Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Hollywood During the Dot-Com Gold Rush

Exclusive Interviews with 30 Top Directors and Actors, 1996 to 2000.

By Paul Iorio

Table of Contents

(A view from inside the gold rush.)

Part One: Actors

Chapter One: Heath Ledger
Chapter Two: Woody Harrelson
Chapter Three: Harry Shearer
Chapter Four: Edward Norton
Chapter Five: Annette Bening
Chapter Six: George Clooney
Chapter Seven: Anne Heche
Chapter Eight: Michael Clarke Duncan
Chapter Nine: Geena Davis
Chapter Ten: Troy Garity
Chapter Eleven: Olivia Williams
Chapter Twelve: Jessica Alba

Part Two: Directors (and writers)

Chapter One: M. Night Shyamalan
Chapter Two: Woody Allen
Chapter Three: David Fincher
Chapter Four: Barry Sonnenfeld
Chapter Five: Pedro Almodovar
Chapter Six: Roland Emmerich
Chapter Seven: John Woo
Chapter Eight: Frank Darabont
Chapter Nine: Mimi Leder
Chapter Ten: Robert Rodat
Chapter Eleven: Daisy Mayer
Chapter Twelve: Luc Besson

Part Three: Retrospectives. (Film makers look back, from a late-Nineties perspective, at their classic works.)

Chapter One: Roman Polanski
Chapter Two: Woody Allen
Chapter Three: Paul Sorvino
Chapter Four: Cheech Marin
Chapter Five: David Rabe
Chapter Six: Roy Scheider
Chapter Seven: Richard Pryor
The View from Inside the Gold Rush.

It was a giddy, dizzy, moneyed, very moneyed, Champagne-fueled time full of ambition

and dreams that sometimes blew away and sometimes lingered like cigar smoke.

Everyone seemed so high back then. Remember James Cameron shouting “I’m the

king of the world” at the Oscars in ’98? Roberto Begnini getting wayy too happy and

manic there in ’99?

And you should have been, as I was, at the DreamWorks party the night the joint

exploded in celebration of their Academy win for “American Beauty” in ’00!

It was, essentially, New Year’s Eve for four years in Hollywood (and elsewhere), partly

thanks to the dot-com boom, which flooded money in all directions from 1996 to 2000,

raising almost all boats in an era that spawned the first billion-dollar grossing picture,

“Titanic,” the only thing that seemed to sink in Tinseltown during that time.

During this gold rush, money was thrown around like confetti, start-ups were sprouting

like mushrooms after a rainstorm, there were orgasms in the Oval Office and much of

the American workforce was deeply distressed -- about which big money job offer to

accept! (As Woody Harrelson told me in 2000: “It used to be ‘what are we gonna do

about the debt?’ Now it’s “What are we gonna do about the surplus?’)

This was that cozy, prosperous time after the Cold War but before 9/11 (and, of course,

Page Two -- Introduction

after Al Gore’s invention of the Internet!), when “Seinfeld” reigned, Green Day’s “Time of

Your Life” was the era’s de facto anthem, Think Different billboards were everywhere,

“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” was briefly must-see TV, Austin Powers poked fun at

the Sixties, Macarena dancers lived la vida loca -- and the only thing we really had to

fear was…Y2K!

In Hollywood, those years saw the founding of the first major movie studio since the

Second World War (also the first all-digital studio), DreamWorks SKG, funded with seed

money from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Microsoft itself, flush with cash

(particularly after Windows ’95 became a massive hit).

Meanwhile, Apple’s Steve Jobs was investing in a company called Pixar that started to

churn out some of the biggest animated films of all time, going head-to-head in

competition with DreamWorks (and winning, in most cases).

And, for the record, at least one filmmaker – director Martyn Burke – was already telling

the story of Gates and Jobs on screen as early as 1998, in the little-known “Pirates of

Silicon Valley.” (As Burke aptly told me on the movie set: “In the late Sixties, everyone

was storming the barricades, thinking they were revolutionaries. But, really, they didn’t

change things as much as [Gates and Jobs] did.”)

With money and digital technology more readily available than before, surprise hits were

even scored by DIY film makers (“The Blair Witch Project”) and by indies, many of

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which were almost immediately scooped up by studios like Universal (which bought

October) and Disney (which snared Miramax).

And it was the end of the millennium, so millennial anxiety seemed to cause a ravenous

appetite for horror at the cineplex (see: “The Sixth Sense,” “The Blair Witch Project,”

“The Mummy,” etc.).

And let’s not forget the rivalries between Disney and DreamWorks, Pixar and

DreamWorks, “Godzilla” and “The Phantom Menace” (not to be confused with Gates

and Jobs, who had their own, separate rivalry), with each blockbuster trying to top the


And the era kept going higher and higher – until it all came tumbling down with an

historic stock market crash that rivaled those of ‘29 and ‘87.

The period that began in ’96 with Tom Cruise shouting “Show me the money!” ended in

’00 with Tom Hanks stranded on a deserted island -- as the real-life dot-com bubble,

and all the wealth connected to it, began to evaporate.

Needless to say, the period that followed this gold rush was not nearly as fun. Between

the Autumn of 2000 and the Fall of 2002, the NASDAQ hemorrhaged two-thirds of its


And Hollywood began downsizing accordingly. The idealistic dream of DreamWorks –

Page Four -- Introduction

the idea of a studio actually run by an artist, with movie profits split fairly among its

employees -- was unraveling, too; within a few years, it would be sold to Paramount

and then sold again, with the partners spinning off into independent and far more

modest ventures.

But while it lasted, the era gave us movies of enduring beauty and value. “Good Will

Hunting,” “Shakespeare in Love,” Mighty Aphrodite” – Harvey Weinstein could

seemingly do no wrong during this period – as well as Oliver Stone’s biggest

commercial success to date (“Any Given Sunday”), novel blockbusters like

“Independence Day,” new wave horror like “The Sixth Sense,” the new Stanley Kubrick

film “Eyes Wide Shut” (his swan song, sadly), a Spielberg war classic (“Saving Private

Ryan”) and the meaningfully funny “American Beauty.”

And comic book movies were just starting to make their mark: “Men in Black,” based on

a comic book that failed, became a huge success, spurring studios and indies to put

similar flicks into development, which they did (to fine effect).

George Lucas’ “Star Wars” prequels were also beginning to be rolled out, with “The

Phantom Menace” ruling the box office for a time.

And presiding over everything, at least during Oscar season, was Graydon Carter, top

editor at Vanity Fair, founder of Spy magazine -- which was sort of the closest a

magazine ever came to being the Internet before the Internet – host of a party packed

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with Hollywood’s A-listers, coming right to the shindig from the Shrine Auditorium with

their statuettes in hand.

It was during this time, from ’96 to ’00, that I conducted the interviews with Hollywood

icons and auteurs collected in this book. They tell the tale of this gold rush from the

inside and contemporaneously and, in some cases, before it was about to occur.

These are exclusive, audiotaped, mostly unpublished, one-one-one conversations with

some of the top actors and directors of the era, with me asking questions that, in some

cases, took weeks of deep research to be able to ask. (Only the Q&A with George

Clooney was conducted with others besides me in the room.)

We hear M. Night Shyamalan, high about his unreleased film “The Sixth Sense,” talking

a full week before it hit theaters, not knowing, of course, it was about to become a

cinematic tsunami.

And there’s Heath Ledger, at the dawn of stardom, clearly overworked and talking ultra-

fast like someone on speed. And Jessica Alba, at the dawn of her stardom, who

seemingly can’t walk down a hallway without people remarking on her beauty.

There’s Annette Bening with me in a Beverly Hills hotel room talking about what it’s like

to do sex scenes in movies.

Page Six -- Introduction

And Michael Clarke Duncan, fresh from becoming a pro actor after years as a working

stiff, showing me the sweeping view of L.A. from his hotel window, talking about how

his dream had finally come true.

And Woody Harrelson, now an Oscar-nominated actor, singing a Beatles song on a San

Francisco hilltop as he talked about his career.

And even Roman Polanski, emerging for a then-rare interview, speculated to me about

what it would be like to return to L.A. (And we also talked in great detail about the

making and the meaning of “Chinatown.”)

There’s Woody Allen in Beverly Hills, David Fincher (who doesn’t grant many

interviews) taking me step by step through the creation of “Seven”’s ending, Richard

Pryor talking laconically about his classic comedies.

International auteurs from Hong Kong (John Woo), Spain (Pedro Almodovar), France

(Luc Besson, creator of Cinema Du Look, which has since spawned the popular “Taken”

series) and elsewhere discuss their films

Here are first-hand stories behind both the era’s blockbusters -- like “Independence

Day,” “The Sixth Sense” and “Saving Private Ryan” -- and seminal indie (in sensibility)

works like “All About My Mother,” “Sweet and Lowdown” and “Party Girl.”

Abandon all despair, readers; you are entering the late 1990s!

Part One: Actors

Chapter One

An Interview with Heath Ledger,
June 3, 2000, in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Ledger’s main gold rush era movies:
“Ten Things I Hate About You,” “The Patriot”.

My impressions of Ledger:
At times, Ledger talked in a speedy way and was tense and defensive in the manner of someone doing amphetamines. He was apparently being overworked, doing two movies at once while flying back from the Czech Republic to do this (and other) interviews for “The Patriot.” In this one-on-one, he was sometimes depressed-sounding, not always likable, not always making sense, prone to anger and clearly influenced – for better and for worse -- by his mentor and fellow Aussie Mel Gibson.


Paul Iorio: ….In terms of some of the moral issues in [“The Patriot”]…some people will say, this is teaching kids to kill --
Heath Ledger: Well, they're all fuckin' idiots, because they let their kids watch fuckin' TV, they let their kids play computer games and rip heads off people. They're hypocrites. They're living amongst that. It's ridiculous.
If they're going to complain about that, let them, fuck 'em. Because, really, the world's so fuckin' full of shit and chaos right now it's not funny. I haven't watched TV in fuckin' years I don't have one, I have one only for movies, I have a DVD and video player. I don't hook it up to fuckin' cable, nothing. It's trash.
And if they think [my movie]'s trash, well, fuck, there's something wrong. The computer games and all that shit? That's ridiculous. They don't have to worry about this; they have to worry about their shit, that electronic nanny that they sit their kids down in front of so they don't have to worry about their kids. They don't have creative [things] for them to do and let them use their imagination and say, hey go outside and run around in the garden. No, stick 'em in front of here and you don't have to worry about them.
They can go fuck off. Fuck 'em. We're not teaching kids to do that, we're telling a story, that’s all.
Page Nine – Part One, Chapter One

Iorio: I’m just anticipating what some people will say.
Ledger: Oh, they will. Oh, yeah, they will.
Iorio: It’s pretty extreme, but it works in the context.
Ledger: It also shows the result of [the violence]. After the ambush thing, when they’re in the bed, and [the Mel Gibson character] is putting his kids to sleep, they show the result of that, when Trevor Morgan’s character said, “I killed him.” And you see it in Mel’s face, he knows that he created [murder] in [his son], he knows he sparked that off in [his son]….And when he goes to his other son, his other son can’t look at [his father] because all of a sudden he sees his dad chopping and hacking this guy to pieces and he’s been shooting people.
Iorio: He says, “I’m glad I killed him,” one of the sons says.
Ledger: But he gave the yin and yang of the situation.

Iorio: Do you still live in Australia?

Ledger: No.

Iorio: Where do you live now?

Ledger: I was in the States for around two and a half years. I was in L.A. and then I packed up my stuff in L.A., closed down my home and went down to South Carolina to shoot “The Patriot.”

After that, I had two months off, so I went and fucked off to New York, hung out there for a bit. And then I went straight from New York to Prague, went there for two months – that’s where I’m shooting “A Knight’s Tale.” Then I’ve got eight days off to do all this [press] shit and then I go back [to Prague] and I’ve got another two months there. And then I get two weeks off and I go to Morocco for four months to do “Four Feathers.”

[His starts sounding depressed.] That’s why I really don’t have a home right now. I’m living in bags. Which is kind of the way I’ve been for the past five years, kind of been on the road, living out of bags, which is good. I kind of prefer that right now.

Page Ten – Part One, Chapter One

Iorio: Where do you intend to live once the dust settles?

Ledger: I don’t know. I don’t look that far ahead in the future. I choose not to. If you live in the future or the past, you lose touch with the now, the present. I generally live every minute of every day in the present. I don’t have a diary, I don’t have a journal, I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow, I don’t know what I’m doing after this. That’s good. It keeps my life fresh and exciting.


Iorio: ….You seem to have a…great chemistry with Mel Gibson. Was that natural? Was that off the set, too?

Ledger: Yeah, yeah, yeah, he’s such a gentleman, he’s really easy to get along with, a really nice guy, straight down the line. Yeah, we were like buddies off set.

Iorio: Did you hang out with him, go out with him –

Ledger: Yeah, we went out.

Iorio: Where did you go?

Ledger: In Charleston, he’d come out with us and the crew and we’d have a few drinks…

Iorio: Now, you’re from Perth, so [Gibson] is probably bigger in Australia than he is here.

Ledger: Yeah, [unintelligible].

Iorio: Had you met him before doing this movie?

Ledger: No.

Iorio: Were you like a huge fan of his before –

Ledger: Yeah.

Iorio: What were the movies that really impressed you growing up, of Mel Gibson’s?

Page Eleven – Part One, Chapter One

Ledger: Uh, “Living Dangerously,” “Mad Max,” “Braveheart” really struck something in me, “Hamlet,” a really good “Hamlet”…Anything he touches, he brings something to it. Even like “Lethal Weapon,” big action flicks….I just think him in general is such a role model to any Australian because he was the kind of
the guy who bridged the gap between the two industries.

Iorio: With “Gallipoli,” his first crossover.

Ledger: Yeah, I loved “Gallipoli.” [He makes warlike sounds.]

Iorio: So, you’re 21 now, right?

Ledger: Yeah.

Iorio: So with these kinds of influences you went to make this movie. What was it like on the set, in terms of Roland Emmerich and how he got the performance from you.

Ledger: General direction, basically. A lot of it was left up to instincts. Between the two – Roland and Dean [Devlin], they’re a good pair, they work together – I guess his biggest direction to me was to relax, because when I turned up on the set I was nervous. It was the first time I’d worked for a while and I was with Mel Gibson on this big movie and all these added pressures and tis huge budget, so I was tense, I was nervous.

Iorio: But it doesn’t show.

Ledger: [The nervousness] only lasted a week. I was put at ease straight away, especially with Mel, he [snaps his fingers] cut that right in half. Roland and Dean, very relaxed, it’s a very relaxing set. For an epic drama of that scale, they kept it so chilled out. It was a breeze, really….

Iorio: How did you get the part?...

Ledger: My agent called me up and said, “You got the part.”

Iorio: How did you get the audition?

Page Twelve – Part One, Chapter One

Ledger: They were auditioning a bunch of kids and I just went in and read. Actually, the first reading I did was fucked. I went in there, I had two scenes prepared, I was halfway through the second scene and I dropped my head and said, “Sorry, I’m just wasting your time. I’m really embarrassed, god, I’m so sorry, I’m wasting your time.”

Iorio: Really?!

Ledger: [I said] “Sorry, if you want me to come back, I’ll come back and do it…” I put my head down and my tail between my legs.

Iorio: Well, that’s no way to get the part! They must have said, “Forget him!” And then you came back?

Ledger: Then they called me back.

Iorio: They called you back even though you told – who?

Ledger: Roland and Dean --

Iorio: -- that “I can’t handle this right now!”

Ledger: Yeah, it was just a lousy reading. I was just not there. And my morale was down.

Iorio: That should’ve ruled you out. I mean, there’s so much competition that that seems it would’ve ruled you out.

Ledger: No, I got the part.

Iorio: You got the part, anyway. That’s outrageous. Were you surprised?

Ledger: I was relieved.

Iorio: When did the gears started turning with the movie itself?...Because you die --

Ledger: It was shot sequentially.

Iorio: Really? In continuity?

Ledger: Yeah.

Page Thirteen – Part One, Chapter One

Iorio: That’s not usually the way it’s done.

Ledger: These days they’re doing that quite often. They’re doing that on the movie I’m doing now, actually.

Iorio: The movie “Four Feathers”?

Ledger: “A Knight’s Tale.”

Iorio: What about “Four Feathers”?

Ledger: I’m doing that after.

Iorio: Were you at the screening of “The Patriot” last night?

Ledger: Yeah, I snuck in.

Iorio: So you got to hear audience reaction and everything.

Ledger: I’m not too consumed with it.

Iorio: What was your opinion of it? What did you think?

Ledger: Oh, I loved it. Epic.

Iorio: It looks like it’s going to be kind of a “Braveheart” type success story, about as big as that.

Ledger: I have no expectations for what the movie is going [to do].

[Ledger tries to light his Marlboro cigarette with a match, but the flame goes out. He strikes another match and lights it.]

Iorio: Second match, noted for the record. And smoking a Marlboro, he is. What is that movie in which you’re not supposed to smoke? That’s “Ten Things –“

Ledger: “…I Hate About You.”

Page Fourteen – Part One, Chapter One

Iorio: Yeah. “Ten Things I Hate About You.” That’s right. There’s a scene in there where she’ll go out with you if you agree to quit smoking.

Ledger: Quit smoking….


Iorio: …Which scenes [in “The Patriot”] did you actually like [most]?

Ledger: In terms of when I was performing?

Iorio: No, when you saw the film last night.

Ledger: Oh, OK. I loved the moment between he [sic] and the little girl. That was heartwarming. I really liked sitting around the fireplace with him when I asked him about Ft. Wilderness.

Iorio: Yeah, yeah!

Ledger: That was very nice. Because there was something about it where – it was kind of like at that point the son was teaching the father. And not by teaching him, but by pulling it out of him. And that’s something that I think every child does to their parents. If they don’t, then they haven’t been brought up right.

Iorio: Is that the scene where you say to [Mel Gibson’s character], “What made you change your mind?”

Ledger: No, but I really like that, also.

Iorio: This is the scene where [the dialogue] is “Stay the course.”

Ledger: Yeah. This happened at Ft. Wilderness.


Iorio: …Did the script that you read agreed to do, did it change by the end of it?

Ledger: No…We were handed a pretty great script from the go. If you’re handed a script that’s like a B, you can shoot it to a B+, and then you can edit it to an A. If you’re handed a script that’s a C, it’s a little harder to get it up to an A. We were very lucky; we got a very good script. So it’s a lot easier to take it up there.

Page Fifteen – Part One, Chapter One

Iorio: In the battle scenes, what was it like [to shoot them]? Like the one where you were rescued. What kind of stuff went on there?

Ledger: ….Yeah, you feel like you’re in a battle. That particular scene, I was tied up to the back of the car, so I didn’t have a lot to do.

Iorio: Later in the movie, when you were about the stab the British officer. What was the atmosphere like?

Ledger: Just very professional. I’m there to do my job…

Iorio: But it’s so vivid. Is it vivid for the actor, too, to be there?

Ledger: Yeah, it is, but it’s funny: when you’re in the middle of an action sequence, especially one like that, you’ve choreographed all these moves. And, so, as much as you’re like there, you’re still acting technically, ‘cause you have to know when to block this off, otherwise you’re going to get hit. And when to hit him, so you can block it.

You’re lost amongst the fight, but you’re also aware of what you’re doing 100% because you have to be. You can’t just lose it and hit the guy. Because you’ve got to have it the same every time they set up the shot, you’ve got to match it, so it’s completely choreographed. And so you’re completely aware of what you’re doing, but at the same time you’ve got to act to make it look like you’re not aware of what you’re doing and you’re not aware that a hit is going to come this way.

Iorio: Are there some moments when it goes awry and you do get hit by a sword or –

Ledger: Yeah, yeah.

Iorio: What do they use anyway?...Are they real swords?

Ledger: Yeah, they have plastic ones made up, in case there’s a wider shot, just in case people get hit. But then they have metal ones when people get closer. But generally we used real guns to fight with; it’s a lot easier. Because with the phony ones, it hits and the handle goes [he makes a boinggg sound].

Iorio: …To be in [the scene in]…real time…

Page Sixteen – Part One, Chapter One

Ledger: [He talks in an unusually speedy way.] Then you’ve got to remember that we’re in it but we also shot that scene over three days.

It’s like all day, every day, so you’re sitting around, waiting for the shot to get set up. then you’re set up, you get ready and “OK, action!” and rrrrrrr!! Then they go, “Cut!” And you sit down and light up a cigarette. Blah blah. It’s not like you’re sitting around going, “I’m fuckin macho, I’m a brute and I’m gonna kill this fucker.” If you did that all day, your head would be fuckin’ fried. So you just fuckin’ relax and when they call you up there, you go up there and do your job.

Iorio: So it’s like half-hour spurts of activity?

Ledger: It’s really, no, not even that. If the spurt is like five minutes at the most. And then they cut and might want to go straight to another one, or might want to change things or set up another shot. Roland was usually like rolling with six cameras. Set up six cameras for six different shots and run it through once. And then it was easier to cut it together so it all matched. Instead of setting it all up once for one camera for a wide shot an then doing it again – it might not match.

Iorio: Interesting. There’re some people who work that way.

Ledger: I guess most people would work that way I they had the money. It’s just too fucking expensive to have six cameras rolling. That’s what it comes down to.


Iorio: What about “Four Feathers”? You are a military officer and you quit before a battle –

Ledger: Yeah, I hand in my resignation the night before we are sent off to fight in the Sudan. And I don’t tell my friends. I’ve got my four best friends in the army with me, we’re all from a long line of military families. And I go back to my fiancĂ© and when I’m staying with her I receive three feathers from my best friends in the war. Except one friend doesn’t send one to me.

And she asks what the feathers are for, and he explains that he quit the army and he says it’s because I love you. And she says, Don’t use me as an excuse and takes the ring off…My parents disown me, don’t want to know me, I’m a coward la da da.

It all gets to me, I get very depressed and I want to kill myself. I end up deciding I’m going to take off on my own will to the Sudan and individually hand back the three

Page Seventeen – Part One, Chapter One

feathers to my friends and get them out of the war. And so I do and dress up as an Arab. It’s an amazing script.

Iorio: It also must be about getting your name back, in a sense.

Ledger: No, that’s on the surface. You can read that on the page. But it’s deeper than that, it’s beyond that. The director I’m working with is Shekhar Kapur who did “Elizabeth.” He’s very much an actor’s director. And that’s what we’re delving into, we’re going right underneath, sub-textually, right below the skin.

Chapter Two

An Interview with Woody Harrelson,
October 24, 2000, on the hill next to Ft. Mason in San Francisco.

Harrelson’s main gold rush era films:
“The People Versus Larry Flynt,” “Wag the Dog,” “The Thin Red Line,” The Hi Lo Country,” “Edtv”

My impressions of Harrelson:
Woody was on a natural high when we hiked to the top of a hill in San Francisco on a blue sky afternoon. Singing a Beatles song, jazzed by a rehearsal for a play he was in, he sat on the grass and talked with me about some of his movies. (And check out the end of the interview, when a complete stranger approaches him and makes a pass!)

Paul Iorio: Is there one [picture] that you’re most proud of and one that you’re least proud of?
Woody Harrelson: I guess I’m most proud of -- I love “Larry Flynt,” I love the “Hi Lo Country.” Those to me were great movies. But I didn’t like “Money Train.”
Iorio: What about “Natural Born Killers”?
Harrelson: [long pause] I wish I’d watched Brad Pitt in “Kalifornia” before I did it because I would’ve stolen a lot of stuff from him. He was brilliant in that. It’s hard to say, because as I look back, I’d have done a lot of things differently.
It is what it is. I think it’s an amazing film. I think it was fairly misunderstood. We thought we were making a comedy, a satire, kind of condemning violence in the media and fanned by the media. Other people just took it as a violent film that was spreading violence. I think it was kind of unfortunate how –
Iorio: It was misinterpreted?
Harrelson: Yeah. I thought it was. Maybe I shouldn’t have expected anything else.

Page Nineteen – Part One, Chapter Two
Iorio: I’ve got this [list of films you’ve made] from the Internet Movie Database. [I hand him the list.] What sorts of things do you see when you see that list of films?
Harrelson: [He looks over the list of movies he’s been in.] I’m really psyched about “Grass.” I think it’s a great documentary. How the war on non-corporate drugs came to be. I love “Edtv.” I don’t know what this “Welcome to Hollywood” is. I love “Hi Lo Country.” I thought that was a fantastic movie.
“Thin Red Line”: I’m really proud of that. I think it’s a beautiful movie. “Palmetto” was a movie that didn’t know exactly what it wanted to be, a drama or a comedy. I wanted it to be a comedy, the director and writer had different ideas. And then “Wag the Dog” – I quite liked that one. I really think Barry [Levinson] is an amazing director. I liked “Welcome to Sarajevo” a lot. I was exhausted after [that].…
Iorio: If you could work with any director, who would that be?
Harrelson: I suppose that would have to be Jim Brooks and Peter Weir, the Coen brothers. That would be my top three right there. And, of course, Ridley Scott.
I mean, Milos Forman would be number one, whatever he wanted me to do. Period. Forever. If he was on his death bed directing from a remote trailer. I think he’s just amazing.
Iorio: [“The People versus Larry Flynt”] was something else.
Harrelson: And he was so smart, how he did it, too. He had me coming in all the time to run scenes with these different actresses [who he was auditioning]. I know he could’ve easily gauged the strength of these actresses without me there…And it was a good thing because me and Courtney [Love] must have done that at least three times before she was hired. And it was during that that we found that the most spontaneous thing was the most innovative, the more improvised it was.
Iorio: The bath tub scene [in “Larry Flynt”] really comes to mind –
Harrelson: I was just thinking of that. Because they were going to use one camera….Fantastic DP. He wanted to use just one camera on that because of the look.

Page Twenty – Part One, Chapter Two

He didn’t see how he could use two cameras. And we just begged Milos, “Please, you’ve got to use two cameras because otherwise we can’t improvise it the way it needs to be.” And so he did. He set up two cameras…He was trying to decide between three different scenes of the same thing, but totally different. Still dealing with the marriage [plot] but inside of that there were all unique things.
I remember looking at that thing and thinking, This is great, this is how it should be. There can be that much life and breath in a scene that it can be three completely different things and each one compelling.
Iorio: The chemistry between you [and Courtney Love] is amazing. Was there another actress who was going to get that part? She hadn’t done anything [in acting] before that.
Harrelson: I think she’d done one little thing. It was Milos’ instinct. He just knew that she was going to be amazing – and she was…
[Courtney Love] taught me so much. Because I’m consumed by the words…But [acting] isn’t about the words at all. Acting is about the physicality. And the words are really secondary. That’s what she taught me. She physicalized that part in such a way. Just the moves she did, the gestures, the lifting up the bra, shifting the bra, lifting her leg up in the air on the chair: all these things she did. I think she’s really special.
Iorio: It comes through between the two of you.
Harrelson: Don’t get me wrong, we did some bickering. But in the long run, we came out of that with a great deal of love and respect for each other.
Iorio: You don’t put down “Natural Born Killers,” but at the same time, I get the sense [you’re not that enthusiastic about it]. What’s your real feeling about that?
Harrelson: I really respect what Oliver did. I think that movie is an original. Just the way it was edited and put together – who knew it could be done like that? I think it probably influenced a lot of film makers, certainly a lot of music video [makers]….
I don’t mean to be unenthusiastic, but ultimately maybe [Stone] is so good and because he is so dangerous and explosive, maybe some of the message is obscured. If there was a message coming out of that, a lot of people didn’t get it….All I know is when I watch “Larry Flynt,” I see these two characters who I should despise – a drug addict and a pornographer -- and I come to care about them.
Page Twenty-One – Part One, Chapter Two

Iorio: I read an interview from two years ago where you said Woody Boyd [of “Cheers”] was still your best work.
Harrelson: I didn’t necessarily think it was my best work; it was too easy for me to be my best work. I thought it was my favorite character. I still feel that way.
Iorio: You did several Sam Shepard plays as a college student?
Harrelson: Yeah. When I was going to college, Sam Shepard was pretty much it. He was the favorite playwright. I’ve always admired his work. There’s a wild, live wire quality to it where anything could happen, so explosive, but there’s like a poetic violence in it.
Iorio: A lot of people would say that describes your acting….
Harrelson: I’m glad to hear it from you, but from my own perspective, I’ve done a lot – particularly in films like “Larry Flynt,” “White Men Can’t Jump,” “Natural Born Killers” – where there’s been a lot of improv going on. And in that sense, it was [what you describe]. That’s the thing that really excites me about film, I like the idea, almost like Henry Jaglom or even Cassavetes, there’s a feeling like it’s mostly improvised and you really don’t know what’s going to happen.
Iorio: You mentioned Cassavetes. Is there somebody today who embodies that spirit of spontaneity [among film makers]?
Harrelson: I think Sean [Penn] is a great film maker….I don’t think he’s recognized as that yet, but he does have that Cassavetes spirit.
I got to hang out with Cassavetes. Numerous times. That was back when I was hanging with Carol Kane and she knew him, so I got to hang with him. I thought he was just the most dynamic artistic personality I’d run across in my life. But I do think Sean has that in him.
Iorio: Have you ever thought of directing?
Harrelson: I would like to. I’m thinking, write and direct in a digital mode. I think digital is really cool because it now makes film making possible in the hands of almost everyone. Movies that would’ve cost you two million or five million, you can do for two hundred thousand. The technology is really coming up great.

Page Twenty-Two – Part One, Chapter Two

[As we chat on this deserted hilltop, a woman – a stranger to both of us – runs to us and, breathlessly, makes a pass at Harrelson.]

Harrelson: [to the woman] Hello.

Woman: What’s your name?

Harrelson: Woody.

Woman: You want to have coffee with me?

Harrelson: Coffee?

Woman: ‘Cause I was going down the hill and I was going, ‘Oh, man, that’s a cute guy!’

Harrelson: Really? [chuckling] So, not even thinking I was anybody, just a cute guy?

Woman: What do you mean?

Harrelson: I mean, you didn’t know it was me. You just thought –

Woman: Well, did you know it was me? You don’t even know MY name….[She slips Harrelson her phone number.]

Woman: I’ll see you later, maybe?

Harrelson: [chuckling] OK.

Iorio: Does that happen to you a lot?

Harrelson: No. Well, yeah.

Chapter Three

An Interview with Harry Shearer,
July 18, 1998, by telephone.

Shearer’s main gold rush era films:
“Godzilla,” “Edtv,” “Dick.”

My impressions of Shearer:
Effortlessly witty, as insightful about movies as any critic. In this interview, Shearer sizes up the late nineties landscape of movies, skewers moguls, confesses he “got screwed” on the financial deal for “This is Spinal Tap.”


Paul Iorio: …Is there a big difference anymore between indie films and blockbusters? Twenty years ago, there might have been. But today, with October [Films] being bought up by Universal and Miramax by Disney, it seems like every time an independent company has a hit, it’s scooped up by the majors. What do you think of that?

Harry Shearer: There is and there isn’t something called “independent.” The two films that come to mind that illustrate the two poles of that are, to me, “The Full Monty” and “Shine.” Although it came into the marketplace with the imprimatur of an independent, “Shine” was basically the old Hollywood movie that they made about Vincent van Gogh. Was it Kirk Douglas?

Iorio: Yeah, “Lust for Life.”

Shearer: “Lust for Life.” “Shine” is just a modern gloss on “Lust for Life.” Why that now has had to become an independent movie speaks more to the monomania that has gripped Hollywood…When they discovered they could make billions of dollars making B-pictures on steroids, they sort of dropped their old formulas and indies picked them up. “Shine” doesn’t have an independent sensibility, whatever that is. It’s just an old-fashioned Hollywood movie that happens [to be made today].

Page Twenty-Four – Part One, Chapter Three

….The number of viable formulas that [Hollywood] believes in and trusts has shrunk dramatically. And I sort of blame [Steven] Spielberg and [George] Lucas for that.

On the other hand, I don’t think that “The Full Monty” would’ve ever been made by any big studio anywhere. It’s just too goofy a little concept an it’s an ensemble piece to boot, which is always viewed as a little more dangerous in Hollywood than a star vehicle….

The point I was making about “Shine” and “The Fully Monty” was, to a certain degree, the independent channel is just a way for the dis-used Hollywood formulas to still have commercial viability, so why shouldn’t the studios buy them up and distribute them, reunite them in sort of a goofy version of the way it used to be. On the other hand, there still are films that are un-makeable by any Hollywood standard – and that is what “independent,” ideally, is all about.

Iorio: Interesting. In other words, take the current crop of movies and subtract the explosion movies and then you’ve got the same climate, probably, as you did when you had your “Midnight Cowboy”s, and “Deliverance.” Those movies, today, would qualify as indie movies.

Shearer: That’s right! Basically, every movie that Hollywood made in the 1970s, before “Star Wars,” would be classified today as indie. No Bob Rafelson movie could have ever gotten green-lighted in this era. And yet he was a studio director.

Iorio: Pre-“Jaws” –

Shearer: Yeah, yeah. I’m unpopular among some of my friends for saying this, but I do blame Spielberg and Lucas, who have beguiled a whole generation of film executives with the idea that the biggest grosses were to be made by, basically, infantilizing the industry….


Iorio: …The real shocker to a lot of people is that you’re in “Godzilla” –

Shearer: “Godzilla”!

Iorio: How is it different making that as opposed to, say, “This is Spinal Tap”?

Shearer: It’s always different working on a film as an actor, as opposed to when you have a larger involvement. On “Spinal Tap,” my eye is wandering all over the place

Page Twenty-Five – Part One, Chapter Three

looking for other people’s fuck-ups as well as trying to worry about my own acting. Whereas in “Godzilla,” or any of the other movies that I just act in, the luxury is I just have to worry about hitting my mark, saying my lines and not drooling…

I didn’t have to do a lot of blue screen reaction [in “Godzilla”], I didn’t have to do a lot of reacting to nothing. Virtually everything I did was old fashioned acting in which I reacted to something or somebody that was in my field of vision at the time….

What amazed me is that Roland [Emmerich], the director -- who does have all this stuff to watch and has to make sure that every one of these 500 extras running by with guns is looking at the camera, a major responsibility – is still, at the end of the take, responding to a little ad lib I had.

Iorio: …”Godzilla”s done and now [if] you, say, go to the airport, are you now recognized by people who didn’t know who you were before?

Shearer: Uhhh, yeahhh, a little bit more. I wouldn’t say it’s explosive. I do so many different things....It’s intriguing to me that I can never predict what somebody’s going to say when they recognize me. One person will say “Spinal Tap,” another person “Saturday Night Live,” I even get recognized for my radio show, though I can’t figure out how they do that....

Sure, I can got to the market and go around town and not have a phalanx of security buffeting me, so it hasn’t changed things that much….

Iorio: …Among film fanatics, Derek Smalls in “Spinal Tap” is really what your known for. Do you agree or disagree?

Shearer: I would be fine with that, if that were to be true. I don’t think about that a lot. [The people in “Spinal Tap”] could tell horrible Hollywood stories in terms of our monetary rewards from that particular project.

Iorio: How so?

Shearer: We got screwed! The fact that the movie resonates that way is greatly satisfying to me. The fact that it was something that we all created from scratch and pushed it past a town full of naysayers and that it is now skipping generations…Aside from the billions that somebody has made off it, you can’t ask for anything more satisfying in terms of creating a piece of pop cultural work.

Iorio: …Do you think “Godzilla” is a way for the film community to say, Hey, let’s reward you [in the mainstream for your previously under-appreciated work]?
Page Twenty-Six – Part One, Chapter Three

Shearer: Oh, god, I wished it worked that way! I think everything is flukier than that and more atomized than that.

Dean [Devlin] and Roland [Emmerich]…aren’t really part of the real Hollywood film community, which, I think, partly explains the explosive backlash against “Godzilla” in this town. It’s hard to say of guys who made two huge Hollywood blockbusters, but there is a certain degree to which they are outsiders, which speaks to the insularity of this town.

I think Dean, particularly, was a fan of stuff that I had done, so, in a way, on an individual basis you could say that. But for Peter Weir [the director of “The Truman Show”], I was just a guy who happened to solve a problem that he had. As he told me, he had gone through a lot of actors before he got to me.

Iorio:…I hear Dennis Hopper was going to be [in “The Truman Show”] –

Shearer: Well, Dennis Hopper was in it. He left in the middle of shooting. They had to do re-shooting.


Iorio: What about your next one, “Edtv”? What’s that about?

Shearer: “Edtv” is a different take on the same core concept as “The Truman Show.” A guy whose life becomes fodder for a cable tv channel, except the difference is in this case he’s a willing party to it, as opposed to being a victim of it.

Iorio: From an early age or –

Shearer: No, just a grown-up, gets into it, basically, to solve money problems. There’s a contest. It’s a desperate cable channel, desperate for something to grab onto. It’s a Ron Howard picture, so it has a much different sensibility than Peter [Weir’s “The Truman Show”]. I’m the moderator of an MSNBC kind of talk show whose perennial guests are George Plimpton, Arianna Huffington, Michael Moore. And we recur throughout the movie sort of commenting on the different stages on the cultural impact that this cable show is having.

And then I’m playing G. Gordon Liddy in a comedy about Watergate called “Dick.”

Iorio: You’re kidding! You’re gonna play Liddy?!

Shearer: I did play Liddy! Yeah!

Chapter Four

An Interview with Edward Norton.
October 15, 1998, at the Red restaurant in West Hollywood, Calif.

Norton’s gold rush era films:
“American History X,” “The People Versus Larry Flynt,” “Fight Club”

My impressions of Norton:
I had coffee at Red on Melrose with Norton during the week when his face was on the cover of George magazine at almost every newsstand in L.A. He almost treated Red as a director would a movie set, twice having animated conversations with the restaurant managers about the volume of the loud smooth jazz they were piping to the outdoor tables. (Norton finally got them to turn it off.) Here he is a mere two years after exploding in Hollywood with “Primal Fear.”

Paul Iorio: [How is it you seem convincing in diverse roles?]
Edward Norton: I've always had a hard time choosing between different potential modes of existence. And acting is one way of being an experiential dilettante. You can dip for a while into all kinds of diverse realms of experience and expression and then escape without any of the consequences of actually having chosen it as a life. And I really like that. I get a lot of fun out of that.
Paul Iorio: Like a parallel universe.
Norton: Totally is. Like the way I might have been.
Iorio: Yeah, the lawyer, for example, in "The People Versus Larry Flynt." If you hadn't gone into acting -- When you do that Supreme Court scene --
Norton: I would've made a good lawyer. [laughs]
Page Twenty-Eight – Part One, Chapter Four

Paul Iorio: You're bi-coastal.
Edward Norton: More where the work is. I'm a New Yorker at heart, fundamentally. Someone said to Neil Simon, why don't you come out to L.A. , the weather's so much nicer. And he said, yeah, when it's 2 degrees in New York, it's 70 in L.A. And when it's 110 in New York, it's 70 in L.A. But there's a million interesting people in New York and 70 in L.A.


Chapter Five

An Interview with Annette Bening.
February 2000 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Bening’s gold rush era films:
“American Beauty,” “What Planet Are You From?”

My impressions of Bening:
Bening has an extraordinary beauty and magnetism that was evident as soon as I walked into her hotel room. But also a great sense of humor and warmth. A consummate professional with a conversational style that almost makes you feel like you’re talking to a pal in a dorm room back in college.

Paul Iorio: What does Mike Nichols do to elicit performances by actors?
Annette Bening: What does he do? He's a great audience. He makes you feel sufficient. He makes you feel funny. And he's very, very sensitive. Doesn't say a lot, like most of the good directors I've worked with. They say the least. The feel the least need to intervene. Once they've cast you, they know what they're going to get, because they know you.
Iorio: Were there some parts of [What Planet Are you From?] that [caused] you to just burst out laughing?
Bening: Yes, doing the sex scene with Garry [Shandling] made me laugh very hard. I got the giggles. Those scenes are always -- being on a set and being in bed with someone is just so bizarre, you've got to have a sense of humor about it.


Chapter Six

An Interview with George Clooney.
August 24, 1997, Los Angeles.

Clooney’s main gold rush-era films:
“The Peacemaker,” “Out of Sight,” “Three Kings,” “The Perfect Storm”

My impressions of Clooney:
Clooney has the presence of a Senator or an old-style leading man from the age of Gable – and his seductive impact on women is a wonder to behold. All of my interviews for this book were conducted one-on-one – except for this one; I caught Clooney during a lively roundtable discussion and am presenting my own interchanges with him. This interview was conducted during the launch of DreamWorks, whose first film, “The Peacemaker,” starred Clooney.


Paul Iorio: What attracted you to this role [in “The Peacemaker”], George? A special forces guy, sort of an insubordinate fellow –

George Clooney: ….I got a letter from Steven Spielberg attached to the script. And he said, “It’s our first movie for DreamWorks. Are you interested?” So that piques your interest right off the bat. And then I read it and loved the script and thought….it wasn’t the standard action film, it didn’t fall into easy traps…I thought the bad guy was understandable and you could almost agree with….

And then the character for me was…Jack Nicholson’s character in “A Few Good Men” fifteen years earlier, a guy who gets everything done and doesn’t question and anyone who questions him, he doesn’t even address. People say, “Isn’t it true that [something scandalous happened]?” And he goes, “Yeah! Next.” Did you ever seen “The War Room,” the documentary –

Iorio: Yeah.

Page Thirty-One – Part One, Chapter Six

Clooney: And they’re talking to [James] Carville at one point and they say, “Isn’t it true that Clinton went to Russia in 1970?” [Note: Clinton’s trip to Russia as a student was, at the time, considered potentially scandalous.] And he goes, “Yeah.” And they go, “Well, he went to Russia.” And [Carville] goes, “Yeah, he went to Russia.” And they say, “Wasn’t that a kind of interesting time to go to Russia?” And [Carville says]: “He went to Russia in 1970. So?”

And that’s kind of what I liked about [my character in “The Peacemaker”]….They go, “Isn’t it true that you spent nine thousand dollars at dinner?” And [he says]: “Yeah, we had dinner and a few drinks.” I loved that. It made me laugh,

Iorio: Was Mimi Leder attached to the project when you got that letter?

Clooney: No. Mimi came on board about a month and a half after I’d signed on to do it. Steven [Spielberg] calls me up and says, “I’m thinking about going with Mimi. You like that?” And I was shocked, to tell you the truth. Because I thought they were
going to get an old pro to do it. Because it was their first movie for DreamWorks. I thought they were going to cover themselves.

Because I’m certainly an unproven quantity [in movies]…For them to get a first-time director on top of that, I thought that was really ballsy…I’m thrilled that they were doing that –

Iorio: I bet. Because you had worked with her on “E.R.” What was the difference between working with [Leder] on “E.R.” and working with her here?

Clooney: About three more days! [laughs]

Iorio: …There’s actually a Vanity Fair quote….It [quotes you saying]: “Mimi’s very good with that passive aggressive thing. She’ll say, ‘Sure, George, that’s a good idea, and then do exactly what she wanted all along.”

Clooney: Mimi and I have a great shorthand all the way around. Mimi manipulates me and I manipulate her. And that’s how we’ve worked forever. It’s how you work with a director in general, by the way….If you disagree, you’re both going to do what you want.

But Mimi and I, we’ve been on this from the very beginning. She directed the first episode of “E.R.”….So she’s one of the few people who I can share a lot of that experience with. So she’s someone who can really bust my chops. And that’s a good thing.

Page Thirty-Two – Part One, Chapter Six

We have fun. I’ll say, “I’d really like to do this.” And she’ll say, “You can do that; a television actor would do that.” And then at one point – when I kill the guy [in the movie] – I said, “I’ve got to shoot him.” And [she] wanted the guy to live. And Mimi said, “Well, maybe you don’t have to shoot him right here.” And I said, “I guess for a chick director!” [laughs] And [she goes], “All right. He dies!” So we [play with] each other a lot.

Chapter Seven

An Interview with Anne Heche.
April 6, 1997, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills.

Heche’s gold rush-era films:
“Wag the Dog,” “Volcano,” “Donnie Brasco”

My impressions of Heche:
Heche has the personality of someone who has had to fend for herself from a young age – which pretty much describes her reality. Her beauty at age 27 had to be seen in person to be fully appreciated; it was something akin to seeing blinding light. For the record, this is the interview that broke one of the biggest celebrity stories of 1997: the then-secret relationship between Heche and Ellen Degeneres. I had spotted the two hugging the day before and simply asked Heche about her friendship with her in what became her first remarks to any journalist about the relationship.

Paul Iorio: Tell me about “Wag the Dog”?

Anne Heche: …My part was originally written for a man. And Barry Levinson asked me to do a reading of it just to see how it would play as a woman. And he ended up hiring me. And not one word was changed except he is a she. I play the right hand man to the president, I play George Stephanopoulis!


Chapter Eight

An Interview with Michael Clarke Duncan.
November 22, 1999, at the Park Hyatt Hotel, Century City.

Duncan’s gold rush-era films:
“Armageddon,” “The Green Mile”

My impressions of Duncan:
Winning, genuine, hugely likeable – and physically huge, too! At the time of this interview, Duncan had undergone an astonishing transformation from working stiff to movie star – and he was as amazed as anyone that his dream had come true.


Paul Iorio: You moved to Los Angeles six years ago –

Michael Clarke Duncan: Six years ago from Chicago. I worked at the major gas company there. Did a lot of bouncing work on the side, a lot of security work and figured there had to be a better life out here for me. I can see myself in a ditch right now, digging that hole [for the gas company] and thinking, I know there is something better for me. And now. [He gets up and goes to the window of his hotel room that looks out east over the grand sweep of Los Angeles.] I stand up and look out here. And look at this! Here we are talking and I was so many thousands of miles away in a hole! And I always wanted this right here….This was the dream right here.

Iorio: Do you realize odds against achieving what you’ve achieved? Playing opposite Tom Hanks!

Clarke: It’s crazy. It feels like a dream.

Iorio: Did you come from a show biz family at all?

Duncan: Oh, no! [laughs heartily] No. Not at all.
Page Thirty-Five – Part One, Chapter Eight


Iorio: “Armageddon” was –

Duncan: That was a big thing for me, my first major movie.

Iorio: How did you manage to become one of the “roughnecks” in “Armageddon” – alongside Bruce Willis?

Duncan: …I [went] in for the [final] audition [for “Armageddon”] and thought, Don’t be nervous, be cool and calm. But I’m not OK; I’m a bundle of muscle and nerves.

So I take this bottle of water and right before I went in, for some reason I poured it right on top of my head and let it drip down. Don’t ask me what that was for. Something just told me to do it. For some parts, you can’t just go in there and read; you have to be a little bit different. And the Bear character was a little bit crazy. So I thought maybe Bear would do something odd like this….

And they look at me like: This guy might have what we’re looking for. And I read. And Michael Bay asked me about my mother. I kind of got all emotional and I started crying and at that point, I think they wanted me to be in “Armageddon.”

Chapter Nine

An Interview with Geena Davis.
2000, by phone.

Davis’s gold rush-era films:
“The Long Kiss Goodnight”

My impressions of Davis:
What comes across most is that Davis is unusually smart and very seductive – and seemingly unconvinced that she’s an enormously attractive woman.

Paul Iorio: What’s it like being an Oscar winner? Or having an Oscar statuette around the house? Have you ever used the Oscar statuette for an unusual purpose, like, say, nailing something?
Geena Davis: No, but I have an unusual Oscar. During the earthquake in 1994, in L.A., I had it on the fireplace mantle and it fell off the mantle and it sort of bent . And it got bent in the earthquake. And I sent it to – they have an Oscar repair shop, believe it or not – and they said, it’s leaning too much, we can’t upright it,. We’ll give you a different one. And I said, no no I want the one I won. So he leans forward, almost like a slalom skier in the Olympics, so it’s a slightly unusual Oscar.


Chapter Ten

An Interview with Troy Garity.
August 1998, at Book Soup in West Hollywood.

Garity’s gold rush-era films:
“Steal This Movie”

My impressions of Garity:
This is the first-ever real interview with Garity, a new generation actor from the Fonda family who is both undaunted and proud of his family legacy. He talks frankly and affectionately of his grandfather Henry, his mom Jane and his cousin Bridget – and what it was really like to grow up Fonda when the name was a lightning rod for controversy.

Paul Iorio: Where did you grow up?
Troy Garity: In Santa Monica...When my father [Tom Hayden] started running for public office, for security reasons we had to move to a more privatized neighborhood.
Iorio: Because of the fame of your dad?
Garity: Not so much fame so much as different beliefs from the norm, is the way to put it....All of our windows were stapled with chicken wire, we had to check the car for bombs in the morning.
Page Forty-seven – Part One, Chapter Ten

Iorio: Did you get threats, things through the window?
Garity: Yeah.

Page Thirty-Eight – Part One, Chapter Ten

Iorio: How did it ever happen that you were offered the role of Tom Hayden in “Steal This Movie”?
Garity: It had always been my dream to play a revolutionary and, better than that, to actually play my father….My father literally risked his life, the majority of his life, to make the world a better place for me to grow up in.
Iorio: How aware were you growing up of your dad’s history as an activist, the Chicago 7 and Chicago 8 trials?
Garity: Not very.
Iorio: So you come to this role –
Garity: I'm 25, I know my history now....The Chicago trial didn't take precedence over the issues at hand like going to the airport and having picket lines at our gate talking about feeding my family to the whales. You know what I mean. Or going to South Arica and being removed of the plane by these men who looked like Nazis. Locking us in the airport for two days until they got us out. Or going to Northern Ireland and being stopped at gunpoint and being searched.


Chapter Eleven

An Interview with Olivia Williams.
December 7, 1997, in Los Angeles.

Williams’s gold rush-era films:
“The Postman”

My impressions of Williams:
Blue-blooded, naturally aristocratic but surprisingly down to earth and genuinely taken aback by her success, which followed a period of unemployment. An artist of the first order, but completely unpretentious and un-grandiose. And watch it – she has a tendency to turn the questioning on the interviewer, charmingly, too.


Paul Iorio: Describe to me the day that Kevin Costner, or his representatives, called you. It must have been such a longshot --
Olivia Williams: Yes, it was an incredible longshot. The whole thin had a surreal quality to it. And I’m practical to the point of being a pessimist.
Also, this job makes you cynical because it plays on people’s desire to hope. And so you get an audition and you read a script and you see yourself in the part and you get excited. You imagine how exciting it would be to spend a year in Stratford on Avon….
Time after time you do one good audition, you might do two or three good auditions, and then they just don’t phone you back. It happened too many times for me to get my hopes up. I’ve been to the point where people were asking me my dress size at an audition. And you think, well, it must be in the bag. And you lose the part to someone else.
So, I did go into the whole thing [with “The Postman”] with, a kind of bloody-minded, this is all very extraordinary and flattering but it’s not going to happen.

Page Forty – Part One, Chapter Eleven

Iorio: What was the day when you got the call saying you had gotten it?
Williams: It was all in the same day…It was a very long day because of the eight hour time difference. It was a 32-hour day. And I flew to Los Angeles, arrived at this very hotel…and met Kevin Costner for dinner here and then I had approximately eight hours of supposed sleep but I actually did eight hours learning my lines for the next day and not sleeping.
Then I went to Warner Brothers, and rehearsed the scene with him for an hour…came back to the meeting and he called back a half an hour later and offered me the role. Two hours later I was in wardrobe being fitted for my costume.

Iorio: What had you been doing in the months prior to this?
Williams: Unemployed.


Chapter Twelve

An Interview with Jessica Alba.
Between July 18 – 21, 2000, at the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena.

Alba’s gold rush-era films:
“Never Been Kissed,” “Idle Hands”

My impressions of Alba:
She was still a teenager when I interviewed her and already such a sex symbol that people would openly note her beauty as they walked by. Unusually confident, very sure of herself artistically.

Paul Iorio: Your background comes from a theater company that was run by David Mamet --
Jessica Alba: I did that when I was 16. And my main acting teacher was Bill Macy [known as William H. Macy]. And he taught me to not act , because that’s boring. Who wants to see anybody act? Dare to be boring. And that was my instinct, to always be real. I just didn’t know how to do that when you’re given lines to say and a life to lead that isn’t yours.…And Bill just said, “Dare to be boring.” When you look at something, you don’t go like this [eyes get big in surprise]. You just look at something.
Iorio: What was your first encounter with James Cameron [who directed Alba in the TV series “Dark Angel”]?
Alba: When I went into the room for the audition. I just walked in and he said, “Hey, I’m Jim,” and I said, “Hi, I’m Jessica,” and he said, “Let’s get to work.” And I said, “Cool.” And then we did a scene. And then we did it again. And he‘s like, “You wanna try it any other way?,” and I’m like, “Let’s try this.” And he’s like, “Cool, let’s try this.” And he goes, “Excellent!”


Part Two: Directors (and screenwriters)

Chapter One: An Interview with M. Night Shyamalan.
July 30, 1999, by phone.

Shyamalan’s main gold rush-era films:
“The Sixth Sense”

My impressions of Shyamalan:
A week before the release of “The Sixth Sense,” the cinematic tsunami that would put Shyamalan on the map, I spoke with him as he finished a day’s work as a physician. He was not really doing pre-release interviews, but I found his phone number by sleuthing and caught him when he wanted to talk. Yes, he was excited by the coming release, but even he had no idea that it would become one of the biggest films of the decade. Here he is during the last week when he was still relatively un-famous in Hollywood.

Paul Iorio: How would you describe [“The Sixth Sense”]...in terms of genre?
M. Night Shyamalan: Hopefully, one day it'll be a Shyamalan genre. [laughs] It's a cross-genre, for sure. I like to mix emotional drama with larger subjects. A supernatural subject like "Ghost" is the kind of counterpoint I'm looking for with these emotional dramas that are at the heart of the movies.
Iorio: When I left the theater, I said, “Repulsion" meets "Ghost."
Shyamalan: [laughs] Right, right. Yeah, I watched "Repulsion" twice during the pre-production. Just letting it sink in and why that camera work got you so into it and into her mind.
Iorio: How about your early influences. You started making films at a very young age. Was Polanski and "Rosemary's Baby" an influence on you growing up?
Shyamalan: Not so much me growing up, but growing up as a film maker, for sure, in the last five years. Learning about why things have resonance and power and other things don't linger as long with you emotionally. And when you leave the theater, why some movies seem like you're very entertained but when you get out to the car, it's lost a little bit. And how do you sustain the tone and emotion with camera work and film
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making and storytelling. Obviously, Polanski and "The Shining" and others that sustain a tone for a long time are things I really analyzed to find keys to.
Iorio: What about "Frankenstein" itself? Like when the boy is locked in the --
Shyamalan: The dungeon.
Iorio: I immediately thought, the original "Frankenstein."
Shyamalan: Not consciously, let's put it that way.
Iorio: OK. One of the things that stands out is the hallucinatory quality of --
Shyamalan: The ghost.
Iorio: The ghost...Have you ever thought of doing a film in which someone is hallucinating in the way you think the boy might be in the early part? That just seems like something that --
Shyamalan: That might be in the wheelhouse of ideas?
Iorio: Yeah.
Shyamalan: It's a very interesting thing to have your protagonist see things that you're not quite sure are in his mind or are they actually real. How long you can sustain that is a magic trick, I suppose, adds to the fear. I don't know, maybe one day down the line. The next project doesn't have completely that element, but something similar.
Iorio: Currently, I guess you know your film is part of a fright boom. There's a real appetite in this country right now, starting with "Blair Witch" and "The Mummy," if you want to go back to that, and "The Haunting." Have you seen any of the current crop?
Shyamalan: No, I haven't seen any of them, partly because it's a busy time, but partly because I don't want to get upset! [laughs]
You know, when we sold "The Sixth Sense," it was a very public event, when I sold the screenplay for "The Sixth Sense," it was a big deal. Every studio bid on it and everybody read it. It was a script that everybody had and everybody read it. I think when something is appreciated it causes a ripple effect.

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A lot of the people who bid on the movie are the people who have these horror movies in the theaters between now and October. It's just the framework of time. When we put our film in pre-production, the other films went into pre-production; in the pregnancy period of making the film…was the incarnation of all of these [other] films. Not "Blair Witch," but the others, like "The Haunting" and such.
It's just an example of how things happen in cycles in Hollywood. They read something or see something that causes a new appreciation of an old way of storytelling and they kind of see the way of how to do it and get excited about it again. Generally, studios have development bins full of movies that are either, you know, buddy buddy action movies, disaster movies, or horror movies, and they just have tons of them. So, when somebody comes out and does, say, a buddy movie in a brand new way, or a very cool way, they pull out the old ones and say, let's revamp them in this way.
Iorio: This time the audiences are responding big time.
Shyamalan: I don't know why but the current marketplace of audiences is skewing younger, a little bit, like teenagers, whereas in "The Breakfast Club" days and all, really strong films about that age group were making money but not like the money they're making now. And I think there's something about that, being driven by a slightly younger demographic that's causing an interest in being chilled and scared.
Iorio: Why is it that people want to be scared in movie theaters right now?
Shyamalan: Maybe it isn't just about being scared, as much as it is a new way to be thrilled in the movie theater. It's all about getting excited and leaving reality for that two hours. If disaster movies like "Twister" were the thing than everyone would be searching for that...
Maybe right now, it's feeling like a good time [to escape reality] at the end of the millennium. I don't know if the end of the millennium has an effect on this re-interest in horror.
I've always been totally interested and in it all and the fact that so many Steven King movies have been put into production. And it used to be a kind of lower genre. There were dramas and all these [serious] things and there at the bottom, next to all the Kung Fu movies, in the basement is the horror movies. But there was that slew of movies before that were like classics, or legitimate, like "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Omen," where they approached it from a different plane….

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Iorio: I read that you were very sure of landing Bruce Willis even before you'd finished the script. And you actually did! How did that happen?
Shyamalan: I don't know. This has been a very weird film and I just thought it was going to happen. I thought I was going to sell it for a ton of money and I thought Bruce Willis was gonna be in it and I hadn't written a word of it yet, I just had the title. And it just felt right. It turned out he was the guy I went to first and he said yes. And everything has fallen suit and the film is opening on my birthday!
Iorio: Wow! How old will you be?
Shyamalan: I will be 29 on the day my movie opens!
Iorio: Well, what a birthday present this is.
Shyamalan: I know. Two thousand two hundred or whatever screens. That's a nice birthday present!

Chapter Two

An Interview with Woody Allen
December 3, 1999, in Beverly Hills.

Allen’s main gold rush-era films:
“Everyone Says I Love You,” “Sweet and Lowdown,” “Small Time Crooks”

My impressions of Allen:
In person, Allen’s genius sort of resembles radical common sense. Sober, wise, always fascinating, always persuasive even when one disagrees with him. Most surprising to me, in this interview, was his praise for Mia Farrow’s work – and, of course, the very fact that he had seen the movie “Splash”!


Paul Iorio: I got to see [“Sweet and Lowdown”]. A lot of people are talking about Samantha Moore’s character. That was a very ambitious thing to write a character with no dialogue. How did you practically write a character who speaks not a word?

Woody Allen: Well, you have to do very little in the writing for that character. All the dialogue on the page goes to the other people – in this case Sean [Penn] 99% of the time. And once in a while, you write, “Hattie nods” and you work it out with them on the set.

When I first saw her, Juliet Taylor, my casting lady, gave me some tapes of people. And the second I saw her in a film, she was in a little English film where she spoke, I said, “She would be absolutely perfect, she’s got a great great look.” And I met with
her and hired her immediately. And I said, “I would like you to play this like Harpo Marx.”

And she was so young, she had no idea who Harpo Marx was. I couldn’t believe she hadn’t seen the Marx Brothers. And then she went back to London and she saw some tapes of the Marx Brothers.

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And when she came back to New York, she could do Harpo Marx perfectly. I had to take her down from that. It was such a great Harpo Marx. I didn’t mean that I wanted her to play Harpo exactly, but that was the general character I wanted her to play. So it was pretty easy to direct her. Her instinct was correct throughout.
Iorio: A lot actors say that you tend to give general direction [on the set]…Is that what you do to elicit performances?
Allen: Yes, sometimes I don't talk to them at all. If they have a question, of course, I answer it. But I don't tell them anything. I give them the script or their part of the script and they read it and if they agree to do the movie, I assume they understand their character, what they're getting into. And then they show up on the set and very often they do it and they do it beautifully. Maybe once or twice I have to correct them. But usually I don't say anything to them unless they're doing it wrong. Or if they're very far from what I wanted.
But their instincts are good. If you hire Sean Penn or Dianne Wiest or Hugh Grant or Michael Caine, you don't want to mess them up. They're great and they do what they do. So I rarely speak to them. And very often in direction, I'll say, faster, louder, do less -- that's one of my big directions -- or I'll say to them, "Look you have to come home into the apartment and she's cooking dinner and you have to tell her you're leaving her for another woman or something and you have to go from making dinner to getting a gun to shoot her. And you make it happen. I don't know how to tell you to make it happen. You just have to convince me and make it happen." And they do. They make it happen. The actor is a very, very strong tool to have and you don't have to burden them with a lot of talk and conversation.
Iorio: With the Emmet Ray character, were you symbolically portraying your own father. I mention that because the [Eric] Lax biography says, “His only vice was he was a sharp dresser. He loved clothes. He was kind of a hustler.” And also he kind of resembles Alvy Singer’s dad in “Annie Hall.” Is this a symbolic way of –

Allen: There are some elements of my father in that character. That character was made up of a composite of a number of jazz musicians who were very famous in the year I am most interested in. There’s a little of Jelly Roll Morton, there’s a little of King Oliver, there’s a little of Django Reinhardt in that. And there is a little of my father.

Now, my father is a much sweeter character with no talent, no genius, no talent. But he was definitely a hustler with the wardrobe and liked to play the big shot. And there are many little touches in Sean that I take from my father. But there are a number of things I took from [the jazz artists mentioned above].

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Iorio: Would you have rather been a film maker in the swing era or today?
Allen: No, no, today is better. Because if you were not a foreign film maker in those years, you were strapped into the studio system of film making. And there was really no personal expression at all. You had to fight and fight and fight.
And I know they refer to that as the golden age of movies but really when you think of it in the United States, it was golden in that there were so many movies made. The biggest thing in America was film. But all those films, of those thousands and thousands and thousands of films, there were really very few good ones.
Now, you may say, "Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, William Wyler, and Orson Welles." But if you add them all together -- all these terrific film makers and their work, and each one had to fight so hard to make a good film -- and you add them all together, they're still a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of films that were made. So it was a tough era for people.
Iorio: [Would you rather have been] a jazz musician or a movie maker?
Allen: I would've hands down been a jazz musician. Because there's no art form that I could conceive of that would be more pleasurable to be good at, to have a gift in, than music. The response is so direct.
I'm in a much more cerebral art form. Automatically I've got to sit in a room and think and plot characters and analyze their personalities and make sure things work out...But a musician is gifted; he just kind of picks the horn up and plays or sits at the piano and plays. You can be completely illiterate and the emotion is so – When you see these kids at a rock concert, there're ten thousand kids out there with their shirts off, the emotion is so -- You'll never get that [at] a play of Tennessee Williams’ or Edward Albee’s or Eugene O'Neill or Arthur Miller. You will never get that kind of response. You get a certain kind of response. Or a film by Bergman or Fellini or Kurosawa or Truffaut or von Stroheim.
But music, it knocks you out instantly. It's such a delight. If I could've had Bud Powell's talent, I would've been very, very, happy with my life.

Chapter Three

An Interview with David Fincher.
August 1997, in Los Angeles.

Fincher’s main gold rush-era films:
“Seven,” “The Game,” “The Fight Club”

My impressions of Fincher:
Fincher doesn’t give many interviews and I could sort of tell why. He’s 100% about the work and zero percent interested in the public part of the job. Or so it seems.


Paul Iorio: The last scene of “Seven": can you describe how that evolved?
David Fincher: That was just right off the page. That was just good writing. It was all there. The script was: He runs over here. He stays there with a gun leveled at John Doe. It was all kind of laid out. And I had done these really elaborate storyboards and I was getting ready to shoot them and we went out to Antelope Valley to shoot that and we rehearsed it a couple times in the parking lot at Warner Bros. and it just didn't work. I had three days to shoot that.
Iorio: Why didn't it work?
Fincher: It just didn't feel right. There were other things that needed to be addressed and the staging that I had in mind was too elaborate. And so we had 90 people sitting on coolers, stuck out in the middle of the desert. Brad and Kevin and I were sitting over on these chairs and...we just sat down for about six or seven hours and just talked. And Kevin would go, no I think this. And he'd kind of get up and act it out. And Brad would go --

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Paul Iorio: So there were really differences?
Fincher: Yeah. I mean, we only had Brad for 55 days, so at the end of those three days, he was gone. So our first day was really spent sitting there talking. To their credit, they did not flinch, they said, okay. We talked and talked. Time ticked away and we talked....And everything is overlapping at the end; Brad is looking at it from Mills's point of view, Spacey's thinking about it from Doe's point of view and Morgan is more at a distance. We just talked and talked and finally we said, “We're going to do this much simpler. We're just gonna watch it, we're not gonna get that involved in the whole thing. The only time we're going to get involved is when the van shows up and I want the camera to get in between Mills and Somerset so I can see them be divided before he runs off.”...It becomes separated at the point where you see Mills holding a .45. And the camera starts on to that and that's the first time you see the two shot of him and Spacey.
...We originally had all this coverage of this and that...It could have been a real clusterfuck...


Chapter Four

An Interview with Barry Sonnenfeld.
June 20, 1999, Los Angeles.

Sonnenfeld’s main gold rush-era films:
“The Wild Wild West,” “Out of Sight,” “Men in Black”

My impressions of Sonnenberg:
Funny, irreverent, uninhibited, never boring, entertaining, almost iconoclastic and a joy to talk with. It’s no wonder he’s the maker of some of the most popular films of the gold rush period (and beyond).

Paul Iorio: In almost every interview, you talk in terms of having a persona of a very sheltered sort of childhood. How much of that is true and how much is joking?
Barry Sonnenfeld: It's pretty true. I mean, I was paged at Madison Square Garden by my mother during a rock concert at two in the morning with the announcer saying, “Barry Sonnenfeld, call your mother!”
My mother did say that if I went to sleepaway school, what most people on the planet call college, she would commit suicide.
When I was in fourth grade, I wanted to play the trumpet, but she convinced me to take up the French Horn because she thought if I was drafted, there are so few French horn players that I would end up in the Army band instead of the infantry. In fourth grade! We're talking about pre-Vietnam, right?! I was like 8, this was 1961, she's already worrying, if there's a war, what musical instrument should Barry play to be in the army band. We're talking serious insanity here. So, I did lead a sheltered life. The one thing I will say about my mother and father: even though they're sort of Jews, and I'm an only child, they never wanted me to be a dentist or a doctor, never pressured me to have any

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career. My father said, “Figure out what you want to do in life that will make you happy and some way you'll learn to make a living at it.”

Paul Iorio: Another point is that you have this irrepressible thing, you seem to say exactly what's on your mind? Has that ever gotten you in tight spot?
Sonnenfeld: Yeah, it always does...You know the United States isn't fun anymore. It used to be a fun place to live and you can't do anything now. Between lawsuits and you can't joke around, you can't have a good time, just like a really boring place. We're becoming Germany.


Chapter Five

An Interview with Pedro Almodovar.
December 15, 1999, West Hollywood, Calif.

Almodovar’s main gold rush-era films:
“All About My Mother,” “All About My Mother”

My impressions of Almodovar:
Soulful, painfully honest, completely without spin, with a marvelous sense of appreciation of women and female characters in films.

Paul Iorio: It's fascinating: you lived under [the dictator Francisco] Franco. For a teenager, under Franco, what was it like in Madrid?
Pedro Almodovar: I had nightmares. I had just arrived [in Madrid] from my little village. I was consciously against that regime. I wasn't in any type of [political] party…I came from a little village [to Madrid]. I couldn't say I did have problems with the police, but the fear was there The atmosphere of fear, it is the [biggest memory] I have from that period. I mean, you had to go out with your identity card. And if you are caught in the street and you don't have it, it's like [gasps in horror].
At that time, even though I didn't have problems with the police -- I didn't do anything that could be dangerous -- but I had a lot of nightmares, always dreaming that I was escaping from something and always the police were running behind me. That dream I had a lot of times [during] Franco. And then when Franco died, it disappeared completely.


Chapter Six

An Interview with Roland Emmerich.
June 3, 2000, Beverly Hills.

Emmerich’s main gold rush-era films:
“Independence Day,” “Godzilla”

My impressions of Emmerich:
Talking with Emmerich, it’s hard to understand how a guy with such a jubilant personality who has made bona fide blockbusters is somehow regarded as an outsider in Hollywood. .


Paul Iorio: There was something in Variety where you said, “For every page of finished script, you threw out 30 pages.”

Roland Emmerich: …What [Dean Devlin] and I did in “Independence Day” and “Godzilla” is we re-write the scene, like, thirty times. Only when we’re happy, we move on. Which is really sort of weird, but it’s the only way we can function together. And then when we finish the draft we do very little changes. But in essence we don’t like to re-write very much…”The Patriot” was a different experience, because there was a script that was great to begin with. And we were more like, hey, let’s not fuck it up….

Iorio: Who thought up the idea of the spaceship in “Independence Day,” the largeness of it?

Emmerich: That was my idea. That’s how I convinced [Dean TK] to do the thing in the first place. He kept saying to me, “Who cares about a fucking alien invasion?” And I said, “”You don’t get what I’m seeing.” I said, “Look out the window….You don’t see sky. It’s the underside belly of a spaceship.” And he went, “Ah, now I get it.” That’s the kind of thing we like. We argued about this thing for like two hours.


Chapter Seven

An Interview with John Woo.
May 5 (or 6th), 2000, at Paramount Studios in L.A.

Woo’s main gold rush-era films:
“Face/Off,” “Mission: Impossible 2”

My impressions of Woo:
Unprepossessing at first, Woo then works his magic because he’s so genuine. And the story he has to tell is riveting: growing up in the violent ghettos of Hong Kong but evolving to become a film maker. Watching Hollywood musicals and coming out of the theater to real world violence is what has shaped his artistic sensibility. And despite all the bloodshed of his youth and in his films, he says he has never fired a gun.


Paul Iorio: I saw “Mission: Impossible 2” last night and it was more like a John Woo movie than a Tom Cruise movie. What do you think about that?

John Woo: That’s why Tom Cruise wanted me. I try to keep my own style…About two and a half years ago, when I got a call from Tom, he wanted to meet me in London while he was still working on “Eyes Wide Shut.” I didn’t expect to do “Mission: Impossible,” because it’s not my kind of movie. But when I met him, he said he really loved my style and he loved “Face/Off” and all of my Hong Kong movies. And he wanted this one to be a John Woo movie. He wanted this one to have a very different look…

I told him, my kind of movie is usually all about character and humanity and romanticism. And I told him, I have never liked to make any science-fiction film, because I’m not good at it….

And I never liked the high-tech thing; kind of boring to do it. And he totally agreed with me. And he and I and the writer started working on a story…The story is about good and evil. That’s why in the ending fight, I wanted to create a moment when good and evil would fight –

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Iorio: But they interchange, like in “Face/Off”! You like that, because there is a thin line in your movies between good and evil. Is that maybe your attraction to masks in movies? Because it seems like good and evil interchange? Is that what you’re trying to get at [in some of your movies]?

Woo: A little bit like that. I also believe that people always have two sides and no one’s perfect…

Iorio: I read something in the Wall Street Journal where you said you’d never fired a gun in your life. But you must have seen a lot of violence at an early age. What sort of things did you see when you were six, seven years old in Hong Kong during those pretty bad years that have been described?

Woo:…The whole family moved to Hong Kong when I was five. We were extremely poor and were living on the street for a couple years. And I was raised in a slum. And I’ve seen a lot of violence…The place I grew up was pretty rough, a lot of crime…I had to deal with the gangs almost every day. They tried to make me join them, I had to fight back hard, I had to fight back.
Iorio: What kind of stuff? Would they beat you up?
Woo: Yeah, I almost got beat up every day. First thing in the morning, I [had] to grab something -- a stick or iron bar or brick -- and use it as a weapon before I left home….But I was so lucky to have great parents. My parents were schoolteachers, very intellectual, and they tried very hard to keep me straight. And in the meantime, I got help from the church.

Iorio: Yeah, Lutherans –
Woo: So they protected me and helped me to go straight…I’d also [like] to emphasize one thing: if you want to win, if you want to be done with violence, you’ve got to be strong, you have to have great power.

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Iorio: [Let’s talk about “Face/Off.”]

Woo: In “Face/Off,” I worked with John [Travolta]. When we did the rehearsal, I said, “OK, the scene is about you look[ing] in the mirror and you see[ing] your ugly face and you hate it and you just break the mirror.”

I said, “That’s not enough for me. I want something from your own instincts, what you’re feeling, what you want to do. Besides that moment, I want some more. And you don’t need to tell me what you’re going to do.” But I knew something was going to happen. That’s how I like working with actors, I like the instinct [of the actor]. So I just put up the three cameras in case something [unexpected] happens. One was a wide shot, one was a close-up, one was a near shot, in case of something unexpected.

Iorio: So, that explains why you use a lot of camera angles.

Woo: Yeah, yeah. Camera angles. And then we did a scene in “Face/Off” where [Travolta’s] character has got anger and smashed a mirror and all of a sudden he yelled for a doctor. That part wasn’t in the script.

Iorio: Which of your movies is your favorite?

Woo: My favorite movie?

Iorio: Of yours.

Woo: So many, so many. [misunderstanding the question] “Lawrence of Arabia.”

Iorio: In terms of your own body of work?

Woo: Oh, oh, my own work. Sorry. Can I say two?

Iorio: Sure! Yes!

Woo: “Bullet in the Head” and “The Killer.”

Iorio: Which ones don’t you like of your entire body of work?

Woo: Well, there’s a movie called “Once a Thief.” I like it but it was a comedy with a lot of action.

Chapter Eight

An Interview with Frank Darabont.
November 22, 1999, Park Hyatt Hotel, Century City.

Darabont’s main gold rush-era films:
“The Green Mile,” “The Shawshank Redemption”

My impressions of Darabont:


Paul Iorio: [How did “The Green Mile” come to be?]

Frank Darabont: For some reason, [Stephen King] wanted to bounce the story idea [for “The Green Mile”] off of me. And said, “Now I know you’re not going to want to do this, because it’s another prison thing. But let me tell you this idea.” And I said, “Golly, Steve, that’s so intriguing, please give me first crack at it, if you ever do write this thing.”

Six months later, the first book arrived, the first of the six, from his publisher. And I read it and thought, I’m going behind bars again. Steve King got me thrown back in the slammer. [laughs]

Paul Iorio: Amazing story. In fact, your initial liaison with Stephen King was a one-hour PBS adaptation of one of his –

Darabont: Actually, it wasn’t for PBS. This is the third piece of material that Stephen King has blessed me with…By the time I got around to asking him for the rights to “[The] Shawshank [Redemption],” my screenwriting career had finally sort of creeped into gear. I thought, the day will come, if I don’t trip over myself, when I’m going to want to make a movie and direct it. When that
day comes, I want this to be the material. So when I asked him for the rights to “Shawshank,” King said, “OK, sure!,” being the sweet man that he is. It took me five years to sit down and write that script [for “The Shawshank Redemption”]….

Iorio: I do know that Rob Reiner was crazy about it and really wanted to do it. But you held fast. But what did happen during the adaptation of “The Shawshank Redemption”?
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Darabont: I got the rights to that very early in my screenwriting career and it took me five years to sit down and finally adapt the script, which then I wrote in two months.

Number one [reason for the delay]: when you first start working in this field, you figure every job is a fluke and you’re afraid to say, no. So I had finally started galloping along and building a career as a screenwriter and so it took me five years before I felt secure enough to say, OK, I’m not taking any work; call the agent and say, “Don’t even talk to me for two months, because I’m barricading myself in and am not considering any jobs because I’ve got this other thing to do now that I’m very passionate about.” And in a certain way, I think I was waiting for my abilities as a writer for catch up with my ambitions for the kind of script that I wanted to write….

Iorio: Just some factual information: the production budget for “The Green Mile” was sixty million?

Darabont: Yeah. We eventually brought it in for sixty eight. We went a little over budget. By most standards that’s hardly even a blip on the radar in terms of how budgets do overrun.

Plus, I said, hey, what other movie do you know with a twenty million dollar actor in it that is only sixty eight million dollars anymore? It’s rare to be under ninety with that kind of talent attached. I’m shocked to say that that’s a modest budget anymore, but how modest the budget was.

Iorio: Plus, I hear it was filmed mostly in Warner Hollywood. At the same time, you get the sense of a great journey, of great expansiveness in “The Green Mile.”

Darabont: That’s good. I’m glad. That’s because the story accomplishes so much, it really feels like a sort of mythic canvas.


Chapter Nine

An Interview with Mimi Leder.
August 24, 1997, Los Angeles.

Leder’s main gold rush-era films:
“The Peacemaker,” “Deep Impact”

My impressions of Leder:

Paul Iorio: What's the difference between working with George Clooney on the small screen [on “E.R.”] and working with him on "The Peacemaker"?
Mimi Leder: He only got better. His success that he's achieved in the last few years has given him great confidence to dig deep...His character Tom DeVoe doesn't do things by the rules, and George doesn't exactly do things by the rules either.
Iorio: Was it Steven Spielberg seeing your television work and saying, you're just the director for “The Peacemaker”?
Leder: George [Clooney] was offered the script first. And then Steven [Spielberg] called me and said, "I've got a big action movie that spans four countries and four different languages that I want you to direct." And I said, "What makes you think I can direct action?" And he said, "You do it every day on television, on E.R." And I said, "I do drama." And he said, "You turn your drama into action by the way you move the camera."
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Iorio: The tone of [“The Peacemaker”] shifts dramatically. The beginning is played for jokes, and then it gets very serious.
Leder: Well, [terrorism] is a deadly serious subject.
Iorio: Did you have any doubts about the disparity of tone?
Leder: I questioned it. When we make the left turn [into seriousness], is it going to work? But I always thought it would work. I just questioned it here and there.
Iorio: Your next film is --
Leder: “Deep Impact.”
Iorio: What is that about?
Leder: It’s about a comet on a collision course with Earth. And it’s really about, what would you do if you had a year to live, six months to live, how would you live your life differently than you’re living it today. What are the choices you would make, would you renew your vows, would you keep your job. It very much has the flavor of the movie “On the Beach.”
Iorio: Does it focus on an ensemble [cast] –
Leder: It’s a huge ensemble cast…And it’s three stories. Very briefly, there’s a Romeo and Juliet story; there’s an astronaut story [in which] they go up and try to save the world; and then there’s Tea Leoni, who plays a news reporter, and her story with her family.

Chapter Ten

An Interview with Robert Rodat.
June 3, 2000, Beverly Hills.

Rodat’s main gold rush-era films:
“Saving Private Ryan,” “The Patriot”

My impressions of Rodat:


Iorio: …In “Saving Private Ryan,” there’s a scene where someone is carrying somebody’s arm –

Robert Rodat: That was actually taken from a first-person account. A number of guys who were at Omaha Beach noticed that and talked about it in subsequent interviews, where they saw this guy whose arm was severed and he literally picked up the arm and wandered around with it. So that was actually lifted from a first person account.

And the same with the bullet that hit the guy’s helmet, spun around and dropped out. The guy took off his helmet and said, “Wow, look at that, I nearly got shot.” That also happened to someone.

Iorio: [In “The Patriot,”] how much of your script was changed in the end?]

Rodat: …In later stages, Roland [Emmerich] would draw out something and say, “Here is our location; we have horsemen here; we have this here, we need to change the action such that it makes sense. And then we would make those changes [to the script]. But the character effect of every scene was written and was highly specific. And the level of violence was pretty much [in the script]. Although there were stages when Roland asked me to tone down the violence.

Page Sixty-four – Part Two, Chapter Ten

Iorio: Really? Were there some scenes that you left out [because he asked you to mute the violence]?

Rodat: …We were getting some feedback that the script was too violent, so he asked me to tone it down.

Iorio: Was there one particular scene?

Rodat: Well, we had some things that were taken out not specifically for violence – although we had one very violent scene that was taken out, but that was for budgetary reasons. We had an opening scene [in which] we saw the Ft. Wilderness massacre – in a very dark and brooding and scary opening, which I was very sorry to lose. We had it storyboarded and we had production illustrations that were really dramatic. But we had to lose it for budgetary reasons.

Chapter Eleven

An Interview with Daisy Mayer.
July 1998, by phone.

Mayer’s main gold rush-era films:
“Party Girl,” “Madeline”

My impressions of Mayer:

Paul Iorio: What attracted you to do “Madeline”?

Daisy Mayer: This project was brought to me right after “Party Girl.” The producers were big fans of “Party Girl”…It’s curious why after “Party Girl” they saw me doing “Madeline,” although for me there’s a lot of similarities. They both have a comic tone that comes from a world that takes itself very seriously. Madeline takes her world really seriously and so does Party Girl.

Iorio: And they’re both orphans.

Mayer: That’s true! And there’re both orphans….It’s almost like it’s Party Girl’s backstory, a prequel! I could see that. Though she wouldn’t have been as much of a mess when she grew up. Anna Quindlen writes a great intro to the compilation book where she compares Madeline to Eloise. And talks about how you imagine Eloise at an airport bar somewhere hunched over a martini and on her third divorce. You imagine Madeline as an ambassador or the head of a couture house.

Page Sixty-six – Part Two, Chapter Eleven

Iorio: Madeline is adorable and everything. But I’m wondering about the fact that it’s a studio movie and in the public mind everybody really associates you with this quintessential indie movie “Party Girl.” How do you account for this transformation?

Mayer: “Party Girl” was a quick transformation, too! After not having done a film, I was a film maker!….I think it’s easier to account for my career than to account for Michael Bay’s….I think the issues of going from being an indie director to a big budget feature
director are mostly about, Do you lose control, do you lose artistic vision? And on this project I didn’t feel that at all.



Chapter Twelve

An Interview with Luc Besson.
April 1997, Los Angeles.

Besson’s main gold rush-era films:
“The Fifth Element,” “La Femme Nikita”

My impressions of Besson:


Iorio: What about this creation of a [23rd century] New York in [“The Fifth Element”]?

Luc Besson: I think the first [thing] was to write the future. To write the future, I have to know the past. So I go back to my history book and start at zero. Christ….

And I try to find some movement in the history of the last 2,000 years…What happens if New York is destroyed? Is there a third world war that destroys everything, so they rebuild New York, so New York would be totally new?


Iorio: Was Stanley Kubrick a major influence?

Besson: You now who really influenced me a lot? My parents. My relatives. Because that’s where my roots come from. Movies are the expression of one person...Life influences me, not artists.

Kubrick is an excellent, very genius director. One of the things I
like, I am careful with the architecture of a frame. And he is very careful with that, too. And that’s maybe why sometimes people can feel a kind of similarity….I like that, too; I like shapes and architecture in a movie.

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Iorio: What were some of your favorite [movies] growing up?

Besson: I never watched a movie until I was [nine years old]. And then my [family] had little money, so we had no TV, I started really going for movies when I was 15 years old.

Iorio: What did you watch then?

Besson: What[ever] was out. With my friends, they’d say, let’s go see this one, and I’d go. I was not at all a specialist.


Iorio: On the one hand, you say that you don’t give your characters a lot of psychological baggage or past; yet at the same time, you do.

Besson: If you take “La Femme Nikita,” you see this child, sixteen years old, totally drunk at the beginning of the movie. You don’t need to know exactly where she’s from; you can guess that dad and mom were bad….It’s obvious…I trust people. I give [you] Nikita, I describe her, and I know they will make the story [off her past]. They don’t need me to do it. They are not stupid.

Part Three: Retrospectives
(Film makers look back at their classic works from a late-Nineties perspective.)

Chapter One: An Interview with Roman Polanski.
December 29, 1998, by phone from Cortina D'Ampezzo, Italy.

Polanski’s main gold rush-era films:
“The Ninth Gate”

My impressions of Polanski:

Iorio: [Could you explain the evolution of “Chinatown”]

Roman Polanski: The thing that I remember is that I just didn’t want to go to Los Angeles. I had too vivid memories of all those events of 1969 and didn’t feel like going to work there.

Paul Iorio: Right, right.

Polanski: And besides, I felt really happy in Rome, I was working there and had a great house and friends with whom I worked and it wasn’t interesting to me to go and make a film in Los Angeles.

Iorio: In seeing “Chinatown” again, what really comes across is that you really trusted the audience’s intelligence to an astonishing degree. Like, to introduce a false Evelyn Mulwray –

Polanski: I think that’s probably a mistake I do in all my movies. Otherwise I would have an easier time putting films together.

Iorio: Well, was there ever pressure from people who saw the rough cut of “Chinatown” to make it more obvious?

Polanski: What was it you started to say about Evelyn Mulwray before I rudely interrupted?

Iorio: No, I’m sorry. In the early sequence, Ida Sessions passes herself off as Evelyn Mulwray. Perhaps to a studio person, somebody might think you could lose half your audience with such a –

Page Seventy-one – Part Three, Chapter One

Polanski: In those times, they allowed more freedom of expression, probably, to the creative people. Nowadays [in the 1990s], it’s all made by the committee and is all predigested and for that reason so insipid. I was lucky enough to work in the times when they trusted more the creative person than [they did] the market researchers.

Iorio: So, “Chinatown” probably couldn’t have been made today [in 1998]?

Polanski: I don’t think it could, actually. It would really have to be someone who has got enough muscle to pull through all those things. Studios now have an enormous amount of various executives who need to justify their existence by meddling into the creative process.

And there’s a great rift between the creative branch and the executive branch. They are sort of envious of not being on the other side. And they call themselves creatives. There wouldn’t be an executive then who would dare to say we have a creative meeting or we’ll send you the creative notes. You receive those “creative notes”; it’s really called so. “After our creative meeting we came up with these five pages of creative notes that we would like you to read.” In those times [the 1970s], no one would actually use that language. The fact that they use it is very meaningful. You understand what I mean?

Iorio: Oh, sure. That they have to label it “creative” because it isn’t.

Polanski: Yeah, they have to label it It doesn’t [require] a psychologist to figure out why.

Iorio: Veering back to “Chinatown,” was there one point in the making of the movie when you thought, this is turning into a great movie?

Polanski: No, never, no. I finished the film and looked at the rough cut and the rough cut is usually a very depressing moment for the director. It’s close to a suicide at that stage. But even knowing that it’s a difficult moment that will pass, I still was tremendously depressed seeing the rough cut. I showed it to a friend of mine…and I was so ashamed when the lights came up, but he said, “What a great movie!” And I thought, Is something wrong with me that he could be right? Hold on one second.

[Polanski goes to tend to his one-year old child Elvis.]

Page Seventy-two – Part Three, Chapter One

Iorio: Why didn’t your friend like it?

Polanski: Going back to when you’re looking at the rough cut, you are depressed. It’s because it no longer has the magic of the rushes of the dailies – and it’s not a movie yet….It does not yet have the fluidity of a movie, but does not work as daily material anymore. It’s true with any picture. But a picture that has a very important plot, the way you have to really follow the story, it’s even more difficult to digest in the form of a rough cut….

Iorio: Do you sometimes watch “Chinatown” for personal pleasure?

Polanski: Actually, purely by accident, I watched it a couple of weeks ago because my wife turned on the television and it was playing in French. It was pan and scan and a bad print and I said, “Jesus, what is this?” I didn’t even recognize the movie. So I said, Christ, I must really look it up in the original form. I have a laser disc of it and I put it on and I wanted to watch it for a half hour, but she got excited and we just watched it until the end. So I’m quite familiar with the subject of our conversation! [laughs]

Iorio: What do you think of it today?

Polanski: I like it a lot more now than I did then.

Iorio: In one way, were you trying to tell the myth of Noah’s Ark? With all the references to floods, and the Pig ‘n’ Whistle, and the sheep, there’re mentions of dogs and chickens and fish and albacore and horse sounds that accompany Noah Cross –

Polanski: That is really more Robert Towne. He had a lot of terrific ideas of this sort. I did more of the construction and the shaping of the plot. As they say in Hollywood lingo, “Streaming it.” Also, as far the dialogue is concerned, I worked on the dialogue in a way that people can go crazy because I like to eliminate every unnecessary word.

Iorio: And Towne didn’t like a lot of your changes. I hear that you barred him from the set?

Polanski: No, I never barred him from the set. He just didn’t come because we were no longer on speaking terms anymore by the time I was started the picture.

Page Seventy-three – Part Three, Chapter One

Iorio: What parts of the actual script are solely yours?

Polanski: [seemingly referring to his previous response] I remember now. When we started shooting the picture, there was no ending. We were arguing about the end and we could not agree….

As you know, Robert [Towne] didn’t want the girl to die at the end; he wanted the bad guy to die. I was adamant about it. I thought that the film would have no weight…

Also, he didn’t want [Jake and Evelyn] to fuck. I said it was important that they sleep together, so it would be more painful when she dies. I did not believe in a happy ending with this type of movie. And I was lucky enough to work with a studio run by an intelligent man [Robert Evans]. So we started without those things…

Then we started coming close to the ending and Bob Evans was asking practically daily, “What’s with the last scene? What’s going to happen? When are you going to write it up?” So I was so busy with shooting and I was finally [pressured] into doing it.

So, I asked Dick Sylbert to build a Chinese street. When went [location[ scouting and there was no Chinatown there whatever. [There was] one street with a few Chinese joints, three or four restaurants and other things. I said, we’ll just pick up that street and he added stuff.

And meanwhile I had to write something down, so I just wrote that last scene the way it is now. And in the evening I went into Jack {Nicholson]’s Winnebago -- trailer they call it now – and I gave him what I wrote down and said, “Fashion it into your speech.” And Jack very quickly jotted and crossed out a few things and then we shot it. It was literally like five to midnight.

And I also wrote the conversation that [Evelyn and Jake] have in bed.

Iorio: The thing that is similar in those two scenes are the words “as little as possible.” So you wrote that.

Polanski: I wrote that but it was Bob’s line. I don’t remember in what context it was, but it was his. A very good line…

Iorio: There must have been some resistance to that ending.

Polanski: No, there was no resistance. Bob Evans really trusted some people and he trusted me. He would discuss it with me, of course, but he was never dictatorial about it. He was like this on “Rosemary’s Baby” and was like this on “Chinatown.”

Page Seventy-four – Part Three, Chapter One

Iorio: One of the things that makes a lot of your movies work is the point of view, the fact that you put the camera over the shoulder [of a character].

Polanski: Well, that depends on the type of narrative. When it’s a subjective narrative, that’s the way you express it. That’s not the case in a movie like “Tess.”

Iorio: Right, that’s not the case. But several of your films do use that. And “Chinatown” is certainly right over Nicholson’s shoulder –

Polanski: Yes, of course. It’s told from his point of view. The events that happen are really only seen by him. From time to time you cheat a little bit, because it’s difficult to tell this sort of story. But you never show things that happen in his absence.

Iorio: Is it true, I heard this one story where Jack Nicholson once said, “Will you get that camera off my shoulder!”

Polanski: I really don’t recall anything like that. I think it was a bullshit recollection. Jack was one of the easiest actors I’ve ever worked with. Everything seemed natural to him, he never ever interfered with my directorial decisions. The only fight we had was about something else, which had nothing to do with the film. It had more to do with basketball….

….He could stay out till six in the morning and he would be there at eight or nine knowing his lines like nobody else. There was never any kind of problem with him. There was a lot of problems with Faye Dunaway, but never with Nicholson. He was comfortable with any lines. The thing about Jack is, you give him the lousiest line and when he says it it sounds right….

Faye would always try to change things. Some nights I would find some [dialogue[ to remove, and she would say, “Why are you taking It out?!” I’d say, “OK, leave it [in]. It’s not worth the fight.” And she’d come back a half an hour later and say, “Maybe you’re right Maybe we should remove it.” It was like this every day! Or she would try to add something.

Iorio: Do you think the film would’ve been better with Jane Fonda as [Evelyn Mulwray]?

Polanski: No, Absolutely not. I thought [Dunaway] was perfect. Nobody wanted Faye [for that film]. Bob Evans didn’t want her because he told me she was trouble. I knew Faye, she had a fling with a friend of mine, and stayed in my house in Rome for a long time. I knew her for years… did not expect to have any problems, so I fought for her.

Page Seventy-five – Part Three, Chapter One

And I’m still very happy that we had her, because whatever problems we had on the set, who cares?...What she brought to the picture was really worth it….I don’t think anyone else would’ve done it better. Same with John Huston.

Iorio: Even some of the minor players, they may be on the screen for a brief time, but they’re very vivid. Ida Sessions, Loach…And there’s enormous detail…Were they more fully drawn in an earlier draft?

Polanski: No, they were really done in production, not even in the script….Some of those little players were people from the crew. Like in the barber shop, the line producer –

Iorio: Doc Erickson, the guy in the barber shop.

Polanski: Yeah, Doc Erickson was the line producer. And the other guy, the one actually shaving Jack. He worked for the studio. He was a nice guy, I don’t remember his name, all I remember is I liked him very much. And the guy in the old folks home.

Iorio: Yeah, Jack Vernon.

Polanski: Yeah, Jack Vernon. What happened to him? He was running a boutique on the Sunset Strip.

Iorio: I watched “Cul de Sac” the other night and I noticed some similarities [to “Chinatown”] in terms of the visuals.

Polanski: Well, it’s made by the same person!

Iorio: And I saw “Two Men and a Wardrobe” and there were some parts that pointed visually to “Chinatown.”

Polanski: Well, you know when I make movies, now and then I think I’m original and inventing something really new and then I realize that I’ve done it already two or three times.

Iorio: Is there anything you regret about “Chinatown”? Is there anything you would change?

Polanski: Oh, plenty of things. Little details here and there.

Page Seventy-six – Part Three, Chapter One

Iorio: Like what?

Polanski: I don’t know, I would have to watch it again. You write, don’t you?

Iorio: Yes.

Polanski: When you read some of your old pieces, there are always bits, even if you still like it, you would change. I can give you an example. The lousy reflection in the lens of his Leica.

Iorio: When he’s filming Hollis and Katherine –

Polanski: When he’s photographing Hollis and Katherine from the roof –

Iorio: At the El Macondo.

Polanski: Yes. I wanted to put [the reflection] upside down and [the reaction was], “No, they will never understand.” Why is it upside down? Because something reflected in the lens is always upside down. Should be upside down, should be slightly concave. Little bits like that.

Iorio: How about parts of the movie that, while you were re-watching it, you said, “This is really good.” What parts impressed you?

Polanski: For example, when [Jake Gittes] comes up to the door [of Evelyn Mulwray’s house] and flat on the door is a very sort of graphic composition. And nothing happens. And we hold that for a long time. I thought that was good.

Iorio: With Khan?

Polanski: Yeah, that’s right. And I like the scene when [Jake] walks out of the Brown Derby and says, “I like my nose, I like breathing through it.” I like that shot with the page going to fetch the car and doing it in two profiles.

[a child is crying in the background]

Polanski: My son, I brought my son.

Iorio: Oh!

Polanski: He’s eight months [old]. I thought it played very well in a profile in one shot. Without cutting to two close-ups. As people would do nowadays.
Page Seventy-seven – Part Three, Chapter One

Iorio: A lot of people still wonder at the Pig ‘n; Whistle, What was that argument about? Was it about the water or was it about Evelyn?

Polanski: It was probably about Evelyn. They had a lot of things to argue about! It’s not necessary to know what they were arguing about….

Iorio: Do you think that your experience, you had a personal tragedy four years before the movie, when you almost had to become a detective, for a time there. Do you think that sort of informed your movie?
Page Ninety-eight – Part Three, Chapter One

Polanski: I can only tell you that every experience helps you with your work. And this did to a certain degree, to which I am unable to tell you how much better the film is because I had certain things happen to me. Whatever you do, you learn, and each next movie has that one layer more to make it richer.

Iorio: Last year, in the newspapers, it was reported that you might be settling the legal problems --

Polanski: Yeah, but how can I with the actual state of the media. I don’t want to become a product, you see, like – I don’t want to give examples, but you know what I mean. Can you imagine what it would entail showing up suddenly in Los Angeles. It would take a long time before the thing called closure happens. And I don’t think I want it now. I have a family to look after, I don’t want to be in every fucking tabloid.


Chapter Two

An Interview with Woody Allen (Part 2).
December 3, 1999, in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Allen’s main gold rush-era films:
“Sweet and Lowdown,” “Small Time Crooks”

My impressions of Allen:


Paul Iorio: If you were to name your five favorite [Allen] films, what would they be? Do you agree with the consensus that “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan” are your two best films?
Allen: No, not at all. They're my two most middle class successful films. They massage the prejudices of the middle class. And so they're popular and people like them. But "Husbands and Wives" is much better than both of those films. "Zelig" is a better film. I prefer "Bullets Over Broadway," maybe even "Manhattan Murder Mystery." "Annie Hall" was just a likable trifle that people liked at the time and "Manhattan" as well. But they're not nearly as good as some other films. From my point of view, they may be more popular but you can't equate the popularity of a film with the quality of the film. Very often your most popular thing is not your best piece of work.

Page Seventy-nine – Part Three, Chapter Two

Iorio: But Andrew Sarris might say that “Manhattan” is your best. Vincent Canby would probably say “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan” --
Allen: They might say that. I don't know if they would say that. I mean, they might. Certainly Vincent Canby has reviewed other films of mine as well or better than ["Annie Hall"], he was more enthusiastic about other films. So I don't really know. There were a lot of people who went crazy over "Bullets Over Broadway" when I put it out. It got some of the best response I ever had. But in terms of popularity, you're always going to be more popular doing a nice contemporary film about relationships that people can identify with. And films that are fun but not too challenging.
Iorio: But you must watch them occasionally?
Allen: No, no, I've never seen any film of mine after it came out. I made "Take the Money" first in 1968, I've never seen it again. Nor have I ever seen "Annie Hall" again or any film of mine. Once I put it put, I just don't ever want to see it again. Because I know I would be sitting there, thinking, oh if I could only do that over. If I could only get the money and call in all the prints and do that over.
Iorio: Do you regret having made a movie?
Allen: I don't regret having made them. I think some have come out better than others. There are two specific points of view: mine and the audience or slash critics, the public. There are films that I've made that are considered a great success because I had an idea and I wrote it and I shot it and I realized my vision and then nobody liked it.
Iorio: Such as?
Allen: "Stardust Memories," for example, was a film of mine, a very unpopular film that to me just realized my vision perfectly. On the other hand, I've had the opposite come true where I've made a film like "Hannah and Her Sisters" that was wildly popular, for me, and I was very disappointed in it when I was finished, only disappointed in that I had a certain vision that I wrote.
Iorio: How can that be? Everybody loved “Hannah.”
Allen: Right, but I had a different thing in mind. It's a different animal for the public than it is for me. I'm sitting there and I'm thinking, oh god, I wanted to do this and I wanted to do this, I can't do it, I've got to compromise and I've got to change that character and that's not how her story can end and this isn't working. And when it was finished, I put it together as best I can and put it out and it was very successful, very entertaining to people. But for me personally, if they knew what I set out to do, they would say, "Oh, I see why you have failed, because if this is what you wanted to do, this is not it."
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Iorio: What were you trying to do?
Allen: There were a number of things in the characters that I was trying to do, and the picture ended too neatly for me. I wanted to make it much more that Michael Caine was back with Mia but going through the motions. I mean back because Barbara Hershey had married someone else and he's still completely in love with her. And he was just sort of back with his wife now, like a man who has some extramarital fling with some woman and he's crazy about her but he can't seem to bring himself to leave his wife...
And he gets along with his wife, it's a partnership, but it's doesn't have the same [feeling]. And I couldn't get that feeling into it. I got a more of a cop-out feeling into it at the end where he was sort of back with Mia, more contented, less anxiety ridden. And this for me was a big negative.
Whereas in "Purple Rose of Cairo," I got it exactly where I wanted it. In fact, the studio called me, it was United Artists, and they said, "This is a wonderful picture. Do you have to have that ending on it?" And I said, "The only reason I did the picture was so I could have that ending on it." I don't know if you remember or not, but the ending was that Mia was forced to choose between the real guy or the guy from the screen. And she chose the real guy. Because you can't choose the fantasy in life because that way lies madness. So she chose reality. And the guy crushed her. The guy dumped her and went off.
Because you're forced to choose reality and reality so often hurts you. But they would have liked her -- like at the end of "Splash" when he married the mermaid -- to go off with the screen figure or to go back into the screen or to do something where the audience went out with a happy feeling. But that was a picture that I just felt that I landed right on the dime. And to me, that was maybe my most perfect picture.
Iorio: “Crimes and Misdemeanors” is something that could have had a lot of alternate endings.
Allen: But that was the ending that I wanted. That he hires someone to kill the person and gets away with it and has no sense of remorse about it. And is completely fine. He has a wife and family. Because when I made that picture, my intellectual concept to begin the picture was that there is no justice in the world, no god, no justice in the world, and that if we don't police ourselves, if we don't have a conscience, then nobody is going to police us.
So one person could commit a murder and be torn up by it completely...And another guy could commit a murder and -- if he gets caught, he gets caught and too bad for him. But if he doesn't get caught, he commits the murder and he's fine, he's enjoying his life.
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I mean, the world's full of people out there that have done the most unscrupulous things, including murder, and live the most wonderful lives. And there's no god to punish them, if they don't have a moral sense themselves. So the movie ended the way I wanted: I wanted Martin Landau to have eliminated this woman who was bothering him by having her killed. And having a perfectly good life with his family, and if it doesn't bother him, it's not going to bother anyone if he's not caught.

Iorio: But you hint at the fact that it changes the chemistry of a person when that happens. In other words, how can he continue to live that family life --
Allen: But he does. He's there with his wife and daughter at the wedding and he's absolutely fine. He's aware of what he's done in the story. But he's absolutely fine. And he's living in a nice house, with a beautiful wife and a nice daughter. And the other story, the subplot about me, Mia and Alan Alda: the fact that I had wonderful intentions all the time doesn't mean a thing in life. Alan Alda had the more important thing: he was a success. And even though he was a jerk, he was successful. And people pay off on success. They don't care about your good intentions. Now, you can say that's a personal thing, for me as a film maker, and it is.
And it also operates for everybody else in life. The audience does not want to hear what wonderful intentions I had with a film. Is the film good or bad? If it's good, they like it. If the next guy's got a good film, they like his film. They don't care what your intentions are, that you wanted to do something great. And they didn't care about my intentions as the character in that film. They liked Alan Alda because he was successful and exciting, even though he aimed low.
Iorio: You mentioned, earlier, “Bullets Over Broadway.” Why haven’t you yet written another film with Douglas McGrath, since that one turned out so well?
Allen: I don't usually collaborate. The only reason I did it that time, Doug was a good social friend of mine, as Marshall Brickman was a social friend and Mickey Rose, who I went to school with. I write by myself most of the time because I enjoy it.
Then, after a number of pictures, it gets lonely always writing by yourself, so just to break the mold I'll call somebody up. And usually it's a friend, and [I'll] say, "You want to work on a picture" and they'll say, "Sure." And the experience of writing, just for a change, is not quite so lonely. Because when I do that for four or five pictures in a row, it means I've been doing it for four or five years. That's the only reason. Some time again, I'll call somebody, either Doug or Marshall Brickman, and say, "Want to

Page Eight-Two – Part Three, Chapter Two

work on a picture?," and usually they do want to do, because we have fun anyhow, so why not?
Iorio: Of the seven pictures that you co-wrote, what were the major parts that you didn’t write? For example, “Bullets Over Broadway”: What didn’t you write? It’s hard to imagine that you didn’t write any of it.
Allen: That's what a collaboration is. When I collaborate with someone, we sit in a room like this and we talk and talk and talk about characters and ideas and where things should go. Then when it comes time to actually write the script I go in a room by myself and actually write the thing because I've gotta say it or I've gotta direct it. They can then go home, they don't have any more obligation. I want it the way I want it at that point. So it always feels like me, because I'm the one always doing the writing.
But the formulation of the picture in a collaboration is done by two people. So, many ideas I might not think of, were it not for the other person. You know, you can never trace the origin of something. I'll be siting with Doug or Marshall and he'll, say, "Pitch a funny idea about pickpocketing." And then I'll say, "I saw a movie the other day on television and there was a pickpocket in it and there was a great car chase where the car burst into flames." And then we write a joke about a car bursting into flame. I never would've thought of that movie, and you can't trace it back.
Iorio: With “Annie Hall,” were there any parts that Marshall Brickman solely wrote?
Allen: Yes, Marshall Brickman and I collaborated on the whole thing. We both did it together. That picture wouldn't exist without him. We collaborated on every idea about Alvy and Annie and how it goes and where it goes. All the hard work is that. To me it's easy to write a script. I can usually can write it in, like, two weeks time. Because all the hard work is done before. All the hard work is done, where Marshall or Doug and I will walk the streets or sit in my living room and say, "What about this? that doesn't lead any place." "What about this?" Then we're silent for fifteen minutes. And somebody says, "Maybe we should rethink this and start over. Maybe he shouldn't be a banker. Maybe he should be a jockey." That's the tedious stuff. When it's all worked out, then I can get in a room and write it in two weeks’ time. It's nothing.
Iorio: You went back to Marshall Brickman with “Manhattan Murder Mystery.” It came right after the split with Mia Farrow. Was that a conscious attempt to do [a lighter comedy]?
Allen: No, not at all. There's no calculation in the sequence of movies for me... As a matter of fact, "Manhattan Murder Mystery" was written long before that. It was going to be me and Mia, she was going to be the girl in it. And then when all that happened, she
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dropped out and Diane [Keaton] came in and took over. But that was not even written after that. That was written during our best time.

Iorio: You did a dozen films with Mia Farrow. How do you now assess the films you made with her?
Allen: One thing about Mia, she's a very underrated actress. She's a wonderful actress, she's got a very good range. She can play comedy. She can play serious things. And she's a very convincing actress. I did some of my best movies with her, like "Purple Rose" and "Zelig." No, I feel I was very fortunate professionally in my lifetime to have had a professional relationship with Diane Keaton and Mia. Because they both gave me great work. There was a tendency, I feel, for the public to take Mia for granted and figure, well, she was from Hollywood.
But she was a much much more complex interesting actress than she has been given credit for. When she did "Broadway Danny Rose” with me, I thought she was just wonderful. And knowing her as well as I knew her, I was able to tap her capabilities...If I just saw her on the street, I wouldn't have known she could ever do "Broadway Danny Rose." She's a wonderful actress.

Chapter Three

An Interview with Paul Sorvino
July 18 – 21, 2000, Huntington Hotel in Pasadena.

Sorvino’s main gold rush-era films:

My impressions of Sorvino:


Paul Iorio: “Goodfellas” is one of the best films of the past 40 years, but at the same time, I’m a bit troubled by a romanticizing of the mafia element.

Paul Sorvino: I don’t think “Goodfellas” did that. I think “The Godfather” did that. I think “Goodfellas: said, “Wait a minute, let’s show you what this is, people being killed and then [being] chopped up. You know, saw them up, bleed their bodies and then bury them in golf courses.” No, I don’t think “Goodfellas” romanticized gangsterism at all.

The very opposite, that was one of the great things about it. But how do you [best] “Godfather,” how do you go the next step? Because “Godfather, Part 2,” is an extraordinary movie. How do you go beyond that? Well, you pull the cloak off and show the real truth about what gangster life is. It’s a horrific existence. And I think “Godfellas” showed that. And I think “Sopranos” shows that. People in the audience will always jump to their own unconscious agendas. Most people don’t get enough justice in life. And it seems Mafiosi get all the justice they want. That also is a myth, but it looks that way.

Iorio: It seems there’s never been a [movie] that humanizes the victims of the mafia.

Sorvino: In a big movie?

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Iorio: Yeah. There’s [the character] Spider in “Goodfellas.” But can you think of one in which the mafia victims are portrayed in the same warm glow of family –

Sorvino: There certainly are stories in literature and film about people who have suffered under calamitous circumstances from bad guys. Very often, families are beset by bad guys. “Little House on the Prairie” is an example of that. Anytime you have a family under siege, it’s generally from some malefactor outside their sphere, or within their sphere, and that’s what causes their distress. In a dramatic presentation, you have to put someone up a tree and then get him out of it. The person who puts them up a tree is generally some sort of gangster, or some sort of crook.

Iorio: …Have people mentioned to you how refreshing it is that [Sorvino’s TV series “That’s Life”] is one of the first Italian-American series that doesn’t emphasize [the mafia]?

Sorvino: It’s one of the great reasons why I’m doing it. Because it’s about an Italian-American family that isn’t involved in a scintilla of any of that.

Chapter Four

An Interview with Cheech Marin.
October 17, 2000. San Francisco.

Marin’s main gold rush-era films:
“Tin Cup,” “From Dusk Till Dawn”

My impressions of Marin:


Paul Iorio: Those Cheech and Chong movies are written off as sort of frivolous by some people to some degree, but it has heart, is funny stuff.

Cheech Marin: I think time is a great leveler. Because I’ll put “Up in Smoke” against any comedy ever made. It really has held up. That was 22 years ago when we made that movie and it still plays on TV. I get a big check every year. I’ve gotten the same check for residuals every year for 20 years. It’s a Marin classic. The rank and file, the people who spent all their weekends smoking dope and eating pizza and watching “Up in Smoke,” they know. And it’s gone on for generations. It’s almost a rite of passage.

People who come from a very studious background – [puts on a stuffy accent] theater critics and all that -- they just don’t have the right credentials for the movie. We faced that all our career. When Tommy [Chong] and I were doing improv theater in a topless nightclub in Vancouver, we had the same situation, that we weren’t taken seriously by the theater critics, but they wrote two pages to write the review to put us down! Because we were very intriguing to them….

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We didn’t go to the right…theater school. We went to Fresno State instead of Harvard. But people who admired us over the years tended to come from the same background: Bob Fosse. Lenny Bruce, all those guys started at strip clubs. Really up from the streets. But the classical definition of a certain kind of comedy, we fit it.

Iorio: What struck me with “Born in East L.A.” is that with the Daniel Stern character, you’re almost telling the story of how you met [Tommy Chong].

Marin: I never thought of that, actually. But I guess that’s exactly what happened. It’s funny, because [Chong] was a very manipulative character, too! [laughs] A lot of parallels to that movie. That’s funny. I never thought about that. But I guess so. That’s a doctoral thesis…for Chicano Studies [scholars]!

Iorio: Since the break-up of Cheech and Chong, obviously you now come across as the more dominant of the two. Was that apparent at the time?

Marin: It was apparent when we started making movies. I was the visual focus of the act, because before then we made records on stage; you didn’t know who did what voice on the record. If you saw us onstage, it became very apparent. I did most of the act, and Tommy did the stand-up part. When I did movies and honed in on those two characters, it became apparent [that Marin was dominant]. But that’s not necessarily what it was. I was just the visual focus. What made Cheech and Chong great was where we met and collided and sometimes clashed and sometimes cooperated. That’s what made us. Without either, it would’ve been something else.

Iorio: What were those days like? Was there a lot of pot, as has been rumored?

Marin: No, not at all. That was the funny thing, that we were these health addicts [in real life]. On the road, we used to belong to the YMCA and we…worked out there before every gig, do the show, party as much as anyone else, but we always looked out for our health.

Iorio: Because that wasn’t the public image.

Marin: Yeah, the public image was greatly at odds with the private reality! [laughs] What you see on the screen is the exact opposite of who we were.

Iorio: Some say that [director] Robert Rodriguez came in and really resuscitated your career with “Desperado” and “From Dusk Till Dawn.”

Marin: Absolutely. Chickens coming home to roost. Basically, Robert [Rodriguez] grew up in that generation that loved Cheech and Chong movies, not necessarily the records.
Page Eighty-eight – Part Three, Chapter Four

The records had kind of done their thing by that time. So he grew up on Cheech and Chong movies. So when he got in a position to make movies – I met him when he had done “El Mariachi,” which was the precursor to “Desperado.”

I met [Rodriguez] in Hollywood and he said, “I really want you to be in ‘Desperado,’ I’m a big fan of yours.” And I said, “OK, when you get the money up, tell me.” And so, he did! I had gone through a big trough of not working, it’s a defining moment in a long career whether you get to the next body of work that keeps you up in the public eye, or don’t. And for the most part, people don’t. I was extremely fortunate that my disciples saved me!

…I was doing three movies, “Great White Hype,” “Desperado” and “From Dusk Till Dawn” at the same time. And that rolled out into “Tin Cup.” That was really the defining moment because it was my first chance to play with all the A list people.

Iorio: What was more the turning point: getting “Desperado” or getting “Tin Cup”?

Marin: I’m not sure, but I have to say, “Tin Cup.” “Desperado” put me back in the public eye….

Actually, “Desperado” was the one….It all of a sudden put me in the movies in a different context. And then I was in a different context in four movies in a row…My goal at the time was to see if I could run with the big dogs. And then after a while I was like, “Hey, big dogs: wanna run a little faster

Chapter Five

An Interview with David Rabe.
April 1998, Los Angeles.

Rabe’s main gold rush-era film:

My impressions of Rabe:


Paul Iorio: People really get emotional about ["Casualties of War"], even now, even still....Some people say, [the Sean Penn character] saved [Eriksson, played by Michael J. Fox]’s life. Others say, there's no doubt, Eriksson should've turned him in. What do you think?
David Rabe: Yes, he saved his life, and that means the pressure on his decision is enormous. But the whole premise of the military, that you give teenagers from all walks of life guns, put them in jeopardy, where people are trying to kill them, and expect them to behave in ideal ways, is nonsense.
One thing that Brian [De Palma] did, he did a very subtle thing that shifted the balance. When they kidnapped the girl, he had the Eriksson character linger and say he's sorry to the mother and sister while they're dragging her off, which is just bullshit...First of all, you wouldn't linger, 'cause you'd be dead. Second, hang out behind these guys, they'd kill you in a minute if it is V.C.
And the other thing is that Eriksson shouldn't have had any understanding at that point of the moral dilemma. He didn't know what was going on; and you don't let your buddy down, you don't hang around with the Vietnamese in the middle of the night when you've just stolen someone from them, to stand around and say you're sorry.
Page Ninety – Part Three, Chapter Five

Rather than watch Eriksson evolve to a decision and try to figure out what to do, it made him know up front, which is bullshit. Just dramatically it was stupid. Because rather than have [Eriksson] struggling, trying to talk to the guy and find out and inch his way to understanding and then say, I can't do this --
Iorio: He comes to an immediate --
Rabe: Right. A white hat, black hat kind of thing.
Iorio: You mention that you can't will death, because you don't know what death is.
Rabe: ...The idea that you take the pills or put the gun to your head, whatever you do: that's what you do. Death may arise from that action, but that's not what you do. You are delivering yourself to something, but you really don't know what that is. Nobody does...
Iorio: Speculation.
Rabe: Yeah, ultimately.


Chapter Six

An Interview with Roy Scheider.
May 15 (or 16), 2000, by phone.

Scheider’s main gold rush-era films:
“The Myth of Fingerprints,” “The Rainmaker,” “RKO 281”

My impressions of Scheider:

Paul Iorio: I heard that [other actors] were vying for the part of Chief Brody in “Jaws”?

Roy Scheider: Well, if that was so, I didn’t know anything about it. I got a call from Steven Spielberg and he thought it was a good idea to have a city type of guy put into that ocean community. And he had seen “The French Connection” and remembered my performance and thought that would be the kind of guy he wanted to put into Amity.

Iorio: Right, kind of displaced –

Scheider: A fish out of water, if you’ll excuse the expression! [laughs]

Iorio: An apt way of putting it! So, you’re trying to assimilate in this seaside community.

Scheider: He’s a guy who doesn’t understand the community, is afraid of water, the least likely hero, and that makes him the everyman…

Page Ninety-two – Part Three, Chapter Six

Iorio: How was it that you and Steven Spielberg were able to create this character?

Scheider: Well, a very fortuitous thing happened on that film: the shark didn’t work. And that left us with weeks and weeks and weeks to shoot, polish, to improvise, to discuss, to enrich, to develop, to experiment with all the other [non-shark] scenes that, in a movie like that, would usually get a cursory treatment.

What happened was, [Robert] Shaw, [Richard] Dreyfuss and Scheider turned into a little rep company. And all those scenes, instead of just pushing the plot along, became golden in developing the characters. So when the crisis came, you really cared about those three guys. And as wonderful as [Peter] Benchley’s book was, those characters were not that likeable in the novel.

Iorio: They were very different in the book.

Scheider: Yes, yes. With all my problems, my character was a cuckold as well!

Iorio: Because Hooper had an affair –

Scheider: Yes, yes!

Iorio: [The adultery sub-plot] was jettisoned after a time. And then you did the legendary 159 day shoot --

Scheider: You had a very talented, imaginative, young director and three very fine actors who were quite suited for what they were playing.

Iorio: What about the classic sequence that begins with the scar comparing –

Scheider: In the script, that was just Shaw showing his scars from the U.S.S. –

Iorio: Indianapolis.

Scheider: That sank. And that he was the victim of a shark. But I and Dreyfuss couldn’t take anything too seriously, so we had our way with that! [laughs] We don’t want this to get too heavy, now, do we? [laughs heartily] Like everything starts off as a joke. And then the director says, “Wait a minute, we can do that, we’ll use that!”

I remember one night we were having dinner up at Steven [Spielberg]’s cabin and we’d all have dinner up there and sit around the table and bullshit. And then we talked about

Page Ninety-three – Part Three, Chapter Six

the scene when we first fight the shark. We’re running around the boat and the Dreyfuss character is trying to get a picture of it.

Someone said [at the dinner table], you tell me to go out there to end of the boat. And I’ll say, “What for?” And he’ll say, “Just go out there, just go out there…so I can get a picture so I can see how small you are and what size the shark is.”

Iorio: [quoting from the movie] “Foreground my ass!”

Scheider: [roaring with laughter] And I go, “Fuck you, I’m not doing that.” That’s the playful nonsense that went on.

Iorio: What about the Indianapolis scene? I hear that [Robert] Shaw was drunk –

Scheider: There was no reference to [the Indianapolis] in the original script. But Spielberg’s friend, director John Milius, was shocked to find out that Steven didn’t know about the boat that delivered the bomb. And the story of the 300 some odd guys who stayed in the water [and were eaten by sharks]. So he had Milius write up something, then Carl [Gottlieb] wrote up something and then Shaw contributed something. And then everyone else contributed a few lines. My line was that sharks had “the doll-like eyes.”

Iorio: That was yours?

Scheider: Yes, that was my contribution. And Robert [Shaw] was an alcoholic and he had to be watched on certain days. And that’s a very difficult [monologue] that Shaw gives. And there are sections of that speech where he’s absolutely ripped. Shot over a period of two or three days.

Iorio: You have one of the most memorable lines that absolutely brings down the house: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Scheider: That was in the script. The first time he sees the shark…But I liked the line so much, it amused me so much, that I said, “I bet I could work this in in a few other places.” So I worked it in two more times.

Page Ninety-four – Part Three, Chapter Six

Iorio: [Carl] Gottlieb told me that you improvised that line.

Scheider: I don’t know if I did or not. I might have. I’d have to check the original script. It seems so long ago now.

Iorio: Yeah, it was 25 years ago. What kinds of things did Steven Spielberg tell you to direct you –

Scheider: For instance, he had a plan of how he wanted these characters to develop. And every aggressive and macho impulse I had for my character, he would grab me and pull me back and say, “No, no, don’t talk that way, don’t step forward like that, you are always afraid. Just Mr. Humble, all the time.”

[Spielberg] would say, “Because here’s what we want to do, which is gradually, slowly, carefully, humorously build this guy into being the hero of the movie.” And I’m sure he spoke the same way to Dreyfuss and Shaw. For instance, we would build Shaw from this crazy lunatic to a guy with a real reason to hate sharks. And, of course, he would wind up in the mouth of one. So that all the ironies would work.

Iorio: What about the one point during the scar-comparing when you lift up your shirt –

Scheider: That was my improv. I said, here are these two guys showing huge scars and what’ve I got? There’s a little tiny appendix scar.

Iorio: During the shoot, there was a lot of talk that this movie was going to tank.

Scheider: It’s not that it was going to tank, but that it was going to get pulled because it was costing too much money. Back in those days, if you went over $10 million dollars – wow! It was a big deal. That was ’74.

Iorio: And this was like $12 mil –

Scheider: And after months of preparation and the shark not working, we got to that figure pretty quickly. Even so, I don’t think the picture went over $12 [million]….The threat that was hanging over Steven’s head all the time was that he was going to have his picture taken away from him.

Page Ninety-five – Part Three, Chapter Six

Iorio: Was there one point where you felt, this is really taking off…this is really something special?

Scheider: …I remember one day, they pulled the damn thing [shark] out and put it on the cables and ran it past the boat and it was as long as the boat and I said, “Oh, my god, that looks great.” I remember that day. We all probably lit cigars!


Chapter Seven

An Interview with Richard Pryor.
July 31, 1996, by phone from Encino, Calif.

Pryor’s main gold rush-era films:
“Lost Highway,” “Mad Dog Time”

My impressions of Pryor:

Paul Iorio: ….”Blazing Saddles”: What parts of that did you write?

Richard Pryor: Did you ask Mel Brooks?

Iorio: No, I never spoke to him. But you wrote some of that, didn’t you?

Pryor: Yes.

Iorio: Did you write the sheriff part? Is that all yours?

Pryor: I don’t know.

Iorio: What about some of the stuff in “Stir Crazy.” You didn’t write it, of course, but you did have input. Did you come up with things spontaneously on the set?

Pryor: Yes.

Page Ninety-seven – Part Three, Chapter Seven

Iorio: Is there anything in “Stir Crazy” -- or “Silver Streak,” or “The Mack” – where it was you who wrote that part?

Pryor: Thank you.

[His wife, Jennifer Lee, comes on the phone to intervene.]

Jennifer Lee: [to Pryor] What?! You’re ending the interview?! Wait a second, Paul. [pause] I happen to know that on “Stir Crazy” he was out of his mind pm freenase and he improvised a lot of that. I was there….


Iorio: Were there…instances where [you were[ busted for obscenity or whatever they call it, for language on stage?

Pryor: Yes…I think it was Virginia.

Iorio: But was there anything beyond that, that you remember?

Pryor: [oddly emphatic] No!!

Iorio: Suppose all your records, movies and videotapes of your stand-up performances were in a pile on the floor….There was an earthquake and [you] could salvage three items…Which would you value most?

Pryor: Mudbone.