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The Adjustment Bureau - George Nolfi (DVD exclusive) interview

The Adjustment Bureau

Interview by Rob Carnevale

GEORGE Nolfi talks about the cinematic success of his directorial debut The Adjustment Bureau and making it to The White House as part of President Obama’s cheeky Correspondents’ Dinner speech.

He also talks about some of the things he learned over the course of making the film and what it was like to collaborate with Matt Damon on the script. The Adjustment Bureau is released on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday (July 4).

Q. You must be very pleased with the reaction and box office success of The Adjustment Bureau. You’re a member of the $100 million club!
George Nolfi: I’m very pleased… I’m not sure exactly what I said the last time we spoke but this is a movie that breaks a lot of conventions, mixes genres and deals with material that’s not just car chases and stuff. So, it’s very rewarding for it to have done so well. I want to keep making movies of this sort.

Q. Have you got anything else lined up as a result of the film’s success?
George Nolfi: I’m just completing a script right now, which is one of the things I’m thinking of directing next. And I have another that’s partially written. So, those are two possibilities and studios are bringing me stuff and producers are asking me to look at stuff, so I’ve just this week started the process of looking at other material with a view to possibly directing it. So, I know that I’m definitely going to direct again, which is a good position to be in.

Q. Had you noticed a surge in offers since the success of the film?
George Nolfi: You never know anything in Hollywood, so I’d rather be humble about what might come and what might not come. The main thing is that I knew I wanted to direct again because I enjoyed it so much and so I’ve been focused on creating more original material that I wanted to do. In general, I think I’d be happiest if I can deal with material I create but if something interesting were to come through the door then I would definitely consider that too.

Q. What’s been the most surprising or satisfying reaction you’ve had to The Adjustment Bureau so far?
George Nolfi: Well, I’ve had a lot of interesting responses to it but one thing that surprised me about it was that some people came in the door expecting a hardcore sci-fi Philip K Dick meets Inception kind of film… some people looked at the movie through the lens of pure science fiction, which is not a good idea because if you do, you’re not seeing what the movie is trying to do. I knew there would be a little bit of that but I also thought it announced itself pretty well as existing in a different world. It’s not a super, super dark movie like Minority Report or Inception

Q. And what about positive responses? There must have been a few you enjoyed receiving?
George Nolfi: Oh yeah, I was amazed and excited by some reviews, especially the New York Times. There were a bunch of reviews that saw very clearly what I was trying to do, which appreciated the mix of genres and the fact that this is a love story not just between 17-years-olds. The most rewarding reactions, to be honest, came from people who emailed me, including other directors who said they liked it. JJ Abrams, the guy who created Lost, and some directors I’d worked with in the past got in touch to say how much they liked the movie. So, that kind of consistent response from people that make movies was very gratifying.

Q. So, looking back on the actual shoot itself, what were the biggest challenges and the things that made you proudest to have pulled off? How much did you learn about yourself as a result?
George Nolfi: Well, it was an incredibly physically challenging shoot because the concept of doors meant there were 90 locations in the film and we had to move the crew something like 20 times in the middle of the day. So, that cut down the amount of hours I got to shoot because there was so much time spent travelling to new locations, setting up, figuring out how to use them, creating the right light and blocking scenes. I think the next film I do will be a little more limited in that regard. But I’m all for trying new challenges and tackling a different challenge with each film. And I guess what I learned about myself is that I get energised by that new challenge.

Q. How collaborative was Matt Damon during this process?
George Nolfi: Well, I wrote a draft, showed him the draft, we had several conversations about it and then I went off and re-wrote the script and that was the one he committed to. But we continued to revise the script and I would always show the scenes to new actors and ask them if they had ideas or ways to improve it, or to make it sound more in their own voice or whatever. That’s how you get the naturalism that I think exists. I mean, there are certain types of scenes, like Terence Stamp’s speech on human history, which are harder to play with. He has such a specific voice and there was only a certain way those words could come out.

But if it’s Matt and Emily [Blunt] talking in the bathroom, for instance, there was room for improv and adjustment… especially the second bathroom scene, where they’re fighting. I had something written but then said, when it came to shooting: “Let’s do the scene ad libbed. You know the ideas that need to come out, but it’s a highly emotional scene and it may feel more natural if we roll and you just go for it.” And they did knowing there’s certain points they have to hit, in a certain time. But I think it feels incredibly naturalistic. The first bathroom scene was a little bit more in the middle and we shot it in different ways. We tried it using some of the original dialogue I’d written, some of it was revised and some of it was ad libbed. But it’s a real pleasure as a writer-director to be able to do that because you then get a whole bunch of options. It has to be shaped by the original material but then you can pick and choose this line or this take. And that’s the magic of directing.

Q. I gather the decision to make Matt Damon’s character a politician came about as a re-write and yet it’s carried the movie all the way to The White House. President Barack Obama playfully described Matt’s performance as ‘disappointing’ at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Did you get a kick out of hearing that?
George Nolfi: Oh yeah, he made a little joke because Matt had been giving him a politically hard time in an interview the week before. So, Obama returned the favour with a swipe about Matt’s performance… all in good fun, of course!

Q. So, what made you decide to turn Matt into a politician – and the type of congressman we’d all probably vote for but don’t have enough of?
George Nolfi: [Laughs] Well, that was my area of study as an undergraduate and graduate student. I know a lot of politicians and I thought I could write that character well. I gave him a false reason for wanting to be a politician at the beginning of the film – initially, he’s in it for the wrong reasons. But he comes to realise he’s in it for the adulation and love of the crowd and by the end of the movie he needs to get that love from Elise [Emily Blunt]. So, it allowed me to have a great character development and allowed me to work in something I knew a lot about.

The Adjustment Bureau is released on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday, July 4, 2011