Ridley Scott, filmmaker
EmptyAWARDS: 2002 Emmy Award for Outstanding Made for Television Movie: "The Gathering Storm"; 1977 Festival de Cannes, Best First Work: "The Duellists." CURRENT CREDIT: Directed Universal's "American Gangster," about a Harlem-based heroin smuggler (Denzel Washington) being pursued by a dogged detective (Russell Crowe). MEMBERSHIPS: Directors Guild of America; Academy member since: 1981.
The Hollywood Reporter: "American Gangster" is your third film with Russell Crowe, and you've got two more in the pipeline. What is it about you two that clicks so well?
Ridley Scott: He says I know what I'm doing, he knows what he's doing and we read each other pretty well. Consequently, the dance is quite straightforward. It simplifies a process that can otherwise be goddamned agonizing.
THR: There's a certain macho sensibility you both share -- your films utilize a very muscular sort of storytelling, and he's got the Australian manly-man thing going for him.
Scott: In a way, we do. We have fun doing it, but we don't arm-wrestle or things like that. Russell is formidable as an actor -- one of the best of his generation. The most difficult one (for us) was (2000's) "Gladiator." We sparred a little. And thereafter, there seemed to develop a certain kind of trust.
THR: So what didn't quite work in 2006's "A Good Year"? Did the more romantic angle not register with audiences?
Scott: We think it did. And if people think it didn't, then there's an expression for that I'm not going to quote because -- in my articles I find myself swearing. But the reply would indicate an F-word, right? We're happy about it. I don't honestly think it was marketed very well. And this was shortly after Russell's "bad-boy behavior" (when he was arrested in 2005 for striking a hotel employee with a phone). Which, you know, I say who gives a shit? It's fucking crazy. Oops, I've said it. The lesson is, don't forget your audience.
THR: By the time you got to it, "Gangster" had gone through several iterations. What was it that made it so problematic?
Scott: Well, I'd seen (the script) quietly first. And I was going off to do (2005's) "Kingdom of Heaven," and I knew (writer) Steve (Zaillian) because I'd already done a film with him (2001's "Hannibal"), and he'd let me read it. I loved his writing. (But) I went away for two movies, and was completing "Good Year" and I thought, "Whatever happened to that thing?" It never came out, so I called (Steve) up. And he said, "It didn't happen." And to cut a long story short, I said, "I'd like to climb back in," and I knew (producer) Brian Grazer, so I called him up and said, "We can put this together," and we went back to Denzel (Washington), and then I went to Russell and away we went.
THR: So it was fated to be yours?
Scott: Yeah, yes it was. I didn't have anything to do with the (other) attempts, I should say.
THR: You first came to the U.S. after graduating from London's Royal Academy on a scholarship and spent a fair amount of time in New York City. And you've now filmed "Gangster" in Harlem. How has it changed since those early days?
Scott: Even on a scholarship like that you have no money. I was living in a YMCA, but I had cameras. And I walked the streets and did a lot of photography in Harlem, and Coney Island and the war zone -- the Bowery. I knew all of those areas well. So when I was doing ("Gangster"), people were saying, "It wasn't like this." And usually I was getting that from some 32-year old art director, and I'm saying, "Listen pal, I was there." We removed a section that we shot, where (Denzel Washington's) Frank Lucas walks the beach with a dog, and they'd have lunch next to the (Wonder Wheel) in Coney Island, and I stood there 50 years ago. So I was standing there 50 years on, and it hadn't changed.
THR: Are you a better director now than when you were making your first films in the mid-1960s?
Scott: I like to think so. I think I have less patience, mainly because I'm so experienced. Because I'm so experienced I need the very best people around me. Because people say, "Well you don't need a terribly good camera" or, "You can go and do this," and I say, "No, no, no, no, you don't understand. I want the Earth. And I want the Earth in 10 minutes." It's very competitive, but most people walk away unscathed.
THR: Your 1982 film "Blade Runner" was recently re-released as a true, final cut. Legend has it that the film went over budget, which is partly why it hasn't been right before now. True?
Scott: By the time I'm doing "Blade Runner," I've got a company in New York, Los Angeles and Paris, so I'm not a bloody fool. And I've done (1977's) "The Duellists," which won a prize at Cannes; I've done (1979's) "Alien" which is a goddamned blockbuster. So I'm getting pushed around for the first time in Hollywood, and I don't like it! So I really stood my ground, and I got to the end of principal photography -- and we were completely mis-budgeted going in, so when we go over it sounds like it's me. And you've got to remember, by then I've done about 2,000 commercials. I make money out of not going over, that's why I was very successful. So believe me, my going over on "Blade Runner" was because I was completely mis-budgeted, and people did not want to listen. I think we were budgeted at about just under $19 or $20 (million), and I think we went over by 4-point-something. By then I was 10 months in and was very passionate ... passion can be regarded as a weakness, you know.
THR: Because it blinds you to other things?
Scott: Because businessmen know you're passionate, and will use that. So, you end up giving everything away to get something made. And, which is the true artist in me, which I still have, that's what I am. I'm fundamentally an artist. And I'll still pay the price just to get it done.