Body of Lies - Sir Ridley Scott interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
SIR Ridley Scott talks about reuniting with Russell Crowe for a fourth time on CIA thriller Body of Lies, as well as what to expect from their fifth collaboration, the forthcoming Robin Hood adventure, Nottingham.
He also reflects on 30 years of making movies, the films he considers to be the landmarks and why he’ll continue to make movies for as long as he can…
Q. For Body of Lies, did you actually meet anyone that was in the Roger Ferris [Leonardo DiCaprio] position?
Sir Ridley Scott: No, I met someone who was in the Hani position, when I was going to do another film. I visited a Jordanian intelligence… it was actually the Minister of Culture and he was very elegantly dressed in a jacket and slacks. It had Savile Row stamped all over it. He was very well coiffed and had a beautiful lighter. He smoked very elegantly and all that. At the end of the meeting he said to me: “Tell me something, why do you always make the Arab the bad guy?” I said: “Excuse me?” And he said: “I’m just kidding [laughs].” So, I just thought there’s Hani. I love his sense of humour in the movie.
Q. What is it about Russell Crowe that’s so appealing about working with him? Do you ever disagree?
Sir Ridley Scott: Oh yeah. but you’ve got to be able to know someone really well to be able to have a row and then also walk away from it and not have it matter, especially in this business. That doesn’t mean to say we have many rows but I think the nearest thing to a row would be just flatly disagreeing with something and saying: “Well, what’s the best solution?” He always talks it through. He’s a bit of a buddy really. He’s also Australian and there’s something very akin to particularly northern British attitudes. I mean they were convicts after all [laughs]. But I also love Australian movies. I love Muriel’s Wedding – I’ve seen in six times. Baz Luhrmann’s best movie is strictly ballroom… without question. I tried to make Peter Weir’s The Last Wave and he told me to “f**k off”. I go as far back as Chips Rafferty and The Overlanders. And the film I’ve seen again maybe six or seven times is Lantana. Why? Because really it’s a slightly depressing series of character studies but you enter their universe.
Q. Did you ask Russell to pile on the pounds?
Sir Ridley Scott: He says it was me, but I think it was him because he saw it as an excuse to stop working out. He likes his food… like me. I like my wine and vodka, but that doesn’t mean I fall about drunk. I know my limits. But I have to stay fit as a director because making movies is really hard work – physically hard work – and that’s boring as shit. As an actor, because you’re in front of the camera, you really have to work out because those extra 10lbs are deadly.
Q. Did you take a different approach to him this time, because he spends a lot of his time on the phone…
Sir Ridley Scott: Yeah, I thought that was a good way. He initially said: “There’s no part in here for me; I’d rather have the other part.” But I said I was thinking of Jeffrey Wigand [his character in The Insider] and he went: “Oh!” I didn’t want to make him a total cliché in a suit. I wanted to make him a guy who was over-weight, badly into American football, got kids and functions as the master of the universe on a cell phone. And he takes his kids to school because his wife tongue-lashed him at breakfast. At the same time, he’s actually dealing with all kinds of deadly operational things while he’s saying “I love you” to his son. But that’s what happens today and that’s what this deadly thing called the cell phone has done for us. It enables you now to do in a day, two days’ work. I can now do a day’s work driving in my car in the morning. If I’m in LA, I’ll talk to London every morning because I have offices here. But I’ll do it in an hour on the phone and then walk into my office and start another day.
Q. I bet Russell Crowe is cursing you, then, for having to lose weight again for Nottingham? Why do Robin Hood again?
Sir Ridley Scott: Well, losing weight is his problem [laughs]. It’ll be mine in January or February. But there’s always that moment when you realise you need to be ready and then there’ll be a workout frenzy. I never even worry about that. But he’s looking pretty good at the moment, to be honest. He put quite a bit of weight on for another film that I recently got a glimpse of – and think is pretty good – called State of Play [a remake of a television show]. But it’s now clean-up time and that’s what he’s doing.
Q. And why Robin Hood?
Sir Ridley Scott: I think there’s been 80 made over the years and it’s the kind of thing I used to enjoy as a kid, but when I revisit them, they’re not very good. I’m trying to think of the last good one. Errol Flynn… God bless him. The one I thought was best, frankly, was Mel Brooks’ Men In Tights [laughs]!
Q. So how are you playing this?
Sir Ridley Scott: Well, think of Gladiator. Everyone sniggered because I was going to do a sandal and toga movie. But I knew exactly how to do it and I know how to make Robin Hood. You step forward and make it real for a start. You choose a sensible moment in history. Funnily enough, England was bankrupt and the moment is the death of Richard The Lionheart… Richard takes an arrow in the neck collecting a small debt from a small castle on his way home from the Crusades because he’s penniless. He’s emptied all the coffers to play war games down in the Holy Land and between he and his father, they’ve bankrupted the country, leaving it – when he died – in the hands of John, who had this horrible task of having to invent taxation.
So, of course, what he’d be doing would normally be taxing his barons, his knights, his fiefdoms and they in turn would tax their yeomen who may have two acres or a small farm. But all those people who worked for you as servants… a yeoman wasn’t a servant; a yeoman had his own land and cottage, or farm left. So, he was his own man but he’d have to pay tax to his laird. The laird would then be taxed by the crown and the crown would then have in its coffers the money to fund the army to actually go against the constant pressure of the French and Philippe. So, the starting point for this is the death of Richard. And the guy’s a yeoman bowman coming in who is actually called Robin of Loxley, who watches a man die called Nottingham, who is aid to Richard The Lionheart, and he sees a window of opportunity to take on a guise.
Q. Will Russell be playing two roles?
Sir Ridley Scott: Yeah, he’ll eventually find himself in Nottingham, funnily enough as the Sheriff of Nottingham, and from there he will go against the crown because he suddenly takes a position where he thinks taxation is ludicrous at that moment in time in England because they’re two steps off starvation. It’s been a bad winter and bad crops.
Q. Was Nottingham delayed?
Sir Ridley Scott: Yeah, the script wasn’t quite right and you can’t start off with a dodgy document.
Q. Has it been cast?
Sir Ridley Scott: I’ve cast and I’ve got the armour standing polished in the wardrobe [laughs]. Mark Strong, who was in Body of Lies, will be a bad guy. But I’d rather not say who Marion is yet.
Q. Will you include all the myths, such as Little John and Friar Tuck?
Sir Ridley Scott: We have to because otherwise people will say: “Where’s the log?” That log was always boring! But I’ll have to put that in and keep a bit of the marksmanship. We’ll just push it more towards reality without losing the feeling of the legend.
Q. You’ve been making movies for the past 30 years, so which are the ones you reckon are the landmarks?
Sir Ridley Scott: I think a landmark would have to be The Duellists because it got me going and everybody was surprised that I could make a two-hour movie. It was criticised, but that’s when I stopped reading all my press because they said it was too pretty… I was like: “F**k you!” It rained for 58 days and that’s why it looked like it was gauzed. It wasn’t gauzed at all. It was a very beautiful film but I took that criticism on board and started to question what I do well. But eventually I just thought “f**k it, I’ll do what I have to do and that’s that” and I will evolve in my own time. I think Alien was a landmark – it’s one of the really good science fiction movies. Blade Runner was pretty f**king good too. I’m dong pretty good! Legend I thought was but I jumped the gun and simply started doing fantasy 25 to 30 years too soon.
Q. But you discovered Tom Cruise…
Sir Ridley Scott: Well, Tom had just done Risky Business, but he was 22, 23…
Q. Do you think Legend was also too scary because Tim Curry was very frightening in that?
Sir Ridley Scott: He was fantastic. But it took on a life of its own on the web, particularly in Japan. But it could be re-seen now.
Q. White Squall?
Sir Ridley Scott: White Squall and Someone To Watch Over Me are, I think, both really nice little movies. I think it came off someone saying in my office, because Legend didn’t work and Blade Runner didn’t work: “Why don’t you make something about ordinary people?” So, I went off and made these two smaller movies, which I think, actually, turned out pretty well. But gradually I realised that what I do best is universes and I shouldn’t be afraid of that. That’s what I do great. So, the universe of Black Hawk Down is still, for me, the best war film coming out of that region. American Gangster, Gladiator…
Q. Thelma And Louise…
Sir Ridley Scott: Absolutely… I’ve been pretty f**king good when you think about it [laughs].
Q. Do you think you amazed a lot of people when you showed you could handle a film that’s driven by two women?
Sir Ridley Scott: Two bitches in a car [laughs aloud]! I’m joking.
Q. You revisited Blade Runner a couple of times. Have you ever felt like revisiting any of your other films?
Sir Ridley Scott: They never asked. I would. There’s not a lot to change, though. With Blade Runner, I knew I’d nailed it really good, or I thought I had, but I hadn’t because no one got it except for a few loony diehards. In fact, the Wachowski brothers were asked about it recently and they said: “Of course we f**king liked it… but no one else did.” So, they were being complimentary and bitchy at the same time. So I say that what they did was copy Blade Runner… it obviously influenced everything they do. So they can stick that up their pipe and smoke it.
Anyway, I knew what I did but because we were obliged to do audience research, where you screen the movie before you finish it, they were sitting there, fidgeting and then decided: “It’s a depressing ending.” They also asked: “What is city speak?” Well, you find that out during the movie unless you’re half a moron. But now we had to put on a voice-over and that silly ending where they drive off into those beautiful mountains. If you had that beautiful countryside, though, why the f**k would you live in that city? It didn’t make any sense. So, all I did was remove the voice-over, remove the ending, polish up the blacks that had faded a little bit in 25 years and it looked like it was made yesterday.
Q. You’ve made back-to-back films almost over that time. Aren’t you knackered?
Sir Ridley Scott: No, I feel better. I think there’s nothing worse than inertia. You can inert and study your navel and gradually you’ll fall off the chair. I think the key is to keep flying.
Q. Do you think there was ever a period when there was some inertia?
Sir Ridley Scott: Well, not totally because over the years I’ve probably done 2,700 commercials. So, I’m always ticking. And in a way that was a huge advantage because I was able to take my time choosing my film subjects because I wasn’t relying on the fear of not being able to work. I’d just start segueing back into the company. And the company was growing… instead of going away it was growing. There are 50 directors in the company in offices in New York, LA, London and Hong Kong. So, when I thought it was going to go away I fortunately had a brother, who I’m six years older than, and I said: “You’re not going to go and work there… you’re going to come and work with me. If you want a good car, come and work with me. Don’t go and work there.” He came with me and got that good car… a Ferrari.
Q. And both of your children are now just finishing off their own films?
Sir Ridley Scott: Yeah, one’s just finished something called Cracks… it’s a boarding school thing, about control and domination among girls. It’s like Lord of the Flies. There’s also a little bit of Heavenly Creatures in there. Eva Green, who plays the teacher, is really excellent. There’s no guys and two great little actresses. It’s Jordan’s film and she’s probably going to go for Cannes.
Q. Do you take any genetic credit for what they do?
Sir Ridley Scott: In the sense that they watch me do what I do. So, they come down in the morning and see me sitting in my study at 5.45am working over a script. Then they’ll visit the set. So, they see it’s a passion and not a job. After that, they’ve obviously taken to that passion. Jake’s got one week to go with James Gandolfini and a very interesting young actress called Kristen Stewart, who is about to be in a film called Twilight.
Q. Have you been in the editing room with either of them?
Sir Ridley Scott: Are you kidding me? I wouldn’t dare.
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Leonardo DiCaprio interview
- Sir Ridley Scott interview
- Mark Strong interview
- View photos from Body of Lies
- DiCaprio shines at UK premiere
- View photos from the UK premiere
- Read our preview
- Body of Lies kept off US top spot by talking Chihuahua