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A Good Year - Ridley Scott interview

Ridley Scott, director of A Good Year

Compiled by Jack Foley

IN THE following interview, conducted in New York, director Ridley Scott discusses A Good Year as well as his love for filmmaking.

Q: How did the film come about with author Peter Mayle, I know the two of you are good friends?
A: I have had a lovely house and a vineyard in Provence for 15 years and love being there. Peter Mayle has lived there for 30 years and he’s an old friend of mine from advertising. He has been very successful with his books about Provence. Four years ago I went to see him said: “I have an idea, we should make a film about this place.” I was at his house at the time and we talked about it, half drunk. I convinced him about the project and the upshot was that he wrote the book A Good Year and we then devised the screenplay.

Q: How enjoyable was the experience of making this film?
A: It was enormously enjoyable. I live 15 minutes from anywhere that you see in the movie. The region has been a haven for me. I spent five months there making the movie. As it got closer to making the film and it became a reality, I started to feel guilty. I thought: “They’re paying for this and it’s eight minutes from my house.” I felt lucky. But it turned out well.

Q: Was it hard to maintain detachment because you know the subject and area so well?
A: No it was easy because I was so entrenched in the area. I wanted to make an edgy, romantic, comedic story about this area and I told Peter (Mayle) that I we needed to make it as crisp and sharp as possible, not hazy.

Q: Why were you so passionate about this story?
A: I do like to make films with a political theme, but sometimes it’s nice simply to make people laugh. That’s the hardest thing to do in fact. The film is fun; it’s about lightening up and enjoying life. I love that region of France, it’s beautiful. If I’m feeling stressed I often go down there – I sometimes go by myself, get off the plane and drive to the house.

After all these years there, I still haven’t bought a car. So I rent one, then zip along from the airport for 30 minutes. When I arrive, I walk in, slam the door and there’s absolute silence. I love it and the housekeeper has always made a great lunch or dinner for me. It’s magical – the smell, the sounds, everything…

Q: Do you make and sell your own wine?
A: No I haven’t done because I have not had the time. But now it’s inevitable that I’m going to do it, I’ve been improving and developing a good grape for 15 years. In the past, I’ve sold the grapes to the co-operative. But I’ve been told the grape is pretty good and that I could now make a good wine, so I’m looking into it right now – although the French wine makers have been experiencing a pretty rough time recently because the world market is undercutting them.

There’s great wine from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile and, of course, California. But there’s nothing like a really great French wine, they’re so well balanced. The better the wine, the less you feel the effects I think.

Q: Why do enjoy working with Russell Crowe?
A: I like to work with Russell, we get on very well and that makes my job a lot easier. Some actors – you work with them once and don’t even think about working with them again. I always feel that there’s an endless depth to what Russell is capable of doing in his work. He has a very natural talent and I don’t know where it comes from, but it’s always very real and wonderful.

Q: A lot of people may not realize that Russell Crowe had comic potential, he’s very funny in this film, had you seen that in him before?
A: I had seen it many times with Russell, off screen. People probably don’t know how funny he is, he’s actually amusing and very cheerful, that’s the kind of person he is. Everything is real with him – the drama, the comedy and telling the organic story. In this film you see a vulnerable side to him too – eventually.

Q: You have worked with Albert Finney several times, why did you cast him as Uncle Henry?
A: I’ve worked with Albert four times now, as a director and as a producer in various films, so I know him pretty well. What you see on screen in this film really is Albert. Uncle Henry is Albert Finney. He’s as jolly as that character, he’s full of joie de vivre and I couldn’t think of anybody who could play the part better. Freddie Highmore, who plays young Max and spent a lot of time with Albert, adored him too.

Q: What made do you do something with such a contrasting pace to many of your big action dramas?
A: I love different themes, different venues, different movies. I love to jump about and tackle different subjects. I have no intellectual master plan. For example, what appeals to me next is to go back to the Middle East to make a story about religion. It’s taken from an existing novel by a journalist, that will come out next year. I’m also working on a Western and a story about the Gucci family. There was a murder in that family and I’m looking at it; its an interesting, human story.

Q: What are your goals and intentions now as a director?
A: As I’m getting older, I want to make sure every film I do really counts. I’m now more geared to films that have more political content. The first one in that direction was Black Hawk Down. Every film doesn’t have to be like that, A Good Year isn’t, but I want to make films about the human condition, what we’re doing to the world or ourselves.

Q: What inspired you to make films as a child?
A: I was a very earnest, hard working boy at school, but my parents were distressed because I was always bottom of the class. But I wasn’t dilatory, I worked like crazy. I think I was really bored at school. I was quietly clock watching for years. I went to 10 schools because my dad was in the Army and we moved around a lot.

Then I went to Art College and during the summer I made a movie with my brother. I got hold of a little camera, wrote a script and dragged my brother, Tony, out of bed to help me (which he did not like), so that we could shoot a film every day for six weeks. It was made for £65 and it was called Boy On A Bicycle. The boy was my brother and you can see the film on the DVD of The Duellists.

Q: What is ‘a good year’ for you?
A: A good year for me is when me and my family are in good health. I’m just lucky to have good years doing something I like to do.

Q: How would you describe yourself as a director?
A: I never really think about it, but I’m very competitive. I just go with what engages or fascinates me in my work and that’s it. I have no definition; I just love to do it. But I can tell you, there’s a little thing on your shoulder called intuition and it whispers in your ear. Everyone has that, there is a voice telling you to do something. Most people ignore it – but you must listen to it. I do it every day, all day. I believe all of us only use one tenth of our brain. I know people who use one per cent only!

Q: Russell’s character in A Good Year retires from the rate race to move to France and enjoy life. When will you retire?
A: Never. Zero, no retirement. There’s no plan for that. Dino De Laurentiis is 86 and still making movies. He’s amazing. I love what I do and have no desire to stop.

Read our review of A Good Year

Read our interview with Russell Crowe