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Martin Scorsese Talks 'Hugo,' Recurring Nightmares and How His 12-Year-Old Rules the Roost

Issue 42 Martin Scorsese
Wesley Mann

In the latest issue of The Hollywood Reporter, the Oscar-winning director gets personal about family, his moviemaking inspirations, insecurities and what his legacy might be.

Sitting in the downstairs family room of his Upper East Side brownstone on a crisp Sunday afternoon in November, Martin Scorsese, who turns 69 on Nov. 17, is as buoyant and thoughtful as always. He opens up to The Hollywood Reporter's senior film writer Jay Fernandez during the briefest of breaks from putting the final touches on the 3D effects in his latest film, Hugo, opening Nov. 23.

Some of the insights from the iconic auteur in THR's cover story:

SCORSESE HAS A RECURRING NIGHTMARE INVOLVING OTHER DIRECTORS

He details to THR the vivid dream in which he's at work on set, unaware what the movie is, what it's about, or who the actors are. He only knows that the producers are pushing him to get this thing started, now. A dutiful artist, Scorsese dives in with help from his real-life frequent first assistant director Joe Reidy, only to notice that standing to the side of the set is a very famous older director. This mystery director is someone real, and great, but Scorsese, upon waking, never remembers who it is. The guy's presence unnerves him, and he says so to the producers. "Don't worry," he's told. "He's just here to observe. It's your thing." The anonymous dream director could be Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, Michael Powell, Satyajit Ray, Orson Welles, Jean Renoir -- any of the icons Scorsese has revered and chased with his art for decades. "But I knew that he was probably going to take over what I was doing," Scorsese continues in hushed tones. "And slowly but surely, they say, 'You know, if you could just sit down, we'll let him handle this scene. …''"

HE JUST WALKED HIS DAUGHTER DOWN THE AISLE
His middle girl, Domenica Cameron-Scorsese, born right after he made Taxi Driver, a product of his marriage to Julia Cameron, was married Nov. 11 in Chicago. The milestone has shaken him; his voice softens, and he fumbles to explain the feelings it brought up. "It was very moving, but … she's our little one," he says. "It was kind of surreal, I didn't quite … understand that it was actually happening in real time. I still can't quite grasp it. This is very good for my daughter and everything; she married a sweet young gentleman. But it starts something new. Your concern is in a different way now for them. There's not much you can do. You can help however you can, but you're older, you'll be dying. You're not going to be around. And this is it."

HOW SCORSESE'S $100 MILLION-PLUS 3D HUGO HAPPENED
Scorsese was quite drawn to a film adaptation of Brian Selznick's 2007 novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Ostensibly a family film, the 3D Hugo is just as much an exploration of the power of cinema and the lost legacy of seminal artist George Melies. Producer Graham King, who financed the movie through his GK Films, first optioned the novel with Johnny Depp when both had production deals at Warner Bros., months before Scholastic Press even published the book in January 2007. (The project eventually migrated to Sony, then Paramount, in search of a Thanksgiving holiday slot; it opens Nov. 23). Scorsese and King already were talking about turning it into a feature together when they won Oscars for The Departed, the same weekend that Cabret hit No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list. While John Logan, who had written The Aviator for Scorsese, worked to nail down a script, Scorsese went off to make Shutter Island for Paramount. Other filmmakers were interested in Hugo, but King waited. When Scorsese had completed Shutter Island and was finally free to tackle Hugo in the summer of 2010, he told King that he wanted to try shooting in 3D for the first time. Although the cameras and extra tech crew would add 15 percent to the $100 million-plus budget, King felt the 3D would also create an intriguing marketing hook: a vaunted old-school filmmaker taking on the newest of technologies.

SCORSESE'S CHILDHOOD SHAPED HIS FILMMAKING
Scorsese traces his devotion to film preservation and restoration back to the emotional limitations of his childhood. The younger of two brothers in a very Old World immigrant New York family that lived in Queens and then the Lower East Side tenements, he repeatedly was told to keep his childish opinions to himself. As an asthma sufferer, he was always sick, which meant sports and pets were off limits, leaving him with an external and internal life that only could be opened in a movie theater. "It really opened up things that I wasn't allowed to say much," Scorsese says. "I wasn't allowed to express my feelings about anybody or anything. These emotions and these questions that were being asked in my head and in my heart, a lot of this was being addressed in the films I saw."

HOW A BAMBI MOVIE OUTING CHANGED HIM
From a very early age, Scorsese was watching everything from Singin' in the Rain to Italian neo-realist cinema. His Aunt Mary once took him and a cousin to see a rerelease of Bambi at the Forest Hills Theater in Queens, only to have to first sit through the 1947 film noir Out of the Past. "I was way too young for that one," Scorsese says with an eye roll. "I was saying to my aunt, 'When's Bambi coming on?' She said, 'Shut up, this is good.' The imagery stayed with me, that crazy poetic mood. It was really art." But On the Waterfront broke through in a way that none of the others had before -- he saw his hard-working uncles and cousins in every frame of Elia Kazan's 1954 masterpiece. "It was literally as if the camera was in my apartment or on the street corner with us," he says. "All of this meant a great deal to me and connected me with the outside world."

HIS MOVIE MEAN STREETS HAD PERSONAL CONSEQUENCES
By his mid-20s, Scorsese had graduated from film school and was looking to put his own experiences on the screen, most notably in his 1973 crime drama Mean Streets. But the fallout of expressing his personal world in public ended up stinging him. "I had repercussions on that," he says in a clipped manner that suggests the memory is still fresh for him. "Family and friends who were insulted."

SCORSESE LOVE FOR CLASSICS SPAWNED A 'DIRECTOR WHO'S WHO' CLUB
Once he found his own voice as a filmmaker, he and peers like Steven Spielberg couldn't find decent prints of the movies that had fed them as kids, and they began a campaign to convince the studios that these classics had value. "They didn't realize that to a whole generation, these were more than just commodities," he says. "It was part of who we are. It was part of everyone who has any relationship with cinema. This is something we started to get militant about. 'You may own them,' I said. 'But in actuality, you're custodians for a culture.' In 1990, along with Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Sydney Pollack and others, he formed the nonprofit Film Foundation, and in 2007 he created the World Cinema Foundation to extend the organization's restoration work to foreign films. "To pass it on, that's the key thing," he says.

SCORSESE YOUNGEST DAUGHTER INSPIRED HIM TO MAKE HUGO
One byproduct of spending more time with his 12-year-old daughter Francesca -- Scorsese's two other daughters, Catherine and Domenica, are more than 20 years older -- is that it helped convince him to make a family film out of Hugo. "You deal with them every day so that you're made to understand actually how they perceive the world around them, even from the level of their height," he says. "It's a different way of living entirely. But the thing about it is then [doing Hugo] seemed natural. It didn't seem like a stretch. Being around children, I'm very comfortable with them now." As it happens, Scorsese's birthday is just a day after Francesca's (hers is Nov. 16), and he feigns exasperation that she gets top billing on their annual combined party. "She gets all the attention now," he says. "I've taken her aside a few times, as they say. I gave her the word: Watch it." Though the director admits that the downstairs family room is Francesca's turf. Although he takes an iPod everywhere, Scorsese says he doesn't get to play his music in her zone. "Oh, no," he says with mock seriousness, "no, no," as if he were a scared flunky working for a mob boss. On occasion, he admits that he'll stroll through humming Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" and get Francesca hooked.

SCORSESE ON HIS OWN LEGACY
Thirty years ago, Kiss Me Deadly director Robert Aldrich sent a letter after seeing Raging Bull that said, "In years to come, that'll be the one to be remembered." "I prize that letter," Scorsese says, then mulls the possibility with a mix of skepticism and hope. "The reality is, for people who create anything, you always want to be remembered," he says "You could be remembered for a year, a hundred years, you could be remembered for two thousand years, but eventually everything goes. You just have to accept that. First, it may not stand the test of time. And if it doesn't, you did the best you could. You may have affected certain
people's lives -- maybe. You may have made people think differently. And that's what you were meant to do. And now it's over."

Read the complete THR cover story.