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25th Hour - Spike Lee & Barry Pepper Q&A



Compiled by Jack Foley

PEPPER Q&A

Q. Your character is one of the most honest and cynical characters in the film, which is different from any other character that you've played. Is that right?
A.
Well, I think it's also in keeping with the morally ambiguous and sort of paracidic world in which he works. The world of a Wall Street hustler is definitely an emotionally guarded one, because constantly, his existence feels threatened.
But yeah, it's very different from anything that I have ever played before and it was definitely a challenge.

Aren't Edward and Barry in the kind of position where they can actually do something by not making those [commercial] kind of films and sort of upping the ante, and working on projects which have more value...
Barry Pepper: Totally, completely, and I think it definitely limits your career. I've had the opporunity to take part in movies that have gone on to become huge commercial successes, which probably would have advanced my career and paid off my mortgage, and taken care of many of the other comforts that I'm not enjoying now. But I can't sleep at night with those kind of decisions and I have to find stories, like this, that really speak to my moral and spiritual foundation, and that I feel strongly about.
You want to entertain, and when you're dealing with a much more sophisticated audience these days, that do invest themselves in answering those questions that filmmakers like Spike pose, it's much more entertaining for me, and for audiences, to make those decisions based on the quality of the story.

Edward Norton: Sometimes I feel like I'm a little more sanguin sometimes, about the state of things. Spike and I talked about this some time ago.
I don't have expectations that most things will be good. Certainly, I don't have expectations that most things will be great. But over time, as long as people have been making commercial cinema, probably the same percentages of totally terrible/mediocre/middle of the road/ok and great films have been made, I don't think the balances of perfection and ugliness change all that much.
There is a business, and there are people who are involved in the business of financing films and distributing them, and trying to make a profit out of them; I don't particularly begrudge people trying to do their best to achieve that. I think they end up making a lot of stuff that is totally banal or boring, but I'm not engaged in that, so I don't really care, as long as it's not preventing what I would call the kind of cinema that I care about from reaching the screen.
But I don't feel that this is happening. I think that, in many ways, you hear people romanticising the late Sixties and early Seventies, but I think... you know, I've never made an independent film, even though people call me an independent actor.
I've never been in a film that wasn't financed by a studio. American History X, Fight Club and this film, and many others that I've done that are sort of off-centre, or personal film-making, but all have been financed by studios.
I haven't had the experience that you can't get those kind of films done. And I'm encouraged by a new wave of voices out there, the Paul Thomas Andersons, the Finchers, Spike's been around longer, but Alexander Payne, the Wachowski brothers... to me, my generation is arriving in a way that, to me, is very exciting.
I think that there is as exciting a wave of new film-makers arriving than there has been for quite a while, and I think that even within the context of the bigger and bigger conglomerates mode of doing business, I also think there is an expansion of the different ways you can get a film made.
There are more people looking for content, and I look at it as a very fertile time. It can be frustrating at times, that we can't get more money, sometimes, to do a certain kind of film, but I try to remember that you're not entitled to $50m to make a film, and you've got to be willing to work within the parameters that you can create and that's what being a part of it, on some level, is really what it's about.
It's not about expectation of huge amounts of money, so there are things that are sometimes discouraging; it's discouraging to see work that I think is exciting left out of the mainstream conversation, but on the whole I feel optimistic.
I mean, the ease with which we put this film together was exciting, because it spoke to the passion of all the people involved, and to the strength of the material.
And a big studio like Disney recognised those elements in this film, so it's hard to be cynical when you can create these kinds of opportunities.

 

SPIKE LEE Q&A

Why this particular script? This is not a script that you wrote. So why this one?
A: Well, David Benioff is a fine young writer. I did not know of the novel when it was published, but we shared a lot of views... and also, Mr Norton and I had been talking about working together for quite a while, so it all just lined up.

Q. After September 11, a lot of American filmmakers went out of their way to edit the Twin Towers out of their movies, yet this is the first film to actually embrace the mood of America after September 11. Obviously, this was a conscious decision on your part, and I was just wondering why....
A: Other film-makers and studios have to do what they feel is best for their film. But, number one, we never saw it as a race, you know, to be the first. Whether we were the first or the 100th, it wasn't going to change our feeling about including this different world.
In America, we are very privileged. Not only do we have this so-called, high standard of living, but we have not really felt terrorism, the way the rest of the world has.
I mean, we had the first bombing of the World Trade Center, and everyone thought that was like a freak of nature; and then we had the Oklahoma Bombing... But what happened on September 11 really traumatised Americans and we're still feeling the effects, because we are living in a much different world now, where the threat of terrorism is an everyday occurrence.
And so, we wanted to reflect this different world in the film.

What is the most encouraging and discouraging thing about filmmaking in Hollywood today?
A. Well, I think the most discouraging thing about Hollywood is that if you're trying to say something different and unique, it's much harder. I mean, this past year, Hollywood made more money than ever before. And so, they're going to do more of the same. They're going to make more prequels, more sequels, although I'm going to leave the two Matrix films out of that, because I like them [laughs]...
It's the dumbing down theory, where everything is the lowest common denominator. Sometimes I just scratch me head and say, 'what has happened?'
But my love of cinema is getting stronger every day. You just got to keep fighting, you know.
I'm gonna take a liberty and speak for Edward and Barry and say that we love what we're doing. And we make a lot of money doing what we're doing. And 99% of people in the world go to their graves having slaved at a job they hate all their life.
So we're very blessed, because we all love cinema, and we're doing it. And I say my prayers and blessings every night, cos it didn't have to be like this.

Spike, the Academy has overlooked you yet again. A) Does it bother you, and B) do you think there will ever be a point when they recognise you?
Spike Lee: Well, you hear many stories, one of them being that Disney wanted to make a film that could get a nomination. If you make that decision, it then means that you're going to be putting the film in a very crowded season - the pre-Christmas Oscar push market. And so, if you do that, it means that you have to be willing to get down and dirty with the Miramaxes of the world. But if that's what you want, then you have to do that.
The days when you could just send a DVD over to the judges, and stick a couple of adverts in the trades, are over. I mean, you've got to give Mr Weinstein his dues, he does what it takes, you know, and just look at the record books, look at the nominations that Miramax has got. He changed the game, and if you don't want to play like him, then you're not going to be in a strong position.
Q. Do you care?
Spike Lee:
Not really.

 

 

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