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The way that this turns into a father-son story in the end I think took a lot of people by surprise.
Did it start off for you as a romance and then become that? And then, it’s interesting that you keep it as first half is romance and then it does kind of sneak up on you, so why did that structure stick?
Well, I don’t know. It’s quite odd that I still don’t know how I write a film, and I’ve written a lot of them, because they come around in different ways. Because I’m much older now, and it’s been a long time since I met one girl and thought I’d marry her, I realized that the romantic sort of comedy genre is just half the story. I suddenly realized that you have a family, you leave the family, you have friends and a girlfriend, that’s your sort of new family. Then, you get married, if you get married or whatever and you have a child and suddenly you’re starting a new family and then your new family takes care of your old family. So, actually life is romantic comedy, leading to family drama, leading back to romantic comedy, leading back to family drama, and I was really glad to be able to tell both stories at once.
Did you see Domnhall Gleeson in anything that made you particularly want him for this?
Well, I always hope that people in my films will be wonderful actors to start with and I’d seen him in Anna Karenina where I thought he was really remarkable, and also remarkable in playing somebody good. Which is something that is quite close to my heart, the idea that it might be interesting to study people who are doing their best rather than study people who are murdering people and then all of the little things. I’d seen all of the little things. I’d seen him in Potter. I’d seen him in True Grit. I’d seen him in Never Let Me Go, which is a film I really loved, so I kind of knew he was good, but the surprise was to find out he was funny too and he’s done lots of sketch shows on Irish telly, so he’s go that funny bone, which is so helpful in all of my films.
Yeah, Anna Karenina, he’s the moral center of that movie.
The weird thing was he auditioned in that beard. It was really hard to give him the part.
Because of the beard?
Yeah, cause in the audition, I think we mainly got him to read the first scene with Rachel and everything and he looked, he looked like a back woodsmen in the Appalachian Mountains, who would have a big knife. He came in jeans and a t-shirt.
I don’t think I knew you worked on War Horse when that came out. That movie is about people doing their best under really brutal circumstances, and that’s something that doesn’t usually work its way into your movies, and I’m wondering what you took away from that, working on that.
I actually wrote a situation comedy when I was young called Black Adder, which is an English show and one series of which was set during the first world war, so I’d thought about that a lot and it has a very interesting ending and it has the saddest ending of a sitcom that’s ever been done.
You seem very proud of that.
Well, oddly enough, it is an interesting thing, because I think it delivered a strange shock to the viewing public of Britain, because no one knew what was coming, and they all died. So, I’ve been very interested in World War I, and I loved the book and I’d read the book to my daughter aloud, but mainly it was an experience working with Steven [Spielberg], which was a very extraordinary experience.
Yeah, you guys do seem to match up well on that sort of humanist attitude towards characters.
The very weird thing is I used to have in, I don’t know if it was actually in my contract, but asked for it to be in my contract, when I first signed a contract with Universal, that I should be allowed to break contract if ever Steven Spielberg asked me to do something with him. That was my one condition.
Without the dream that he ever would. I just said what happens if someone I really, really wanted to work with asked me, and Steven was the example. It was interesting and he’s an extraordinary person to work with because he’s so generous with his ideas and in a conversation he will have four ideas for five minutes chunks of the movie which come off of his head.
Is that not hard to work with then?R No, it’s just so refreshing that you emerge from a conversation with Steven with new stuff. Often when you’re talking to directors about things, you just feel how bad your stuff is and where is anything new going to come from, but Steven opens the fridge and takes out lots of new things and says cook a meal from that, rather than say prodding your cold dish and saying can you make it any more attractive.
So, when you’re saying that you think you’re done directing, at least that’s what you have been saying, is it more stuff like that that you want to do, working with other directors, working on other people’s films?
It’s more stuff like walking along the beach with Bill, more stuff like learning how to actually cook.
So, life stuff.
It is life stuff that I’m really interested in thinking about whether there’s a way of focusing more on all of those things.
You’re not going to use the word retirement, but it’s really stepping back from work in general.
Yeah, I think it might be. Also, unless you create a hole, you won’t fill it with interesting things. It will be interesting to see whether I suddenly start to write other kinds of things or live in a different way. I wanted to create a space, because otherwise you will just go on doing the same thing.
Then you have to say it out loud, so that everyone holds you to it.
I did regret saying it out loud and now I’m not regretting it, because actually, when I think of an idea, as I thought of an idea for a new film the other day and then I just decided not to do it and that was fantastic, because in my old frame of mind I would have thought, that’s 2017 and 2018, and by saying I’m definitely not going to do that, suddenly 2017 and 2018 are still there with all the possibility of doing something which isn’t making another film.
You and Steven Soderbergh, making retirement popular.
He keeps coming back. I met Steven Soderbergh once. I was so admiring of him and I went with Julia to an ADR session for Erin Brockovich. I always take ADR really seriously, because it’s a bit of the film that hasn’t worked out and you have to get it completely right and you’ve chosen that take, because it’s the perfect tone of voice, and you want to hear that tone of voice. And I just remember Soderbergh just playing pool and Julia came in and he went, "Hi," and he said, "There’s only like four things. You know what to do and how to do it." And then he said do the first one and she did it and he went, "Playback, yeah," and then Julia, just so casual. Such a brilliance.
Such a good way to live a life.
If he can make movies in that mood, then maybe he should go on making movies.
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