Sydney Pollack


Located on 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. 


How are you feeling at this stage of the process?

Well, this 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.


Isnít that frustrating Ė going against your own instincts?

Yeah, I 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

Well, I 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

Oh 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?

Well, Tim 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 had?

Well, I 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 United NationsÖ

I know, 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?

Yes, I 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?

Well, the 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?

I just 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?

Yeah, it 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

I donít 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.

Yeah, 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 well.

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 that.

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 Sundance with 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 Tootsie 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 and another Electric Horseman. 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 Tootsie 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 English Patient 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 Wide Shut.

Nicole Kidman in Kubrick's 'Eyes Wide Shut'Let 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 Tootsie. And what happened in Tootsie 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 with Stanley, 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 stars alone.


Talking of Tom Cruise, The Firm was an enormous thing Ė this huge book, the huge star Ė were you wary of it at all?

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 Random Hearts, I donít get it with Havana. You know what I mean, I can look at Random Hearts 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 Havana I have more troubles with. I feel Havana 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 Havana 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 Random Hearts and Havana and letís say Bobby Deerfield, 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 Random Hearts and Bobby Deerfield, a 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 for SabrinaÖ

Oh I think he was great in Sabrina, just incredible in Sabrina. 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. I think Harrison is a great actor, in films like Regarding Henry, where he hasnít been Indiana Jones. I was very flattered, and finally Harrison called me and said, ďHave you seen Sabrina Fair 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 Random Hearts, 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 Sabrina and Random Hearts slowly made money, but they were flops. In terms of my career, the successes and failures.


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.

Nicole Kidman

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 language


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 of that.


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 from?

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 do this.


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

Thank you.


Sydney Pollack - TV Interview

Thank you for giving us a film for grown ups

Oh, my pleasure


Itís not been that kind of year though so far has it

No, itís not


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?

Well, I 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.

Well, Iím 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 place

Well, yes. 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

Well, it 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.

Yeah. And 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.

Well, I 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.

I think 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 that.


Have you got lots of fascinating material that weíll see emerge in the DVD version of this movie?

Actually, I 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 will, absolutely.


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

Well, I 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

Great film


And a film you can watch over and over



Mr. Pollack, a pleasure. Thank you sir.

Thank you

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