Cannes: 'Welcome to New York' Director Abel Ferrara on Working With Gerard Depardieu (Q&A)
Bronx native Abel Ferrara is back in Cannes with Welcome to New York, a fictional account of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn sexual assault case. While the film was snubbed by Cannes’ official selection committee — though whether for fear of scandal or in protest of producer-distributor Wild Bunch releasing the title straight to VOD in Europe isn’t clear — Wild Bunch held a special screening for the press May 17.
In the film, Gerard Depardieu — a French star with his own experience with public scandal — falls effortlessly into the role of the DSK character, called, for legal reasons, Mr. Devereaux. Ferrara, 62, who has been living in Rome, is finishing up his next film, Pasolini, starring Cannes juror Willem Dafoe as the visionary Italian filmmaker. The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Ferrara in Cannes about rediscovering the joy of cinema, why he considers Welcome to New York a vampire movie and the secret to editing great actors.
What was the most challenging thing about working with an actor like Gerard Depardieu?
The challenge is to match his energy, his f—ing imagination. The challenge for me as a director is to give the actor the space to be as good as he can be. We find it together.
Depardieu has said filmmaking is too serious these days. Is the end goal just to have fun with it?
It’s an uptight situation. There’s a lot of money behind the film. But when you’re out there you gotta be free; you gotta make it happen; you gotta dig it. More than anything, what I got from Gerard was the joy of making films.
He’d be the first guy on the set, before the grips, the gaffers. There was no [trailer], no entourage. He took the chair and put it right in the middle of the set. They’re hanging lights, wiring the thing. He’s bullshitting with the guys. He’s writing his lines; he’s doing his thing.
He changed his clothes once. We were on the Lower East Side. We had to bring him to a spot, but the light was going down, everyone’s getting all crazy to get the shot in time. I turn around, and this guy, the size of him, goes into the hallway of some Chinatown apartment building and changes. At one point he was changing stark naked in this f—ing hallway. Like if anybody was coming down the steps, they would have had a nervous breakdown. That’s the kind of guy he is. And he’s made 200-something films, and he’s the last guy on the set. He’s with the guys, with the people. And that’s the beauty of him.
How much of the acting was improvised versus scripted?
Every performance is an improvisation. The writing of a script is an improvisation. We wrote the script and we worked on the scenes. Chris Zois, the writer, was on the set. He was there with the actors. OK for some of the actors, Baby Jackie [Jacqueline Bisset], the lines were important. For Gerard, the lines weren’t important.
For me, I don’t want to hear the f—ing script, especially if I worked on it. There’s a great line Harvey Keitel says in Dangerous Game. He says, “Man, don’t give me the shit I gave you.”
Where did Depardieu’s animalistic grunting come from?
From his gut. That’s him. The thing about the performance — and this is the nightmare of dubbing, of changing languages — [is] people not seeing it with the actor that does it. It’s not even the words he’s saying. The words you can match. It’s the f—ing guy’s breath. You get all that on those microphones. And when you start dubbing things in these f—ing synthetic studios six months later, you can’t believe what you’re missing.
How difficult was it to put the financing together?
With a lot of films, we never get the financing. The great thing here was that when push came to shove, Gerard brought in [equity investor] Pascale [Perez], and they came up with the money outside of the system, which is basically where we mostly find money. And of course, Vincent Maraval and Wild Bunch. And New York City put in a good chunk on their tax deal. Thank you, New York.
With Bad Lieutenant, Welcome to New York and now Pasolini, you show people succumbing to their addictions. What’s next?
For these films, I hope this is the last film I do like this, because in my mind, these films take these guys from point A to point B. When they talk about redemption, I don’t see redemption in any of these people, especially in Welcome to New York. He’s railing against the gods, bad-mouthing God, he’s bad-mouthing his mother. The guy is looking out, and never looking in the mirror. And it’s funny because there are no mirrors in those movies. They’re like vampire movies. There is no reflection for these guys, because they’re not looking at themselves, and they could care less about themselves. These guys never turn that corner. Hopefully I’ll make a film about that next.
IFC will release Welcome to New York in the U.S. Will there be a wide theatrical release?
Who cares. I just want them to put it out and respect the movie and get it out there, with the net, without the net, whatever. People want to see it in a theater. People want to see it at home. People want to see it on a phone in the bathroom. However you want to see it, man. Pasolini said the greatest thing: He said, “The protagonist of any novel is the reader himself.” If you watch a film, you’re the artist now. So if you want to watch it on your telephone, in your bed, all curled up with your f—ing slippers on, go ahead! If you want to watch it with 300 people, watch it with 300 people. Just go f—ing watch it.