Compiled by: Jack Foley
Q. You found this novel, what single thing particularly attracted
you to it?
A. There was no single thing, it was just reading the whole
book. I read a synopsis, loved the idea, had liked Dennis Lehane's
writing before, and detective novels, but this was a whole other
ball game, as far as I was concerned. I just liked the story,
so I figured I had to do it.
Q. It seems to me that this film is almost like a companion
piece to Unforgiven, in that it talks about the consequences of
A. I didn't purposely try to find a companion piece to that,
but I guess I'm, without thinking about it, equally interested
in the results of violence, and the effects of it on the perpetrator,
as well as the victim. So, it was just a great story, with a lot
of layers to it; every role was really good, and Laurence came
in to be the guy who is, if you like, voyeuring for us in this
As for Tim's role, I guess it was unusual casting, because I imagine
it would have been tempting to cast a smaller, more vulnerable
looking man in the part, but I think it worked in opposite, because
he was so very effective in the way he submerged himself in this
Q. How do you find it when you direct actors who have directed
films themselves? And Eli Wallach in a small role, that was very
interesting, was that deliberate?
A. It had been 37 years since we worked together, so there
is a little history there, but I think the fact that these fellas,
the four principle men, had all directed films before, is actually
an asset, because I've always felt that every actor should direct
at some point in their life, and that every director should act.
This way it makes everybody understand what the process is; you
hear about actors being late, but you never find that with an
actor who has directed [laughs]. An actor who has directed understands
all of the problems that the production is going through and these
fellas have all done it, and done it very well, so it was great
for me; they understood the language; there was very little discussion
before everyone was on the page.
Q. You also wrote the music for this film. If you could go
back and decide again about which career path you followed, would
you have made a different choice?
A. It's very difficult, but I think I was in the right career;
I certainly enjoy motion pictures, but I did grow up with a great
interest in music, and studied it for a few years, but sort of
left it, but I think every film has its rhythm.
In the case of this film, it had two rhythms; the Kevin Bacon/Laurence
Fishburne rhythm, and the rhythm that Tim, Sean and Marcia Gay
and Laura Linney. It was blending those as these stories all converged
on one another, and I just think music is a great example of,
if you go to a music session, for example, the musicians can all
walk in, sit down and start playing straight away; the conductor
can almost start playing straight away, and everyone knows what
to do. Of course, they had rehearsed, but they're not guessing,
they kind of know, and then the conductor can tweak little things,
and that kind of goes back to the directing of motion pictures.
You're either directing a motion picture, or you're a guesser,
and a guesser figures maybe I've got to do it 20 times, and I'm
hoping it falls into place; but at some point in your career,
I think you've got to believe and make those decisions there.
Sometimes you'll look back and say, 'Jeez, if only I'd done that'...
everybody does that. But I didn't have that on this picture, because
I had absolutely the best cast I have ever assembled, and they
were so professional, and so good, that it made it easy for me.
I didn't feel like I was doing anything, except enjoying myself.
Q. Do you write the music for the film before you start filming,
or after you have finished shooting?
A. In the case of Unforgiven, it was before the film. It was
written on piano, for a guitarist, and with Laurindo Almeida in
mind, because I'm an admirer of his and his ability to be extremely
This film, I wrote it afterwards, during the editing process,
cos as the film was coming together, editorially, I sort of took
a try at it, on the piano, representing the three guys, and built
it out from there.
I played it into a computer and then a friend of mine, a wild
Russian, classical piano player, had this computer that could
bring in all kinds of synthetic instruments, so we sort of mocked
it up, using oboes, and cellos. We then put it in, as I was editing
the film, so that as it was going together, we were laying the
score and trying it out. The we took it to Lennie Niehaus and
he sort of arranged it for a 19-piece orchestra.
Q. The ending of the film, and particular Laura Linney's Lady
Macbeth sequence, raises some very interesting issues of morality.
Had you and Mr Helgeland discussed the impact this might have
had on the audience, some of whom may feel that it is wrong for
evil-doers to go unpunished?
A. From the very beginning, Dennis Lehane's approach to it
was an Americanized Greek tragedy, or Shakespearean tragedy. For
sure, the name Anna Beth came from Lady Macbeth, so there is that
story, that sort of moral ambiguity. It's sort of philosophized
upon there, and how she helps cover up his guilt, that he's talking
But I think that you know who's in charge, and it's not Alexander
Hague, you know. You know it's going to be Lady Macbeth, she's
going to be pulling the strings.
You see, when they go out onto the street, the almost kind of
contempt she has for her own cousin, and it's just too bad that
this is the way life has come together. Whether it's the proper
thing to do, that's just the way the story led out.
Relating back to the prior question, that Tim was talking about
being asked to go to Toronto to save money, because Americans
might have frozen money there, or the Canadian dollar is more
appealing, it was suggested that this could be made there. But
on the spot, like this, I can save them money shooting on the
real location, rather than going out of the country and spending
days added to the schedule adjusting things, and gerry-rigging
everything around, and trying to get everything to look like Boston.
Q. Richard Burton once commented that your acting represented
a sort of 'dynamic lethargy'. I wonder whether you agree with
that, and whether, as you get older, the acting will take a back
seat to the directing?
A. [Laughs] Whatever Richard says is absolutely true. That
was his impression at the time; Richard Burton has always been
fascinated by American actors' style, Robert Mitchum in particular,
and the type of people that could do an understated type of thing.
I'm not very objective about myself, I'm just kind of hanging
out, and whatever I do is strictly on the spare of the moment,
or the instinct of the moment.
As I'm maturing, I'm more interested in directing. I've always
been more interested since 1970, but I stayed with both in order
to get the films done. Now, I'm letting other, younger players
take the limelight.
Q. Do you ever show the ending to a test audience and let
them decide, or do you believe your version is the one that goes
out, no matter what?
A. This film, definitely has a lot of audience conclusion,
when Kevin points at Sean, and cocks his finger, a lot of people
have asked me what that means, and I always say, 'what do you
think it means?' And they tell me, and I tell them 'that's perfect'
It's what you want it to mean. It could mean a variety of things,
from this is knowledge that we share together and hold beyond
this, or I'm going to get you, or whatever it is, it's up to the
audience to participate in that a little bit.
But in terms of test audiences actually dictating how a film should
end, I don't do that. I make the film that I want and if people
like it or don't like it, then that's something they're going
to have to deal with.
If I go out and start fiddling with it, I don't want to put the
audience on the spot. If you go into a preview being told that
you're going to get asked a lot of questions about this film,
all of a sudden, the audience is looking at it from a different
perspective; they're not enjoying themselves. They're thinking
that they have to think up something intelligent to say about
it, even before the picture is even over, so I don't think that's
fair to the movie.
You should make the film the way you intended, the way the writer
intended, your interpretation of what the writer has intended,
and you go from there.
If something doesn't work, as historically there have been great
films like Sunset Boulevard and Lost Horizons, have been changed
around due to a revamping sort of after their testing, but by
and large I've got to go with the hand that was played.
Q. What do you think about the new governor of California?
A. [Laughs] I didn't know until a minute before we came in
here. We all suspected that Arnold might become the governor,
because there was a great deal of dissatisfaction, obviously,
with the current governor, but it's going to be interesting now
that he's got what he wants. Now the nightmare begins! Be careful
what you wish for.
More power to him, I wish him good luck. The state of California
could certainly use it right now; he's going to need it, but he
may just be brilliant, and I'm sure we're all hoping that.
Q. With Ronald Reagan, yourself and now Arnie, why do actors
want to become politicians?
A. Well, most politicians want to be actors [laughs] it seems
like a logical tool for a politician, especially in this electronic
media age that we live in. A charismatic performer, like Arnold
is, who is definitely a strong presence, that's a great advantage.
It was an advantage that the former governor didn't have. Ronald
Reagan was a good example, they called him the 'great communicator',
he made you feel very homy, and very comfortable, even if he agreed
or disagreed with a decision, or some political position. It is
an advantage to have a little bit of celebrity, but like Tim was
saying, a lot of politicians do everything by focus groups - they
call up focus groups and find out what the general population
wants and then go ahead and vote for it. Sometimes, in order to
be a really good politician, you have to go ahead, even if it's
not terribly popular. You have to make decisions that you believe
in, and this will be a big challenge for him and I hope he does
Q. The past plays a big part in the story, as it does in a
lot of your roles, do you think it mirrors your own real life?
Do you think decisions you made then helped to shape what has
happened now, or decisions you make now?
A. I've always been fascinated with the stealing of someone's
life, of innocence, and think that it's the most heinous crime,
and certainly a capital crime if ever there was one. I think anything
to do with a crime against children is something that is very
strong in my mind, and that's what attracted me to this story;
that here, in adulthood, these people are still having problems
and how fate takes this journey. Things keep coming around, ironies
keep coming around, that bring us to the conclusion it has.
Q. People are already rating this work as your finest since
Unforgiven and talking about Oscar nominations. Is that the sort
of thing you take any notice of?
A. I can't speak for everyone else here, but I would prefer
not to think on that level. I'd like to see the picture go out
and have a nice life, and if that includes anything else, or if
someone else suggests that, then fine. The picture was made to
go out and hopefully be provocative in people's minds, and that's
as far as I can take it.
Q. Why did you choose to speak at Oxford tomorrow night?
A. [Pause] It seemed like a decent university. [Laughter].
It might be like LA City College, which is a school. But it's
very nice and I'd like to go up there and see it. It just seemed
like a nice thing to do.
Q. You have always said you wanted to work with Sean Penn,
because you had a very high opinion of him. What was it like actually
working with him and how did your opinion change, if at all?
A. Every one of these actors, I'd never worked with. I'd worked
with Laura Linney and Marcia Gay and knew they were great. I was
a great admirer of Tim, Laurence and Kevin Bacon. So when people
ask me about Sean, I say, 'well, he's highly rated and he's better
than he's rated', so that's the only way I can say about it. But
then I'd have to say the same about the whole cast - they're all
highly rated and they're all better than their rating.
Q. What keeps you so young?
A. If you feel young and think young, and fortunately I have
young children, which keep you young, and take reasonably good
care of yourself and enjoy life. And keep learning something new
every day. I learn something new every picture and in everyday
life.. that keeps you young. If you level off, then you just sort
Q. If you could work with a former colleague, living or dead,
one more time, is there anyone that would spring to mind?
A. That's a hard one, cos I'm sort of living in the present.
I've worked with some really nice actors in the past, who are
deceased, but Eli, we worked together on the plains of Spain 37
years ago, and had a great time as the only two gringos in the
country. So it was great to see him again. We didn't work as actors
together, but it was great to see him from behind the camera with
this senior station he has in life.