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Matchstick Men - Sir Ridley Scott Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. In the production notes, it suggests that you have a similar set of compulsions as the character played by Nicolas Cage in the film?
A.
It's actually true, I'm anal compulsive. I didn't go to the education that my two sons went through, which is sending them to the best possible schools that I could get them into. They were good schools, educationally, but they became the two biggest slobs I have ever come across...
I'm an army brat, in a way, because my father had ten years in the military. But because he was always away, my mother was both father and mother, and she was as militant as you'd like to get, so she brought all the three boys up very rigidly. There's almost a degree of laziness in being that anal compulsive, because it means at some point you don't actually have to tidy up.

Q. Can I ask you to comment on behalf of Nic, as he's not here, whether it ever became tiring, given the number of tics, etc, that his character possesses?
Alison Lohman.
It seemed like he wanted to do more and more. I think he enjoyed it.
Sir Ridley: And then he started doing the thing with his arms [throws them up in the air, twice]. I said, 'what the hell's that? at first, but then you've got to let it sit. Nic was saying the other day, that at the end of the film you either have it, on rushes, or you don't.
I knew the backlash would be that the studio had read one thing, and then they were watching rushes every day and wonder what the hell was going on.
But you have to be locked and loaded by the time you say 'it's a wrap on a movie'. You better have everything in the can, because then you can play with it. You can always tone it down, if it's too much, but you can't tone it if you haven't got it, so I let Nic run with it.

Q. Was there something that you had seen Alison in, that convinced you this was your leading lady?
A.
No, I'd never seen White Oleander, because it was just about coming. It's about casting; I saw a tape and from the tape I thought, mmm, again, it's intuition which comes from experience.
When she walked in, I thought I was seeing a 14-year-old, because, of course, in came the hairstyle, and the shoes and everything. I think we talked for about an hour and a quarter, and I said to her at that point - when it was about 6.45pm and starting to get dark - 'and who's coming to pick you up?' And she said: "I'm driving my Explorer home, and by the way can I have a drink before I go and a cigarette?'

Q. People have said that Matchstick Men is one of the smallest Ridley Scott films in ages, unlike your big movies such as Gladiator or Black Hawk Down. How do you feel when you get labelled like that? Does it bother you?
A.
No, you learn to not worry about being stereotyped because that's part of the business, as well as part of the evolution, hopefully, that you do evolve as an actor, producer or director. I always try and evolve as a director and am therefore quiet consciously looking for different material.

Q. What about the scene with the woman who 'wins' the Lottery, can you comment on that?
A.
That was the one scene which Ted and Nic said we should go back to, because giving the money back wasn't in the original script. Obviously, it was bothering Ted about the morality of what just happened and, at first, I argued, feeling they were too politically correct, leave it be, but now I'm glad I shot it, because it actually raises the whole tone of the relationship between dad and daughter at that moment.

Q. Do you find it easier directing a smaller, ensemble movie like this, rather than something on a bigger scale, such as Gladiator?
A.
Easy is not the word, especially if you're invested in the material, which I always am before stepping across the sale counter. Someone said to me, 'it's interesting that you're doing such a small movie', and I replied, 'well, what's a small movie?' I've seen more movies this year with budgets in excess of $160 million, which are rubbish!
Where you've got masses of amounts of money spent on special effects, where the means become the end in itself, if you know what I mean. As opposed to have a great three act play, which will inevitably lead to some great characters, which, therefore, is bigger than the large movie.

Q. What was it like going back and working on something like Alien again, after 25 years?
A.
They wanted to re-release it, so after 25 years I thought that was great. To my way of thinking, it was three and a half generations hadn't seen it. I mean, you've seen it on rental tape, which invariably looks awful, and then the advent of DVD is fantastic because you get a better quality, but I believe bigger is better in the watching process. So when they said we were going to re-release it, will you supervise it, I said 'yeah'.
I started by getting the original print, off the original negative, and checked it out, and thought it was pretty good. But I started to get impatient, because I've never really examined it from that point of view, but I was thinking, 'why does it take so long for him to walk in the room? Why does it take so long for the camera to move, God damn it?'
So what I did was shaved off five minutes of that, which makes it that much more aggressive. It doesn't move like lightning, there was always this pained pace to the movie, which is very effective, and which is the antithesis of what's happening today, so I shaved it a bit, and added five minutes, so the film is actually 46 seconds shorter than the original.

Q. I saw Thelma and Louise and it blew me away without knowing anything about it, do you sometimes think there is too much publicity for a film, and that people are being deprived of a more genuine experience?
A.
Well, it's catch 22. The problem today is that they're making 400 movies a year in Hollywood, which is staggering. And also it's a marketplace which is equally valuable to the exhibitor, as it is to the theatre owners. So because they've got so much cannon fodder coming through, a lot of which is pulp, and you don't know whether it's going to work or not - because pulp can work big time, particularly in the foreign market - unless you have that big opening weekend, you can get yanked after two days. There's always something incoming that's going to just knock you off the top. The exhibitor will say 'out, next!' So you've just got to go into a highly competitive market place with everything you can. The key, therefore, is about clever advertising, making you interested without telling you everything.

Q. Was there ever a time when you felt that Nicolas Cage was too inventive for what you had in mind? And did you find yourself having to reign him in at all?
A.
Not really, I mean that's part of the job. That's what I'm doing there, an actor can come up and say what did I think of that, was it too fast. What I do as a director is encourage that free for all with anyone I'm working with. When I'm done, I'm usually 'two-take Charlie', but what I do is, say, go to Alison and ask her if she is happy. And she'll either say 'yeah' or 'can I have one for me'.
It's taken me a while to understand how vulnerable they are. Acting is very much a vulnerable occupation and it's my job to create a platform of safety, so that they don't feel awkward in front of a crew of 50 people on the set. If she's going to open herself up, for instance [gesturing towards Alison] that's a pretty vulnerable situation.

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