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Closer - Patrick Marber Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. Congratulations on the Golden Globe nomination...
A.
Thank you very much!

Q. You must be very chuffed?
A.
Very chuffed, very surprised and trying very hard not to take awards and nominations very seriously, which is a really boring response.

Q. You can build your hopes too high sometimes...
A.
Oh I know I can't possibly win! I'm just going there for the fun, but I'm not writing a speech.

Q. But now you have Golden Globe nominee under your belt, to go with Olivier Award winner...
A.
I'm a Golden Globe nominee, yes. It's very nice. It's a very nice thing, but I kind of think of all the awards I wasn't ever nominated for, for years and things.
Well, you just know, as a writer, I didn't really write one of the five best screenplays of the year. There were lots of brilliant screenplays; I was just one of the lucky ones who got nominated.

Q. But it is a brilliant screenplay. It pulls viewers in a lot of different directions and it is very challenging?
A.
Yes, well I hope so. But I think the thing I'm proud of about the film is that there aren't many films - either independent films or mainstream Hollywood films - that are like this; it's of its own times, and it's the film Mike Nichols wanted to make. And whether you like it or not, it's authentic; it's the real deal, and it doesn't pull its punches. It's a film-makers film and I love it for that. He hasn't sold it out, it's just what he wanted to make. And very few films these days, that you see, do you feel that there's a sort of artist's hand at work, and is doing what you wanted it to do.
I felt like that when I saw Paul Pavlikovsky's My Summer of Love. I just thought here's a guy in full command of the medium - you just feel confident from the first shot. And I felt like that with Mike, you know, as soon as you see Natalie Portman walking towards you in slow motion, you just think 'oh, right, I can relax, he knows what he's doing'. And it's a really nice feeling.
It doesn't really feel like it's got anything to do with me. I mean, I know I wrote it, and all that and invented the characters and made it up, but it's Mike's film, so doing the press and stuff, it feels a little bit inauthentic. I was just one component of it.

Q. But probably one of the most important. I mean, if it weren't for you there would be no story?
A.
Sure. But he's the teller of the story, somehow, more than I am. When it was a play, I'm the teller of the story, but the director of the film is really the teller of the story.

Q. You and Mike Nichols first started talking about adapting Closer into a film in 1999, when it first went to Broadway?
A.
That's right, yeah, I had breakfast with him in the spring of '99. He'd seen the play and he'd read the play and he just said he wanted to do a film of it. And I said 'let me think about that' and took a couple of years... I was never going to give it to anyone else; I just needed to get the play out of my system and start thinking about it as something completely different. The irony was, once I'd said 'yes', he said 'but I kind of wanted to do it like the play'.
Whereas my assumption was, 'ok, can I live with ripping up the play and turning it into something completely different?' It took me two years to go 'yeah, I can', and then Mike goes 'well, actually, I want to be completely faithful'.

Q. But it is slightly different?
A.
Slightly different, as film naturally makes it different. But I've always felt with this material that whoever acts in it becomes the characters, cos I don't really deliviate the characters very clearly; they just... they're people in motion saying stuff, and so whichever actor plays the role, that's what Alice is like. It's not like they have to kind of become someone else.
Always when I directed the play, I was always trying to cast people not who were necessarily like the characters, but people who I felt had the essential component that the character had, some kind of soul for it.
Clive Owen being unique....

Q. Because he was in the original stage version?
A.
Yeah, because he had the soul of Dan in the stage version seven years ago, when he was a younger man, and now he's absolutely right for Larry.

Q. And arguably, he gives one of the finest performances in the film?
A.
Yeah, he's phenomenal. Really good.

Q. How do you see that Clive Owen has changed in the time that you're known him? Do you stay in contact?
A.
Yeah, yeah we see each other now and again and when he's been in plays I've gone to see them and had dinner with him and stuff. I'm afraid to say he's the same nice guy he was seven years ago. He was always very committed to his work, and he still is, and he was always interested in doing good stuff, working with good people, and he still is; it doesn't seem to have gone to his head at all, he's just kind of straight, he's just the real deal. He's more at one in his body, I think, which is something I noticed. When he played Dan he was kind of gangly in some way, more boyishly uncertain of where to put himself physically, whereas now - it must be the effects of being photographed so much, doing press and having to talk about yourself endlessly - it forces yopu to find a way of being in the world where you're protected but you can give enough to get through the avalanche of press and the responsiblity you have as a successful film actor. So he seems more centred.

Q. And has that kind of attitude he adopts towards the press helped you in recent times, as the level of scrutiny surrounding you intensifies? Because I imagine this must be a new level of intensity for you?
A.
Yes and no. I mean when the play was on in New York I was starting to get film offers coming through, and since the film's come out I get offered more than I used to, but it happens incrementally. It doesn't feel sudden. It just sort of slowly... you notice more people are calling but it doesn't feel like a big shock. It's very nice but it's not shocking.

Q. It's also quite refreshing and surprising to see Julia Roberts in quite a shocking role by her standards. I mean, she's been seen swearing before, in Erin Brockovich, but she's never used language as coarse as this...
A.
Yeah, not pushed as far as this. And never resistent to it, just totally went with it from day one. Yeah, I think she's surprised a lot of people; a lot of people think of her as a particular kind of actress, but I think she's got much greater range than people have given her credit for.

Q. Did you get to meet her?
A.
Oh yeah, a lot. I wouldn't say we're best buddies, but I hung out with her and gossiped, a few jokes...

Q. And did she have much input into the character, or attempt to bring anything of herself into the role?
A.
Well, I never know how much an actor puts of themselves in, and how much they're drawing on personal experience, and I wouldn't like to pry. But I imagine that if you agree to do a role like that you must know the territory in some way, otherwise it would feel like double dutch.

Q. Talking of knowing the territory, you have stated that it's not really autobiographical, but it does draw on some experiences...
A.
Well I was once unfaithful to someone, I can admit that, and someone was once unfaithful to me, and it hurt, so it's autobiographical in that respect, emotionally, but there is no prototype of Alice, and I'm not Larry and I'm not Dan.

Q. So who do you sympathise with most out of the characters?
A.
All of them. I like them all. I'm very fond of them. They've been very good to me over the years. I like them all - I don't always approve. I see myself as a sort of benevolent uncle to these characters, and I can see why they do what they do; sometimes they make some mistakes, but at heart I think they're decent.
But there are some responses to the film that just go 'they are black, they are evil, they are vicious psychos at war with each other'. I feel those people are watching a different film from the one I see.

Q. Is that because they're clinging on the more traditional need for a happy ending, do you think?
A
. I don't know, I don't know. It just seems to me that life is a bit like this. I know it's a film and all of that, and it's a Hollywood film, but it kind of feels like this sometimes, when you're in pain and it hurts, and you're desperate. Or you are about to cross some moral line and it's so seductive and you just do... and all that. And I think Mike Nichols has just captured those weird feelings, so I find it surprising when people go 'oh, it's got nothing to do with anything I've ever experienced!' I tend to think, 'well, what have you been doing?'

Q. So do you believe in love at first sight?
A. [
Pauses] Yes. Yes I do. Um, but it never seems to last.

Q. Which is why people go on looking?
A.
I guess so.

Q. And would you describe yourself as an optimist or a cynic when it comes to love? Because I have the feeling that after seeing Closer, a lot of people might have you pegged as a cynic.
A.
Yeah they would and they're wrong. I'm a happily married man and I think to get married you have to be optimistic. And I've been with the same person for a long time - I've been together for years. So yeah I'm completely optimistic. You have to be, because when you've given up on love, you've given up on life.

Q.I'm actually planning to get married this year.
A.
Congratulations... good luck to you! I went to a wedding recently, in fact, in Richmond Park. It was at Pembroke Lodge and it was fantastic - except, it was the day someone got murdered in Richmond Park, so it was a wedding in a crime scene. And I thought I've got to write this as a romantic comedy. But it was a fantastic wedding. Is that your neck of the woods?

Q. Yes.
A.
Right, when I was a kid my mother used to take me to that wonderful little hill top near there, where you could look through the bushes and see St Paul's Cathedral. You know where I mean? I grew up in Kingston upon Thames. It's amazing that thing, it's magical.

Q. So talking about future projects, what's next for Patrick Marber?
A.
I'd really like to write a play. I miss the theatre and I've got to get off my arse and write a play; that's really what I've got to do.

Q. Have you started?
A.
I have a few vague ideas, but too vague to discuss.

Q. You direct and act as well, do you intend to do both still, as well as write?
A.
Yeah, if something came up that was too good to say no to. I'm always up for a bit of that. It's nice to do different things, otherwise I'd never get out the house, but I couldn't say I'm flooded with offers as an actor.

Q. Going back a little bit, you started out as a stand-up comedian?
A.
Yes.

Q. Do you miss that at all?
A.
Never. No. I have two recurring nightmares. One, I have to do my finals again, and I haven't revised, and the other one is that I have to do stand-up again and I don't know my lines - I've got no act.
But when I watch great comedy on TV - The Office or Little Britain - I do sometimes think 'oh, I'd love to do a bit of that'. So I sort of miss that. But I don't miss stand-up.

Q. So what made you decide to make the transition into writing?
A
. Nothing, it wasn't a conscious choice, I just happened to write a play. And the play got put on - that was Dealer's Choice - and so suddenly I was a comedian who had written a play and then I'd so enjoyed having written that first play and having it put on, I wanted to do that again and so wrote Closer. And suddenly I was a playwright rather than a comedian. It just sort of happened incrementally, so there was never a day when I sat down and said 'well I'm going to stop being a comedian now and I'm going to become a playwright'. It just happened. And yet I've never felt as though I've ever been in control of my career; I've always felt each day incrementally moves towards different areas, but I've never had a plan or a strategy for it.

Q. So do you ever find yourself having to pinch yourself then with how far you've come - and how fast?
A.
It doesn't feel fast. I've been in showbusiness since 1986 - that's when I graduated and I went straight into doing stand-up. I've been at it a really long time, in fact - 18 years in the business. That's a long time, you know, so I feel I've worked for it. So I really appreciate it and I do pinch myself.
But the thing that really excites me is the people I've worked with over the years. To have worked with Steve Coogan when he was just starting out and to have been involved in all that, and The Day Today was fantastic; and to have Ray Winstone and Phil Daniels in my first play and then to have made a film with Mike Nichols - it's the people that you feel excited about. It's not the awards and it's not the glory of it. The glory is, I had Ray in my play and I directed Ray Winstone before he did Nil By Mouth and, you know, it's that, really.

Q. It serves to enrich the overall life experience, doesn't it?
A.
It does. It's that and that's what I like about showbusiness - you're constantly meeting new people and working with them, and getting to meet people who are your heroes. It's great, it's a nice job for a kid.

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