The Recruit - Roger Donaldson Q&A

Compiled by Jack Foley

Director, Roger Donaldson, has enjoyed considerable success in his depictions of the White House, the Pentagon and now the CIA. Speaking at a press conference at London’s Dorchester Hotel, he outlines some of the reasons why, and discusses what it was like to work with Colin Farrell and Al Pacino…

Q. In your films, you have dealt, variously, with the Pentagon, the White House and now the CIA. What is it about these hush-hush institutions that attracts you and appeals to you?
A. I grew up in Australia and American politics always had such a big impact on Australians, and then I went to America and started making films there. I was interested in seeing Washington up a bit closer, I guess, and started off a little bit further back with a film called Marie, which was about some politics in Tennessee and got to meet a guy who ultimately became quite powerful in the US government. And then I got to make No Way Out and then 13 Days.

Q. Can we ask you to develop some of the reasons why you cast this young man?
A. The truth is, Colin was attached to the movie when I was hired. Colin and Al were both already committed to it. The truth is I didn't really know too much about Colin's work, so I went and looked at the films that he'd done and I liked what I saw. And then I met the guy, and he was pretty up-front with me, as he is with you; what you see is what you get; and I was glad I said ‘yes’ to it, because it worked out well for me.

Q. With Colin and Al, you had the veteran and the newcomer. Did you have to adapt your directing style?

A. Well, no , because in a way, they're both two sides of the same coin. I sort of see, in Colin, a potential Al Pacino, and Al saw in Colin what he once was, and I think that sort of played out as we made the movie. There was an interesting dynamic that developed between these two guys, a sort of respect, but also irreverence, that they were able to make the most of each other's talents.
Q. [Aside to Colin] What do you think, having heard that?
A. Oh, it's lovely. Was it 20 euro I paid for that? Sounds like a 40 euro, I think. It was amazing working with Pacino, amazing. He's been an idol of mine for as long as I can remember, from the time I started watching movies as a kid.
Every bit of work that I've seen him do, he's just incredible. He has such a command of character and of his own performance, so to be able to share some space on a set with him... And Roger was great, you know, there were no airs and graces with Pacino.
It goes back to what I was saying about his character and his personality as well. When he came on the set the first day, everyone (and me included) was shitting their pants. The buzz on the set just died, it was like a funeral, and that wasn't him, that was people's misguided perception of what respect is, me included. And that was quickly defused, through Roger's relationship with him, and me finding a relationship with him.
Roger [aside]: The day you dropped your shorts, that defused it a bit!

Q. What's next with you?
A. I've got a script that's set in Havana, about Hemingway, that I like. But until the money's in the bank there is no movie.

Q. Is Hollywood as dangerous as some people would have you believe?
A. Some of the myths of Hollywood get created as myths. Hollywood is really just a lot of hard-working filmmakers, mostly, who are trying hard, like we are, to have a career and make films. There are some shysters and there are some ambitious people who come to town and get exploited, but the truth is, for me at least, it's been pretty straight-forward.
If you keep your eyes open and work with people that judgement tells you are going to work out, they usually do work out. The people to avoid are the ones that are promising you the earth and you know there's nothing behind it. But you use your own intuition. Sometimes the desperate will get involved with those sort of projects, and it doesn't work out, but for me it's been very straight-forward.

Q. In The Recruit, you depict the CIA as a morally bankrupt organisation, where any means justifies the end. What sort of reaction did that have in the States?
A. First of all, the CIA is not the only organisation in the world that spies on people. Here we have MI5, in Russia we have the KGB, and France, Australia and New Zealand also have versions of it. I didn't make a film thinking about American foreign policy, which I have my own opinions about.
I tried to make a film about the CIA as I saw it, from the limited observation point that I had. I had a brief tour and that's about as much as I saw and could really comment on. I tried to make a film that was apolitical, because we all an opinion about the CIA, whatever it is, and American foreign policy.
What I was trying to do was make a film that was, really, not about jingoism, or trying to sell this organisation one way or the other, but set it within this organisation and to present it as I saw it, which was about what it took to be a member of this organisation.
When I was brought on board, there were a number of writers who had worked on it, which is not uncommon in Hollywood, starting off with Roger Towne. I believe, although I don't have any evidence, that it was based upon some real events that did happen in the CIA, but that's as much as I really know.

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