Paul Haggis: Let Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes 'Have Their Privacy' (Q&A)

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The Oscar-winning helmer talks to THR about his ambitious new project, the importance of fighting piracy and life after Scientology.

ISCHIA, Italy -- Around a week away from starting shooting on Third Person, his first film since 2010, screenwriter and director Paul Haggis eyed a bike bearing the logo of one of the Ischia Global Film & Music Fest sponsors. “I’ve got to get one like that for Rome,” he said, referring to one of the three cities -- along with New York and Paris -- where Third Person will be set. Leading up to the shooting, the Oscar winner stopped by the festival in Ischia, off the coast of Naples, to participate in a couple of scheduled encounters with festivalgoers and for a few days of rest and relaxation. He also spoke to The Hollywood Reporter, discussing the new film, the connection between piracy and respect and his split from the Church of Scientology.

The Hollywood Reporter: With shooting on Third Person about to start, sounds like you’ll be doing a lot of traveling.

Paul Haggis: Actually, no. It’ll mostly be in Rome. I’ll be there for five months. The story takes place in all three cities, but it’s much more cost-effective to do most of it in one place, and since there are a lot of exterior shots in Rome it just made sense to do most of it there. I’ve been working on this for two and a half years. It’s good that we’ll be starting soon.

THR: I heard it was a difficult birth, so to speak, that you scrapped a couple of versions of the screenplay along the way.

Haggis: A couple of versions? I must have ripped up about 20 versions of the screenplay before getting it where I wanted it. Usually, I’m a very structured writer, but in this project I didn’t want to do that. I wanted it to emerge from the inside out. This is not a project that should take two and a half years to write, but that’s the way it worked out.

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THR: You participated in a roundtable discussion on piracy. Is that an important issue for you? 

Haggis: I think it’s an important issue for anyone who makes a living in a creative way, but I was surprised to be invited and I wasn’t sure what to say. Piracy is bad. There. That didn’t take long.

You know, in getting ready to move to Rome, I really wanted to re-watch Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura but I couldn’t find a DVD with subtitles. It isn’t on iTunes; I don’t have Netflix. But I refused to download it illegally, and so I still haven’t seen it.

The more I thought about the issue the more I realized that piracy is really a lack of respect for authorship, which is something that goes beyond piracy. It’s really an endemic lack of respect. Look, I had to sue [film producer] Bob Yari for $12 million for Crash because I didn’t think he should be able to keep all of it. In the end, even that was based on a kind of disrespect for authorship.

THR: You noted that the work on Third Person has taken two and a half years, which is also around the amount of time since your dramatic departure from Scientology. You were a Scientologist for your whole professional career, and now you are not. Do you think a change like that have an impact on your creative process?

Haggis: (Pauses to think) No, no, I don’t think it does. Third Person was difficult to get to the point where I wanted it, but not because of any of that. As we grow older we learn. I don’t want to say that I’m wiser than I was, but maybe I’m less stupid. I’m not saying that everyone who is in Scientology is stupid, but I will say that I was purposefully blind for a long time. People today are very dismissive of anything they don’t agree with and they listen to people and new sources with the same point of view. I did that when I was in Scientology and now I don’t. It’s an evolution.

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THR: Scientology is back in the news now, with the high profile breakup of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. The news broke today that they reached a settlement. Does your background with Scientology give you any insights about what the coming weeks and months will hold for them?

PH: Yes, it gives me a lot of insights. But it’s also not something I want to talk about. Look, divorce is a very painful and difficult process no matter who’s involved, and in this case there’s a child involved. I think we should let them have their privacy.