did they bring to Chiron during their sections of the film?
I thought the casting was incredible because it’s such a fluid transition [between chapters]. Alex Hibbert and Ashton Sanders are just incredible actors. It was an insane thing to watch the film for the first time and see this transition between all three of us. I really felt invested. I felt like it was a reincarnation of my life, especially little Alex. He looked so much like me. We didn’t have the opportunity to meet each other until later. It was a very unique process. I wanted to find some kind of semblance of what the younger versions of the character were doing to form that cohesiveness, but [Director] Barry [Jenkins] didn’t want us to focus on that. He was really adamant about not allowing us to mimic.
Are you ready to take on the responsibility that might come with starring in a film about a gay man? Are you ready to talk about LGBT issues and rights and other subjects people might want to ask you about?
That’s part of the luxury of being able to put people on a platform and shine a light on certain things. That’s part of why you do the job. You want to contribute to progressing humanity in the best way. Whatever way I can do that, I will. I am 1,000 percent ready for it.
When it comes to superheroes on the small screen, they don’t get much bigger than Netflix’s “Daredevil.” Leading the way as the show’s title character is British actor Charlie Cox, 33, one of the celebrity guests who will be in attendance at the 2016 Alamo City Comic Con this weekend to meet fans, sign autographs, take photos and participate in a Q&A panel.
During our own Q&A with Cox last week on the phone, I talked to him about his newfound appreciation for comic books, the limited stunt work he’s been allowed to do on the show and what he’s looking forward to when he reprises his Daredevil role on the upcoming Netflix superhero series “The Defenders.”
We’re around the same age and like you I didn’t grow up reading comic books. Do you think we missed out on a major part of our childhood because we weren’t exposed to comics?
(Laughs) I actually do, man. Since I got the role, I started reading a lot of comics for research purposes. But when we’re not shooting and I have a few months off, I find myself constantly going back to the unlimited Marvel account I’ve been given and reading lots of comics and catching up. I do feel like I missed out on something a little bit. There is a great culture and community of comic-book readers who enjoy what I’m enjoying now when they were kids.
See, you actually had a really good reason to pick up comic books as an adult.
You know, it’s a bit like a really good HBO or Netflix series. If you read one, you’re not going to be hooked. It’s a slow burn. You have to remember, when comic books [initially] came out, they came out every month. You really had to wait. Often a story is 6-10 issues long. That’s like half a year or a year of your life that you’re waiting for this story to unfold. That’s a huge amount of investment. I don’t think one can quite appreciate what that’s like until you’ve really given it a good run for its money.
So, if it wasn’t comic books, what’s the nerdiest thing you did as a kid?
You know, I don’t know if nerdy is the right word. I was a big sports fan. I was a huge soccer and rugby fan. I’d do anything to play sports. That’s all I was thinking about. That was kind of my great passion. It still is. On a Saturday or Sunday morning, I’ll always be in front of the TV watching my soccer teams playing.
Do you play, too?
I don’t get to play a lot of organized sports anymore mainly because it would be too risky with the filming schedule. I’m not sure my bosses would be very happy if I got injured playing soccer on a Sunday evening.
On that note, I know you have a stunt double that works on “Daredevil” with you. Is it your call when you want to step in to do your own stunts or is someone else making those decisions for you?
(Laughs) No, I wish. If it was up to me, I’d be long gone. (Laughs) There’s a lot of things I’ve asked to do and they look at me like I’m insane. I’m just not physically capable.
Can you share an example?
There was a scene in Season 1 where my character has to run and almost jump over a car. I managed to convince them this one time that I was going to be able to do it. I do think of myself as quite athletic. But there is a difference between being athletic and someone who is trained in this stuff and has been doing it for years and years. So, they gave me a go and I ran and jumped and slipped and cracked my head. I wasn’t badly hurt, but after that they were like, “No way.” There was also a scene in Season 1 where my character gets thrown through a coffee table. When that happens, they build these coffee tables out of balsa wood so they disintegrate quite quickly. But they’re quite expensive to make, so we only had three of them. They can’t really risk me doing it because if I do it wrong, [a table] is wasted. So, they did it with my stunt double. But there was this one occasion where he did it perfectly in the first take. They had two more of these coffee tables, so they let me have a go. That was one of the big stunts I was able to do. They threw me through this coffee table and it exploded. It was fun.
I read that you didn’t know much about the character before you started shooting the series and didn’t even know the character was blind. How did you find out?
Yeah, it was a bit confusing. I was going through the audition process at the beginning of this whole journey and there was obviously a lot of secrecy around this character and the show. They weren’t revealing to everyone that they were making it. There were a lot of code names involved. They told me they believed it was a Marvel superhero and that it was Daredevil. A friend of mine told me he read Daredevil comics when they were growing up and that they were pretty sure he was blind. I thought, “Nah, I think they would’ve told me if that was true.” So, I emailed to find out and they were like, “Yeah, he’s blind.” I had to very quickly figure out how I was going to do that for the purposes of the audition.
I’m assuming the skill it takes to play someone who is blind just from a technical standpoint wouldn’t be something that comes natural. Was that one of the more challenging aspects of the character?
Yeah, but once I got the part I had a lot of time to play around with that. I worked very closely with a gentleman who has been legally blind for a number of years. So, yes, that took a lot of studying. I think it was something that was important to get right for it to feel authentic. I spent a lot of time working on that.
In a past interview, you said, “I don’t feel like I’m famous.” How do you think being famous is supposed to feel?
Yeah, good question. I don’t know really. I think when you’re growing up and you think of someone who is famous, you think of someone who, every time they leave their apartment, there’s paparazzi and people screaming and lots of camouflage and sunglasses and all that sort of stuff. That’s not my experience. I’m just not that famous. People occasionally say hello to me on the street and say they like the show or they recognize me and say, “Hi, Daredevil.” But it’s not intrusive. It’s actually nice and quite friendly. It doesn’t actually affect my life.
I’m guessing you probably feel a bit more famous, though, when you attend comic cons, yes? I mean, you have thousands of fans who are invested in the genre you work in who are going to be there.
Yes, that is a good point. When I go to [comic con] events, that’s probably what it feels like to be George Clooney every day. (Laughs) It’s an event where people know you’re going to be there and they probably watch your show because it’s a genre piece and conventions are for lovers of genre television. You’re instantly more recognizable. I said to a friend of mine the other day, normally the people who tell me they love the show are my friends and family who have to tell me that because they’re my friends and family. When I go to these comic con conventions, we get to hear the fans say they really do love the show. That’s immensely gratifying because we care so much about it. We want it to be good. We want people who love the character to be pleased. It’s lovely to hear.
Is there anything specific you’ve learned about the audiences that go to conventions?
They’re passionate. They’re a passionate crowd, for sure. I feel for the most part that the show has been very popular and has been very well-received by the fans. So, I feel like those fans are very loyal. They watch the whole series back to back and multiple times and they’ll tweet and talk about it. That’s everything you’d hope for when you do a show. You hope that it’s going to be popular and good and that the fans are going to care.
Most people, of course, know you for your role on “Daredevil,” but if you could point them to a past project they might not have seen, what would you want them to check out?
That’s a good question. I had a really good time on “Boardwalk Empire.” That was a really fun character for me to play. It was different. You know, I did a film in 2006-2007 that hasn’t been seen by many people, but actually is a really sweet film. It’s a genre piece called Stardust. I think a lot of people who do end up seeing it really appreciate it.
Congratulations on becoming a new father. I’m not sure if you had a boy or a girl, but have you found the newborn Daredevil or Elektra costume he or she will be wearing for Halloween?
(Laughs) You know what! We’ve been given a few. My favorite one is one that my agent gave me. It’s a little baby onesie that says, “If you don’t believe in superheroes, you should see my dad.” That’s pretty special.
Actress Sigourney Weaver was recently cast as a villain in your new upcoming Netflix show The Defenders. Do you think she is still as badass today as she was when she played Riley in the Alien franchise?
You know, when she came on stage with us at New York Comic Con, I wanted to say, “In Hell’s Kitchen, no one hears you scream.” I don’t think it gets better than Sigourney Weaver. I think we are immensely lucky to have her. It’s a testament to shows like “Daredevil” and “Luke Cage” and “Jessica Jones.” The quality of those shows have drawn someone of her caliber, which is very exciting for us. I can’t wait to read it and have a scene with her. It’s one of the experiences I’ll probably remember for the rest of my career.
Unlike some inspiring immigration-themed dramas including “A Better Life” and “Under the Same Moon,” co-writer and director Jonás Cuarón decided he wanted to take on the issue in a much different, more instinctive way. In “Desierto,” Cuarón, son of Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuarón (“Gravity”), tells an intense story about a group of Mexican immigrants facing a life-or-death situation as they try to cross into the U.S. on foot.
During their trek, the men and women pass through the crosshairs of Sam (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a merciless, racist and unhinged vigilante who is hell bent on killing as many Mexicans as he can before they make it to the border. This includes Moises (Gael García Bernal), a father risking everything to get back to his young son in California.
Bernal and Cuarón talked to us about the message behind the film and the current immigration debate during this presidential election.
On whether films should just entertain or provide something to think about
Jonás Cuarón: It is definitely an entertaining, thrilling experience, but the reason I did it is because I’ve lived in the U.S. for the past 15 years and I’ve seen this phenomenon start with these anti-immigration laws and this rhetoric against the migrants, the foreigners, “the others.” In that sense, this film is a cautionary tale about where our society can end up if we keep promoting all this hatred.
Gael García Bernal: The main motivation was also to portray our biggest nightmare, which is the consequences of somebody pulling the trigger by validating all of the narrative that exists of fear and hatred against other people.
On making an action-thriller about immigration
JC: Partly why I wanted to engage this narrative through a genre is because I wanted to connect with an audience in a visceral way and not in an intellectual way. I wanted to do that because I feel this certain subject matter is not debatable. Right now we live in a moment where everything is being debated. There are certain actions like [Sam’s] actions in this movie — his hatred — that are just not debatable.
On how immigration is being debated this election cycle
GGB: The problem is that there’s a narrative being constructed in complete fallacies and lies, which says that migrants are bad people. That is a complete and utter invention of a fascist, racist mentality. From any community, migrants are the most good-willing [people]. They just want to get a better future, not only for them but for their people and for their community.
This is a fact. It is not a point of view of deception. It’s actually what migrants have done everywhere in the world throughout history. We all come from migrants. We know migrants are good. There is a very constructed narrative to hate foreigners and that’s something that definitely needs to change in order to tackle the important issue of migration.
On deporting 12 million undocumented Mexican immigrants back to Mexico
GGB: There’s a movie about that!
JC: Yeah, “A Day Without a Mexican.”
GGB: That’s not going to happen, of course. I don’t live in the United States, but I’m curious to ask people who live [in the U.S.], especially those from Mexican origin and background, how much change they’ve seen since all this hate speech has been taking place. I think there’s been a lot of damage that has already been done. I would like to inform myself and ask if they see a difference in how it has been for them day to day and how they’re perceived. It’s not only hate speech that is creating this but also the silence. We [have] a short-term, politics mentality that only [has] electoral motivations. What’s very sad is the fear of “the other” is the easiest way to pool votes and to put people into an action that will naturally lead to a disaster.
This interview first ran at Remezcla.com.
In “The Lennon Report,” actor David Zayas (TV’s “Dexter”) stars as Officer Joseph Medina, a police security officer working at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City in 1980 on the night singer/songwriter and former Beatles band member John Lennon is brought in after being gunned down in front of his apartment building. “The Lennon Report” tells the chaotic story inside the hospital as doctors attempt to save Lennon’s life.
During an interview with Zayas, 54, we talked about his inspiration to play Officer Medina and what he remember about the night Lennon passed away 36 years ago.
What resonated with you about the script that made you want to get involved with this project?
What I liked about it was that it was a simple story about average people getting catapulted into an enormous event. That’s what attracted me to it. I always like to see stories about how average people get put in extraordinary circumstances and how they react. That’s what I think is interesting about the movie.
Was there actually an Officer Medina on staff that night at the hospital or is the character made up?
Officer Medina is a combination of many security people. They wound it into one and [Officer Medina] is the character the came up with. It’s factual, but they wound it into one character to condense the movie.
So, since he was a combination of many people, what did you want to bring to the character specifically?
I was a New York City police officer for 15 years. So, I’ve been in many emergency rooms in many hospitals. I see how security has to deal with things. They are very confident and very blue collar. They really want to do the right thing. Sometimes circumstances could get under their skin. It’s a combination of many security people I’ve met while I was a cop going into hospitals. I tried to incorporate many different aspects of it. I think there are a lot of flaws and strength in the character I play.
You’ve played a police officer many times in your career. Do you try to make each of these characters different from one another?
I don’t take a part and say, “Oh, I’m playing a police officer.” I take a part and say, “I’m playing this person.” I try to find the life in that person regardless if they are a police officer or a hitman or a priest. I just try to find truth in each of the characters. Based on my background and the essence I bring in, I get cast as a police officer a lot, but I never look at it like that. I ask, “What kind of person is he and how can I explore this person?” That’s how I approach a character. I try to find truth in each character that can make each story interesting.
You were 18 years old when John Lennon was murdered in 1980. Do you remember that night?
Of course I remember. I remember listening to [news anchor] Bill Beutel on Eyewitness News as he reported it. I remember all the newspapers had it. It was a big event. [Lennon] was a very important figure. He was very popular and iconic. Everybody knew who John Lennon was. Even though I grew up in the South Bronx and didn’t grow up with the music, I loved his music. I was well aware of the importance of what he was doing as an activist. It was a big deal. It was an event I still remember to this day. I found it fascinating and disturbing at the same time.
Today, if someone as famous as John Lennon were to pass away, we would know in minutes…
We’d know immediately. Here’s the problem in my opinion: not all the information will be factual. You have to do a little investigation to find out the truth. There’s a fine line between reporting the news to sensationalism to false and exaggerated reports to gossip. In 1980, you could trust the news you were hearing was a lot more truthful than what pops up on your phone today. The information is a lot faster today, but you have to decipher a lot of false information. I think that’s the difference in my opinion.
As a former police officer, how you feel about the unrest taking place between law enforcement and certain communities who feel police officers are targeting them, especially with the numerous stories we hear about unarmed black men being shot by cops these days?
I think a vast majority of police officers are doing a great job and doing the best they can. Then you have a small portion that don’t do the right thing. The coverage of that is much more intense in 2016. Yes, there needs to be something done about everything happening about the shooting of unarmed men of color. But I don’t think the entire police community should be vilified. I think the majority of police do a great job. Cops are human beings. You’re going to find some bad apples in every career. Unfortunately, in the police business, you have the authority to take someone’s freedom and someone’s life. You have to take that very seriously. For that, I think the screening process and training have to be much more intense. I know so many great police officers out there. It’s a very difficult and dangerous job. It not a lucrative job. You do it because you want to serve the citizens and try to do the right thing.
Oscar-nominated actor and San Antonio resident Jackie Earle Haley (“Little Children”) wants his new drama, “The Birth of a Nation,” to make an emotional impact on audiences and show them how much more healing the United States needs to do as a country. In the film, Haley, 55, plays Raymond Cobb, a member of a slave patrol who enforced discipline on black slaves in the antebellum South. “The Birth of a Nation” tells the story of Nat Turner (Nate Parker), a slave who led a rebellion in Virginia in 1831.
What did you see in the script and your role that made you want be a part of this project?
[Director/writer/producer/star] Nate [Parker] sent over the script and I thought it was full of beauty and horror. It contained a lot of humanity but also incredible inhumanness. Racism is a subject I’m really interested in. I feel we live in a country where our Constitution says we’re all created equal, but we’re not living up to that promise. The character I play is definitely one of the most unpleasant aspects in telling the story. It’s a very emotional and difficult subject to deal with.
Do you think a film like this speaks to some of the injustices we are witnessing today in any regard?
I think we can all look back 180 years and recognize the inhumanity that is part of our history. When we look back to that time and see with such clarity how wrong it was to oppress a certain group of people, I would like to think that could shed some light in our hearts in this day and age. More of us need to recognize the oppression that is taking place today in our poor neighborhoods like in Ferguson. Things like the war on drugs and privatized prisons have created such systemic racism. There is a lot of crime in these communities, but that’s a symptom. In order to cure that symptom, we need to look at the real problem, which is the lack of opportunity.
With the record rate black men are incarcerated in the U.S. prison system today, do you feel this is the new form of slavery in this country?
Absolutely. Look at some of the other countries like Switzerland and Norway where it’s all about rehabilitation. Our prison system is cruel. The Constitution says no cruel or unusual punishment, but all we’ve managed to do is make cruel usual. It’s absolutely horrible we allow all of this to take place.
Did you worry playing this type of antagonist—someone with no redeeming qualities—would forever attach you to such a hateful character? I mean, you did earn an Oscar nomination for your role as a registered sex offender in “Little Children,” but at least that character loved his mother.
Well, I play a lot of bad guys. But bad guys don’t know they’re bad guys. In “The Birth of a Nation,” I was playing a bad guy who felt he was justified in everything he was doing. He is a product of that time and of that thought process. [In “Lincoln”], I played the vice president of the Confederacy. He was convinced the white man was superior and the black man was here to be subservient.
How do you view Nat Turner’s legacy?
I think [the revolt] was heroic. It ended horribly for everyone involved, but the bottom line is that he was fighting for humanity and for people everywhere who were oppressed. I think it was an incredibly brave thing to do. He decided he was not going to live like that anymore and did something about it.
I’ve always been the type of person who can separate the art from the artist. If Mel Gibson or Woody Allen or Roman Polanski make a good film, I’m going to say it. With the controversy surrounding Nate over the last few weeks (a 1999 rape allegation recently resurfaced), do you think it’s fair if people decide they don’t want to support the film?
I think people should go check out the film. I think people should also recognize the controversy has been made into a press frenzy. The timing is really questionable, so I think people should think about that as well. I would certainly hope that people go see this film.
Your next project is the highly-anticipated film “The Dark Tower,” adapted from the Stephen King series. What can we expect?
I think these guys are doing a pretty good adaptation of the books. I haven’t read all of them, but I have definitely poked around. I really like what they’re doing with it visually. I think it’s going to be pretty cool. I’m looking forward to seeing it myself.
In his new horror/thriller “Don’t Breathe,” filmmaker Fede Alvarez tells an original story about a trio of teens who break into the home of a wealthy blind man to steal money only to find the war vet isn’t going to let them get away without a fight. Alvarez, who is originally from Uruguay, hit the mainstream conscious in 2013 with his solid remake of the 1981 “Evil Dead.” During an interview with me, Alvarez, 38, talked about the difference between the antagonist in “Don’t Breathe” and the one in his last film, and whether or not he feels there is still room in the horror and thriller genres for creativity with so many remakes in high demand.
In the remake of “Evil Dead,” you were dealing with a demonic spirit. In “Don’t Breathe,” your antagonist is a man. How do you take on this kind of character in comparison to your last?
Each of the worlds has its advantages and disadvantages. At the end of the day, the real world like the one in “Don’t Breathe” is exciting because you don’t have to do too much to make it scary. In the ghost world, there is always a part of your brain that fights the idea that we’re in a fantasy. Most of us don’t believe that actually may happen. When you see something like “Don’t Breathe,” it gets to your fears in different levels. That makes it a powerful landscape to tell a story. Also, everyone is doing something in the ghost world now, so I wanted to do something different than the trend.
As horrible as we all know humans can be, do you think it is as easy to fear a man as much as something like a demon?
It’s all about the point of view of the director and the camera and the story and the situation. It might not be scary at all if I show it the wrong way. It’s always about the art of how I tell the story. Also, this is a movie that is 50 percent horror and 50 percent thriller and maybe even a little heist movie. That makes it a little more complex. You can’t just make it about the fear factor. If you do that, you might get tired of the idea. Here, we switch from horror to thriller to heist throughout the story. That’s why I like it.
Did you find it hard in this film to make the kids likeable because their moral compass isn’t spotless? I mean, their nowhere near Stephen Lang’s character, but they’re still doing something wrong.
You have to understand why they’re doing the things they’re doing. Rocky (Jane Levy) made a promise to her sister and she’s trying to deliver on that promise. I think it’s easier to understand her and why she does what she does. It doesn’t mean you have to like her, but I think you can empathize at some level. You want characters with shady morals. Think of [Alfred] Hitchcock’s movies. Most of the characters have very shady morals—Jane Leigh stealing money at the beginning of “Psycho” and in “Vertigo” and in “Strangers on a Train,” everyone is doing bad things. I think those characters are a lot of fun.
Do you think it’s going to be harder for filmmakers like you to make the films they want in the horror/thriller genre because so many people these days are getting more and more sensitive about certain things?
We deal with that all the time. When you make any film, you try to do something that’s unique and will survive the passage of time and won’t disappear a week after it opens. I know the classic films that have accomplished that in the past usually have something that goes against society. Think about “The Exorcist” or “The Omen” or “The Shining.” All those theme and ideas brought big debate and had moments that were shocking. That’s what art should do. It should be provoking.
Do you think there is still room in the horror genre to be creative?
I definitely believe there is. It depends on how much money you spend. The more money you spend, the more restrictions you will have. What is unique about Hollywood is you can tell a story about a little town with a few characters from that town, but you’re telling that story to the whole world—from here to Japan to India to France to Uzbekistan. Movies play in those theaters, so you have to be able to tell a universal story and talk about something that anybody can understand anywhere. That’s the challenge. I always try to do something that is artistic and creative and strange and different. You can always take risks in movies. As long as you’re not spending too much money.
I thought you did a solid job with “Evil Dead,” but it seems like all Hollywood continues to want are remakes—“Poltergeist,” “Carrie,” next year we’re getting a remake of “It.” When I interviewed you in 2013, you said you’re “part of [the] group of people that bitches when they find out someone is going to remake a classic movie.” Do you still feel the same about remakes?
I think there is room for any kind of horror movies. There’s room for original movies and remakes. Most of the time [if the remake is not good], you have to blame the writers and directors and creators. They tend to try to give the studios what they believe the studios want—the movie they greenlit. [Studios want] a sure bet. Also, it’s about the audience. When [studios] make something original, nobody goes [to see it]. I remember when “Pacific Rim” came out, it was this big movie and was completely original, but then the weekend came and everyone decided to go see some Adam Sandler comedy—“Grown Ups 2.” It’s a problem with all of us. It’s about what society wants to see.
Would you do another remake?
Personally, I don’t think I would do a remake right away, but I might do one sometime. It’s really fun to refresh a story and try to bring it to an audience. If I was against remakes, that would’ve made my childhood and my teen years really boring because I wouldn’t have been able to see “The Fly” or “The Blob” or “The Thing” or “[Invasion of the] Body Snatchers.” Those great movies were remakes. When I was making “Evil Dead,” I knew a lot of my audience wasn’t going to even know it was a remake. They thought it was a new release called “Evil Dead” about these kids in a cabin. If you’re a 18 or 19 year old, [the original] “Evil Dead” is a movie that came out ages ago—before they were born and they don’t care. What are we going to be—movie fascists and demand that the audience knows it is a remake? The reality is they just want to see something that is entertaining. “It” is coming out. I’m good friends with the director [Andrés Muschietti]. Most people that see it are just going to know their seeing a movie based on a Stephen King novel and they’re going to enjoy it. I’m not a fan of the original, but some of us who know it’s a remake may bitch about that, but the reality is they won’t care if you make a good movie. I think it’s bad if you make a bad remake that damages the legacy or the original. That’s away painful to watch.
As a professional actor for the last 30 years, Gil Birmingham (“The Twilight Saga,” TV’s “House of Cards”) knows the difference between projects he considers “commercial endeavors that help you sustain your life” and those he considers art. It’s the latter he finds more fulfilling as a TV and movie star.
“There are things I really love to do as an artist,” Birmingham, 63, told me during an interview last month. “I love doing things where I can put my heart and soul into it.”
Birmingham considers his latest film, “Hell or High Water,” the kind of character-driven project that demonstrates why he has enjoyed his work as an actor for the last three decades. In the film, Birmingham plays Alberto Parker, a half-Comanche, half-Mexican Texas Ranger who teams up with his partner of 15 years (Oscar winner Jeff Bridges) to catch a pair of bank robbing brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) in West Texas. Birmingham, who was born in San Antonio where he spent the first two years of his life, likens the brothers to ordinary U.S. citizens who lost everything during the 2008 recession.
“I think [the film] has some very interesting twists, especially as it pertains to the contemporary application of the recession and how people have been struggling,” he said. “The antagonist is the banks, but I think it’s metaphoric for corporations, too.”
“Hell or High Water” marks the first time Birmingham has worked so closely with an actor of Bridges’ caliber. Because the film relies so much on the dynamic between the two veteran actors, they were given time during pre-production to create a bond that would translate to their characters’ friendship. Much of that rapport came from their real-life fondness for music.
“We spent about a week together…and that provided a great opportunity for Jeff and I to just get to know each other musically speaking,” Birmingham said. “Every day Jeff would ask me, ‘Did you bring your guitar?’ I would say, ‘Jeff, when are we going to get a chance to play? We’re doing 14-hour days!” He’d go, ‘You never know.’”
Before production on the film began, Birmingham and Bridges had logged quite a few hours playing the guitar together. More importantly, they established a camaraderie that is evident in the film, especially since they spend a majority of their time sharing the screen.
“I’ve worked with a number of A-list actors, but not to the extent that this movie provided,” Birmingham said. “It was like Jeff and I were doing a movie by ourselves. It was like filming a movie with two buddies.”
The role was also an opportunity for Birmingham to portray a Native American character in a positive light. It’s something he says he is conscious of every time he accepts a role at this point of his career.
“I feel a certain responsibility to do portrayals [of Native Americans] that are not going to be offensive,” he said. “If it’s a senseless injection of some stereotype, then it’s only perpetuating the very thing we’re trying to change.”
As a kid, actor Simon Helberg (TV’s The Big Bang Theory) didn’t need anyone to tell him he wasn’t going to make it to the NBA.
“I was afraid of the ball,” Helberg, 35, told me during a phone interview last week to talk about his new film Florence Foster Jenkins. “I realized maybe I don’t belong in the basketball world. But some people never realize. It’s a rare circumstance to be terrible at something, but somehow become very accomplished at it.”
Such is the case with the title character Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep), a New York City socialite, music advocate and amateur opera soprano, best known for building a singing career despite her lack of actual singing talent. In the film, Helberg plays Cosmé McMoon, Jenkins’ piano accompanist who spent part of his childhood and the last days of his life in San Antonio. McMoon passed away in 1980 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He is buried at Sunset Memorial Park on the city’s northeast side.
During his research to portray McMoon, Helberg said it was difficult to find information on the Mexican-Irish American composer and pianist. Instead, he decided to focus on studying “the music of New York in the 1940s” and polishing up on his classical piano skills. It was actually McMoon’s uncharacteristic interest in bodybuilding that Helberg found the most fascinating.
“I thought maybe he was gay, but didn’t know,” Helberg said. “I though maybe he just enjoyed looking at these muscle magazines and looking at these guys lift weights. For me, that was a huge indicator of his innocence. I just saw the character so clearly in my head.”
It was a character, Helberg said, who shared a special connection with Jenkins. Although McMoon knew the limits of her singing ability, he, like many others, did not express their true opinions to the tone-deaf songstress. Helberg doesn’t think it was necessary, especially since it wasn’t a “detrimental” situation for anyone.
“Ultimately, what difference does it make if she is just blissfully unaware?” Helberg said. “What does it really matter if there is a disparity between what she thinks she is projecting and what she actually is? The joy she had when she sang and the joy she brought to people was very infectious.”
Helberg admits, however, that’s not exactly how it works in Hollywood. If you’re not good at what you do, someone is bound to let you know…most of the time.
“But you pay a lot of people to tell you good things, too,” he joked.
As for working with three-time Academy Award winner and living legend Meryl Streep, Helberg points to one of his favorite scenes in the film where McMoon and Jenkins play a duet on the piano.
“I remember reading [the script] for the first time and thinking, ‘Wow, if I get this role, that will be my hand and [Meryl’s] hand on the piano,'” Helberg said. “That scene meant a lot to me because it was a very poetic and intimate moment.”
If you’re not familiar with the polarizing and darkly bizarre filmmaking prowess of director/writer Todd Solondz – or if you’re the type of person easily offended by satirical takes on serious and oftentimes deviant elements of human nature – it might be best to ease into the inner workings of the indie filmmaker’s head until you acquire the taste.
In his newest film, “Wiener-Dog,” Solondz, 56, tells a story centered on loneliness and mortality with the help of a pet dachshund and the series of owners she is adopted by during her life.
During an interview with me earlier this week, Solondz, who is also an adjunct film professor at New York University, talked to us about the inspiration behind his film, what he thinks dogs provide their owners on an emotional level, and why he feels comedy and tragedy work so well together.
“Wiener-Dog” deals with a number of complex issues like life and death and companionship and loneliness.
Why did you decide a dog would be the best way to tell this story?
Well, it started conceptually with the idea of making a dog movie. I didn’t know what that could mean, ultimately, but I was affected by the film Robert Bresson made 50 years ago called “Au hazard Balthazar” about a mule. That film gave me the confidence to pursue this with the structure of a dog going from owner to owner to owner. It was only through the process of writing it that I began to discover what this movie really was about. It’s not really about a dog. It’s about mortality and the way it shadows and hovers over each of these characters and stories.
I agree the story isn’t about the dog, specifically, but he does tie everything together. Do you think the film could’ve worked if you had chosen another animal?
It wouldn’t be the same movie. It’s not a random thing. It is a charming and very cute little animal. Of course, it also immediately made me think of Dawn Wiener (the main character in his 1995 film “Welcome to the Dollhouse”). It clicks. I think the history of pet ownership is interesting, long and peculiar. Pets are often seen as vessels for one’s hopes, allusions, dreams and so forth. We project a kind of innocence a purity onto them, such that if harm befalls a little creature like this, for many it’s more painful than if it were to befall one of our fellow human beings.
Right. So many dog owners see their pets as members of their family.
A dog certainly can be a member of a family. It functions in different ways from a human, of course. It’s hard because we’re so anthrocentric. It’s hard not
to anthropomorphize. It’s hard to see a dog in its dogness – with its own desires and needs that are so inscrutable.
Are there any dogs or pets that have had an impact on your life in some way?
I haven’t owned a pet as an adult. It’s too much responsibility, though I love dogs and it would be lovely to have one. I did grow up in a family that went through a lot of dogs. We loved having them. We just weren’t the best caretakers or the best responsible, young children. But I think, oftentimes, a child with a pet experiences its first understanding of the nature of mortality. It often comes from the experience of having a pet.
How do you think your sense of humor has evolved in the last 30 years? Do you still find the same types of things funny in your 50s as you did in your 20s?
I don’t know. I think comedy has always been married to pathos. Cruelty is also entwined as well in my work. Everything is fraught with ambiguity and ambivalence, which is why from the beginning people have looked way back at [“Welcome to the] Dollhouse” and half would laugh and say how funny it was and the other half would be angry and say, “How could you laugh? [The film] is so sad and sorrowful.” For me, it’s always been concurrent – the two impulses.
How similar is your experience teaching film at NYU to that of Danny DeVito’s character, film professor Dave Schmerz?
I suppose [teaching at NYU] made it hard not to have a satirical thrust for the setting of [his] story. I don’t think any of the characters resemble anybody I’ve come across, but I connect emotionally with DeVito, although I don’t think anyone would confuse me with him. He’s on a quest for meaning and redemption. I’m moved by his anguish and his sorrows.
As a film professor, I’m sure you get a range of students and talent that comes through your classroom. Are you the kind of professor that is truthful with his students about what they might be able to accomplish in the filmmaking industry or do you see your role as being someone who must be supportive at all times?
If you want to be supportive there has to be some dose of truthfulness. They’re not children. [The students are] from their 20s to their 40s. They’re not kids. It’s an opportunity and a privilege to go to a film school. I try to help them and guide them to discover who they are as filmmakers and discover the kinds of stories they want to tell and develop those stories that play to their strengths and define who they are. I certainly don’t encourage them to pursue anything along the lines of what I do.
It seems like people are a lot more sensitive about certain subjects these days. In the past, you’ve brought dark comedy elements to your films with topics like rape and pedophilia. Do you think when it comes to comedy, everything should be fair game? Is it harder or easier to write something controversial today than it was 20 years ago?
I don’t know if it’s easier or harder, but I think as a filmmaker, you try to explore and attack those subjects that are relevant and that speak to the underlying matters of the way in which the world operates. Things are always shifting. “Storytelling” played all over the world. I don’t have much to complain about. I’ve always taken pride that “Storytelling” is the only studio movie that has a big red box in it (Solondz stood up to the MPAA for slapping an NC-17 rating on his 2001 film “Storytelling” and was able to get the film to an R rating by placing a big red box over an explicit sexual scene without changing the actual content under the box). You don’t really see that outside of this country.
How do you think a film like Happiness would be received if it was released today?
It would be kind of impossible to make in some sense. So much has changed since then. The movie that I wrote back then, I wouldn’t write today. Things have evolved in ways that would affect the approach and form of that film. I think my movies have always have had a polarized response – people who embrace and accept them because of their compassion and humanity and the others, of course, who condemn me for the lack there of. Who’s right? It would be silly of me to try and defend myself. I can’t control the way others see my work. It’s the price I pay for playing with such delicate material. I have such divergent opinions and responses.
I’d love to see you write or direct an animated film. Other indie writers and directors like Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze, Noah Baumbach, Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry have tried it or played around with elements of it recently. Would that be a genre you might like to try someday?
Just because something could be doesn’t mean it should be. It’s possible. I thought about it once. I still like working with actors most of all. I know what I’d like to do next, and it’s not an animated movie. Anything is possible. I have toyed with the idea, but I’d have to have the right kind of material for it to make sense.
In “Love & Friendship,” an adaptation of author Jane Austen’s lesser-known epistolary novel “Lady Susan,” British actress Kate Beckinsale (“The Aviator”) stars as Lady Susan Vernon, a cunning widow and mother who takes refuge at her in-laws estate where she makes it her mission to secure a husband for both her and her reluctant young daughter.
During a satellite interview with me, Beckinsale, 42, talked about bringing this very unusual Austen character to the big screen and whether or not she feels the 18th century English novelist’s work still resonate with today’s contemporary, independent woman.
Talk to us about Lady Susan as a literary character. Why is she different than other Jane Austen’s protagonists?
She’s a very unusual character in that period of literature. She is somebody who is very self-interested, very charming, rather ruthless and very funny. In my experience of that period of literature, if you have a woman who is rather sexually liberated and a bit naughty, she usually meets a gruesome end. There’s a bit of a morality tale at the end of [“Lady Susan”], but she doesn’t [meet that end]. She gets away with everything she does.
Most of Austen’s female characters are dependent on a man his fortune to find happiness. Do you see this as a theme that still resonates with today’s modern woman?
[Lady Susan] is different in a sense that she is very pragmatic about it. Yes, in the time period it was essential for a woman to find a man who was financially stable. That’s absolutely true for Lady Susan. It’s just that I don’t think that she thinks that’s the only man she can have. She’s very clear-eyed about what each man is for in her life. I think we’ve come a pretty long way since then. I think as a woman [today], we have expectations to further our education and career and be able to marry for other reasons than not ending up in the poor house. I’m not saying we’re finished, but I think we’re definitely in a better spot with that stuff.
What was your relationship like with Jane Austen prior to shooting “Lady Susan?” Were her books introduced to you in high school like most people and, if so, did they resonate with you right away?
Yeah, I think probably in England, around 11th or 12th [grade] you start reading Jane Austen. I really like reading the books. I ended up playing Emma [Woodhouse] when I was about 20 or 21 [in the 1996 TV movie “Emma”]. I went into a deep dive in that novel (“Emma”) because I was playing her. I really liked playing her as a character. She’s another one. I think Jane Austen describes her as a character she had written that she didn’t think was very likeable, which I ended up disagreeing on. But she has a soul that can be annoying or meddling. I liked all that about Emma very much. “Lady Susan” is a sort of turbo version of that, I think.
You mentioned “Emma.” That Jane Austen novel and others like “Pride and Prejudice” have been adapted into different film versions for years. Why hasn’t the same been done with “Lady Susan” do you think?
Well, first of all, I don’t think very many people were aware of it existing. It was a novella that Jane Austen wrote around the age of 20 and then never published. It’s not really one of her best-known works. It was unfinished. I just consider it this little gem floating around that [director] Whit [Stillman] ended up finding and bringing to life. It’s wonderful. I never thought I would be able to say in my career that I was among the first to put a Jane Austen character on the screen. That seemed so completely unlikely because she has stuff adapted all the time. It feels like a really special privilege.
What did you think about Whit deciding that he would be the one to novelize the film into a new version of the story?
He was pretty faithful to [Jane Austen’s original novella]. It’s an epistolary novel, so it’s written in letter form back and forth. By the end of it, [Austen] kind of wraps it up without it being letters back and forth. He didn’t change much. He was a very good fit for Jane Austen in terms of his wit and his sense of humor and his observation of social and moral manners. I think he was the perfect person to do it.
If you, Kate Beckinsale, lived on an estate in the 19th century, how do you think you’d fare if you had to work your charm to secure a husband? Would you have them lining up in droves?
(Laughs) I have no idea! I don’t think it’s for you to say that about yourself, is it? It certainly isn’t in England. I’m glad I’m not, that’s all. I’m quite glad I went to university and got to choose.
Best known for the 1990 dramedy “Metropolitan” and 1998 dramedy “The Last Days of Disco,” filmmaker Whit Stillman reemerged onto the scene five years ago with “Damsels in Distress” after staying out of the spotlight for more than a decade. In his new film “Love & Friendship,” which is adapted from Jane Austen’s novella “Lady Susan,” Stillman, 64, reunites with “Disco” actresses Kate Beckinsale and Chole Sevigny to bring a little-known Austen story to the big screen. The narrative follows Lady Susan Vernon (Beckinsale), a scheming widow who tasks herself in securing a husband for both her and her daughter.
During an interview with Stillman, we talked about why this Austen novel feels different from her other works and how he accidentally discovered the story when he revisited one of Austen’s books he didn’t find too appealing.
What attracted you to a story like Jane Austen’s “Lady Susan?” It isn’t very well known, so what did you see in it as a storyteller?
I wanted to do this particularly because it was really funny and it allowed me to finish something she hadn’t completed all her work on. In addition to the movie, we also have a novel coming out based on the movie story as opposed to the original story.
What did you have to do as a writer to capture Jane Austen’s style and finish what she didn’t?
The film is very respectful to Jane Austen’s original story. The funny lines are genuinely her funny lines. I added some other characters [not in the original story] because there sort of had to be. Actors who were particularly funny, their parts got really big. The novel that I wrote is a further extrapolation of that. I was respectful to what I thought was funny and tried not to have too much repetition.
Is the different type of humor in “Lady Susan” what makes it stand out from Austen’s other works?
Yeah, I think it’s the humor and also the storyline. It’s kind of daring and amoral. This was influenced by the fact that she was young and didn’t have her sort of serious writer persona yet. She was having fun with it. It’s different material.
What’s the first Jane Austen novel you read?
I was 18 and I read her first novel “Northanger Abby.” I didn’t like it. Then I started reading her really good books five years later. I read everything – “Sense and Sensibility,” “Pride and Prejudice,” everything. Then I went back and read “Northanger Abby” to reevaluate it and I liked it fine. But then I found “Lady Susan” in the same edition. So, thanks to not liking “Northanger Abby” I finally discovered “Lady Susan.”
“Lady Susan” was not on my mandatory reading list in high school like “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility.” For those people who have not read the story, should they do that before going into the film?
No, definitely not. They should see the film first and then buy the novel. I think it’s a mistake to read the book first before watching the movie. A movie is a lighter affair. It’s kind of like a soufflé. If you like [the movie] and want to go deeper and profounder and spend more time with something, then read the book.
This being your first period piece, were there any concerns going into the project in anticipation to how different the genre was from the films you’ve done in the past?
I guess the biggest thing I was concerned with is if we had enough money in our budget to make it look really good. Those parts of the budget that had to be increased were increased. The costume designer said that she had such a small budget to work with, but we had actually raised it.
I’m assuming costuming is one of the most important elements of a period piece since you want it to look authentic and not cheap, right?
Yeah, costumes are super important, particularly in this type of movie. In addition to the dresses that were made by our wardrobe department, we went into some wonderful costume houses in London. To see some of the costumes from some of your favorite productions hanging there is quite fascinating.
Talk about casting Kate Beckinsale in the lead role. What did she bring to Lady Susan?
She was very good when I worked with her on “The Last Days of Disco.” Now, she’s super sharp and professional. She’s really serious. She really prepares. When she came on set, she would fire off her scenes really, really well. We shot the movie ahead of schedule, which is very unusual.
What have you learn about yourself as a director from “Metropolitan” till now? Is there something that you see in yourself today that you didn’t back then?
I was ignorant when I started “Metropolitan.” I had a book called “How to Direct a Movie” and had only gotten up to Chapter 9. So, I’ve sort of figured things out a little bit since then. I’m getting used to stuff and getting more of a formula. I think [directing] is an evenly balanced thing where you’re learning more stuff and getting more experience, but you’re also probably picking up bad habits. What I have learned is that you have to have self-confidence. If someone comes to you with an idea that you don’t think is good, generally, you should stick to your guns. If it looks like a problem on set, it’s going to be an even bigger problem in the editing room.
How many chapters did that book have, out of curiosity?
I think it must’ve had about 18 chapters, so there you go. I’m only halfway through.