'THE INTERPRETER' INTERVIEWS
the Universal backlot in the plush confines of the Hitchcock dubbing
stage, Sydney Pollack is in the final stages of putting together his
latest movie, The Interpreter. This
political thriller starring Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman marks a return to
the genre for the first time since The Firm
in 1993. Having shot his new film on location around New York and in the
United Nations itself (the first film ever to do so), it has been another
huge scale project for the tireless director and Pollack looks weary but
satisfied. Heís on the home straight, but is willing to recall the highs
and lows of a 40-year career.
you feeling at this stage of the process?
is kind of a nervous stage, because I am still trying to settle on a
precise final shape of the film. Iíve done three or four previews and it
slightly changes each time, trying to gauge the reactions each time, see
what is getting better and what is not getting better and there are
certain things that I personally like a lot that arenít working so well
with the audience.
that frustrating Ė going against your own instincts?
have to seriously think about cutting things that I love and that always
makes me nervous because I donít know whether I am doing the right thing
or not. I understand the criticism often, but there are certain things
that I am just a sucker for, that work for me that arenít working for
audiences in some way. So I have made certain changes that I am not one
hundred per cent sure of yet. Iíve got another screening at four oíclock
this afternoon. Weíve invited some people that have never seen it so I
can get a fresh look. This is a picture, which had a lot of difficulty in
the completion of because we did not start with a finished script. As a
result of that, the picture was always developing and no one knew
precisely, including me, where the ending was. I had an ending in mind
that I was going toward but I didnít have a script that got me there. When
we started, I started with a pretty good script that wasnít the story I
wanted to tell. When we lost that plot it left a great big vacuum. I
wanted to keep the UN because I loved the UN, I wanted to keep the essence
of the characters but I wasnít happy with the story because it contained a
trick, which was that the lead character had created a lie which the whole
plot was based on. So when you got to the end everything was a lieÖ
It has been a bit over done recentlyÖ
just didnít want to do that. So, I didnít realise that it was going to be
a lot more difficult than I thought, so once I threw that out I tried to
create the truth of a real threat it became extremely difficult and, as a
result, I was writing and working, writing and working all the time trying
to get to this particular end. The end that I wanted is asking the
audience to buy a lot. About half of them are buying it and half of them
arenít buying it. And the half that arenít Iím afraid it is too serious a
chance to take, so I am going to change the ending to something that to me
is less emotional but more credible. I hate that.
Have there ever been occasions when youíve
said no, Iím not going to change it, and Iím going to stick to my gunsÖ
yeah, to be absolutely honest with you Iíve tested a picture in my life
until this one, Iíve been lucky. It wasnít because I refused to, it was
just that I was always so late delivering that I never had a chance. This
is the first time Iíve been through this processÖ Iíve produced a lot of
pictures that have gone through the process, like
Cold Mountain and
Ripley and all those things that I have done with Anthony.
Sliding Doors and all those
pictures. We tested all those, but as a producer. But as a director I have
never ever done focus group tests. This is the first time I have done it.
So I am trying to feel how much to listen and how much to stick with my
own gut. I really believe you should really go by consistency, weíve had
four screenings and in four screenings you find a consistent line that
people are having trouble and struggling with the ending. And enough of
them, fifty per cent of them, that is a high number for these groups.
How has it been working with Working Title
Ė does that make it in some way British?
Bevan has been great, I havenít worked that much with Eric several times.
He has come over and watched the movie when it was finished, but I didnít
get a chance to work one on one with Eric the way I did with Tim. He is a
lovely guy, he is a smart guy and I think he has really good taste and we
got on well. He was extremely patient and tolerant of my fumbling around
trying to find my story, as were writing. As far as British or American, I
donít know how you gauge that. I think of it as American, because I am
American, Sean Penn was American, all my writers were American.
What do you think Working Title have
injected into it that if it had been solely Universal it wouldnít have
think just the idea of wanting to do this particular kind of movie that
had a kind of political base on some level. It is probably broadened the
area of story; rather than pure thriller, rather than another terrific
thriller like Bourne Identity that
has just purely got thriller on its mind, I think Tim and Working Title
saw an opportunity at the UN to still make it totally a thriller but let
the UN have a real part of it, which is what really appealed to me. Which
is why I got interested in it. I think it is an incredible arena, now, to
work in. And I hope you can be every bit as thrilling without it but
thicken it up and have more resonance by dealing with it in a political
arena. And also it is something that no one has ever seen before. No one
has ever seen the inside of the UN building.
It is kind of ironic that you are editing
here on the Hitchcock stage given he was not allowed to shoot at the
itís true, I mean I almost didnít get it. I mean they said, ďWe didnít let
Hitchcock, why should we let you?Ē Of course I had no answer. I just
refused to accept a no. I just kept on talking, arguing and finally I
found somebody to get me to Kofi Anan. And I sat down with Kofi for half
an hour and tried to explain what I wanted to do. I didnít try and be a
salesman because I didnít want to do that. I didnít want to pitch
something. He thought and talked to the head of Security Council and
president of the general assembly and I got lucky. They said, ďYesĒ.
Have you found the demands on a thriller
have changed since you made Three Days of the Condor in 1975?
think so. I think they are less patient with talk. Youíve got to get the
gun out real fast or the clothes off real quick. You know, they are
interested in sensation, pure sensation. I am gambling, hoping that they
will enjoy having to think.
You have always been like that? Taking
genre pieces and refusing to comply to the rules?
I try to do
that. I donít know whether Iíll get away with it. You really have to pay
attention to this film, it is really hard to follow the plot, but I think
that makes it more fun. Now the good comments that have come from the
previews so far are that people have commented on that. People who have
liked it have said, ďYou like to thinkÖĒ Iíll think there will be younger
kids who are used to cameras swishing and zooming, there is a certain
amount of that in this because that is the genre, but it is a sort of
straightforward story where the onion gets pealed one layer at a time and
you have to remember what you heard in reel one that didnít make a click
until reel three. It is laid out with crumbs that you follow. And again, I
say, it is a gamble. I hope that will be a plus and not a minus. I think
it will be with audiences over 25, it is not a 16 to 18 year-old picture.
What are your memories of being a filmmaker
of the 70ís, was there that air of paranoia that fed into the work?
seventies were an era of political paranoia, starting in the 60s and
carrying over into the seventies. I wasnít a part of that but I was as
suspicious of everything as everyone else. I think that this picture is
also relevant today. It is not torn from the pages of the New York Times
or anything. The reputation of the UN has been on the line for a couple of
years, the American government particularly have taken a tough stance
against them. I acknowledge it as broken, and things donít work, but I
also feel the alternative is worse. You know, we have to try to fix it
rather than ban it. I have a character who is very, very strongly pro UN
and the drama is the story of a woman who gives up violence and opts for
diplomacy and then gets a horrible personal blow and gives up diplomacy
and goes back to the violence and canít quite pull the trigger. So, in the
end, the diplomacy wins, words win over guns. Now thatís the philosophy of
the movie, itís not what the movie is about. The movie is about all the
other stuff, that make it a thrill a minute so to speak, but it does have
other things on its mind.
Are you a different man from the one who
made Three Days of the Condor? Were you more politically driven back then?
No, I donít
think so. If anything probably the other way. Iím less personally
ambitious now than I was 30 years ago when I was a young man who wanted to
prove I could do it. Iíve had a long career. These days I wonít do
anything unless I am personally invested. I have no reason to do it
otherwise. I would say, if anything, now I get more challenged by the
content of a movie. I am also fascinated and challenged by the way movies
are made now Ė they are much more sensationalistic, the filming techniques
have changed, you can hardly set a camera still people will fall asleep if
you do. Finding that fine line, keeping it energetic and kinetic all the
time. That really works, it isnít an effect, it feel organic and it isnít
just a jiggling camera because everybody is jiggling the camera. Theyíve
got a lot of that now. You watch a movie these days and the camera just
wobbles because people assume it gives it more energy, sometimes it does,
sometimes it just jiggles. That bores the hell out of me.
Youíve crossed over so many genres, is that
about a refusal to be tied down?
donít want to get slotted. And also Iím curious to see if I can handle the
genre each time. When I was starting out in the 60s the big test was
Westerns, they donít do them anymore. But you didnít really have sealegs
until youíve done an outdoor picture, a Western picture, an action picture
of some kind. So did a couple of those very early on, got interested in
those and then Iíve always tried to find genre pictures and then look
around for the love story. Through the love story I find an argument. They
are all arguments in some way. Thatís what keeps me interested. I can be
both people, and I can try to argue it. I always want to argue something
that I donít know the answer to. So I can be fair with both people, donít
make one right, the other one wrong, make them both right in a certain way
and really argue as hard as you can, which is why my characters donít end
up together. They just argue!
Was it They Shoot Horses Donít They which
broke it for you?
was. It was the first time I got a certain amount of international
attention. It went to Cannes unofficially, and there were a lot of
European journalists who became aware of it then, the French particularly.
The French, I think, I donít know whether they worked backwards from that,
but they went back and started reviewing the earlier films and writing
little monographs and a couple of books, very early on. It was basically
They Shoot Horses that did that. It
is actually the son of the guy who edited that who is my editor here. Iíve
gone through two generations of editor.
Describe your working relationship with
Robert Redford, he is almost like a muse figure to youÖ
know. He was a perfect alter ego for me in a way. He was a perfect
American hero that I liked to deal with. He has a glossy exterior and a
very complicated interior. He was not at all what he looked like, like
America. He was a perfect metaphor for this country: much darker on the
inside than it looked, much more complex than he looked. Sort of perfect
lost leading man, but thatís not who he really was, but thatís not who
those characters where who he played. He could play a guy that was in some
sort of conflict, who was trying to retain some sort of individuality and
great personal expense in every case whether it was leaving civilisation
in Jeremiah Johnson or trying to
retain his own individuality in a relationship in
Out of Africa, or arguing with the
commitment of a girl like Streisand in The
Way We Were, ending up on an island with nobody in Havana. These
were all similar characters at various stages of their lives, I think he
still is a sensational actor, a much better actor than people credit him
with, they couldnít get past his looks. And we had a good personal
relationship, there was a lot of trust, he trusted me I trusted him. And
so we complimented each other, I think in a way I was able to get inside
of him after knowing him so long and get layers and colours that he wasnít
always willing to do.
You always want to fit him into something
that doesnít seem to fit the idea of Robert Redford.
Jeremiah Johnson is not a Robert Redford movie but he was great in it,
really wonderful. All the hair like horns on his head and all that. I
think he is sensational so we had this long collaboration, which was
really very good. He wasÖ.. there was something about Redford that was as close as we have to royalty. Heís aristocratic as opposed to
the proletariat of the Pacino, De Niro kind of everyman.
Redford has an elegance and a aristocracy about him and so that
made him really interesting. He was great with the women.
It was always alongside strong women as
Streisand was tough but he could hold his own with her. They need tough
people. Barbara when sheís with a leading man who isnít tough just rolls
over him, she couldnít with Redford. It was a good clash. It was a contest you watched with
real interest, you could not see the outcome beforehand.
You are known as a very
Hollywood person, but the reality is you are much more individual than
Yeah, I do work within the
Hollywood system but I am not absolutely a carbon copy of how it works. Sometimes
so much so that they donít know what to do with my films.
Jeremiah Johnson, they couldnít release it. They tried to release it then they pulled it
and sat for three months and scratched their heads and tried it on a
limited basis. And it did so well on a limited basis they ended up
releasing it again and it made a ton of money. It wasnít a Western, they
didnít know how to sell it, what the hell is a ďmountain manĒ? They didnít
quite know, Iím having the same trouble with this one, Iím fighting like
hell with the studio. This studioís advertising this like itís the
Bourne Identity. But you are going to walk in, itís got all this stuff, things are
blowing up, the requisite things, but its also got five-six minute
dialogue scenes. Head to head, Sean Penn and Nicole are really arguing
about life about the world, about trust, about the UN. So itís not a
typical. No, Iíve always been thought of as a stereotypical
Hollywood big glossy
director, big budget man. It depends certain countries of
Europe take me a little differently: the French do, the
Germans, the Italians, the Spanish, they look a little deeper and say,
ďThis isnít quite that, this is something elseĒ. And I do get requests all
the time to host the independent film awards, I was one of the founders of
Redford. A lot of the films I have produced have been little films, I was
a producer on Iris, I worked with Richard Eyre. I raised the money myself
on Sliding Doors,
Peter Howittís film.
It seems you are very good to us Brits.
Itís true, yeah, well I do. Richard Eyre,
Anthony of course, and Iíve worked with David Hare, I have a penchant and
a love for British stuff, British films, I love European films. Itís
really what gave the bloody to the Americans, you know, in the 1950s and
60s, the New Wave revitalised our cinema. And I was just beginning to want
to direct. I didnít know I was going to be a director. I loved the
Woodfall films, as soon as you heard that theme and you knew it was going
to be a Woodfall filmÖ
Letís talk about the
two films you are most remembered for: Tootsie and Out of Africa?
What happened on
I certainly wasnít known for comedy, the producer I had at that time was a
huge fan. I had done two pictures with him,
Absence of Malice
He kept insisting that I do this and I kept turning him down and he kept
insisting. My fear was that a) I wasnít a really knowledgeable comedy
director in the way that Blake Edwards was and it was a one-joke movie.
Which it wasnít, but I knew you couldnít just put a guy in a dress unless
it was about something. That was where the crunch happened, I kept saying,
ďItís not about anything. Itís about sight gags. Itís about a guy in a
brassiere.Ē That stops being funny after a while. So they convinced me to
just go to work on it for a short to see if I could make anything of it. I
finally said, ďIf this could really be about a guy who truly learns to
become a better man for having pretended to be a woman we would have a
spine, something to make it about.Ē And I worked very closely with Larry
Gelbart and then Elaine May and, I donít know, that thing gets so credited
for being a perfect screenplay when it was actually a quilt there were a
lot of pieces and I had a tough time putting them together. But it turned
out very very well, it turned out that the structure of it is now moving
away from what it was where I couldnít see what it was when I was doing
it. I was desperate at the time but it has a really lovely structure. It
is a comedy, it follows a classical farcical structure, where everything
accelerates and all these points start moving toward each other and all
jumble up and hit in the third act. Like the old farces where everybody
went back to the castle and snuck into everyone elseís room. It was
basically that, on the same day that he is told that he is going to be
seven more years doing this he canít stop confessing his love to the girl,
her father proposes to him and the head guy of the soap opera falls in
love with him, itís all happening on the same day. It is very satisfying
and fun to watch. On the completely other end of the spectrum was
Out of Africa.
Did you know while you were making it that
it was something special?
No, I have never been
able to know which way it is going to fall. I just havenít. it is
something you can tell. I do the same thing on the flops that I do on the
hits, I stop and scratch my head and try to figure out why one film does
thatÖ I was shocked at the success of both
and Out of
Africa. I was
petrified no one would believe in this woman, I didnít know we were going
to get away with this at all.
Out of Africa was really worriedÖ
Out of Africa
came out in 1985 and that is when the big grossing pictures were
Back to the Future,
with a big youth market. I had two older actors, I had no story, I had a
three hour movie in which she goes to Africa, her coffee plantation burns
down and she leaves. You know, the Indians donít attack her, thereís not a
killer looseÖ the work that we did with the writer was always about
narrative, where was the narrative? Iíve got a lot of mood and a lot of
trees and lions and shit. How much scenery can you photograph? I had Meryl
Streep and I had a screenplay that was a lovely, lovely story. Itís
literature, heís an amazing writer Kurt Luedtke, I donít know what the
impulses were from my point of view, again they are completely different
genres, contemporary New York comedy about theatre actors and then this
kind of old-fashioned epic romance. But I think of Out of Africa as closer
to the movies that I grew up loving, they did more of those then, they
donít make so many now. They are considered rather old-fashioned. Thatís
why I loved The
so much, it was of that kind. There was something wonderful about being
transported, where you go on a journey. That is not what is happening
today, what is happening today is very contemporary, you know, young
people, what they are going through, RIGHT NOW. itís not a journey.
Letís talk about your love of acting,
particularly Husbands and Wives and working with Stanley Kubrick on Eyes
me tell you the truth of this is I gave it up and was thrilled to give it
up. I didnít go near it for 22 years until
And what happened in
was a huge fight with Dustin. It is no secret that Dustin and I were
fighting at the time, I have enormous respect for him, heís a terrific
actor, but we argued about content. We never argued about acting. He came
to me one day, and I had cast Dabney Coleman to play the part that I
played. Dustin said to me, ďWhere are the machine guns in this movie?Ē I
said, ďWhat are you talking about?Ē ďThe machine guns in Some Like it HotĒ
The reason those guys put on the clothes is they are going to die by the
machine guns. We donít have any machine guns. Well I said, ďYou are pushed
up against a wall and told by your agent that you are never going to work
againÖĒ and he said, ďWell, if Dabney Coleman tells me, I am not going to
put on a dress,Ē I fought with him and said, ďCome on, youíre an actorĒ.
Well he said, ďActing is hard enough, why make up what you donít have to
make upÖ: and he literally said to me, ďIf you told me I was never going
to work again, maybe I would put on the dress.Ē And he started campaigning
for me to play this part. I canít tell you how much I did not want to do
it, I was worried about the picture, I was worried about handling Dustin.
I didnít want to have to stop and learn lines. I didnít want to have to
put make-up on, I canít stand putting make-up on. I didnít want to have
costume fittings, I didnít have time. I just didnít want to do it. But he
went after me in the most intense way, until I was told by my agent who is
his agent, you are going to have to do this if you want to pacify him.
Otherwise he is going to get furious. So I went ahead and did it. I hated
every minute of it. I did it, I got done with it. Then the next thing I
knew I got called by Woody Allen to do Husbands and Wives. And, I read
Husbands and Wives and I thought it was such a great script that I did it.
I was playing an asshole but it was a great script full of witty,
truthful, perceptive dialogue. I think it is one of his best screenplays.
So I said, ďHow long will it take?Ē he doesnít take long, he makes
pictures very inexpensively, he doesnít make much money on them. I thought
I could learn something watching Woody Allen direct. I did as much because
directors donít very often get to see other directors work, they never do.
Actors get to see directors, directors donít like other directors on their
set so you donít get to see it and here was Woody Allen. So I did that.
Then I got a call from Altman who wanted me to do a small part in The
Player. Altman is a good friend and I am a big booster of his, I admire
the way he has remained independent outside of the system. And then I got
a call from Zemeckis and did a piece because it was with Meryl Streep and
she called me and I said okay. And then KubrickÖ Now twice Iíve been in my
own films and both times, I have to tell you, have been to save money. The
part that I play here is a stupid part, itís nothing, but it has to be
there and it is spread over five months. It would have cost an inordinate
amount to hire an actor to be available for five months because it was the
only part that could work as cover set when you didnít now. I tried to get
Alan Arkin, I tried to get Alec Baldwin, I tried to get a handful of
people, they were going to cost a bloody fortune and finally Tim said,
ďWhy donít you do it? Itíll save a load of money.Ē So I ended up doing it.
Now itís not fun, itís not much of a part, itís just a guy to Sean. It is
not a part like
Stanleyís part. So it isnít that I love the acting, it is when a
terrific director like Roger Michell in
Changing Lanes, it was an okay role but I liked Roger. I learn something
every time I work with someone, I rehearsed with Roger I listed to him I
watched the way he worked, watched the way he used the camera. The same
watched him, spent a lot of time with him.
Are the myths surrounding Kubrick true?
We were there, Tom Cruise and Nicole were there for
fourteen months. I was told two weeks, it became two months. I wasnít
there for two months in a row, I was there for two weeks and then went
away for six weeks. I have to tell you honestly I never did a lot of takes
with him, because I just said to him after take twelve or thirteen, ďStanley
this is all there is, I am not a professional actor, you got what you
got.Ē But with Tom, we would do regularly fifty to sixty takes. I donít
think we ever hit a hundred but we did up to seventy. And I couldnít stand
it, I couldnít believe it. But he has a method where you got so fatigued
after a while that something else started to happen. Most people havenít
got the time for that, but he could, he was a very good producer and he
could shoot for fourteen months with the same money that most of us could
shoot for four months. Thatís how he made that picture for something like
$65 million dollars. Most of us would have spent half the money on movie
Talking of Tom Cruise, The Firm was an
enormous thing Ė this huge book, the huge star Ė were you wary of it at
I wasnít wary of Tom, but I was wary of
that book. I had a lot of trouble, I read the book, I could understand why
everybody liked it but if you broke it down to its structure, I was
petrified that as a private experience it works, as a public experience
the holes were going to show. For example, why didnít he just leave? I
kept saying, what the hell is he going to work everyday for? You see it on
the screen, there is a different reality that is going to happen. You
going to say, wait a minute, wait minute. When you are reading it it is a
different experience, it is just you and the book and there were all these
things that kept coming up. I thought, goddamit, everybody in the world
has read this book, everybody in the world loves this book. If I change
it, and Iím going to have to, they are going to kill me. And I changed it
radically, I change the whole end of the movie, it doesnít end at all the
way the bookends. I changed the wife into a real part of the plot, she
didnít have any part of the plot in the book. There was no love story, I
tried to make a love story between he and his wife where they broke up and
got back together again. I tried to create a whole character with Gene
Hackman, who hardly existed in the book. And the two villains never showed
up in the book, the Moralto brothers. We had to write a whole
confrontation scene for Tom and we had Tom leave exactly the way he
arrived hauling all his things in a U-Haul truck, instead of lying and
stealing and beating the FBI and everybody and being condemned to be on a
boat with millions of dollars but could never land anywhere because
everybody was after him. It took me a year almost to write the screenplay,
I went through a lot of writers and ended up with Robert Towne, we slogged
through it and beat the shit out of each other every day and finally got a
completely different screenplay. And I was petrified that I was going to
get ripped apart with changing it, but quite the reverse happened. Critics
here, Kenneth Turan and Tom Brokaw on television said the whole book has
been ďre-jiggeredĒ for the better. It did $350 million dollars around the
world, that is a whole lot of money and at two hours and forty minutes.
It was certainly a long movieÖ
Jesus, that was the dumbest thing I ever
did, but I didnít have time to cut it. But it was in the theatres twelve
weeks after I said cut. I kept saying, ďItís too long, I canít cut it
down.Ē Never mind time to test it, I didnít have time to screen it. A
summer action picture that is opening on July 4th weekend that
is over two hours long, that is suicide. They set a date, it was doneÖ
Do you ever go back and reconsider movies
when they donít seem to work?
Sure, sure, and
sometimes you get it and sometimes you donít. I mean I think I get it with
I donít get it with
You know what I mean, I can look at
and see the grimness and the one-note that I kept Harrison in for so long
and the fact that you didnít really want these two people to necessarily
be together. I can see certain things there, but
I have more troubles with. I feel
is a picture I would have liked if I saw it and somebody else did it. Itís
a movie I just sort of like, but I go back on
too. Maybe the love story doesnít work, you didnít feel the chemistry
between Redford and Olin, nobody cared about the politics. I go back, it
doesnít do much good, because I would make the same mistakes again, I hate
to confess but I probably would, if I didnít know that Havana wasnít going
to work and I was doing it today, I might to the same damn thing. So I
donít know how much good it does you. From the outside you look at a
director and you say, ďWhen that director is doing that kind material it
really works, but when that director does that kind of material it doesnít
work.Ē What I always hope about myself is that Iíll know that, but I donít
know what it is. I know I do love stories, I also love some sense of
comedy. But I donít know where exactly I go wrong, when I go wrong, I
donít know if there is a common ground between
and letís say
which didnít do so well. is there something that those three pictures have
in common, a blind spot that I have? I try to think, but I canít come up
with something, except there is something more similar between
dullness. Itís Pacino playing against type, Pacino who is a fiery intense
man playing a boring guy. Itís Harrison Ford who we love to see doing
action playing this obsessive guy trying to find out how his wife ended up
having an affair and never giving it up.
You got a sparkling performance out of him
Oh I think he was great
just incredible in
I get pissed off, the whole reason I did that was
Harrison. They kept saying weíve got Harrison Ford, I said,
ďYouíve Harrison Ford? The title character is called Sabrina!Ē They kept
saying it, and I kept saying no, about twenty times, even Sherry Lansing.
Harrison is a great
actor, in films like
where he hasnít been Indiana Jones. I was very flattered, and finally
Harrison called me and said, ďHave you seen
lately? It is a very
old picture. It is a good picture but it is very dated.Ē So I ran it and I
thought it was a wonderful, old sweet hearted picture, but there is a gap
and that is she goes on a boat with Humphrey Bogart and he plays a record
of Yes, We Have No Bananas and she falls in love with him. Maybe
there is a way to do the love story and that would be kind of funny with
Harrison, because I love Harrison when heís not Indiana Jones. I thought
he did a great job. That is one of those work pictures, Iíll be honest
with you, I made a lot of money on that film, it did a lot better than
people think. It was a disappointment as an opener for a Harrison Ford
picture, but by the time it finished it had done well. As opposed to
but I got a cheque on that to, which you always go by because they donít
start paying you until they get something back on a picture. But we
thought disaster, disaster. Havana didnít do anything, but both
made money, but they were flops. In terms of my career, the successes and
Are you now in a place in your career where
you are not judged by the performance of your last film?
In Europe but not in America, thatís the way it has always
been here. In
Europe they look at your work as a body, they look closer. Here
because the economics are so tight, it would be different, I guess, if I
was doing ten million dollar movies. And Iíve always done things that are
expensive and you have to be judged by how well things do. There are too
many hot young directors out there now. it is all about the opening
weekend because after that you are fighting the interest and the success
levels go down. I never think in terms of that in what I want to do.
How hard is it for a film like this, to
learn an African language, that first of all doesnít really exist?
Itís really hard, because you donít have
any reference point. You canít look at a tree, or look at the wall, and
say, OK, give me the word for that, so you learn it phonetically, which
means you learn the sounds, but they have to be consistent, because
obviously there are other actors in the film, speaking the same imaginary
But not only do you do this coup language,
but you also start speaking in French and in Spanish, as if they were
languages youíve always spoke. Have you got a great ear then?
I hope it sounds like that. I think itís
because I play piano, and they say if youíre musically inclined, then your
ability to learn languages will be far greater, soÖ
At school, were you good at French?
As school, I learned Latin
YeahÖmy motherÖI so desperately wanted to
learn French, and my mother said no, you have to learn Latin, because itís
the basis for everything, and sheíd done Latin at school, so I did 6 years
Which youíve used non-stop ever since
Well, I can read when I go to Rome
What about the research, for something as
meticulous as this? How did you go about that? What access did you learn
I was given access to sitting in the
booths, with the interpreters during the meeting of the General Assembly.
I was able to sit with them and talk with them. I was then afterwards
taken down to the canteen. I was given tapes about how theyÖthe
responsibility they have, and their nature and what makes a good
interpreter. So, I was given full access
And it shows. Was it because the film is
complex and gripping that you thought, I must do this?
I donít know if itís I must. Itís more I
like gosh, I hope that, Sydney offered me this film, and I really wanted
to work with him, and weíre so lucky to get Sean Penn, and it just felt
like all the things coming into place at the right time. And a lot of my
choices are based on that. If something feels too much like it doesnít
fit, itís too much effort, to make it fit, then I think, I donít want to
What about working with Sean, because you
spark off each other really well in this film, and itís not one of those
obvious romance things.
I hope I do. Iím soÖ.No. Itís meant to be.
Itís meant to be more complicated than that. These two people meet and
then, theyíre at a time in their life when theyíre feeling very, very
damaged, and itís what they need from each other. And itís two people that
really donít trust anyone, and learn to trust each other again
Watching the film, I was constantly
reminded these are two Oscar winning actors at the peak of their
performances. I wonder if winning the Oscar for you has raised the bar in
what you demand from yourself as an actress
I was so lucky to win the Oscar. It was a
wonderful moment, a huge moment in my life, and at the same time it was a
moment. As so I think that, your life is so many things, and thatís one of
them, that I really wouldnít say thatís put meÖmade me fearful, or made me
feel like Iíve got to match that or anything. You know, I think that
thatís important, with any sort of award or success that you have, that
youíre not hindered by it, or controlled by it.
Thank you very much indeed
Sydney Pollack - TV Interview
Thank you for giving us a film for grown
Itís not been that kind of year though so
far has it
OK. Thank you. This has made history as
being the first film ever to have access to film within the UN, even
Hitchcock didnít get it. So what was your secret?
wish I had a great secret. Iíd love to say that the Secretary General was
so bowled-over by my intelligenceÖbut the truth of the matter is, I think
if Hitchcock were alive today and he wanted to shoot in the UN, they would
let him. I think Iím the recipient of good timing, really, more than
anything else. I just think that they believed that it was the right thing
to do now. Open the doors a little bit, and let some air in and let people
see what itís like. I donít know whether theyíll continue to let people do
it or not, because it probably drove them crazy for 17 weeks, what with
all our cable and 200 guys and catering and drinking coffee and all of
that. It was kind of a mess to shoot a film in there, but it was great for
the film and great for us to be able to be that authentic. And you know,
my talks with Kofi Annan, I didnít say any magic words at all. I just
tried to assure him that I would not embarrass the UN or him, and that I
wouldnít make an exploitation picture in any way.
One of the many interesting quotes about
that experience was when you said ďFilming in the UN, was both a blessing
and a curseĒ.
not sure what I meant, what I was saying.
Well, I took it that the weight on your
shoulders, to make it as important as a movie as you set out in the first
I think youíre absolutely right and not just that, but people expect a
certain kind of political weight, when you walk into the UN, that you
know, thatí youíre not being fascias with the use of it. On the one hand,
I donít want to be too casual politically, and on the other hand, I donít
want to bore an audience, by doing a political lecture or treatise, when
Iím supposed to making a thriller, so thereís a constant juggling going on
and a balance to how you do that work.
Could you have made the film as successful
as you have done, if you hadnít got this access to the UN?
No. No, I
donít think so at all. I mean, thatís what made me finally throw up my
hands and say ďI canít shoot this in TorontoĒ. We were preparing in
Toronto, we were building sets, we were deep into preparation with
computer graphics work and I just stopped. I said Iíve got to go try and
meet Kofi Anann, I didnít know how I was going to meet him, but I kept
track of people, and finally gotten to him.
Film making, as you had to, at night time
and at weekends when the UN wasnít working, must have been something of a
logistical nightmare for you
was. We had to load in every Friday night and load out every Sunday night,
and you canít park trucks very close to the general assembly, so thatís a
long way to run cables, itís a big area to light. The carpets, everything
in the place is an heirloom, a piece of history, you have to be super
careful. So, every time, we had to take hours and hours to lay down
cardboard and tape it together, so that we could wheel in these dollies
and the lights and the cameras all in and not hurt the carpet or the
floors. And then 48 hours and then we had to wheel it out again. And we
did that for 17 weeks. It was a big, big logistics problem, but they made
it very easy for us
Security must have been tricky too. Sniffer
dogs, all that kind of stuff.
when you have 2000 people, that youíre trying to move in as extras, move
out, they have lunch, and then they move back in again, itís a nightmare
Your casting is fascinating. Two Oscar
winners, and you said of Nicole Kidman that she has an exotic intelligence
and of Sean Penn that he took a risk, in making this movie. I wonder if
you could elaborate on both those descriptions.
think that Nicole, is one of those people who has a kind of charisma in
life and a charisma on screen, both, and it comes from a kind of
exoticness that she has. Sheís not the typical girl next door at all, in
any sense of the word. When I say that Sean took a risk, I mean that they
both took risks, in the sense that they committed to do the picture,
without a finished script. They just took a chance and a brave chance, on
a picture this big and this size, but theyíre both gutsy actors, so they
jumped in the water
We kind of guessed who the leader of this
mythical, or fictional African nation is, and I think itís interesting who
you elected to make it a fictional country, when you could have easily
gone for something thatís real.
itís more believable when itís fictional, believe or not, than when itís
real. Itís like watching movies where the guy comes along and says ďMr.
PresidentĒ about the United States ďMr. President, wonít you tell us what
we should doĒ and you look at the guy and you know heís not the President,
heís an actor, but hereÖAnd also, youíre limited then by having to be
faithful to the absolute reality of it. I didnít want to be limited by
Have you got lots of fascinating material
that weíll see emerge in the DVD version of this movie?
do. I have a lot of scenes that I cut out, that will be in. I have a whole
different ending, to the film, which was the original ending to the film
that I shot, that I quite love, but realised wasnít quite believable for
the rest of the audience, so I redid the ending, but thereís a lot of good
stuff, that Iím anxious to see get out there, and let the people see
Are you doing a commentary?
I will. I
As a film maker of some skill and
sophistication, you must love DVD
Well, I do,
because it gives me two things. First of all, itís so much better than VHS
in quality, number 1, number 2, the way theyíre releasing them now,
theyíre doing both versions, where youíre not panning and scanning. I
havenít used widescreen, since Tootsie, thatís 22 years ago,
because I got sick of the panning and scanning that happened, and now for
the first time, Iíve gone back to widescreen, really because of DVDs.
Fantastic. Which one film would you take on
DVD to your desert island, as your treat?
Oh God, Iíd
have to think about that. I bet I wish I had a quick answer, but I donít
know. I donít know.
Iím sure you have one big favourite film. A
film thatís influenced you throughout your life
would say in the films that Iíve seen, since Iíve been a director, I would
say The Conformist was the film that influenced me a lot.
What a good choice
And a film you can watch over and over
Mr. Pollack, a pleasure. Thank you sir.
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