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Director Anthony Minghella
Director Anthony Minghella

There are few people truly interested in cinema
to whom the name "Anthony
Minghella" is not familiar. In the vein of Milos Forman, Minghella
is part of that rare breed of auteurs who favors quality over quantity,
releasing very few films–but gaining high critical praise for
each effort. Making his feature debut with Truly Madly Deeply in
1991, Minghella’s subsequent projects have totaled only two: The
English Patient
in 1996, for which he won an Oscar, and The
Talented Mr. Ripley
in 1999 (for which he was also nominated).
This Oscar season is sure to bring Minghella’s name back to the
minds of voters, as the big screen adaptation of Charles Frazier’s
novel, Cold Mountain, is set for release in theaters this
December.

The long-awaited film features an all-star
cast including Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, Renée Zellweger, Philip
Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Donald Sutherland, Giovanni
Ribisi and Jena Malone, the
movie Minghella sat down with MM to discuss his pending release.
A brief excerpt from his conversation follows–but for the full
version, be sure to check out MM’s Fall 2003 edition–on newsstands
this November!

Phillip Williams (MM): What attracted you to Cold
Mountain?

Anthony Minghella (AM): The provenance of this project
is quite interesting. I had not thought about doing another adaptation.
I felt like I’d got into this cycle of adapting novels, which had
never been my intention. I’d actually done an interview where I
said that I wouldn’t do another one.

I was in Toronto–between Toronto and Ottawa–staying with Michael
Ondaatje; we just kind of hung out for a weekend together in a
cabin he has there. And he gave me a novel that he said his editor
had passed onto him that he thought I might react to. I put it
in my case and went back to London, and when I got there there
were two Fed Ex parcels, both of which were the same book; so I
actually received three copies of Cold Mountain in a week.
And then, several weeks later, I got a box in the post that had
been stuck in Berkeley where I’d been living [doing post-production
on The English Patient]. and inside was the manuscript to Cold
Mountain
. So, I took that as some sort of an oracle that I’d
better pay attention to it, and before I finished reading it I
knew I would do it. 

MM: When you are reading through
the book–even the first chapter-there’s a lot of personal,
internal narrative. Is there a way you can capture or keep
some of that long text
by translating it into specific imagery or reoccurring images?  

AM: First of all, my method of adaptation is much freer
than that. I’ve elected a way of writing as a screenwriter where
I think my job is to write my way back to the novel, rather than
to write from it. I don’t try and analyze the book chapter by chapter
and find certain correlatives. I go away and I write and hopefully
what I’m writing will take me back to the book.

I don’t have the book with me; I try not to
imagine that my job is to top and tail each chapter and edit
the dialogue that’s in
the book. I imagine myself to be at the place where there is no
book and someone has told me a story with a particular emphasis.
My job is to try and remember and extol the virtues of the original
novel.  

MM: There are some wonderful performances
in your pictures. When you are taking on a larger production,
is it more of a challenge
to make time for the actors? 

AM: I came to filmmaking first as a writer and second as
someone who loves to work with actors. If you took away those two
elements I’d have almost no interest in making [movies]. You are
right though to say that the bigger the film, the more of an administrative
job it becomes in terms of the logistics of organizing the shooting
and the number of people who are involved. And it’s a great leap,
just on a personal level, to go from working on a set with 20 people
on Truly, Madly, Deeply, to sometimes a crew of several
hundred on Cold Mountain. I suppose that what I’ve done–which
I think is the cleverest thing that I’ve ever done–is to surround
myself with an incredible crew who stayed with me, who’ve grown
with me and who are prepared to put up with me.

MM: For an actor to really be authentic
in the moment, does that mean–by necessity–that sometimes
the script gets
changed? 

AM: If an actor is struggling with a line it’s because
I haven’t done the job well enough. The great thing about being
the writer on the set is that I can re-tailor the writing to fit,
although I would hope that as I’ve done more work, that those occasions
happen less frequently. On Cold Mountain, there’s almost
no deviation between the writing of the screenplay and the performances.  

MM: Could you touch on your work
with Renée Zellweger,
Jude Law and Nicole Kidman on this picture? 

AM: Renée, Jude and Nicole are three completely different
actors in the way they approach their work. Nicole is, I would
say, somebody who is first a filmmaker, and second an actor insofar
as she is extremely alert and attentive to the whole movie at all
times. She’s not so submerged into her own role that she doesn’t
understand where the film is. And [she] has an extraordinary mastery
of the requirements of the film beyond any particular moment that
she’s trying to make.  

Jude is a sort of gift to a director; he is so malleable and delighted
and enthusiastic and present. What you feel always with him is
that you have an ally who will surrender himself completely to
the requirements of the film. He would make any director feel good.
[laughs] He comes to work with an enormous joy, and without
ego of any description.  

Renée is someone whose process is very particular,
quite mysterious. I felt she knew very clearly what she wanted
to do and my job was
just to try and understand that and monitor it, rather than to
help her create it; I felt that she had created it…

I’m generalizing and simplifying, but I feel
that there are very specific characteristics to each of those
actors.  

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