by Charlie Rose
CHARLIE ROSE: Filmmaker Jonathan Demme is here. For almost thirty years, he has successfully divided his career between Hollywood mainstream films and low-budget independent movies and documentaries. Here is just a brief look at an extraordinary career in film.
[clips from Caged Heat, Melvin and Howard, Stop Making Sense, Married to the Mob, The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia, and Beloved]
His latest film is called The Truth About Charlie. It is a re-make of the classic 1963
film Charade which starred Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. I am very pleased to welcome
Jonathan Demme back to this table. Welcome.
JONATHAN DEMME: Thank you very much, Charlie. It's wonderful to be here.
It's great to have you here.
Tell me about The Truth About Charlie. It's been - we just saw Beloved - four
years since you made a feature film. You made a documentary that you and I
talked about a lot, having to do with Haiti.
And that you were in, incidentally.
I'm in because of an interview we did here on this show. Tell me about
making this. Why would you want to make this? What is it about this
story? Why four years since you made a movie?
Well, four years since making the last movie has to do with a couple of false starts, on a couple of things, along the way. And then I got involved, deeply involved, in the writing process for this script and that took a good year there. I saw Charade again about three years ago and was reminded of how much I loved the picture.
So did I.
It's unique and extraordinary. And I also felt it's been - the picture's about 40 years old now - and I thought that maybe it's past the statute of limitations and if I was able to get permission to do a new version and if we took the whole kind of wonderful, mad spirit of Charade and ourselves kind of went off in a crazy direction that maybe we could do something special. So I called Stanley Donen and asked permission to see how he felt about the possibility of a re-make and he gave his blessing and we were off-and-running.
Why did you change the title?
That was one of...I thought that the easiest way to signal, from the start, that this is hopefully a fresh new version of a great classic that's going to have life of its own, let's start off with a different title. Also, because in both of these movies an enormous amount of energy goes into finding missing money, on the part of the characters, and that's one thing, that's one mystery about these pictures: where's the money? But the, I want people to think about who killed Charlie, Thandie Newton's husband, and why did they kill him because there's a whole other very interesting dimension of the picture that plays to that.
When people know you, just think about all the movies that we just saw, and
they think about Philadelphia or they think about The
Silence of the Lambs or Caged Heat or all the films, they
always want to say how can a man so gifted not want
to do an original work, rather than - even if it's a classic - and the
answer to you is what?
Charlie, I feel that our re-make of Charade is highly original. I really do. It's as simple as that. We were very inspired by a great picture and we took off on our own wacky direction and I think we've come up with a very, very original film that's based on a great, previously existing, movie.
You spent a lot of time on the script yourself.
Yeah. It was interesting because, due to the fact that we started off working with Peter Stone's screenplay, in the first place, for the original movie, I just had tons and tons of ideas about where I felt this should go. And I spent...there was a moment when Paul Thomas Anderson was gonna write the script which I was very excited about.
I would be too.
We're friends. I know. He got the idea for Punch-Drunk Love so I just decided I was gonna dive in and work on the script, myself. And I teamed up with Steve Schmidt and we had a blast.
Alright. Let's take a look at some scenes. This is where Regina, played by Thandie Newton, meets Joshua, played by Mark Wahlberg, outside the airport in Paris. Here it is.
[clip from The Truth About Charlie]
Tell me about casting and how you, with a director's eye,
knowing the significance of casting, looked at these two.
Well, Thandie Newton was the title character in Beloved and she is absolutely as gifted an actor as I've ever worked with and it was thrilling to see that young woman bring that character to life every day on the set. And I realized, as the shoot progressed, that Thandie had played, thus far, up to Beloved, only sort of outsider parts. She played American slaves in four different movies. No one knew what her voice even sounded like, much less what she was like as the kind of fabulous, amazing, terrific, contemporary, young woman that she actually is. And I felt, here's a chance to take a great actress and kind of introduce her as the dazzling, contemporary person that she is.
You got to know her in Beloved?
And how about Mark Wahlberg?
Now Mark Wahlberg was suggested early on by Universal Pictures. They were very excited about Mark. He was filming Planet of the Apes, at that point. And consistent with the need to, much less the desire to, move as much away from the Cary Grant approach to the part as possible...
That's far away.
...Mark rang a bell because, it's true, he's a very kind of street-smart, boy-next-door, complicated, edgy, fascinating young man and I felt that we could really take a whole fresh approach and not try to duplicate the magic, on any level, that Charade has with their two leads.
I know it's a stupid question but, why have we...everybody has
wanted to...I love a lot of actors who would like to be Cary Grant and have
fantasized about becoming Cary Grant. A whole range of them.
and nobody has occupied the place that he occupied in movies.
You could probably say the same thing about Bogart. You could
probably say the same thing about Tracy.
So take, maybe even John Wayne.
Maybe there's something about each of them. But he did have
this sort of persona...
...and presence that was unique.
Yeah. And I wonder if, to some degree, if it has something to do with being a figure of a certain time, culturally as well. There was a wonderful innocence that Cary Grant projected, I think, certainly in his comedies, that, in the presence of the sophistication that he was all about and being so debonair, was really interesting. He was an amazing one-of-a-kind actor and I don't know if we have that kind of sophistication combined with innocence available, in this day and age.
No, I think that you captured it right there. You know, there's a great line
about somebody who once sent a telegram to him and said
"How old Cary Grant?" and then he sent back saying "Old Cary Grant, just fine."
You know, a lot of people have said to Mark, "Who do you think you are stepping into Cary Grant's shoes?" And Mark says, "Well, you know, I'm stepping into my own shoes. I'm playing this part my way." And the thing about Mark is that if I was interested in trying to re-make a picture with a great film-star on the level of the poeple you were talking about and do what I think would be lunacy - to try to duplicate the persona of that person - I would put Mark in a Steve McQueen movie because I think Mark has a lot of qualities in common with McQueen
That seems to be so. Me, too. Which was what? Edgy. Street.
Something that makes you want to care for him and...
..and cuddle him up, too. Yeah. Very, very, very interesting symmetry.
Take a look. It's interesting how...those are qualities...do they come
out of the performances they do or do they come out of the persona they are,
the people they are.
I always think of it as a fifty-fifty equation. Being a really gifted actor, having extraordinary ideas and the ability to get into that moment and put that reality across in a really gripping way, is one thing and that's half the battle. I really feel that who you are, as a person, what you bring to the party, in terms of the unavoidable this-is-me-ness of the role really contributes a lot. I think that...I think of like...Tom Hanks is an incredibly terrific guy and I think we sense that and he's also a fabulous actor but I think we love to spend time with Tom. And Jodie Foster has this huge courageous heart, in addition to being this lovely woman. And there's something very special about her, as a person and I think that that translates every bit as well as...
We'll get to those in a minute. I was thinking of Anthony Hopkins, as you were talking. Take a look at this. This is where Commandant Dominique, played by Christine Boisson, questions Joshua - who is Wahlberg, as we said - about his relationship with Regina. Here it is.
[clip from The Truth About Charlie]
The story. The story. What is it about the story that interested you?
What interested me most about the story was it's my favorite one-liner: it's a terrific woman surrounded by a bunch of untrustworthy, difficult men and she's trying to do the right thing and all these guys are making things really, really difficult for her. I've always loved that. You can call it a woman-in-jeopardy but it's a little more complicated than that. But The Silence of the Lambs was that kind of story, on a certain level. Married to the Mob, another movie I did. I just love the whole idea of rooting for a terrific young woman.
You and I had a number conversations about Jean Dominique, the Haitian journalist.
What was that experience like for you?
Well, Jean's death? Or...
That first. But also the fact that you felt compelled to make a documentary.
The situation...my relationship with Jean Dominique in making a film about him was very, very unique because, when he went into exile with President Aristeed in the early 90s, I had encountered him very briefly in Haiti and thought this was one of the most charismatic, amazing individuals I had ever come across. I sought him out and said "Can I take you, can I take you telling your life-story, having you tell the history of Haiti, having you say whatever you want to say? And you're a journalist in exile and then, when the coup is toppled and you return to your microphone, we'll have a film about a journalist in exile with a happy ending: the journalist back at the mic." And we shot these amazing sessions with Jean and we became very good friends. We went back and the military destroyed his station so we couldn't get the ending just then of him back on the air and time went by and nothing happened with these tapes. When Jean was murdered on April 3rd, 2000 I realized I that had this stuff and I sort of had a commitment and a need to kind of prove that I was wasn't kidding myself about making a film about the man so I went down to Haiti and filmed the station going back on the air with his wife now, lead, at the microphone, the extraordinary Michelle Montas and we shot a bunch of stuff and we're just finishing editing the movie and we've shown it at a couple of film festivals, as a work-in-progress, and have discovered that Jean really is the world class guy I always knew he was that people...
You can feel and see the power of the man?
Yeah. And you are in this film twice, Charlie. Once when you interviewed Jean, during the coup. And then, later, when you reported on his death.
Well, good. I'm honored to be there. And so when will that be available?
It'll be completed some time over the next three months and we'll start, hopefully, showing it at film festivals. With documentaries, you never know what's gonna happen.
Okay, but that's...I'm getting to that, too. That diversion - because you started...because you
were intrigued by an individual and then the tragedy of the country and what happened to him and
his own killing, assassination. That lead you to...how does it make you feel about documentaries?
I love documentaries. I love them both as a consumer...
I love to learn something that someone's had some passionate interest in, made a film about it, and now they're sharing their feelings on this stuff. I just love them. And I love to make them, too. And there's always this funny dichotomy with making documentaries, on the one hand, and fiction films, on the other hand, because with fiction films you're trying to - often trying to - make them feel as real as possible and with the documentaries you're trying to take the footage that you got and dramatize it as much as possible. For me, I think the experience kinda helps fertilize my work in both those areas.
Where do you put The Silence of the Lambs among the films you've made?
I'm the lucky duck who got to direct the movie based on Thomas Harris' brilliant, brilliant novel and had the great good fortune of having that amazing cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Ted Levine - who's also in The Truth About Charlie - ummm...it was, I just was very, very lucky, Charlie, to be there.
I've never understood why you didn't want to make Hannibal?
You looked at the script?
I read the book. And Thomas Harris took those characters in such a bold, different direction from I had expected. I had been expecting something very formulaic. I had my own idea of what Thomas Harris was gonna write and I was ready to do that. And when I saw this very dark, startling vision of where Clarice went, and how she figured into Dr. Lecter's life...
The obsession she had, beyond just catching the criminal.
Yeah. It was just a journey...I called Tom up and I said, you know, "I'm kind of heartbroken after reading this amazing new book of yours because we've lost Clarice." And I felt that because of this loss of Clarice that it was a journey I couldn't take. And Tom said "Not lost for good, necessarily, Jonathan. Don't think of her as lost but, rather, away." So lord knows...
...where's he gonna go.
What was it that he did with her that you didn't like, in Hannibal?
It wasn't that I didn't like so much that really upset me because, you gotta realize, I'm sort of in love with Clarice Starling...
Yes, I see.
...and I even have a rather strange friendship with Dr. Lecter. But I hated seeing Clarice so fallen-from-grace and so outside, with all the aspirations that we saw in her as a trainee and a recruit at the FBI. To see that she had, within that bureaucracy, fallen so low and...
But I thought she was unfairly victimized by that, I thought. Wasn't she?
Well, certainly but and, again, it made me sad. It made me sad. I didn't feel I was the right guy to take that trip.
You know what the conventional wisdom is, it was too violent and you
didn't like the violence
That's the conventional wisdom, not that you, somehow...what happened
to Clarice left you sad.
No, I...gosh, I wasn't offended on any level by Thomas Harris' book Hannibal, at all.
So the violence in it...did you like the choices at the end, I mean,
what happened at the end?
I was shocked. Weren't you?
I think Thomas Harris shocked himself.
They actually changed the ending, from the book.
I haven't seen the picture.
Oh, come on, Jonathan. Why haven't you seen the picture?
Was it...go ahead, tell me.
Maybe it has a little bit to do with, at the moment, I haven't seen Red Dragon yet, either. And, you know, the day will come when I see these movies but, you know, I live in my own little Clarice/Dr. Lecter dream-world.
I know you do. I know you do. Well, I mean, so you'll choose at some point to sit
down and watch it?
Oh, sure, inevitably. Yeah. And it's fascinating and really interesting to me to see what has become of the ongoing saga, the re-visiting of the early days, and what have you.
As good as Julianne Moore is...
...and she's great, in everything.
God, this was just..that relationship, what a great..it's one of the greatest sort of
pairings or conflicts between two characters in movies.
Well, I agree and, again, I just can't tell you how lucky I feel to have been there when it all unfolded.
You know what the name of her first son is?
It had nothing to do with any Charlie I know. I think she just likes the name.
Exactly. The Truth About Charlie.
By the way, in our movie, we've got Charles Aznavour singing a song and we show a clip of an early Charles Aznavour movie, the brilliant Truffuat picture Shoot the Piano Player where his character was called Charlie. So Charlie's all over this thing.
Oh, God. I can't wait. I have not seen this movie, as Jonathan knows, simply
because of time and I look forward to seeing it. He is someone that I admire
enormously, for reasons that he knows, and someone who has brought really special...
a special sensitivity to the craft of making movies. Jonathan Demme, thank you,
Thank you, Charlie.
Great to have you here.
Thanks a million.
Again, The Truth About Charlie. It opens nationwide on October 25th.
And it's very funny.
And it's very funny, like it's director.