Director Roundtable: 6 Auteurs on Tantrums, Crazy Actors and Quitting While They're Ahead
Ben Affleck shares a traumatic on-set memory, David O. Russell reveals which film he made with his "head up his ass" and Quentin Tarantino on when he'll call it quits: "I don't intend to be a director deep into my old age."
THR: Ben, what did you learn from Gus on Good Will Hunting?
Affleck: A lot. Gus was the first great director whom I worked with. We had read and rehearsed and practiced stuff in Good Will Hunting for three, four years, so I had like 50 ideas on how to play each scene. So I do a take, but Gus doesn't say anything. And I really did not know what was going on. I'd say, "Gus, what did you think?" He was like, "I don't know, what did you think?" It was this transforming experience where I realized I'm responsible for my performance. I'm responsible for my life, my place in the creative universe.
THR: Gus, did you think Ben would have this filmmaking career when you worked with him?
Affleck: Don't answer that. (Laughter.)
Van Sant: I can't remember. I don't think Ben said that he was interested. But later, when you were making moves towards directing in Gone Baby Gone, I remember Ben was very --
Affleck: I was grilling Gus. I was like, "How the f-- do you deal with actors?"
Van Sant: Well, when I saw Gone Baby Gone, I thought that you had done something that was way beyond what I had tried to do with mixing nonprofessionals with professionals. I was sort of jealous.
THR: But you didn't imagine that when you did Good Will Hunting?
Affleck: Gus didn't even know my name on Good Will Hunting. (Laughter.)
Van Sant: I don't know. I'm always surprised when people choose to be directors because it's kind of a weird job. And so when they actually choose, then you think to yourself, "Well, they're in for a lot of shit."
THR: Do you have to have a certain amount of craziness to be a director?
Russell: You have to have a lot of passion, and you have to be very strong.
Hooper: On Les Miserables, many people lined up to tell me not to do the singing live. But in the end, you've got to go with your gut instinct.
Affleck: You have to shoulder too much responsibility and burden to be really crazy as a director. There's a little more crazy in actors. There's an actor who's a great actor but who takes a Geiger counter and sees how radiated his wardrobe is. A little nuts, yeah. But the guy's also a genius, he does incredible stuff, so who gives a shit?
THR: It's Matt Damon, right? (Laughter.)
Hooper: Also, you're only as good as your powers of advocacy as a director, and almost all your power comes with consent.
THR: Well, David, on The Fighter, Melissa Leo made her displeasure clear until she saw the film and won an Oscar, and then she said, "You know what? David was right." So how much is advocacy and how much is imposing your will?
Russell: You've got to be strong. You've got to stick to your guns, and you've got to be patient. And then let people have their choices. And half the time you end up in the editing room, and I say, "You know what? I'm glad they did their choice because that turned out to be more right for me." I don't always know what's right, but I know I've got to try the one that I'm feeling in my heart.
THR: Quentin said he's planning to leave the film business. Do any of you imagine that you will?
Hooper: No. I will die in the trenches.
Russell: Yeah, that's how I feel. Like John Huston with the air tank.
Hooper: If you talk about the insanity of doing it, I think about the insanity of not doing it. My unhappiest days have always been when I'm not making films.
Affleck: Usually the business shows you the door before the Grim Reaper does.
Hooper: That's a cheery thought.
Van Sant: Yeah. I wonder if people are still gonna hire me, but if that's the case, there are other disciplines that are as fascinating, like theater or painting or writing.
Tarantino: I don't know about the tuning fork idea. We can all cite examples of where it's not the case. But it's age, it's absolutely age. I'm really well versed on a lot of directors' careers, you know, and when you look at those last five films when they were past it, when they were too old, and they're really out of touch with the times, whether it be William Wyler and The Liberation of L.B. Jones or Billy Wilder with Fedora and then Buddy Buddy or whatever the hell. To me, it's all about my filmography, and I want to go out with a terrific filmography. [2007's] Death Proof has got to be the worst movie I ever make. And for a left-handed movie, that wasn't so bad, all right? -- so if that's the worst I ever get, I'm good. But I do think one of those out-of-touch, old, limp, flaccid-dick movies costs you three good movies as far as your rating is concerned.
Russell: I agree with you completely. I also welcome, as a life challenge, remaining emotionally relevant and compelling emotionally.
THR: Quentin, great poets write hundreds of terrible poems and 20 that are great. Don't you have to measure the artist by the handful of great works and accept that failure is part of the process?
Tarantino: It's a grade-point average. I think I risk failure every single time with the movies I do, and I haven't fallen into failure. Risking failure is not what I'm afraid of. Failing is what I'm afraid of. (Laughter.) No, they're not the same thing, and I do think it's a young man's game. I really do. I also have this little idea in my head, and then I'll stop talking all this bullshit. I discovered Howard Hawks when I was 15. I saw Rio Bravo and thought it was fantastic. Then I ended up going to some film festival, and I saw His Girl Friday. Then all of a sudden I'm at home, and I notice that a movie called Barbary Coast is being played, and it said in the TV Guide, "Directed by Howard Hawks," and so I watched that. Well, those three movies in a row really got me into that director. So I fantasize about another 12-year-old girl or boy, 20 years after I'm dead, seeing one of my movies, liking it. "Who the hell did that?" Seeing another movie, and then whatever they choose from the pile -- 'cause they don't know what's good and what's bad, all right? -- I have to keep their dick hard! I have to keep them wanting to go back for more. They can't grab Buddy Buddy! They can't grab Buddy Buddy! It can't -- that can't happen!
THR: What is the weirdest or most interesting interaction you've had with a fan?
Affleck: I had a letter from someone in China that said they were glad about what we did to the Japanese in Pearl Harbor. I wasn't sure if they understood that it was a historical movie or what, or why they even watched the movie.
Van Sant: One executive wanted me to make a film about a bathroom attendant, which we wrote for him, and then --
Affleck: Three and a half hours. (Laughter.)
Van Sant: It was really about the Wall Street crash, actually, what we ended up writing. And then he didn't do it.
Lee: Recently I was interviewed by this woman journalist. At the end, she said, "I want to see you doing Fifty Shades of Grey." (Laughter.)
Russell: Since I just made a movie which has some bipolar behavior in it, I had someone write me a letter that said I should make a movie about a bipolar superhero, and the letter itself was bipolar because it was delusional. But it was halfway interesting. The motto of the superhero was, "I hate being bipolar, it's awesome." (Laughter.)
Tarantino: This young 14-year-old girl wrote a little synopsis for Kill Bill Vol. 3.
Tarantino: She wanted to play the daughter grown up, or at least at her age. And I actually read it. I called her and thanked her for it. I thought it was just so sweet that this little girl liked the movie so much that she continued the story herself. I always really hope that people take the story on themselves and take it to a different place and fill in the blanks that I didn't tell them about.
Van Sant: We made a silent version of Restless, which was nice, because we did so many silent takes that we cut together a silent version.
Russell: Oh my gosh. Could have beat The Artist to the punch.
Affleck: It would have been very easy to do a silent version of the [Terrence] Malick movie I did [To the Wonder]. No one talked on set. (Laughter.)
Russell: Back to Quentin, about his whole thing about the young man's game. First of all, I'm gonna try to convince you to keep making movies 'cause I love watching your movies. Second of all, I remember saying to Diane Keaton about 10 years ago, "What is it with Woody Allen?" I felt like his work had gotten shaky. And she said: "I don't know. I don't know how many times he can go back to that well." But the fact that Woody Allen, every year, gets up and makes a movie, I think that's a good way to live, and he hits a good average sometimes. I really loved Midnight in Paris.
Tarantino: It was my favorite movie of last year, actually.
Russell: So I want to be John Huston with the tube in my nose, and I want you to be up there.
Affleck: I'll be in either of those movies.
Ang Lee, Life of Pi: Lee's $120 million-budgeted fantasy epic could win him his first directing Oscar since 2005's Brokeback Mountain.
Ben Affleck, Argo: Affleck's third feature as a director takes viewers inside Hollywood's role in the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-81.
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook ;Bradley Cooper stars in Russell's follow-up to The Fighter, a dramedy about the impact of mental illness on a family.
Gus Van Sant, Promised Land: The anti-fracking drama stars Matt Damon, who won a writing Oscar with Affleck for the Van Sant-directed Good Will Hunting.
Tom Hooper, Les Miserables: Hooper, whose The King's Speech won best picture and director Oscars in 2011, recorded live singing in this musical epic.
Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained: Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz star in Tarantino's latest, about a slave who teams up with a bounty hunter in the American South.
About THR's Roundtable Series: The Hollywood Reporter continues its annual series of exclusive discussions among the year's most compelling film talents. As awards season unfolds, look for roundtables with producers, composers and, for the first time, costume designers. Go to THR.com/therace to watch videos of the full discussions.