A/V Room









Collateral - Michael Mann Q&A

Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. In the notes, you said the script was a little bit like getting a denouement of a film, rather like the third act all in one piece, and viewers have to learn about the characters as they go along. Is that sort of what attracted you in the first place?
Yeah, very much so, it was like take the third act and make a whole motion picture about the third act. It’s a very different sort of motion picture, but Dr Strangelove does the same thing, you can almost imagine the two prior acts before Sterling Hayden launches. But the movie actually begins with, it’s launched, you know, and that started the movie.
The challenge of seeing as closely and intimately as I could, as well as subjectively, the conditions of these people, but seeing the detail and letting the detail imply the whole, so we’d know exactly where Vincent came from. Vincent doesn’t even know exactly what the witnesses… he assumes the witnesses are for the prosecution, and there is a juxtaposition.

Q. You must have been delighted that Tom Cruise wanted to become so involved, especially with his stunts, but I wonder if there were any worries during scenes, such as when he falls over the chair, that the dark shadow of an insurance right-off may have sprung to mind? And, indeed, did anyone receive any injuries?
I think one of the most outstanding feats of physical acumen is Jada running in high heels! No, nobody got banged up; not that I recall.

Q. But Tom fell off the chair, didn’t he, as he jumped through the glass window?
Yeah, but those are the kind of anomalistic things that happen; I love those moments. That’s not like anybody got hurt, because I’ve never had anyone hurt on a film, or killed [laughs], but when Vincent is standing by the doors, on the harbour station, which is the one station the train stops at before the last one, the door closes and bangs into him, and those things are like those accidents that happen in life that, for me, make things feel more real. So I value them.

Q. It was very refreshing to see Jamie, at one point, not know how to handle a gun. Was that a particular decision of yours?
It wasn’t in the script but, yeah, absolutely, I mean Jamie is a middle-class cab driver from Ladera Heights, which is a middle-class section of LA, he’s never really seen violence in his life, except a road-side accident, he’s got a very domineering mother; he’s got the impulse to do things like ask Annie for her phone number, he’s had this amazing intimate rapport, and he can’t bring himself to ask her for her phone number, so there’s a real potent guy in there, but he’s very inhibited and he can’t get it out. That’s his character. So of course he doesn’t know how to handle a gun.

Q. What’s your idea of a cab ride from hell and have you ever had one?
My grandfather, Sam Mann, owned a small cab company, with one or two cabs, in Chicago, and I drove a cab when I was a kid when I was working away from school, and my brother drove a cab… The strangest cab I ever had was when I was going to a rehearsal for my wedding in New York and the cab driver said, ‘where are you going?’, and I said, ‘The Plaza Hotel’, so he said, ‘why’s that’, ‘for a rehearsal for my wedding’, and he said, ‘you’re gonna go and get married?’ So he turned the meter off and said ‘let’s go for a ride in Central Park, let me tell you about marriage’ [laughs] and he proceeded to give me this big lecture about why I shouldn’t get married.

Q. What sort of tricks did you employ to make sure that Jada’s character made the right sort of impression within the first 15 minutes of the movie?
We had to ask ourselves exactly that same question. How do you sustain the memory, or romantic allure/potential, cos it’s not even a romance, of the rapport that Max has with Annie in that first scene, so that it clicks in later on? And it had to with how do you build a scene? There’s the characters, and who each character is. Max has an ability, he’s a great cab driver, and when you’re a cab driver is one of the things you do is read people; cos you may have four people on that street corner all vying for your cab, and you want the right to get into that back seat; the guy who looks like he’s going to tip well. So you read people, you look at their shoes, you look at their heels, are their heels down-trodden? What kind of clothes are they wearing? And that’s one of the background issues, Max wants that fare. So he knows her and some of the dynamics that come into play are that they conflict in the beginning, so that the rapport is more intense in the end, and it almost works in indirect proportion. The more there is a conflict in the beginning, the more intense the rapport will be towards the end, when he offers her this very selfless gesture of offering her this postcard.
She, on the other hand, has some other drama, or traumatic experience with her secretary, that’s been going on before the movie began, and doesn’t pay any attention to Max, jumps in the back of the seat, and tells the guy who is kind of the Vasco de Gamo of LA cab drivers, how to go. So right away, you see from the look in his face, there’s this conflict that starts, but it gives him something to transcend into a rapport. The intimacy, in which she says something to him, because he’s safe, he’s a stranger and she’s never going to see him again, that intimacy prompts the selfless action of him giving her the card, and it really is a connection that he can’t bring himself to ask her for her phone number, yet if ever there was an invitation to say, ‘hey, honey, can I ask you for your phone number?’, this is it, and Max can’t do it, and she turns around on the sidewalk. So those are all the dynamics that we worked with to do it. But that question tortured us for a long time as well.

Q. Tom Cruise has a fantastic CV, but how did you know he could play the hitman?
Tom has darker parts of his history, as we all do, that I haven’t seen. There are a whole range of parts and emotions and dynamics that I haven’t seen Tom do that I know he could do, so it was a very exciting prospect, for me, to have him play the kind of character he hadn’t played before. My favourite performances of Tom’s are Magnolia, Jerry Maguire, Rain Man, and so there’s so much potential in Tom to play more diverse characters, and it’s always a good prescription, for me… I like to cast against type, and to take people onto different frontiers. Meaning something that I haven’t done before, or something that Tom hasn’t done before, ‘cos as actors and creative people, there is some attendant anxiety, which is all good, it’s a bigger challenge, there’s stuff you don’t know how to do, such as what is that component that we don’t know how to do? And how do we find out all about it, including the fact that there was a lot of deep analysis about where this character would have come from.
He probably would have been in Special Forces, probably would have had a very unsuccessful career in the military because he may have been good, but probably would have been insubordinate to authority, and then popped out of that, maybe six or seven years ago, into the private sector, and be hired by Narco Trafficking Cartels, typically out of the Three Borders area, or Cartagena, to do this kind of a job. So we built all those component parts and just went at it, piece by piece.

Q. But he’s ruthless and relentless, and you always think that there might be a point in a Hollywood movie that he will draw back. I mean, there’s a magnificent scene with the jazz man, for instance, when you think he might let him go? Was there any discussion about softening the character at all?
I like dimensional characters, and I wanted to see the human being on the inside, without saying that because you’ve glimpsed a human being, that it condones the action. The actions are sociopathic; they’re socially dysfunctional and he’s a psychopath. Yet you still see the human dimension to the man because, in our story, he starts to crack up, and the first glimpse of that is the kind of remorse that he has after he shoots Daniel; he doesn’t hesitate, and he’s right back on the job afterwards, but you glimpse something - a fracture, a moment - and that is how I wanted to come to know the human being he might have been if his life had gone on a different course. I used that strategy to reveal the double nature of the man, rather than the sentimentality of him holding back from doing what he has to.

Q. Obviously you were confident that Tom could play a villain, but did you have to reassure the studio that it might not be a risky venture?
No, no, they thought it was a great idea. I’m talking about Walter Parkes, who I worked with primarily at Dreamworks, and Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg…

Q. Did Tom need persuading to go grey?
No, I mean, I had two ideas again because the movie attempts to examine detail really closely to bring the audience what they could, and a real sense of immediacy, and then imply the general, rather than do exposition. So, to make his character vivid, we were looking for those signs and symbols of the 40 years that preceded tonight, to encode into his presentation. Meaning grey hair, there’s a number of scars that he has on his face and hands that you probably sense; if I pointed them out to you, you’d probably see them, but I don’t necessarily know that you’d know they’re there. There’s a certain rough trade in a good suit about it. The suit looks like it was tailored by a cotton tailor, maybe Milan or Bangkok, but he comes from foreign places. It’s like with Jason Statham, who meets him at the beginning and they do this brush past, so it’s only giving you a fraction, only what you need to know - premeditation, there’s a plan, it’s secretive, and it has foreign origins. So that’s all you needed to know.
The other hair I was going to use, which I was determined not to let go to waste, I gave to Mark Ruffalo, which was long, straight brown hair, extremely pulled back.

Q. How did you avoid making the driving scenes look fake?
Because they weren’t fake. There’s no green screen process to any of this. We were driving these cabs and there were a number of cabs; some we towed, some we drove, depending on what the shots were. And they’re real backgrounds outside those windows. Initially, I read 27 pages in a cab, which was claustrophobic, but then I thought the only person it’s claustrophobic for is me, holding the camera, or the camera operator, because I get to put the character’s faces up against the windows and see out. So, in fact, it’s liberating, because instead of playing out a scene in one location, I get to play a scene against a whole mile, because it’s moving, and LA is really perceived, in a way, on the move. When you drive the city at night and you sense the allure of Los Angeles, it puts you in these strong moods. As a film-maker, I’m always looking for that, because you realise that the mood is never static; it’s always… you know, driving down the 101 into Downtown, there’s fog, the marine layer just came in, there’s this great fog, and then it just ended, so it’s always transitional.

Q. Is it true that you sent Jamie on a driving course so that he could act and drive at the same time?
Well, in the sense that when you drive a cab, you learn how to pass people on the right, do all kinds of rude things that get you there 20 seconds earlier. I mean Max spends 12 hours a day, driving a cab, five days a week, for 12 years, I mean, you know how a Ford Crown Victoria handles; you know that when you brake, the weight shifts forward, the front tyres spread out, you double the traction on the front tyres when the weight shifts forward, so you want to break in a straight line, and as the weight shifts forward and as the traction doubles, because the tyres spread, that’s when you start inputting the turn. You don’t try to brake and turn at the same time, you brake first, turn second. So you learn all this stuff, and this is also the basic principle of race-car driving. So we gave him race-car driving instructions in a taxi cab out at Willow Springs Racetrack, and he did great.

Q. Is it true that you’re going to be working with Michael again on a World War Two movie?
Yeah, it’s something we’re developing. When you work with people and you have a great time doing it, and it’s a really productive experience, you want to do it again. Jamie and I are developing something as well. It’s called The Few and it takes place in The Battle of Britain. There was a very, very small number of Americans, like 17, who flew Spitfires during The Battle of Britain.

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