Ridley Scott, filmmaker


AWARDS: 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.

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.