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Hey babies, there’s stylish skullduggery afoot in the Temple. We had the pleasure of an exclusive chat with the Oscar-nominated and BAFTA-winning director of Il Postino. Michael Radford. He stopped by the Shrine to chat about glass ceilings and diamond-shaped windows, fish markets, plastic surgery and the joys of working with Michael Caine and Demi Moore in their latest film, the clever and über-stylish Flawless.

Dig it.

 

 

Michael Radford

 

In Flawless, you have captured such a stylish era, and the style of the film is so visually arresting.

Michael Radford: Thank you.

 

There are frames that remind me of Alphaville, the score is reminiscent of Hitchcock and I see a lot of the black and white British caper film here, I want to know all about all the influences behind Flawless.

MR: Well, you’ve just nailed it all (Laughs} I don’t have to say anything! In a way, it’s more generic than that, actually. Although, just certain things… You know what I used to love about Hitchcock movies? Particularly the later colour movies that he did, was the way that people sort of sat in these highly coloured frames and I just tried to do that - almost unconsciously. What we tried to do was really create 1960, not 1961 or 1962 because they’re very different. This is the end of the 50s, practically the last year of the 50’s and things change, Kennedy was elected in the fall of that year and all sorts of interesting things happen.

So you’re looking at that period and you think, how can I bring that to life? And in a way, the best way to bring it to life is to bring it to life through the movies that they’ve already seen. So you think technicolour, you think what was the lighting style of those movies? Well, it was a wash of lighting with a kind of high key involved at the same time. Usually you use high key lighting in low light – this is getting very technical – but here we use high key lighting in a wash of light. So you get very bright images, still with key.

 

What’s interesting about that is that the lighting look very monochrome and I’d actually wondered if you had considered making the film in black and white like the British films of that period?

MR: No, not really, because honestly, nobody would buy it if it’s in black and white. {Laughs} I’ve always wanted to make a film in black and white. But no, actually, quite the reverse I saw it very much as that kind of technicolour movie, when the colours were quite crude, you know, they’re basically primary colours, and we did a lot of stuff, you know, we laid that great, purple carpet. I selected that location to shoot the diamond company in, which was actually the lobby of the Luxembourg National Theatre which was turquoise with all those kind of diamond-shaped windows. And I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting if these guys, instead of putting them in a fusty old Victorian building, with lots of gold all over it. Would it be nice if they decided to spend some money on a new building and they’d hired an architect, the best and most expensive architect they could and he produced something they absolutely hated – and they all have to live in this place? {Laughs}

 

I wondered where you found an office with diamond-shaped windows.

MR: I tell you it’s the most interesting building, because it was originally the plans were originally for a mosque in Saudi Arabia. It was Luxembourg’s premier architect and then the mosque was never built. The city of Luxembourg bought the plans and built a theatre, adapted his plans. So it actually is a theatre that looks like a mosque, and it’s beautiful, it’s a beautiful example of mid-50s architecture. And if you put those guys in their morning suits and their carnations and their very, very conservative way in the middle of that, it’s got a wonderful feel to it.

 

I was surprised to find out that it was filmed in Luxembourg. The scenes of Laura walking into London Diamond look very like the business centre of London. What was it like to film there?

MR: Well it’s very dull, really. I filmed The Merchant of Venice there and one of the advantages is there’s nothing to do really but work. But it’s full of bank, which is an advantage of you’re making a film about the city of London, but that’s about it. We shot a lot of it in the European Parliament building, which is again a kind of early 60’s building which was being refurbished at the time, so that had a nice feel to it and we were able to do thing. I think the carpet was a big deal in the script. And the canteen, for instance, we turned into the cocktail bar and they’ve got these amazing sculptures all over the roof - all that was real. But Sophie Beecher, the production designer, did a great job.

 

I felt like this picture had been misplaced somehow, that it should’ve been made in 1960. I wondered if this was your “New Wave” film?

MR: (Laughs) I wish, I wish.

 

This is the first film I’ve ever seen Demi Moore in where she looks like a mature woman.

MR: Yeah

There’s no attempt at making her younger looking with flattering lighting or filters, was she up for that?

MR: Well, she must’ve been cos she did it. {Laughs} Yes, she was and funnily enough, she actually looks in real life much younger than that, and I don’t mean plastic younger. Whatever work that Demi has ever had done, it’s certainly not on her face because she’s very youthful looking. But that period, women, cause they put the full slap on and everything, it makes them look ten years older, anyway.  But no, she was absolutely up for that. I think she really wanted to give this thing the whole bit. And she just, very, very sweetly and I’m most grateful for it put herself in my hands and said, “You direct me and we’ll do something here.” And she does, I think she gives a great performance, she worked hard. She’s a very subtle film actress and she just needed to be brought out a bit to have something to do.

 

I thought her standout scene was when Lambert Wilson questions here and she turns into Grace Kelly, with this ice-cold veneer. Did you work hard with her to mould that sort of controlled performance? Was it a case of ‘do it this way?” in that scene? 

MR: Yes, well there always is in a way when you do this. I mean there is a subtext that they fancy the pants off each other, basically, those two. Of course, neither one of them could actually express it in any kind particular of way, and I kind of like that. And it’s one of those things that could either be there or not there. I mean, for instance in the scene where he’s taking her fingerprints, I just said, “Look, Lambert, you know, the reason you’re taking her fingerprint here, yes, you have to, but really you want to touch her, basically.” You don’t have to say anything you know it’s true. Why do you know it’s true? Because in the scene before, she crosses her legs, just once and he looks down and then looks up again and you know there’s another agenda going on.

 

There were many different directions the film could have gone in: You have the whole glass-ceiling subtext with Demi’s character being passed over at her job. There’s Michael Caine’s character’s sad story. Also there are political connotations to the script. Were you ever tempted to veer the focus away from Demi’s character and focus more on the other subplots?

MR: No, not really. Although the original script was much more on Michael Caine’s story. But she is the centre of the movie; she is the person who really drives the movie, if you like. So, actually one of the things I did in rewriting slightly the original script was to give her a bit more substance. But I think that her story is interesting because she travels a journey from a person who is feeling incredibly frustrated to being somebody who’s still very ambitious, somebody who starts seeking revenge. Somebody who realises at the end, that although she was oppressed, that she was somehow investing in the society which was oppressing her because her ambition was as venal as everything else.

 

I found it interesting that we hear about Hobbes’ background and his family, but we know nothing about Laura’s personal or family life other than what we see of her career.

MR: She has no other life.

 

Did you ever have a plan to fill in her background and give her more of a personal story?

MR: Yes, there was. There are a couple of scenes. And in fact there are a couple of scenes which eventually I cut out. No, I didn’t shoot them even. They always seemed like a cold explanation, it didn’t seem necessary. The one person that does come from her background is the other guy who she thinks momentarily she’s gonna have an affair with, and then he says he’s married. The guy who tells her that she should apply to this bank and then tells her she’s not got a job anywhere. And he says. “Was there something else?” and she says, “Yes, I thought we might go out for dinner,” and he says, “I’m sorry I can’t.” and she’s just crushed at that point. That’s the point where she realises that she’s given everything to her life and she shouldn’t have done.

 

I need to ask about Mr. Micklewhite…

MR: {Laughs} Yeah… 

 

I wondered if Michael Caine saw the role as a revisit of those great 60’s caper films?

MR: I don’t think so, no. I think he’d be uncomfortable to think that. He’s 74, 75 and if there’s one thing about Michael Caine he’s still a tough, strong guy. But I think he very slightly resents the fact that he’s now a “National Treasure” as opposed to being a sexy, young guy {Laughs}.

 

How many times did you take the scene when he’s making that mad dash down the vault corridor?

MR: 14. And he did it all himself. I hired a stunt double - and this is a true story – I hired a stunt double, a guy who has doubled for him, he was fairly ancient, too. And Michael 14 times, and then we came to do it another couple of times just for cutaways and stuff like that; the guy did it once and had to go and lie down. {Laughs}

So, Michael Caine had to pretend not to be able to open the safe door, it weighed two tons, that safe door, and most of the other actors couldn’t open it they had to have help and Michael had to pretend {makes pushing gestures and straining faces} that it was really heavy. He was a really, really strong guy.

Market porters - that’s where he comes from, a family of vegetable market porters, you know they carry boxes their {backs} - fish market.

 

Another thing about Hobbes that struck me was how this could’ve have easily been Michael Caine’s life if he hadn’t become an actor. Hobbes’ accent is pure East End and that is also where Caine is from.

MR: Absolutely. He knew that, too. In fact, funnily enough, you know when he toasts the picture of him and his wife; it’s a picture of his dad. That was the one thing he insisted on, he wanted a picture of his dad there, and it really moved him a lot, actually.

He could’ve easily been that guy. He knew the character backwards, really.

 

How long was the Flawless shoot?

MR: 7 and a half weeks.

 

It seems like you really got the benefit out of having a great cast.

MR: For me, funnily enough, every film has its moments where you’re on tenterhooks. Having done Merchant of Venice which was just a nightmare because we didn’t have enough money – that took 7 and a half weeks too, but it’s twice as big. It felt like a breeze this one. And particularly as I hadn’t written the screenplay I was just there just visualising the thing trying make it work, visually. For me it was real good fun to do.

 

Was that one of the things that brought you to the film?

MR: Yeah it was, just the opportunity to do that, not having written it and not having thought about it, just having to go in there and be a film director. I’d do it again {Laughs}

 

It sounds like you prefer it. Do you miss writing?
 

MR: No, I don’t. {Laughs} The only reason I ever write is because there are so few good screenplays out there that it’s really hard to get hold of them. And really hard to find people, particularly in Europe; I mean there are better screenwriters here in the States than there are in Europe - more of them. But even then, there’s only a handful that are any good.

 

One of the things that intriguing about Flawless is that it has a definite adult sensibility. It’s being released this weekend opposite three films that are sort of aimed at the MTV demographic. Do you ever consider that; who is going to see this film?

MR: Of course I do, yeah…

 

Does it affect how you choose your projects?

MR: No, well, yes...  I don’t make movies for kids, honestly. There are lots of people around who do that and I’ve always wanted to make films for adults and I think there’s a market out there and they’re me, basically.  But I have to say my kids saw this – usually they’re pretty disparaging about my movies… {Laughs}

Nice!

 

MR: Oh no, they’re very polite, but you know, “Have you seen it yet?” “Well, no, no, but I promise you, I’ll see it.” But this one they absolutely loved, they said, “Dad, finally you made a decent picture!”

 

Okay, now you can have your allowance back.

MR: {Laughs} Yeah!

 

The big question that Hobbes asks Laura when they’re discussing money they would net in the heist is “Are you a giver or a taker?” Have you answered that for yourself?

MR: Well, I guess I asked myself during this picture, yeah, because it is a question. It is a question… I think for all of us, and I think we’d all of us like to think of ourselves as givers and probably we’re all of us takers in the end. It’s the nature of our society, but it’s interesting. That’s something that we added to the script. But I do like that, actually.

 

She spends so much of the film fretting about her the diamonds and once she receives the money from the heist she spends the rest of her life giving it all away. That was added into the original script?

MR: Yeah that was something that we rewrote from the original script. It was very hard to find an ending for the script, actually, so we adjusted that as far as us shooting. But that wasn’t in the original screenplay, but there was a different ending, I think she ended up in jail.

 

Did you always have the modern day bookend at the opening and closing?

MR:There was always a bookend in the script, yeah. It wasn’t this particularly; it always started off with Laura Quinn as an old lady. And it went through various different changes and finally we ended up with this one. Whether that’s satisfactory or not, I don’t know, but I kinda like it. It may be a little cheesy but …

 

I loved that she kept the one diamond.

MR: One diamond, yeah! And that’s the one line that I did write, the one that went, “It’s the last piece of vanity that I have left”

 

I understand your next project, La Mula, is entirely in Spanish?

MR: It’s profoundly Spanish, its set in Andalusia during the Spanish Civil War. It’s about a muleteer, a guy who steals a mule on the battlefield, which is a thing you shouldn’t do because it’s a piece of military equipment, you can get shot for it. It’s his story, it’s a bit of an Il Postino type story it’s kind of a tragic-comic story of a little guy struggling to be something.

 

And when shall we see that?

MR: Ah, I’m hoping to make it in September, but you never know, with European movies, it’s just so difficult.

 

Will all of the film be shot in Spain?

MR: Oh yeah.

 

Or is it back to Luxembourg?

MR:  Oh no. I think maybe I have to shoot a week in Germany, somehow or another, because of all the soft money that comes into the picture. But apart from that its gonna be in Spain.

 

One last question about the cast of Flawless, did you get everyone that you wanted for the film, initially? Did you have Michael, Demi and Lambert Wilson in mind?

MR: Pretty much. Michael Caine was attached to the project right from the beginning. Demi was one of a number of actresses I would’ve taken, but I’m very glad that she did take it, and I can’t imagine anyone else doing it now. Lambert Wilson was a major coup by the casting director, who said, “Have you thought of this French actor, Lambert Wilson, who speaks perfect English?” And I thought, ‘No I haven’t,” but he’s just fantastic, brings a lot to it.

 

Thank you so much, Mr. Radford.

MR: Thank you so much!

 

~ Mighty Ganesha

March 24th, 2008

 

 

 

 

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