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Awards: 1995 BAFTA Film Award for best film “Four Weddings and a Funeral”; 1985 Festival de Cannes Award of the Youth Foreign Film for “Dance With a Stranger.” Current credit: Director of New Line’s adaptation of the classic Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel “Love in the Time of Cholera,” which traces the epic love story between a hopeless romantic and the woman who spurns his advances for nearly 50 years. Memberships: Directors Guild of America. Academy member since 1987
THR: Was it intimidating to make the first adaptation of such a revered novel as “Love in the Time of Cholera”?
Mike Newell: Immensely intimidating, but I suppose that the most intimidating thing of all was that you were dealing with a sacred text, (which it) was for me when I first read it. When I heard that it was around, I immediately jumped in and set my cap at it. The thing I most loved about the book was how humane it was, how it’s about real life.
THR: Were you surprised that the producers settled on an English director when the novel is such a hallmark of Latino literature?
Newell: I had thought they would not (choose) a gringo, actually. Anyway, they did. You can never really tell why you get films. In the end, if you get any old malarkey from anyone, the answer, (spoken) very crisply, is: “That’s absolutely fine. I’ll lay off Marquez if you lay off Shakespeare.”
THR: Did Marquez have a great deal of input before production began?
Newell: Marquez sent me a set of (script) notes, which were very tough. Not that he disliked it, but he knew what he had written. One thing he said was, “Where is my stitchwork?” What he meant by that — he tells you the story and then he folds it back, and he tells it again with stuff added and subtracted. Then he tells you again so the thing is constantly re-examined. It’s like making puff pastry. You roll it out and fold it and roll it out and fold it. It comes in these infinitely thin layers. I couldn’t find a cinematic equivalent for that. Everyone says, “Oh, Marquez, that’s magical realism,” but you can’t just go to the magical
THR: Has he seen the finished film?
Newell: About six weeks ago he saw the movie. We were all tremendously nervous, but he liked it. So there’s a huge relief there because in his judgment you haven’t betrayed the material. He offered to write the subtitles for the Spanish (edition), which was fabulous. It was an impulsive offer, so I don’t actually know (if he’ll do them).
THR: Changing gears a bit: You became a feature filmmaker after years in television. What’s the appeal of the small screen over working in cinema?
Newell: Speed. There’s terrific juice that has come from the speed of television. TV’s such a buzz, always was. I was on the newsroom on my very first job, about six weeks in, when the news of the (President John F.) Kennedy assassination came in, and we were the first company in (England) to get it while we were on the air. Of course it’s a terrible thing to say, but you didn’t realize in the next 36 hours what had happened. It didn’t hit you emotionally because you were so excited. The station didn’t go off the air for 24 solid hours, and that meant that everybody had to work.
THR: What are your thoughts on the state of television currently?
Newell: American television is in a really good phase at the moment — it does wonderful dramatic things. My children are locked to (NBC’s) “Heroes,” and (ABC’s) “Lost” is just great. Television mustn’t take itself that seriously — “The West Wing” can’t take itself that seriously, and at the same time, it’s a fantastic conduit for all sorts of powerful things that the people who make that show believe in. You can do lots of really excellent things on TV, and at the same time, if you don’t do them with flair and get on with it, nothing will save you. The lesson of TV is to commit and get on with it.
THR: Despite your decades in the business, you’ve yet to be honored by either the Golden Globes or the Academy Awards. Does that rankle?
Newell: No, honestly. No award I ever got did I ever expect. If what you do is to go out there and think, “This is the one,” then it won’t be. Hitchcock never earned an Oscar; he was given a “cheer up, old chap — we’ll give you one for free” award. There are lots of directors who should have those things who never have, and vice versa. The reason you get a release like (the Nov. 16 premiere of “Cholera”) is that it’s a selling tool, but that’s more to do with the studio selling the film as a certain kind of experience than it is to do with trying to win an Oscar. What I would prefer is if nobody took it seriously and piled in and had a good time. That would be a much better way of satisfying an audience.
THR: There is a great mixed message in awards season releases, as if the studios
are saying, “This is a great enduring film that deserves awards, but we have to release it at the end of the year so you don’t forget it.”
Newell: (Laughs) Can you see how instantly that would drive you completely nuts? The worst thing would be if you would start to believe it might happen, at which time — sayonara.
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