If there were a director’s hall of fame, John Frankenheimer would be elected on the first ballot.
Then again, he might never even be considered because he’d likely have to be retired first. And even though his career began in the Golden Age of television, before many readers of this magazine were born, he shows not the slightest sign that he’s ready to trade in his director’s chair for a rocking chair. Last year he made Andersonville for TNT, and as I write this, ratings for that recently-aired mini-series have been announced which make it the second-highest-rated movie in the network’s history. He won an Emmy in 1994 for the HBO movie, Against the Wall, and picked up another last year for The Burning Season, which also won a Golden GLobe for Best Picture and a DGA Award nomination for Best Director. An excellent career biography by L.A. Times critic Charles Champlin was just published, and this year, for the first time in history, the Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Television & Radio offered a double retrospective on one artist’s work–John Frankenheimer. In short, after more than a decade-long dry spell when personal problems got the better of him, JF is on a serious roll. We caught up with him in a trailer at James Cameron’s Digital Domain, where he was taking a break from supervising a special effects sequence on the soon-to-be-released Island of Dr. Moreau, starring Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer.
Tim Rhys, Moviemaker Magazine (TR): In Charles Champlin’s book you talk about feeling freer than you’ve ever felt while making Andersonville. This film seems to be a culmination of sorts for you, in terms of both technique and theme — which is the dignity of the human spirit in the face of desolation — a theme you keep coming back to.
John Frankenheimer (JF): No matter how bad the circumstances are, you can win; you can triumph over it. I believe that about life, too.
TR: I was about to ask if you believe that’s also a metaphor for your career.
JF: I do. I believe if you have a positive attitude, that gives you a certain strength. I don’t care who they are, no one can get through life without adversity. If you live to be a certain age there have to be tremendous mental and sometimes physical horrors that you’ll go through and come out the other side. It’s the same way with drama, I think. That’s what makes it interesting, and it’s certainly the theme of Andersonville.
TR: Is that what attracts you to prison movies? I think you’ve done four of them.
JF: Yeah, I know. But it hasn’t been planned, let me tell you. Obviously drama exaggerates the tensions and the situations to get it to a dramatic point. It’s a microcosm for life.
TR: Right, the determination to survive. It’s really the dominant theme in your work. Why the fascination with that as opposed to other themes?
JF: Because I’ve seen so many people go down, especially in this business. I’ve been a director for what, 42 years now. I’ve seen so many people fall by the wayside that started out with me and they’re not around anymore. They’re either dead or they’re broken, a body lying by the side of the road. This business does that to you.
TR: What has it done to you?
JF: It heightens everything. The triumphs are huge, the failures are enormous. The rejection factor is unbelievably difficult to live with. You’re working with your instincts and your emotions all the time. But this business has been wonderful to me, it really has.
TR: Why have you survived as an artist when so many of your friends and colleagues haven’t?
JF: Well, I don’t know why they haven’t, but I know why I have. Number one, I hate to lose. I hate it. And way down inside me I do have a belief in myself. It gets blunted from time to time. But there’s a certain resiliency in me. Maybe it’s the half Irish, half German-Jewish heritage, I don’t know. And there have been certain lucky things that have happened to me, really lucky, big things like getting into this business in the first place, and meeting certain people at times in my career who made a profound impact on me. One such person is Robert Cooper, who is now the president of HBO Films. Meeting Cooper was a big turning point in my life. I’d just done a movie called Year of the Gun that for various reasons did absolutely no business and the things I was being offered I didn’t want to do. But I had to decide if I was going to radically alter my way of life and live out my years as a retired movie director, or maybe just do something for the money. That’s when Cooper offered me Against the Wall for HBO, which was perfect for me because it had this kind of hard-edged reality, and I seem to be at ease with that. French Connection II, Manchurian Candidate, Black Sunday, all my better movies have this edgy reality to them. I use hard light, wide-angle lenses, a lot of hand-held stuff, a lot of movement. I understood the material in Against the Wall. I did it and it completely turned my life around. Suddenly people saw it and said ‘Wow, the guy’s still here.’
TR: One of the only criticisms I’ve heard about you as a director is that your work is sometimes “uneven.” I believe that’s because some of the scripts are more or less average, and they look bad in comparison to the brilliance of your others. Is it because of the material you’re working from? Some of your films, like The Train and Birdman of Alcatraz just blew me away when I watched them. I love your work. But talking to colleagues, other writers, they say yeah, but what about 99 and 44/100% Dead?
JF: That was a big mistake.
TR: How do you choose scripts? How do you pick your material? What do you look for?
JF: Sometimes you create material. Grand Prix was something I created. I kind of created 52 Pick-up, chasing the book down. Other stuff is offered to you and for one reason or another, you accept it. Sometimes you make career mistakes. I wish I had a couple of those back again. 99 is one of those.
TR: You mentioned 52 Pick-up. I have a couple of questions to ask you about that. Ian and I watched The Manchurian Candidate together the other night, and at the end of the tape there’s an interview with you and Sinatra and at one point you say that in 1962 you were unable to show the kind of graphic violence that some directors get away with today, and you thought you’d made a better picture because of it. The next night I watched 52 Pick-up, and I have to tell you that one of the most violent scenes I’ve ever seen is the execution of Kelly Preston.
JF: It really is violent, isn’t it.
TR: Cruelty in a movie affects me. My question is, do you believe that the subject matter of some material require the use of violence?
JF: I think that did. That was right out of (Elmore) Leonard’s book. My invention was to put a piece of wood in front of her to avoid the frontal nudity. I did this not to shock the audience, but because the Roy Scheider character has to be shocked.
IB: Going back to the beginning of our conversation, talk about your heroes overcoming adversity. It seems to me that unlike a lot of modern films where the adversity is somebody’s alcoholism or a particular individual, the adversity in many of your films is societal and has a strong political argument to it. In The Train, it’s the Nazi regime; in Alcatraz, the prison government; in 52 Pick-up, the corruption of ruthless people at large in the world; In Manchurian Candidate, the greed of people at the political helm. Did you choose those movies for the purpose of making a statement along those lines, that the adversity that people can overcome is all-encompassing and oppressive and pretty much everywhere you look?
JF: I wish I could tell you that I did, but I chose those subjects because I loved the stories. It was a visceral rather than an intellectual reaction.
IB: Do you think an eye toward commercialism affects too many young directors today in their choice of material?
JF: I do. Because for instance while I was able to break in with live television. I knew if I fell on my head I was still going to have another, like, 10-12 shows to do during the year. And I could take a lot of chances and work with a lot of different material. Even in movies, when I first started the stakes were not as high as they are now. They allowed your failures if they liked your work. Today, my God, a young director goes out and does a movie and it doesn’t do anything from a gross standpoint on a weekend, and it could be absolutely not his or her fault, and that young man or woman is going to have a very tough time finding another movie. One of the answers would be for him or her to go out and try one of these HBO movies. They now have a thing called HBO Showcase, where they’ll make less expensive movies, and they’re going to do about 15 of those a year. You know, I think it’s ridiculous that directors think that there is this difference between a feature film and television. I mean, in England there’s no difference, and there shouldn’t be here. There shouldn’t be any stigma attached to a director who says he wants to do a cable movie, or a movie of the week. Why not do a wonderful subject for TV that will be seen by millions of people rather than the nonsense they’re doing now and have it do no business. Some of the best directors today do choose to work in television. What the hell difference does it make if it’s not theatrical?
TR: What makes a great director? What kind of training? What kind of mindset?
JF: At the end of the day you have to be a great storyteller. And you have to be able to master the tools that you have to tell the story, which are, in order of importance, the script, the actors, and then the technical means. You should have studied drama, how it works, the three-act structure. I think that’s basic. You have to be able to communicate with actors. It’s very well for William Wyler to say ‘I just want it better,’ and do 30 or 40 takes, but there’s only one William Wyler. And you have to find a way to master the tools of your trade. There are so many people making movies today that know absolutely zero about the camera. To my mind, that’s personal suicide. They say to the cameraman ‘Well, how should we photograph this scene?’ And the cameraman photographs it the way he or she thinks is best. That’s wrong. The young director should have a collaborative relationship with the cameraman the way Wyler and Welles did with Gregg Toland. A director has to have tremendous input into where the camera is, what it sees and how the film will be edited. You have to have knowledge to do that. They may even learn some of it in film school, but there’s no substitute for going out and doing it.
TR: You’re known for pulling amazing, true-to-life performances from your actors. It’s one of your trademarks. You talk about communicating with actors. How do you do that?
JF: Each actor is different. I try to choose the best actors to begin with. So much of it is in the initial choice.
TR: What is your rehearsal process like?
JF: We examine the script, the relationships. We go through a kind of preliminary blocking of the scenes, examine them. We go on location with the actors so that they can see the locations and start to assimilate the scene to the location.
TR: How do you get actors to trust you?
JF: What I try to do is be totally honest with people. I don’t try and manipulate actors. I don’t try and bullshit them. I don’t have a lot of tricks. What you see is what you get. What I try and do in every relationship whether it be professional or personal, is to treat somebody the way I would want to be treated by them. And I think what I do is try and imagine what the young actor is going through in the situation. I mean, having to deal with me, who’s done a lot of movies, has to be a terrifying experience. I think every single one of us comes into these situations with a lot of anxiety. And my job is to try and create an atmosphere where people don’t have anxiety and they can do the best work that they can. And I figure that one way I can do that is to have them know that I’m very secure in the fact that I know what I ‘m doing.
TR: Your protagonist in Andersonville, Jarrod Emick, played a couple of very emotional scenes in that film. What did you tell him? That was a beautiful performance.
JF: I didn’t have to tell him very much. He’s a very, well trained actor. He kind of put himself completely in my hands, which doesn’t always happen, and he said ‘Look I’ve never done a movie before, and I’m here to do what you want me to do.’ And so you have a tremendous responsibility with somebody like that. What I really tried to do was make Jarrod look as good as he possibly could in every scene. And he’s a very, very good actor and he had a lot of good ideas and it was a really wonderful collaboration.
TR: I want to ask you about collaborations. In the Champlin book, you seem to be tickled by David Lean talking about his problems with Mitchum. Your greatest actor-collaborator was Burt Lancaster, and you mentioned that in one of your movies you really got along with Lancaster, which leads me to believe that in some movies you didn’t get along with him so well. Tell me about your relationship with Burt Lancaster.
JF: Well my first movie with him was The Young Savages, which was not a movie he wanted to do. He was forced into doing four movies for United Artists to pay off a debt that his company had amassed, by his partners being very profligate with money and they owed United Artists a great deal of money and they faced either prosecution or paying the debt back and the only way the debt could be paid back was for Burt Lancaster to do four movies. at 15% of his market price. And he was very unhappy about that. So he wanted to do them as quickly as he possibly could. And one of them was this movie that he had agreed to do, which, was a very quick movie, a 35-day movie, a non-taxing movie. And supposedly all going to be done in Hollywood. Well, the first thing that happened was, when I got on it, I insisted on shooting part of it in New York. He didn’t want to go to New York. He just came off Elmer Gantry, which he thought, rightly so, was the best thing he’d ever done, and that he had a very good chance of being nominated for an Academy Award. And he didn’t want to demean himself by doing this movie which he did not think was going to be very good. And it was being directed by a television director. He thought it was a big comedown for him, and he let me know it, in his attitude and everything else. He was never overtly rude. We never really fought, per say. I mean there were no scenes. But it was not a relationship that either of us was particularly comfortable in. I mean, I was constantly on edge with him. And what happened was, he was then going to go do The Birdman of Alcatraz, and I wanted very badly to do the Birdman of Alcatraz, I wanted to do it on live television, if you can believe that. You can imagine what that would have been like. Chaos, but I mean, we had that kind of arrogance. That we could do anything. And I was told in no uncertain terms, by the producer that because I didn’t treat Burt with the respect and deference that he was due, didn’t demure to what Burt wanted, I had no chance at all of doing The Birdman of Alcatraz. And so we didn’t even say goodbye to each other after the first picture was finished. I mean, the last shot, he just walked off the set and that’s it. So, a couple of months later I was in New York going through a divorce and I get to the airport and Burt Lancaster was there with the writer of Birdman of Alcatraz, Harold Hecht, and he said ‘Look, you are the perfect director for The Birdman of Alcatraz. We’re not happy with the person we have. We’ve let him go. And we want you to do it. So I do/knew the property and I did it. And he and I got along very well for that picture, and we continued to get along well.
TR: Working with a difficult actor like, Dirk Bogard in The Fixer, how do you change your attitude?
JF: Well, first of all, I just want to start out by saying that I admire Dirk Bogard a great deal as an actor. It is not a relationship that I remember with any joy. We did not get along.
TR: No special tricks even in that situation with an actor? You know the director’s nightmare, the picture is halfway finished and the relationship completely dissolves.
JF: Well, Dirk got through it. He didn’t like me, I didn’t like him, but he’s a professional and I’m a professional. My definition of a professional, as opposed to an amateur, is that an amateur only does something when he or she feels like doing it, a professional does something when he or she doesn’t feel like doing it. You know, I’m an amateur cook. I only cook when I want to cook. I’m an amateur tennis player. I only play tennis when I want to play tennis. But I’m a professional movie director in the fact that I’ve gone on sets when I didn’t want to be there. And working with Dirk Bogard was a time when I was a professional movie director. He’s very good in the movie, by the way. But you’ll notice that we never worked together again.
IB: You seem to have implied several times now that whereas other people might think a television director is some sort of lower class of director, that obviously you don’t feel that way. My question is, do you think there’s any substantial, tangible difference between directing a film for television and directing a film for theatrical distribution?
JF: Well right now, today, 1996, I would have to say that the material that’s being made on cable TV is far superior to the material being made in theatrical motion pictures. So that I think the quality of cable TV is far higher than that of theatrical motion pictures. Far higher. And the amount of good work being done is far higher than that being done in theatrical films.
IB: In a technical sense, on a choice of subject matter?
JF: I don’t think that we judge our work on the technical sense. If that were so, they’d just give you the Academy Award for technical achievement and Digital Domain and Industrial Light and Magic would win it every year. You know, to tell you the truth, I couldn’t give less of a damn about all this digital this and digital that, because they’re never going to get a digital script. All this stuff about these effects and all this stuff is really fine if you have the story to go with it. All this business can help you realize a successful visualization of what you do. But to do it just for effects sake, I think is ludicrous. I would much rather do a movie like The Burning Season any day, than a high effects movie. I mean, to me, that kind of movie deals with raw human emotion and it’s visceral and it’s something I really know how to do. I mean, I appreciate all the wonderful things that can be done, digitally, and spending huge amounts of money to do them and how you can make this work and that work, but it seems to me that some great movies were made before all this digital stuff. I mean, I don’t mean to put it down in any way, but it just seems to me that mass entertainment today means these huge big-budget, special effects movies.
IB: So, to go back to my question, the thing that is the same for television or theatrical is the job of the director to tell a story and that remains constant no matter what you’re doing.
JF: Well, look, I mean, I don’t think there’s any difference in directing for television, if you’re talking about directing for HBO and stuff like that, and I think directing for Newline, which I just did, I mean, it’s exactly the same. Or for Turner, you know, I know that we spent more money on this picture, but it certainly didn’t seem to me that we had any more time. I mean, I was working as fast as I could. Certainly never took a sigh of relief and said ‘Oh my, this isn’t a big feature movie, now I can sit back in the director’s chair and take my time.’ I never did that. I worked as hard as I could, as fast as I could. We worked tremendous hours, on this movie. I don’t see how we could have done it in less time. On the other hand, the subject matter of Andersonville, is uniquely for television, in my opinion. It’s very tough stuff. It’s very demanding. It’s riveting and I think you have to be able to get away from it a little bit. I think it overwhelms you in a movie theatre. And I think if you have the ability to watch it at a bit of a distance on a television screen, I think it helps you. I mean, you’ve seen it. These guys just go through such hell. And I was very unrelenting when I did it. I mean, I decided, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do this thing the way it was.
TR: Where’d you find actors that skinny?
JF: With difficulty is the answer. Yeah, it was hard. It was hard.
TR: Again in the Champlin book, you quote an anecdote where William Wyler said you place the camera better than anybody he’d ever seen. That’s a huge compliment.
JF: Well, it was a great compliment coming from someone who, in my opinion, placed the camera better than anybody I’d ever seen and who was my mentor. I mean, he did say that to me, and I probably was self-serving by saying it in the book, but I was very proud of it because he knew that I learned a lot from him.
TR: What’s the basic thought process that you go through when you approach a scene? How do determine where to place the camera?
JF: That’s a very good question. The first thing I have to know is what the scene is about. Secondly, I want to stage it in such a way that I can see things happening at the same time in front of the shot and in back of the shot, which is why I use such depth of focus. I try not to cut very much. I try and make sure that you can see what you want to see. In other words, I can show you how you’re reacting, how he’s reacting, in the same shot. And I try and stage that way so that you are staging in depth, rather than in width. Most of my staging is very in-depth staging. That comes out of live TV, where we were able to operate at an intensely high F-stop because of the amount of light that we used. We were able to operate between an F-16 and an F-11 F-stop, which kept everything razor sharp. And once I got used to that, and staging for that, it became very difficult for me to come in and hear the cameramen say, ‘Well, we can’t hold this in focus.’ So I made them use a lot of light.
TR: It’s interesting that you say your depth-of-focus style came from TV. If anyone had asked me, I would have said it came from your respect and love for Welles.
JF: But he was not one of my influences at the beginning. We did not have videos. We did not have access the way people do today. Citizen Kane was a movie that was suppressed, as you well know. I mean, you couldn’t find it. I didn’t even know about it when I first started directing. I saw Citizen Kane after I’d been a director for about a year, by going down to a 16mm movie house called The Coronet, which is where they were showing all these great movies. I saw all the Eisenstein movies there. I saw all the Welles movies. And then once I saw these things, I went crazy. I bought black market copies; 16mm copies. I had all that stuff, and yes, they influenced me, but I was already doing it. You know, this was affirmation to me that the way I was doing it was OK.
TR: I find the amount of detail you show in a scene fascinating. While screening your films I was amazed by a scene where a guy is getting murdered and behind him a car is crashing.
JF: In 52 pick-up.
TR: That was beautiful.
JF: That’s what would happen. But you must understand, I think it’s very important for your readers to know that that goes over into set design, into set dressing and everything else. Everything has to be meticulously done because everything’s in focus. Walls, desks, bureaus, you see it all. So you can’t hide behind something that’s just fuzzy and out of focus. That’s why I demand so much from these people who work for me.
TR: You use extreme wide-angle lenses. Do you ever go under 20 mm?
JF: My lens of preference is usually between an 18 and a 24.
TR: A couple of the other stylistic elements that you’re well known for are the Steadicam and hand-held shot. When do you decide you need the Steadicam? Obviously in Andersonville, some of those lengthy shots, with the huge sets, but what other times call for it?
JF: I use the steady cam all the time. Ninety percent of Against the Wall was on the Steadicam. Seventy-five percent of The Burning Season was on the Steadicam. Sixty percent of Andersonville. It’s almost like they made the Steadicam for me, because in live TV we had these tremendously fluid cameras that we were able to use and I never found that fluidity in movies. I mean, you know, simple things that we did, like for instance we had television monitors at the back of the dollys so that the guys pushing the dollys could see the pictures of what was going on. They never did this in the movies, so there were endless rehearsals of people hitting marks with dollys. And the crab dolly to me was never as flexible as my television dollys had been. Ever. And so I substituted for those many times hand-held cameras to give the freedom of movement that I wanted. For instance, in Seven Days in May, in Black Sunday, in French Connection II, in Seconds even, there was a lot of hand-held camera to get this flexibility and this freedom of movement. Now I don’t do nearly as much hand-held as Steadicam, because I’m not really crazy about that jagged thing that the hand-held camera gives you.
TR: You mentioned Seconds. Tell me about (legendary Oscar-winning cinematographer) James Wong Howe . . .
JF: He was brilliant. He was absolutely brilliant. A lot of the photographic look of that picture is due to James Wong Howe. He was the guy that recommended used the 9.7 millimeter lens. His lighting I thought was extraordinary in that picture. He loved my style of staging and photography and he amplified it; he made it look better. As did Lionel Lyndon, with whom I did so many movies. As does this young guy I work with now, John Lionetti, he does the same thing for me that those guys did. So the cameramen I would have to say have been fabulous for me are James Wong Howe, Lionel Lyndon, Claude Renoir and now John Lionetti. It’s a total collaboration between the director and the cameraman. You’ve got to have a DP who you’re in sync with and who’s in sync with you. It has to be almost like a dance team.
IB: On the technical front, it seems to me a lot of directors will not use visual elements as a part of the storytelling. You do that a lot, though, as in The Manchurian Candidate, the cuts between the hands dealing the cards and the actual cards being dealt, introducing that element of the story rather than introducing it (962) In The Train, showing the close up of the Francs on the counter, which again, it’s not introduced (964), but visually.
JF: Well, to quote Malon Brando, the medium is called motion pictures
TR: One of the first movies of yours that I’d seen was The Train.
JF: That’s a pretty good one to see.
TR: That’s a great one.The sequence that you went back to film later, the spitfire strafing the train. Unbelievable. It looked like you used about 10 different camera angles.
JF: I did. We really planned that thing out a long time. That sequence in today’s dollars is five million bucks.
IB: Sticking with The Train and talking about budget and those sorts of considerations, there were no models of locomotives, they were all real locomotives.
JF: Yes. There were no visual effects available. Nothing was digital.
IB: It’s incredible. I mean, those things weigh many tons. The crashes, those were real impacts and bits of steel flying everywhere across the set. Did you do massive coverage when you were going to do one of those?
JF: Yeah, massive coverage
TR: Very Brave.
JF: Twelve cameras.
TR: Do you storyboard when you direct?
JF: You bet! Especially on action sequences. I do more and more. Always work with a good storyboard artist and a good production designer.
TR: You say you do more and more. Has your style changed at all over the years?
JF: No, I just think it’s more economic. Less off the cuff. And more pliant.
TR: What’s your favorite film that you’ve done?
JF: The Burning Season.
JF: I loved it. I loved working with Raoul (Julia). I loved that character. And Against the Wall. Those two HBO movies I think are my favorite s. I’m very proud of those two movies. And I’d have to put The Manchurian Candidate in there. And The Iceman Cometh.
TR: What kind of movies do you want to do in the future? You’re not going to retire…
JF: No. I’m not ever going to retire. I mean, until they make me. If you read about the fact that I’m not working, it’s because they don’t want me to. And that’s why I’m glad so many good things have come out of those two HBO movies. Because it lets me keep going. School’s out on Andersonville, but I guess the recognition, with The Burning Season, where I won every award. they could give, meant something. The two Emmys in a row were nice. I was nominated for the Emmy when I was 25. When I was 26, when I was 27, when I was 28, 29 and 30 — and I lost every year. And I thought, well that’s over, I’m never going to win that son-of-a-bitch. I started doing movies, and I couldn’t see going back to television. So it was always kind of a sense of failure. A sense of that old thing in me, you know, of not being good enough. And the fact that lost it so many years. It got to me. And then to come back at the age of 64 and win it, that was very nice. You’re not supposed to do that at 64. And then to win it again the next year, that was even sweeter.
TR: What are some of your goals?
JF: To lead a life where I don’t hurt a lot of people, and where, at the end of the day, say I respect myself for what I’ve done. That’s basically it. And have some kind of satisfaction for what I’ve done. I’m not talking about monetary goals or awards or all that kind of stuff, I’m just talking about the John Frankenheimer award, which is to be relatively secure that I’ve done the best I could with what I had. I mean, so often you look at people with talent that is just so wasted. Talent doesn’t care who it’s given to. It’s what you do with it. I have been given a talent, and I have a responsibility towards that talent. Which is to do the best with it that I am able to do. Because one of the things that I didn’t tell you when you asked me what it takes to be a wonderful director is you have to be born with it. You have to be born with it. Nobody taught William Wyler where to put those cameras. Or George Stevens or David Lake. I mean you look at the work of George Stevens and Fred Zimmerman, and Hitchcock — you don’t learn that. That’s God-given. And you have to add Scorsese to that list.
TR: What other directors working today do you admire?
JF: Coppola, Scorsese, Jim Sheridan, Oliver Stone. I think Oliver Stone is the best movie director out there today. In my opinion, he’s the guy who has the greatest command of his medium and knows how to use it better than anybody else. And you have to put Spielberg on that list. Jim Cameron, too And if Ronny Howard keeps up what he’s doing — I mean, I loved Apollo 13. He’s really a heavyweight now, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Also Jonathan Demme and Mike Nichols. Those are my favorites.
IB: We were looking at a list of your movies, and so many of the largest names were actors that you had worked with. There seemed to be no one missing from the list.
JF: Now there isn’t because I just did Brando.
IB: Given your stated goals of wanting to use your talent for the good, are there any actors out there that you think to share that goal that you haven’t worked with yet that you’d like to?
JF: Oh yeah, I would love to make a picture with DeNiro. I would love to make a picture with Al Pacino. I would like to make a picture with Geena Davis. I think she’s brilliant. I would love to make a picture with her. I mean, but, I would like to make a picture with Harrison Ford.
TR: How was it working with Brando?
JF: He was brilliant. Brando’s a genius. Brando’s the only genius I’ve ever worked with.
TR: Really? Could you expound on that?
JF: Yeah, His choices are so inspired. His choices, what he thinks of to do with a scene, are just absolutely God-given.
TR: That’s probably a testament to your personality and style as much as it is to his genius because you talk about Coppola, a guy who just had a bitch of a time working with Brando.
JF: I know. But I’m talking about my experience with Brando. I mean, it was a real roller coaster ride, and you’ve got to hang on. Some of his choices take your breath away. You don’t really direct Marlon Brando, you kind of get out of his way. And he responds well. I mean if you say, ‘Marlon what about this?’ If he respects you, and I think he did respect me, he says fine, let’s do that. It was a wonderful relationship.
IB: Looking at the future and looking at your goals, The Manchurian Candidate, McCarthyism, the prison system, in Alcatraz…is there any particular sort of societal, political evil that you see out there in today’s world that you’d like to deal with in a movie?
JF: The environment to me is the most important thing we’ve got going for us. And nobody seems to really give a shit; it’s not in vogue anymore. We’re ruining the world we live in for generations to come. I’ve dealt with this issue in The Burning Season, and now again in Moreau.
TR: I agree with you so much. Do movies effect you? Do they stay in your subconscious?
JF: They do. They do. I mean movies effect everybody’s way of life. My God, when I was young, that’s what made us all smoke. You know, that’s the way you did it. I mean Humphrey Bogart smoked. Barbara Stanwyck smoked. Joan Crawford smoked. Everybody that you admired smoked, so you, as a young person, aspired to smoking. And when I became an actor that’s what I had to do. And people drank, I mean my God, look at the drinking in all those movies in the ’30s and ’40s when everybody made fun of it. Like in The Thin Man, ‘Not another martini!’ and all that kind of stuff. I think movies do affect social mores. I think this rampant violence in a lot of movies is terrible.
TR: How do you want to be remembered as an artist?
JF: As a very honest director. As a very honest person who did what I did with conviction and with honesty. That’s very important to me, as you probably gather. MM