Legendary Musicals Director Stanley Donen On Audrey Hepburn and 'Dancing With The Stars' (Q&A)

Stanley Donen - P 2012
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The director of "Singin' In The Rain," spoke to THR on why he's "angry" at most modern musicals but loves musical reality shows.

PARIS - Singin’ in the Rain director Stanley Donen arrived in Paris just in time for thunderstorms on Thursday night as the city celebrated its annual Fete de la Musique citywide outdoor music festival.

The legendary filmmaker was in town for the Forum des Images’ "Paris vu par Hollywood" or "Paris as seen by Hollywood" series where his Funny Face and Charade screened for Gallic audiences. The 88 year-old director sat down with THR’s France Correspondent Rebecca Leffler at mythical Left Bank hotel the Lutetia to talk about his love for Dancing with the Stars, filming Audrey Hepburn in Paris and almost casting a monkey in Funny Face.

The Hollywood Reporter: What do you think of today’s musicals compared to the musicals that you made years ago?

Stanley Donen: Life is different. The times are different, the problems are different, the economy is different, the way we live is different. What do I think of them? It depends on which one. I can’t think of them in general terms. I don’t see them as an expression of 2012.

THR: Have you seen any recently that have made you particularly angry or others that you really liked?

Donen: I’m always angry. Unless I’m not angry when I’m overwhelmed by the wonder of the movie. But there’s no one I’ve seen lately that’s transported me out of the moment. Nothing has taken me away like Fred Astaire did. I can’t point to one lately that I thought was wonderful.

THR: Has the film industry changed since then?

Donen: It’s changing every second and what’s changing is the way we see films, the way we make films and the way we photograph films. There’s no more film. Film is gone. We photograph digitally and electronically. We don’t really use film the same way anymore – it’s disappearing little by little. Things change. We have to change with them. There’s no point in liking or not liking it. It is what it is.

THR: You’ve made so many movies …

Donen: Not enough!

THR: Not enough? So you’d like to make more?

Donen: I’d like to make another. I’m thinking of putting it in Paris. I am developing it – not just in my head, on paper. It’s about making movies. It’s not a look back, it’s a look forward. I’ll shoot as soon as I can get it finished and get the money to make it. That’s always difficult.

THR: Even for Stanley Donen?

Donen: Even for me. People think I’m from another period, that I’m not ‘today’.

THR: Who haven’t you worked with that you’d like to work with one day?

Donen: I’ve worked with a lot of wonderful people but there’s nobody yet that’s made me say ‘I really want to make a picture with her.’ I’m hoping that will happen every minute. Dancing with the Stars, however – those people are fantastic. And So You Think You Can Dance too. There are remarkable people that do those shows.

THR: So you like the reality musical shows?

Donen: They’re not reality, they are very studied learned people doing what they’ve learned to do. I think they’re terrific, those dancers. I record those shows to watch them. They really are wonderful.

THR: Have you thought about entering the competition yourself?

Donen: No (laughter). But I’ve thought about using the stars of them in a film.

THR: Why do you think musicals whether reality or fiction are still so popular today? What about them makes them timeless?

Donen: People still like dancing. They still like music. Don’t you? And I do too. It’s that love of the form. I love dancing and I love songs and I love the lyrics of songs. I liked Irving Berlin and Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter and so on. Those songs are still the ones I sing. I know all of the words. I can’t forget them.

THR: Let’s talk about Funny Face, screening now at the Forum des Images. What were some of the challenges of making that film in Paris?

Donen:  It was very hard to make Funny Face in Paris because making movies is difficult and making a movie in a city that was glorious, that was unique and surprising, to get it, to put it on film you have to make choices and reject a lot of things so you’re always wondering: “am I doing it right?” People have often asked me “Why did you do Funny Face?” and I said “What are you talking about?” It had George and Ira Gershwin, Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Paris and Richard Avedon. It was filled with things that were wonderful.

THR: Was anything lost in translation on set?

Donen: I had to have a particular creature for one scene. In the little French I knew at the time – I’d only had 5 hours of Berlitz training –I kept saying “prenez le singe” which means “bring the monkey” and they’d bring this thing to me. Finally, Audrey said to me – because she spoke perfect French – you’re saying “bring the monkey,” but what you really mean is “bring the swan.” Swan is “cygne” in French so I thought it was pronounced ‘singe.’

THR: So did they bring you a monkey?

Donen: No, they brought me the swan. They knew I wanted the swan, but they knew I didn’t speak very good French.

THR: What is your favorite place to film in Paris?

Donen: The bridges. The river. Without the river going through, the sand and the islands in the middle and all that, you wouldn’t have Paris.

THR: What makes Paris such a romantic place to make a movie?

Donen: Everything about it – The architecture, the food, the look of it, the bridges. What we think about Paris is a part of how we feel about it. Our idea of Paris is our idea and we don’t know that that’s not necessarily the way it really is. It feels so real.

THR: Was it all real? Did you shoot your Paris scenes in Paris or on studio sets?

Donen: It was all here. There were no studio sets in Funny Face.

THR: How did the rest of the cast and crew fit in?

Donen: Fred spoke a little bit of French, but Audrey was our Francophile. We all loved Paris. Richard Avedon was also here – the real Richard Avedon! He was my friend. He and I knew each other before we made the movie. He was terrific and unique and I still have his pictures hanging in my apartment. He was a great photographer.

THR: You’ve worked with so many legends, many of whom you call friends. Do you relate to Audrey Hepburn’s character in Charade when she says: "I already know an awful lot of people; until one of them dies, I couldn't possibly meet anyone else.” Do you feel the same way?

Donen: I don’t have too many friends. I have only a few people who I really love. First of all Elaine (May) and then a few others. I was the youngest so my good friends have all died. I was the young one. They were much older so I only have a few that are still here.

THR: Do you think all of the singing and dancing has kept you young?

Donen: I don’t know that I am young. I hope so. My love of singing and dancing has kept me energetic, yes.