The Playboy interview with Gary Oldman is the best thing on the internet right now.
- It was the most thrilling experience watching myself for the first time in JFK, for example, because I couldn’t believe I was in it—Oliver Stone at the very height of his powers, the sheer energy of it all, his commitment. When I saw the finished product I had to pinch myself. I thought, Wow, I’m in this movie. This is terrific. Or to do a role like Smiley in Tinker Tailor and to work with someone like John Hurt, who had been such a towering figure from my younger days. Every day I was like a fanboy. I fainted at his feet.
- A great director is a great artist. I felt that way with Alfonso Cuarón on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. You could just tell being around him that he’s a master, partly because he isn’t afraid to say, “I fucked myself up over here.” I remember a scene where he was scratching his head for two days, figuring out eye lines on 11 characters. “So we’ve got Harry and Hermione looking that way, and now we’ve got Snape, we’ve got Ron, we’ve got Sirius.” Plus he had to match the movements to the mechanical set, which had walls that were moving and breathing. He was never embarrassed to say, “Christ, I’ve really got myself in a pickle here.” And he worked it out. I love it when a director says, “I really don’t know the answer to that.” The thing you don’t want a director to say is “Oh, it’s exactly how I imagined it.”
- As soon as they told me, “Okay, there’s this white guy who thinks he’s black, and on top of that, he’s a pimp,” I thought, Yeah, I’d like to do that. When you add the matted hair and the eye and the fake teeth, it all comes pouring out. The Drexl voice came to me in New York one day. I heard a kid talking outside my trailer and literally pulled him in from the street and said, “Read this dialogue and tell me what you think.” He read a couple of lines and said, “That’s good, but it don’t fly. I wouldn’t say that.” I said, “What would you say?” and he helped authenticate it so I could show up and become that character.
- The best directors are geniuses. I looked up the Playboy Interview with Stanley Kubrick, and it’s remarkable how much knowledge that man had at his fingertips. You need a Ph.D. to understand it. His access to the memory of names—not only could he talk about a theory, but he could talk about what institute the person who devised the theory was from. It’s a great read for a student of cinema like me.
- Well, Francis is a hero of mine. He’s arguably the best American director but also a brilliant writer. Many people forget he won an Academy Award for the screenplay for Patton. I recently watched The Conversation again and couldn’t believe how it stands up. I always tell students who want to be writers or directors that first on their list of what to watch should be The Godfather: Part II, because in terms of camera, lighting, cinematography, composition, production design, costume, storytelling, writing and acting, it’s flawless. It’s a master class in filmmaking from soup to nuts.
- We didn’t always see eye to eye on Dracula, but I have enormous respect for him. He’s very forceful and lets you know exactly what he thinks. Chris Nolan is more about giving you really good notes. On The Dark Knight he’d do a take and then say something like “There’s a little more at stake.” Francis will shout at you during the take, “There’s more at stake! You love her! No! Love her more than that!” He’s like D.W. Griffith.
- I’m trying to give my sons an education about movies as well. You sit there and watch a comedy, let’s say Meet the Fockers, and it’s Robert De Niro. You tell them this guy was at one time considered the greatest living actor. My boys look at me and say, “Really? This guy? He’s a middle-aged dad.” So what I’ve tried to do recently is introduce them one by one to the great movies of the 1970s—The Godfather, Mean Streets, The Deer Hunter, Dog Day Afternoon, the work of Lindsay Anderson, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Gene Hackman, Al Pacino, John Cazale, Peter Sellers. I try to give them a sense of what cinema used to be like rather than just these tentpole movies that come and go on demand within five minutes. Don’t get me wrong; there are directors I would still want to work with—Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson. I’ve never worked with Todd Haynes. I love John Sayles. I’ve never worked with Scorsese.
- Just like anyone out here, anybody in this industry, you’re working with attractive people, you’re young, and one thing leads to another. Few are immune to it. I remember being at a dinner many years ago in New York with Arthur Miller. I was sitting next to him. After we loosened up with a few glasses of vino, I turned to him and said, “Do you ever walk down the street and just stop and go, ‘Fuck, I was married to Marilyn Monroe’?” He went, “Yeah.”
- Well, I sometimes joke that I would just slip away to Palm Springs or someplace and close the gates, find refuge behind the hedges. Right now, for instance, just financing a film, getting studios to part with their money and the sorts of things studios are doing, it’s just a crazy, crazy time. I have a script I’ve written called Flying Horse. It’s about Eadweard Muybridge, the 19th century photographer who arguably invented cinema and had a very interesting life. It’s been nearly two years trying to get money. I have my cast pretty much, but the funding isn’t there. Partly it’s the subject. If it had zombies and Leonardo DiCaprio in it, people would be falling over me.
- And I do watch television. I’m a huge fan of long-form TV. Mad Men. I loved True Detective; Matthew McConaughey gets better and better. Boardwalk Empire, The Americans, House of Cards—oh God, I loved it. It makes me want to create a show and sit back and get all that mailbox money.
- I remember Peter Sellers saying that the time he was happiest in life was in the very moment of actually playing the characters. Everything else was just a bit of noise—the thought of doing it, the preparation, the building up, the going away, the packing the bags, the getting on the plane, the staying at the hotel. All of that, as glamorous as it sounds, after you’ve been doing it on the road for 30 years, you just want to get on the set and go. It’s like that for me too. Everything is okay when I’m in that moment. As soon as I put the clothes on and walked on the set as Smiley, I was as relaxed as I’ve ever been.
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