New York – Rejected by UCLA because his “grade point average was too low” to become a director, today, extraterrestrial Steven Spielberg tackles American democracy: Bridge of Spies, in Italian theaters December 17th, is his latest American history jam session, a penetration operation that fuses James Stewart and VistaVision. First E.T. then A.I., intelligent alien life forms among moon slices and flying bicycles seats, then the misdeeds of military-industrial complexes and the War of the Worlds, the requiem of Empire of the Sun, Amistad and War Horse. In Bridge of Spies the action falls from the sky and begins in 1957 with the shadowing of a man among the sidewalks and subways of Brooklyn. Before long, the FBI arrests an old gentleman, suspected of being a Russian spy. Innocent until proven guilty, perhaps. The national security organizations aren’t very much concerned about the presumption of innocence and recruit a clever American lawyer to defend him in court. James Donovan (Tom Hanks; Catch Me if You Can, The Terminal) enters the picture, an expert in insurance law devoted to the American Constitution. Will he maintain his solid principals when the Russian becomes a bargaining chip in the Cold War exchange for captive American pilot, Francis Gary Powers, whose U-2 spy plane was shot down while flying a reconnaissance mission in Soviet Union airspace?
After Schindler’s List, Munich and Lincoln, another match between History and a wealth of memories.
All I know about the Cold War stems from my childhood. I learned about it by watching TV, listening to teachers during class and talking at home with my mother and father. They were my briefers during the bombardment of anti-communist propaganda of the time, the trial of the Rosenbergs, when the Red Menace and Cold War was blazing hot. The clashing between the US and the USSR, the pinnacle of the Space Race, implemented irreversible transformations. In the 1950s and 1960s teachers would conduct air raid drills in class. I’ll never forget the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) commissioned film Duck and Cover, with Bert the turtle, shown in all American schools to teach us how to “beat the bomb”: when the sirens started blaring, us students would drop to the floor under our desks like dead flies, covering our heads with our hands. I still have my classmates’ blank and twisted glances stuck in my mind. I was literally terrified, I thought I would never reach the age of 16 and get my driver’s license. My parents on the other hand were a bit more hopeful: “You’ll see, the Russians won’t push the button”. And then, shortly after, the Cuban Missile Crisis.
What was the personal motive that led you to direct Bridge of Spies?
After a number of films dedicated to my mother, I dedicate this one to my father Arnold, a former electrical engineer. When the bridge that was used several times for the exchange of captured spies formed the border between West Berlin and East Germany, he was chosen by General Electric to travel to Moscow. He told me he recalled seeing Russian citizens line up to look at Powers’ crashed gear and “see what America did”, among the crowd two military officials approached him and three of his colleagues suspiciously, after asking to see their passports and realizing they were American, they pointed to the fragments of the U-2 spyplane, shouting: “Look at what your country is doing to us!”. My father returned with a photograph of the infamous spyplane’s carcass, taken by him. At that moment it seemed like History was making its way into my bedroom. Vivid and powerful.
Putin announced plans to upgrade Russia’s defense to its full offensive potential over concerns that the U.S. ballistic missile defense system threatens their nuclear capability.
When I say that “History is alive”, this is exactly what I mean. North Korea’s announcement that their Yongbyon reactor is “back in business” rattled the ghost of nuclear arms. Are they bluffing? The times we live in are difficult because they put a strain on the ability to predict what will happen. It seems to me that as things keep on evolving, deep down, they stay the same. I made Bridge of Spies to remind everyone that a perpetual renovation of tensions between Russia and the United States still exists. I wouldn’t call this war “Cold” yet, but I do feel the chill in the air. There were those long range missiles launched from Russia to Syria, that went off course landing in Iranian territory. There’s an agreement with Iran to understand what will happen in the Middle East. And then, you have the whole Russia-Ukraine crisis. The Fifties led to this. To sum it up, yes, I am worried.
We now know that US National Security Agency (NSA) analysts kept an eye on the nation. What are your thoughts on the last decade of private data espionage? Do you protect your privacy?
At times to protect your privacy you have to go back to the analogue era. The more analogue you are, the more you are protected. When I want to communicate something secret, I don’t use email, I send handwritten letters. The collection of private information was once a refined practice, now hacking has almost become a sport. Facebook and other social media outlets are far more dangerous than the espionage that took place in the Fifties.
British screenwriter Matt Charman wrote the screenplay for Bridge of Spies, the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, also came together on the script.
The Coens were able to breathe life into the nuances of each character and the most difficult scenes, like the opening one with Rudolf Abel (British actor, theatre director and playright) focused on painting a self portrait and scenery of the Manhattan Bridge. The dark humor, influenced by Frank Capra, the theme of democracy in an unconsitutional system… That’s the Coen touch. But thank goodness they didn’t go “full-Coen” on autopilot! (laughs)
Is there a film that binds you to Federico Fellini. Can you talk about it?
I never revealed this story to anyone. Now is the time: I was in Italy promoting Duel. It was my first time travelling abroad, I was 25 years old. Italy was the first country in a long promotional tour. By then, Duel, a movie initially made for television was going strong: they screened it in Japan, Germany, France… The studios put me up in a hotel in Rome, still jetlagged, at 2:00 pm I shut myself in the room to rest. At one point the phone starts ringing: “The Maestro is here waiting for you”, the concierge announced. “He would like to meet you.” Confused and groggy I asked: “Who??” From the other end of the receiver: “The Maestro! Maestro Fellini”. All of a sudden I no longer felt my body. I was only able blurt out: “What?!?”. I put on the first thing I found in the closet and ran down the stairs as fast I could, with socks in my pockets and my behead hair, and there he was, Fellini, standing in the center of the lobby. He sees me, smiles, comes over to me and hugs me. He shook my hand with such vigour that I have yet to encounter again. He told me why he loved Duel and said: “Now I would like to show you my city, Steven. I want you to see Rome with my eyes”. And that’s how I spent a whole day in the Great Beauty with Fellini. From then on we wrote piles of letters to each other. I sent the last one. They told me he read it the day before he passed away.
Interview with Meryl Streep (La Repubblica, April 2014)
New York- The guitar pick passionately wielded by hard-rocking mom Ricki Rendazzo, in Ricki and The Flash, can be found on display in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton Central Park, along with other props. When we meet up with Meryl Streep, three time Oscar winner, we’re immediately floored by her generosity: in a just a few hours she played the acoustic guitar with a journalist, signed an enormous Ricki and the Flash poster for the mother of a fan: (“How old is your son?”) she asks, after personalizing an inscription. “Almost fifty” the woman responds. Pause. With a sidelong glance and a smile: “Oh, for heaven’s sake!”, and still continues to answer hundreds of soundbite questions, the most recurring one “How was it like working with your daughter, Mamie Gummer?”.
Streep, in Jonathan Demme’s new film (worldwide premiere at the Locarno Festival and in Italian theatres September 10th for Warner Bros.) is the master of all electric guitars. Her character, Ricki, made only one mistake in her life: following her dream of becoming a rock star. When ex-husband (Kevin Kline) asks her to return to the family she abandoned, she discovers that their estranged daugher has suffered a mental breakdown after being left by her husband. Ricki sets off to set foot and studs back in the maternal void she left behind (a dog, two sons – one recently engaged, the other gay – and the perfect wife of her former husband). Meryl/Streep juggles trying to keep her band from breaking up (the Flash, Bernie Worrell, Rick Rosas, Joe Vitale), her relationship with a musician from crumbling, played by Rick Springfield, (Zoot frontman and Dr. Noah in General Hospital), all the while trying to make amends with the family she abandoned and her desire to be on stage. Will she survive the riff of the family life she said “no” to in the Eighties?
Meryl Streep, at one point your characters says: “Mick Jagger has seven kids by four mothers”, and it wasn’t meant as a compliment.
It’s a way of pointing out that when man chooses to be a rockstar they are more or less forgiven. A woman is not. I love this about Ricki and in the way Diablo Cody writes: her honesty, straightforwardness. In particular, I love Ricki’s contradictions. In the first thirty pages of Diablo Cody’s screenplay I think Ricki says “I’m sorry” over a dozen times. “I’m sorry”, “I’m sorry”, “I’m sorry”… but she really isn’t sorry! That’s what I love about her. She doesn’t regret what she has done with her life. She is what she chose to be, coherent with her personality and her instinct as a woman. If we could all manage our true nature with that spirit, we would say “I gotta go” more often. We would be able to let go of what doesn’t represent us.”
Is there another trait of Ricki that won you over?
Her aura of mystery. Diablo Cody has this ability of putting things on the table without having to necessarily ‘explain’ them. Everyone comes to their own conclusions regarding the characters. There are those that sympathize with Ricki, others who fear her and distance themselves. In one scene, Ricki and her ex-husband vividly discuss being able to jointly live out two dreams in life. He’s convinced it’s impossible. That’s why marriages like Ricki’s and Pete’s never work. He can move from one place to another, taking his business anywhere, in the meantime support his wife while she performs on stage. She would be able to fulfill his dream of having a conventional happy family. Let’s admit it, it’s the story of every marriage. Opposites attract for a while and then you end up tearing each other apart. Pete loved Ricki’s rock’n’roll grit, he thought it was sexy and adventurous. She adored his stability. But in the end she bids farewell to domestic boredom. A million relationships feed off these dynamics.
If Ricki would have chosen to go on tour abandoning her family, today, would things have been any different?
Or course. (laughs) Women are more determined and free since – when? – forty thousand years ago. It’s only been, perhaps, since the 20th century that women have been able to count on themselves a bit more. It’s a fairly recent emancipation, let’s not underestimate it.
Regarding music what relationship does Meryl Streep have with rock?
I have to thank the brilliant guitarist Neil Citron, who put a Telecaster in my hands and taught me all the tricks and chords in two weeks with ten songs to learn. He was a great teacher. Thanks to him the music you hear on film was shot live and not dubbed in later in post production. There’s an enormous difference between playing an acoustic guitar and an electric one. I’m not a hardcore rock music listener, but, during filming I always had Lucinda Williams playing in my earphones. Every single day. A guy on the crew followed her on tour and recorded a five hour live concert of hers. From that audio I learned eveything about Ricki, even though my character was nothing like her. But I gained a general idea about the way of talking, and playing. And what it means to be a rocker. You want to kow what that entails? It means staying authentic. True to yourself.
In the film we discover Ricki voted Republican in the Eighties. What candidate would she had voted for today?
(laughs) I wouldn’t know. There are people in my town that only watch TV in the airport. Or watch FOX News that gives a different version of the events and the state of the nation compared to CNN, for example. Every news establishment knows how to be convincing and persuasive. And if you believe what you are given to see and hear, your opinion is formed by that. Not to mention that a lot of people no longer even read newspapers.
How would you describe the figure of Greg (Springfield)?
He’s the lead guitarist in the band The Flash and aspires to be the man of my life. He just has to face Ricki’s reality and problems and that causes a bit of frustration. Rick Springfield is an excellent musician and singer, I won’t steal his day job, he can keep sleeping easy at night.
How was working with Kevin Kline?
He’s also a very talented musician, aside from being a great actor. He came to see me the first day we were playing in the club and said: “You don’t sound bad.” I thought, that was the highest compliment.
In the film, Ricki has a bizarre head of hair.
It was one of the rare occasions – perhaps the first – where I wasn’t flanked by make-up expert J.Roy Helland, whom I’m very close to. At home, I remember, I would work day and night on trying to achieve that rocker look. I thought about shaving off the right side of my head and leaving my hair long and straight on the left. Then I tried out some fake hair to increase the volume. One day my husband came up to me, looked at me and said: “No.” That’s when Roy intervened from long distance, suggesting locks of hairs to stick on to my head, like extensions. And that’s how those sidebraids came to be.
It’s your third film with your daughter Mamie Gummer.
Yes. I think she’s an extraordinary actress. Aside from having a great sense of humor, she is not afraid of anything. She’s always had that sense of truth. She’s honest. Sometimes too honest with me, as her mother…
Have you given her acting advice?
Do you have children?
Well, let me show you what happens to the advice of a mother. (Her hand, forming a shark’s fin, gently brushes through her hair) Advice takes on this effect: it goes through your hair, it brushes you, you don’t even notice it. But, be careful, because our kids observe us. They learn everything about the world by seeing how we conduct our lives. At home, when I start a sentence by saying “You know, I think you should…” I can hear all the doors shut close in the brains of my children. If I say to it a friend, all the doors open wide.
Have you been a present parent?
When they were smaller, I would take my kids Mamie, Grace, Louisa Jacobson and Henry Wolfe everywhere with me. When they grew up and became adolescents, I would choose projects that wouldn’t keep me from home longer than two weeks. Now that they are adults, you know what? (screams) I’m freeee! At least I thought so. I just spent three months in my Notting Hill home with my make-up artist. Great. Then Mamie came to stay for ten days, Grace came over for a week, Louisa also came with her boyfriend, then Henry with his fling. And the icing on the cake, my husband stayed in London two weeks, followed by my brother. These are my days of solitude, got it?
In other words you have little freedom. Did director Jonathan Demme give you much on set?
No. He did not. He didn’t let me talk to Mamie during the whole time filming. (sighs) I blew up: “What?!” He requested: “Please don’t talk about the film and don’t talk during the filming.” So I said to myself: “OK, I’ll do it. If he’s asking, he must have his reasons. It must help the characters.” I kept to the rules for a brief period of time then I broke them. I’m so close to my daughter that if I don’t speak to her it really affects me. And only two days ago Mamie tells me: “Jonathan never told me he asked you not to talk to me.” So then I got… Mad. I saw it as manipulating. I still have to reflect on it before talking to Jonathan. But after watching the film, I have to admit that he was right in keeping us away from each other, because the relationship that played out between Ricki and Julie, on-screen, was more realistic. Deep down, even though they won’t ever admit it, everyone was worried that that type of chemistry wouldn’t have worked between Mamie and I for some reason. But us Gummer girls, we’re uncontrollable! And we did it.
Los Angeles – White, heterosexual and male-centric. That is where cinema stands in Hollywood today. The findings of a study by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism reveal that, in the years between 2007 to 2014 (excluding 2011), the scarce presence of females, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, gays and lesbians on screen or behind the camera does not do justice to America’s true present day diversity. Society evolves but cinema has not caught wind. Even though 37% of the American population is classified as “non-white”, the presence of Black or African American actors remained below 30% in the last 7 years, notwithstanding being amidst Obama’s presidency that seemed to have restored the nation’s sense of values in embracing diversity, not only in politics.
Tackling the apparent lack of cultural equality on the big screen and on TV was Neil Patrick Harris, presenting this year’s Oscar Night by saying “Tonight we celebrate Hollywood’s best and whitest”, quickly correcting himself, “sorry … brightest!”. The bitter truth. The American musical drama television series Empire, centered on the hip hop world and starring Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, had yet to explode.
Nearly three quarters (73.1%) of all characters present in the top-grossing 100 films of last year, were Caucasian, according to the study titled “Inequality in 700 Popular Films” that meticulously reported on gender and race/ethincity. As stated by the report, only 4.9 percent of characters in successful films of the year were Hispanic, which constitute 17 percent of the nation’s total population. Furthermore, the Motion picture Association of America’s year end study revealed that, among the most frequent moviegoers, 25% were Hispanic while 9% were Asian. African Americans constituted 12% of the ticket purchasing audience.
700 cinematographic works and 30,835 characters were analyzed, and the big picture is clearly not one of a generator of cultural confrontation and globalization. Hollywood also fell behind in portraying women on the big screen, with a discouraging 30.2 percent of female roles in all of the 700 films taken into consideration. Of the 21 female leads or co leads in 2014, only three were non-white. None were over the age of 45. Another embarassing figure: in 17 films, Black actors didn’t even have a speaking line.
It doesn’t get any better on the LGBT front: 3.5% of the United States population identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans, however in cinema, in 2014, only 0.4% were given a possibility to be portrayed. Not to mention the fact that, before the deafening buzz of Tangerine at Sundance, no transgender role was present on the list.
“I shot Tangerine with an iPhone 5S and two transsexual prostitutes as leads – says director Sean Baker – it’s no coincidence the film was set around Hollywood with two aspiring trans actors, Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, and my works are rich with people unfortunately considered atypical in today’s industry, from Ghanaian immigrants to the celebrities of porno in Los Angeles. Symbollically, I wanted to trace these contradictions setting Tangerine almost entirely on the corner of Santa Monica and Highland, a sort of unofficial red light district. It’s half a mile from my house and in my opinion Hollywood should start facing reality right from there.”
Behind the camera the situation does not improve: of the 779 accredited directors of the most influential films at the box office from the beginning of 2007, only two were female and four African American. The best known case- also because it was the only one – is that of Ava DuVernay, author of Selma, which incorporates both factors (a Black female). After directing an episode for the TV series Scandal and rising through the ranks on the sets of Invictus (Clint Eastwood) and The Help (Oscar winner), Selma gave life to the chronicles of leaders that battled for the extension of civil rights of African Americans in 1965, 50 years ago. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign to draw the nation’s attention to the struggle for equal voting rights was launched by marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama’s capital.
“The question is: Why was Selma the only film that was even in the running with people of color for the award? Asian people, indigenous people, representations that are more than just one voice, just one face, just one gaze?” DuVernay responded in an interview with Democracy Now. “So, for me, it’s much less about the awards and the accolades, because, literally, next year no one cares. Right? I can’t even tell you who won the award for whatever three years ago. I don’t know.” She added: “If I wanted to contact someone for advice, in Hollywood, I wouldn’t know what woman of color to call! Because there are no foot prints to follow, when it comes to Black women, there just aren’t any”.
Interview with Chris Rock
His black humor doesn’t spare minorities, his political satire, prowling wit and pop culture is influenced by Flip Wilson and Woody Allen, and the film he wrote, directed and starred in, Top Five (2014), was a slap on the face of American entertainment. Comedian Chris Rock, 49, penned a scathing essay for Hollywood Reporter tackling Hollywood’s race problems. “I enjoy giving acting advice to the new generation of Black performers. Just like I was guided by Eddie Murphy and Keenan Wayans. I would do the same for a young talented white actor. But there’s a difference: someone will always give him a hand. In regards to the people I’ve helped, I’m not so sure there’s a good soul out there ready to show them the way”.
You recently spoke your mind about the casting in the second season of True Detective.
Yes, I used it as an example to explain how this “machine” works. To date there are no Black executive producers or Black agents. And when the moment came to cast the female lead in True Detective 2, not one black female star’s name came up (the role went to Rachel McAdams). Practically every actress in Hollywood was in line for that part, except ones of color.
You said that actors and directors of Mexican descent are treated even worse than Blacks…
Los Angeles seems like such a liberal place. Instead, the gathered consensus is that Mexicans have to always run to the aid of whites. A concept that doesn’t exist elsewhere. When I started at Saturday Night Live, 20 years ago, the skits we played out had nothing to do with the racial question. Now there are excellent Blacks that are killing it/bubbling up, from Kevin Hart to Chiwetel Ejiofor, up to director Steve McQueen. And Hollywood is seeking them.
A Haunting Look at the Italian Mafia (The Huffington Post U.S., March 2014)
Valerio Spada (1972, Milan) is not merely a photographer, but a careful observer; a geologist who deeply knows how the human being functions, thinks, and loves.To him, Art means faith: “Not a way to change the world, but to document it.” He comes from a land of endless wonders and his photographs coincide with the dawn of a radical look. A look into the Italian Mafia. After the success of Gomorrah Girl — a journey in the land of Camorrah, the name for the Mafia in Naples — Spada has been honored with the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in Creative Arts, and Photography.This year, the Guggenheim Foundation will support his new upcoming work on Sicily, to be released by Twin Palms Publishers. “I’m working on the interrupted communications of the fugitives, the so-called latitanti,” Spada told me.
What first brought you to places like Scampia, a suburbs of Naples?
Gomorrah Girl was a way for me to understand how those girls can still manage to have a normal life, despite everything. And all of this is happening not a 9 hour flight away from Milan, but just 55 minutes, 180km from Rome, and 10km from Vomero (one of the upper class areas of Naples). I’m intrigued by rough beauty, unaware. When I see a girl which reassembles all of the paintings of the world but has no clue of how marvelous she actually is, I feel the need to record this type of beauty, to bring it down to the mortal world. I also feel attracted by adolescence, perhaps because I’ve lost mine.
Does taking pictures, help you find your own adolescence?
All of that sorrow, that horror. I’ve been through it myself with my mother’s cancer. Her screaming at night, my father losing his job, choosing to stay with her at home till the end, and me being very young. It all comes back, I guess; Father’s Day is celebrated on March 19, ten years ago I forgot to call my father for wishes and next day he died at a fairly young age, few years after my mother. The fact I feel attracted by threatening places might mean, maybe, going back to where I’m coming from. I feel at home and I don’t feel the need to escape. I regret so much I have missed my adolescence that now I don’t want to drop not even a bit of it, even if this means running after the ones that belong to teen-agers. I feel very drowned by pain that belongs to that time.
You are now working on a project about Sicily, focusing on obstructed communications. Why Sicily?
These days the Sicilian Mafia’s core business is still in the building industry, even if it is gradually moving back to the drug trade, because of their own recent financial crisis. Last April, 30 millions of goods have been confiscated from the businessmen linked to the boss of Cosa Nostra, the fugitive Messina Denaro. Within the requisitions, there was Trapani’s harbor as well. There is a big effort by the magistrates and the Italian finance police as they try to fight crime, but from Rome, nothing happens. So the question is: Why isn’t Rome fighting crime? Why they keep dismissing good magistrates from their positions, sending them far away from the place they fought Mafia?
How does a photographer succeed in adding narrative to the incommunicability between fugitives?
There is no evidence that Messina Denaro has ever seen his daughter. In a “pizzino”, a word used to refer to small slips of paper that the Sicilian Mafia uses for high-level communications, to Vaccarino, former mayor of Castelvetrano, Denaro writes: “You don’t know what pain is; living my life without ever having met my daughter.” That’s what I’m trying to document. The fugitive chooses to lose everything when he reigns. Bosses like Messina Denaro and Bernardo Provenzano, think they’re on mission. I’ve found a letter by Denaro, addressed to a girl he cannot date anymore: “One day you’ll understand my mission but I can’t talk about it now”, he writes. Once arrested, what will Messina Denaro do? To avoid the article 41-bis of the Prison Administration Act; will he decide to collaborate and to meet his daughter for the first time? Will he give up? I had the chance to take pictures of his daughter but I’m not interested in publishing those photos in the newspapers. I’m fascinated by the way she walks on the seaside or she mops her ankles up. Matteo Messina Denaro is losing all these little details. The impossible question can be, was all this worth it? He knows he’ll be arrested soon. But, unlike Provenzano, all this time he didn’t act like a hermit. He did what he wanted, he spent his money, he loved his women. For him, the motto “Fuck or reign”, so dear to Provenzano, doesn’t exist.
Interview with Leonardo DiCaprio (Ciak, October 2015)
New York – “Where did I find the strength to fight against a grizzly? From my grandmother, probably. An emblem of strength and perseverance”. To survive three hundred thousand mile odyssey in the American frontier, Leonardo DiCaprio transformed himself into a merciless maverick, inspired by the true story of a fur trapper and the 1823 expedition along the Missouri river, narrated in Michael Punke’s novel. Without a family, abandoned by companions he considered friends, American explorer Hugh Glass crawls under gelid pines with streaming hot blood, void of linchpins and Firestone. Furious eyes, powderhorn slug over his shoulder and hatchet under his leather belt. His objective is John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), one of the men in charge of watching over the trapper of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, after being attacked by a bear. Fitzgerald ends up stealing his weapons, throwing him in a ditch, leaving him at the mercy of the Sioux.
In Revenant, directed by Oscar winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman, Babel), the last American outpost becomes the fort of a desperate man: for two hours and thirty six minutes DiCaprio barely utters a word, his face jutting out from the cold, his hands unscrewed by the ice, rage in the corner of his heart. And during an interview with Ciak, in a hotel surrounded by bodyguards in Downtown, New York, he tells us that against ferocity and the bitter cold (FOX dispersed $135 million between Canada and Argentina on a quest to find snow) there is no remedy.
After 2 months of rehearsal and 9 of work, have you fully recovered from Iñárritu’s film?
I feel like a torn up branch (he cracks his shoulders like a war mechanism). Hugh Glass is the most difficult character I have ever played. I would say, the toughest of the toughest. I continue to repeat myself by saying that Revenant is more of a science fiction film than an adventure film, because we had to reconstruct history. Archaeologists of film. Before Lewis and Clark’s expedition, America was just an unexplored forest.
How did Iñárritu prepare you for this role?
He told me to be prepared for anything and that we would immerse ourselves in nature for an indefinite amount of time. I knew my character would only have a few spoken lines: I see it as an extension of broker Jordan Belfort’s scene in the Wolf of Wall Street, when he’s drugged up on Quaaludes and crawls into his Lamborghini. I trusted Iñárritu to the point of eating actual raw bison liver and sleeping in animal carcasses.
The Drudge Report raised the question: did the bear that you battle in the film, rape you?
Revenant‘s Neorealist style didn’t go that far. Neither did its voyeuristic angle! (laughs). The body to body scene with the mother bear was realized with the help of computer graphics: it would have been impossible to choreograph such a majestic sequence.
Your production company, Appian Way, would like to bring the Volkswagon emissions scandal to the big screen. Why?
It’s just an idea. It could have also been a Japanese automaker and not necessarily the German autohaus accused of utilizing software and devices to elude emissions testing. Environmental causes have always been very important to me.
The “accused” at the COP21 Summit in Paris were the greenhouse effect causing gases. What is your position?
I’m an activist, I have my own foundation, I made a documentary – The 11th Hour – to address nations about their responsibilities. One of the persons I have a real affinity with is Naomi Klein: her volume, No Logo, is extraordinary. And her and husband’s Avi Lewis documentary film, This Changes Everything, is an important page in the fight against global warming. The economic system has to be redesigned, reducing social inequality: Capitalism is not sustainable. Our technology can give us a hand to avert a monumental disaster. I live in Los Angeles and last year, in late October, it was 92 degrees. I’m scared, dammit.
Back to cinema, have you thought of directing yourself?
Yes, I have. Then Iñárritu or Scorsese choose me and I say to myself: “Damn, they’re so fucking good. Go back to your place, Leo”. The day I find a story that resonates deeply with me, I will ask one of the two to direct it.
From What’s Eating Gilbert Grape to Revenant, how has your acting method changed?
At 41 years of age I still preserve the same curiosity I had when I was a young boy. Before acting alongside Robert De Niro, in 1993, I spent a year watching his films. I continue to do so. I act because I dream to be included in the magic box of great works, as those that left an impression on my life as a spectator. An actor’s career will always be remembered for two, max, three films. And that’s already a lot.
Nominated for five Oscars since What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Is it finally time to hold the statue in hand?
Can I tell you the truth? After this film, which I consider a great work of art, a temple to cinema, I don’t want to shoot anything else nor wait my turn at Dolby Theatre.
Will you stop acting?
No, but now… Let me get some rest!
Interview with Tom Hanks (Ciak, October 2015)
New York – “Give me your elbow. I’ll give you mine”. That’s how Tom Hanks greets us, in a hotel room reminiscent of one of Poe’s short stories. “I have the flu” he says, “I don’t want to infect anyone with a handshake”. Rain pelts down densely, a letter lolls over a table’s edge. Yellow leaves stick to the fissures of the louvred window shutters: “Ready to be scorched by winter, like me. I live in New York, like them, after all. And with my wife (Rita Wilson) of 27 years. We, though, never turn yellow.”
Lain on the couch, wearing a close fitting white tank top and a Yale University cap snug over the nape of his neck: who knows what the two-time Oscar winner (for Philadelphia and Forrect Gump) sees when he has a high fever? “The biggest hallucination, the one that’s flying around me, momentarily, is the bridge of spies. A film that seemed like an impossible operation, something of hospital rooms with two patient beds and a view of Berlin”, he says, pointing to the poster of Bridge of Spies with his elbow. “When I heard Spielberg was going to shoot a film about the Cold War, written no less by the Coen brothers, I told myself: This is a movie I would like to see up on the screen!”.
Was Bridge of Spies a personal choice for you, as it was for Spielberg?
Steven dedicated the film to his father, I find it to be a superb history lesson. A gift to honor the imaginary conscious of fathers and sons. I craved the hypothesis of another spy film along the lines of James Bond. But after reading the first pages of the screenplay, something novel had already locked my eyes to those pages.
What did you know about the Glienicke Bridge?
I knew it was the “Bridge of Spies”, a bridge destined for the exchange of captured spies between the East and West. During the Cold War, the bridge between the two Berlins was used solely for allied military missions, and the end-users were in fact the KGB and the CIA.
Was the screenplay, written by Matt Charman and Ethan & Joel Coen, close to your literary tastes?
Steven and I have different passions in common; one of these is American history. I read non-fiction all the time, out of sheer pleasure. I spend whole days glued to books on revisionism and historical essays: at home, at the park, on the subway. I also photograph lost or abandoned objects all around Manhattan. Just recently I found a Fordham University student’s lost ID.
Based on a real person, a man widely known for negotiating the exchange of captured American pilot Francis Gary Powers for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel, do you consider “your” lawyer James Britt Donovan a hero?
Let me say one thing. In the United States, in highschool, the most important classes are US Government and Civics. We cannot remain stoic on the sidelines of history, in front of those lessons: the choices of a single individual reflect the nature of everyone. It doesn’t matter if you run a farm or if you are a cafeteria employee: what defines you is your code of ethics. We’re men of principle. James B. Donovan, an expert lawyer in insurance law, is a character I deeply enjoyed portraying, precisely because he was specialized in this circle of values, observing the world through two perspectives: the so-called “human decency” and the Constitution of the United States of America.
In Italy, and elsewhere, politicians seem to have forgotten these principles.
A James Donovan will come to Italy as well, you’ll see! (laughs) When I was born, in the mid fifties, World War III was an absolute certainty. It was at our doorstep. Anything but ethical principles! Some episodes of Star Trek, in the sixties, hint to a global menace.
Is that how you remember your childhood?
I would say the whole period between ages 5 and 15. The Glienicke Bridge was just the trigger before the bang.
Do you really get on the subway to read?
I like strolling about, mixing myself with others. What should scare us, quite a bit I might add, aren’t New Yorkers but the revelations of Edward Snowden “The Whistleblower”, the fact that millions of phone calls made by cellphones have been intercepted by the National Security Agency. Do you want some advice? Destroy your cellphone, don’t use your computer, go back to using the typewriter when you’re going to put down the first draft of this interview. Don’t look for me on Google, because the company founded by Page and Brin, together with Verizon and T-Mobile, already know plenty about me and about you.
When Snowden leaked classified information from the National Security Agency revealing his surprising global surveillance disclosures, how did you react?
I said: “Holy smokes! Is this what our government is doing with our information? Not very ethical. It’s pure IT vandalism. It’s hacking. And yet we continue to hand over our information to Facebook. I’m no exception, I use Twitter.
Without an inbox, cellphone, social media… How do think you can communicate?
I’ll use a bullhorn.
Which was the first Spielberg film you saw?
I remember reading a short article in the Oakland Tribune, written by journalist Neil Mackenzie announcing the ABC Movie of the Week, on a Tuesday night, a “movie you’ve never seen the likes of on television and one that I cannot describe in words”. A guy driving a car, pursued and terrorized by a mysterious truck. I watched Duel that night for the first time. The following day at school, that’s what everyone was talking about. Then came Jaws, E.T. …
And the film closest to your heart as an actor?
Saving Private Ryan and The Terminal, my favorites amongst the ones shot with Steven. The rest are tied – Splash, Big, The Green Mile. But I must admit, I’ve never actually seen any of them.
You were honored by Outfest: what memory do you have of Philadelphia?
I’ve always tried to use cinema as an instrument of cultural elevation and debate. But in terms of LGBT rights, even Philadelphia, in ’93, came too late: the industry moved at a slow pace, it could have risked more, by telling the story about AIDS and homosexuality beforehand and illuminating some minds. Cinema cannot afford to arrive late to an appointment with History.
Detroit – “Detroit motherfuckers ’till we die” rapper Trick Trick once exhorted Motor City’s struggling Blacks to “raise them hands up and show some love”. Officially broke, the ex capital of the American automobile industry declared bankruptcy last year. On November, 8th, sixteen months after raising the first alarm by going into default, the blockhouse of the American trade union movement found an extraordinary solution: not a courthouse ploy but a “grand bargain” to save the city, an 816 million dollar agreement in which the Detroit Institute of Arts, one of the six most influential museums of the United States, made their world-class art collection bankruptcy proof by donations from multiple foundations.
The DIA collection includes 60,000 works – among the artists represented are Caravaggio, Van Gogh, Brueghel, Titian, Matisse, Picasso – claiming one the largest and significant collections in the nation, making the city of Detroit a beacon of cultural redemption. Founded in 1895, a municipal institution, Detroit’s creditors now demanded a full reckoning of the museum’s collection. According to the Detroit Free Press, Christie’s art experts scoured its 2,800 works at the behest of city manager Kevyn D. Orr. The impressive appraisal by the auction house valued the world-class collection somewhere between $452 million and $866 million that, if sold, could help the city trudge its way out of debt. Among the most valuable, Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s oil-on-panel painting The Wedding Dance ranged between $100 and $200 million. A self portrait by Van Gogh, between $80 and $150 million.
All this unfolded in December of 2013, while another option, championed by Gerald E. Rosen, the judge in charge of the mediation, started to take form. With the aid of a team of judges gathered between a coffee break and a private dinner, Rosen chose to strike up a partnership with the most important lobbies and millionaire companies linked to Detroit: Ford, the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation, and the Kresge Foundation headquartered in Troy, Michigan.
In the pursuit of astronomical donations, Judge Rosen even challenged the very industries that, in the seventies, were able to build the outstanding vehicles that, to this day, still compose the automotive puzzle of America. After only a few months Ford was already at the helm of the donation bandwagon offering $125 million, Kresge $100 million and Knight $30 million. Another nine foundations jumped in with smaller contributions, totalling $336 million.
In the hands of Rosen, the Detroit’s Blues Brothers’ rythym’n’blues, knew how to imagine (and realize) an agreement that satisfied governor Rick Snyder and public-employee unions. The DIA, would no longer be under the municipal jurisdiction, instead an independent foundation would take charge while the assets that various institutions and the state have committed to put forward in the next twenty years, will go to help fund the city’s pension obligations. In reply, the union movement opted for a 4% reduction of the monthly pension checks, while the creditors accepted a percentage recovery of the target value sought. This is Rosen’s deal to Detroit, approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes, and this is the happy ending that will trim $7 billion from its balance sheet. Almost $2 billion will be used to clot the massive hemorrhage of the city’s infrastructure and public services.
Newspapers like the Wall Street Journal declare, “In Detroit Bankruptcy, Art Was Key to the Deal”. A truly happy ending? Not quite: “The reality is tomorrow’s not any different than today,” Mayor Mike Duggan said just a couple of days ago. “We still have enormous challenges delivering the services in the city every day.” The efforts are not sufficient: improvement measures need to go into effect immediately. Instead, the time frame oscillates between 3 and 10 years. College debt continues to rise, while the crime rate that reached its highest peak in 40 years, in 2013, is now down 18%. We’re talking about a city that, between 1990 and 2013, lost more than 300,000 of its residents, an exodus of 25% of the local population and upwards of 20,000 stray dogs demonstrating the striking desolation left behind. In the last decades, Detroit was able to only tell the story of anger and internal hollowness: $18 billion in municipal obligations impossible to pay back, thousands of public employees risking losing their jobs, pensions slashed. Long gone are the days when the city that extended its urban sprawl over 139 square miles, hired union card carrying Black factory workers, offering a sense of balance. In the United States no one could have fathomed that a city of these dimensions would go bankrupt, shielding itself by filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy to receive protection from its creditors. In the last two years, Motor City was made to go bust. From being the fifth largest city in population, Detroit became the eighteenth in the nation, leaving 80,000 buildings uninhabited and damaged and a not very “patriotic” crime rate.
The standard of living has drastically declined. Republican Governor Rick Snyder announced: “Let it be clear – he said in July – Detroit is broke. It was a difficult, painful decision but I don’t think we had any other possible solutions”. Kevin Orr, the manager of the city that has gone under the state’s control because of the financial crisis, tried to soften the blow: “I would like to confirm firsthand that the citizens of Detroit that our public services will be guaranteed and wages will be paid….”. But as the New York Times published just before Christmas, the city is anything but out of danger.
Interview with Robert Redford (Ciak, January 2016)
New York – The truth about Redford: a conversation with him is tantamount to being on a TV quiz show. “Where are you from? But exactly, from which part? Prove it.” The ex Sundance Kid, light blue polo, thick reddish hair, some faltering in his hearing, he asks the warm up questions and, if you don’t get kicked to the curb, you still have a mountain to climb. There’s a resemblance to seventy-three year old anchorman Dan Rather, CBS news’ most famous talking head: eyes of an animal used to every set of teeth, that of news and of people, but also of suburban hearts, the muddled hanks of politics, the tangled stories of informers. Six years the senior of the character he portrays in Truth, Robert Redford, two time Oscar winner (one for his career), is less deranged than the investigative team captained by Mary Mapes/Cate Blanchett, that, in James Vanderbilt’s film – and in reality (date: September 9, 2004) – during the presidential campaign, broadcasts a scandal provoking inquiry accusing President (and then candidate) George W. Bush of shirking his Vietnam-era guard duty, receiving preferential treatment between 1968 and 1974, when he was a pilot for the Texas Air National Guard. A scoop set loose on CBS’s primetime television program 60 Minutes II but later to be found based on shoddy research. The farewell of the charismatic anchor and his amazing 42-year career (24 years as anchorman) at CBS News signalled the progressive journalism establishment’s collapse of influence.
Why, after All the President’s Men, Up Close and Personal and The Company You Keep, do another film where journalistic investigations dominate?
Because Truth is a vital piece of work that reflects my point of view of the cutting power politics and journalism possess. This mediatic dance leaves me in a frenzy.
When you spoke to Dan Rather, what did you talk about?
I began by saying: “Look, Dan. I’m about to play you in a film. It could be a trap, I know. Is there anything you want to tell me before I begin?”. And he, Texan, son of a ditch digger and a waitress: “Yes, my story before anything is one of loyalty. I was loyal up to the very end to Mary Mapes, to my boss, to CBS, and to myself”. Rather sustains journalists have lost the capacity to ask real questions. It’s true. Reporters today are too busy following matters that make this sound: dingdingding, bopbopbop, beepbeep. And they lose sight of the objective.
How do you see America in 2016?
I find it very politicized. All that counts, especially in Congress, is the influence of money: how you spend it, who do you spend it for. It’s truly depressing, I keep my distance. I dive into politics only when I can find inspiration. Politics, in itself, is the whore of our lives.
When a passionate Dan Rather resigned in front of 8 million spectators, how did you react?
It was a shock to see a man at the apex of his career bidding farewell with courage.
How are you similar to this anchorman?
Jesus! He manages to keep cool under such stress… I would explode. I’m not a good negotiator. But like him, I too have a strong attachment to ethics, to the common good, to the environment. I stand for the social sense of responsibility and the freedom of expression.
What drives you today?
Keeping busy, not quitting. Continuing to express myself. I can’t keep from remaining curious in regards to life.
Even in the film industry, corporations don’t play around.
I’ve spent a great deal of my life creating alternative and frontward opportunities, like the Sundance Film Festival. At times, though, I don’t even recognize my own festival, such is the presence of money that revolves around the indie circuit. But we’re far from the moulds of the big studios, convinced of repeating the same formulae every year because they bring in cash. James Bond and Captain America really do work though.
You have a visceral relationship with Cate Blanchett in Truth. What other woman has been able to keep up with you?
Aside from Barbara Streisand? (grins). I would have to say Jane Fonda, with whom I’ll be working together again shortly in Our Souls At Night, on Netflix. There’s a lot of tension between the two of us. I love strong women.