Marc Forster, director
EmptyAWARDS: 2005 Laterna Magica Prize, Venice Film Festival, for "Finding Neverland"; 2001 Someone to Watch Award, Independent Spirit Awards, for "Everything Put Together." CURRENT CREDIT: Director of Paramount Classics/DreamWorks' "The Kite Runner," based on the book by Khaled Hosseini, a film that has already stirred up controversy for its young Afghan actors, who have relocated outside of the country with their families to avoid fundamentalist reprisals. Forster is also slated to take the reins on the 22nd, as-yet-unnamed James Bond film for 2008. "Kite Runner" opens in limited release today. MEMBERSHIPS: Directors Guild of America. Academy member since 2005.
The Hollywood Reporter: Had you any idea that "The Kite Runner" would prove controversial even before it reached theaters?
Marc Forster: I didn't. It's a book that sold 8 million copies around the world, and what makes me sad is it's the first time I felt that it's a story which doesn't deal with violence and
terrorism in that part of the world. It deals with healing. It deals with forgiveness. So I really didn't think there would be a controversy. And when I cast the movie, Kabul was a much safer place. There was this feeling in the air of a new beginning, a start of democracy. Now, the situation in Afghanistan has become much more dangerous, which is why the studio wanted to take the precaution to get the kids out. There have been no threats so far. They are fine; they are going to school.
THR: You are European, having been born in Germany and brought up in Switzerland. Were you concerned about criticism that since you're not Afghan, you can't know how to direct a film about this part of the world?
Forster: As a foreigner or an outsider, you're always much more observant. I had a similar situation with (2001's) "Monster's Ball" -- I didn't know anything about the (American) South, so I think a lot of foreign directors go through that. I think often that's much better because you want to make sure, you want to get it right.
THR: Between "Kite" and 2004's "Finding Neverland," you're becoming quite accomplished in getting good performances out of child actors. What's the secret?
Forster: The important thing when you cast the children is that you cast someone who's close to the character written on the page. The second thing is you cast children who are very intelligent, who really understand the power of storytelling. (Children) who understand what the story is about and find joy in reenacting that. Also children who are playful and don't take it too serious. Children can be hyper and play and scream and run around, and then you say, "Action!" and they are all serious again.
THR: So how is motivating children different than motivating adults?
Forster: As adults, we become more rational and analytical. Adult actors are technically very good, but ultimately (focus on) their hardships, and (you need) an open heart. Children are really open, they're not afraid -- they don't rationalize what they feel. They have spontaneity. They don't have the bad habits of an actor: "Oh, my character couldn't do that." They're very much in the moment, and that's the key to acting.
THR: You ended up at New York University for film school, but in order to finance that education, you went about it in an unusual way. Can you talk about that?
Forster: A year before I graduated, my father lost all his money. I got into NYU, which was actually the only film school I applied to. Then I had to pay for it. As a European, you don't really get scholarships, so I wrote like 30 letters to wealthy friends we had ... and one of my parents' friends who we knew from skiing -- I grew up in a ski resort -- said, "Look, I'll pay for the first year, and if you have any talent, I'll pay for the second year," and so on.
THR: So did that put more pressure on you to produce something within that first year, to prove you had talent?
Forster: Absolutely. The other thing is I didn't grow up really film-educated. I really started watching movies as a teenager, and when I started film school, everybody was like -- everybody had seen everything. I felt like I was so behind; I had to watch all these movies and educate myself.
THR: And the first film in a theater you saw all the way through as a teenager was 1979's "Apocalypse Now," correct? What was your reaction?
Forster: It was 1982, and I was like 12 years old. I was sort of in this daze. It was dreamlike. I felt transported -- and at that time, you know, I was 12. I didn't know that much about Vietnam. So this film was almost like a poem with images. I just fell in love with that, with that art form and this way of storytelling. Everybody always told me, "You're dreaming," until I moved (to New York) and to film school. And even after the film school people said, "You're dreaming. You're never going to make it, and you're going to end up on the street," I felt like I needed this. It's my calling. So even if I end up on the street, I need to follow my inner path.
THR: Word has it in the industry that you seem like a really nice guy. But can't being a good person actually hinder you in Hollywood?
Forster: I come from the perspective that we're all the same. I think I treat others the way I want to be treated. So I'm trying to be respectful to people, and I hope that people are respectful to me. I'm very clear with what I want; I'm very clear with my visions for my movie. If you give out love and respect, you will get it back. When you create a film, you are automatically in a situation with people under stress who will react. Some people might have to scream. I don't like people around me who scream, so I try not to hire them. It's always easy when you're in a situation of power to be abusive and disrespectful. I always believed wisdom is more important than kindness, but I've changed my mind on that. Kindness is much more important than wisdom. To be in power and to be kind is really crucial, because it's easy not to be. People will still kiss your ass, but that's not what life is about, ultimately.