The Next Three Days - Paul Haggis interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
PAUL Haggis talks about writing and directing The Next Three Days, his remake of little-seen French thriller Anything For Her, and bonding with his star Russell Crowe over steak.
He also talks about the pleasure he got from working with a veteran like Brian Dennehy, why he’d return to the Bond franchise in a heartbeat and why he has remained in touch with Clint Eastwood.
Q. What made you decide to remake the French thriller Anything For Her?
Paul Haggis: I loved that film and I’ve always wanted to do a thriller. I thought it had a lovely plot and that I could dig deeper into some of the issues that the director and writer of that film had presented. I could ask a few more questions of the characters. So, that’s what I did.
Q. Do you feel you’ve improved upon the original by adding that extra depth and expanding the movie by half an hour?
Paul Haggis: I wouldn’t necessarily say improved. I think I’ve put my stamp on it. But I still love their film and I like mine. And I think people will be able to watch the two separately and say that they’re very similar but also different.
Q. What was it like working with Russell Crowe? I gather you were a little nervous at first?
Paul Haggis: I wouldn’t say nervous but you always go into a situation when you’ve heard things and ask yourself: “I wonder who he’ll be?” But we genuinely hit it off from our first day together, when he took me into his back yard and made me a steak [laughs]. We then settled on a relationship early on, which was built on mutual respect. Saying that, we also knew that we’d be able to challenge each other and push each other – but I love that kind of thing.
Q. You say you’re a particular admirer of the films of the ‘70s, where thrillers took time to build characters. Which films did you have in mind when it came to adopting that approach for this?
Paul Haggis: Very much so. Three Days of The Condor is one of my favourite films of all time because it takes so much time with the relationships between the characters. It gives you the chance to really absorb who those characters are. But there are so many from that period… if you look at Dog Day Afternoon, or the films that were traditionally known as suspense thrillers. They deal with the suspense issue but also deal with the characters. And, of course, the films of Alfred Hitchcock played a big part in inspiring me as a filmmaker.
Q. Conversely, did helping to write some Bond scripts (Casino Royale/Quantum of Solace) help to equip you when it came to preparing the action sequences in The Next Three Days?
Paul Haggis: I loved working with Michael and Barbara Broccoli on those Bond films. I learned so much from them during that process and I got to challenge them and they got to challenge me. So, yes you could say it was good preparation when it came to the action scenes for this.
Q. Would you return to Bond once the problems are resolved with the studio?
Paul Haggis: Well, they haven’t asked me back yet but I would do it in a heartbeat.
Q. You seem to enjoy working with actors you’ve worked with before as a director. Olivia Wilde is someone you first came across on The Black Donnellys…
Paul Haggis: I love Olivia. She was 19 when I first worked with her and I think she’s amazingly talented. But it was nice to get the chance to work with her again on this. But I do like working with actors and building an ensemble cast. Jonathan Tucker, who was also on The Black Donnellys, gets to contribute a great supporting role in this. So, yeah, it’s one of the pleasures of my job and I like putting together a troupe.
Q. Conversely, you get to work with a veteran like Brian Dennehy. How was that for you?
Paul Haggis: Wow, you only have to look at his performance in this. Brian is amazing. I knew of his work, obviously, and I’d met him a couple of times over the years, so I’ve always been a huge admirer of his. But with this plot and this character [Russell Crowe’s father] I knew I needed someone great, but I never thought he was going to do it. I mean, he has two lines! But he just went ‘OK’ when I asked. And he ad-libbed a line and added one, so one third of his total performance comes from him. He’s an actor who can say so much with so little. You look at him in those scenes and, oh my god, he is able to tell such a complex story in those five seconds or so.
Q. Do you notice that even an actor of Russell Crowe’s stature will raise his game when Brian is around?
Paul Haggis: Absolutely! When you put Russell with Brian or Liam Neeson… boy does it become great to watch on those days. It’s like two thoroughbreds going at it.
Q. How was getting to work inside a real prison?
Paul Haggis: It was great. They opened up their doors to us while I was doing my research and then they invited is back to allow shooting. It’s a depressing place to shoot a movie [laughs] but they couldn’t have been nicer to us and it was a great experience. They opened up their files and showed me how people had tried to break out, which we were then able to use in the movie.
Q. So, how accurate is your break out guide?
Paul Haggis: Oh, completely accurate! As I said, the prison showed me the ways people have tried to break out, which we used in the film – no one has ever succeeded, of course, so I wouldn’t recommend it [laughs]. Russell Crowe is Russell Crowe and it works for him! But it’s not to be copied! But all the things that I went through and found on the Internet really do exist and either work or don’t work. The bump key, for instance.
Q. What was the biggest challenge for you on this?
Paul Haggis: Being able to keep the tension in the first hour when nothing is happening on the screen and it’s all the drama about a man failing and failing and failing. It’s not your normal template. So, that was the biggest challenge. Once you get into the escape, it’s easy to keep the suspense. But keeping the audience invested in the characters early on was the most difficult aspect of it.
Q. And similarly, was that a challenge in convincing the investors to allow you to take that long to do it?
Paul Haggis: Yes, that’s true.
Q. Do you think remakes have a bad reputation in the press?
Paul Haggis: I don’t pay much attention to the press. My films always get good reviews and bad reviews. I just try to make the best film I can.
Q. So, what have been your favourite remakes of recent years?
Paul Haggis: Well, I think The Departed… Scorsese’s film is remarkable.
Q. What do you look for as a writer and director when taking on projects?
Paul Haggis: It’s all about finding a good story and then telling it well. I try to find something I truly care about and want to spend a couple of years on.
Q. How did the Oscar wins change your life?
Paul Haggis: I got to make more movies, so that was nice. Crash and Million Dollar Baby were my first two films and I couldn’t have asked for two better ones. Now I just have to keep trying to capitalise on whatever modicum of celebrity I have in order to convince people to keep letting me make them.
Q. Do you stay in touch with Clint Eastwood?
Paul Haggis: I do. We’ve not talked for a few months, but he supported our work as part of Artists for Peace and Justice and our efforts to build a High School in the slums of Port-au-Prince in Haiti [following the 2010 earthquake]. If you go to apjnow.org you can find out more about that initiative.