"I don't like to go down the same road with films, I don't like to repeat myself," director Fred Schepisi told us recently over the phone from Australia. Indeed looking over his filmography, one can't deny the diversity of his work in a career that has spanned more than four decades. From bracing drama ("A Cry In The Dark") to a John Le Carré based thriller ("The Russia House") to comedy ("Roxanne," "I.Q.," "Mr. Baseball"), Schepisi has worked with talent ranging from rising actors that would go on to become worldwide superstars (Will Smith in "Six Degrees Of Separation") to bonafide legends (Paul Newman in "Empire Falls"). And for his latest, "Words And Pictures," which premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, Schepisi is once again trying something different.
Starring Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche, the film tells the story of former literary star turned prep school English teacher Jack Marcus, whose life and career have fallen into disrepair. He's estranged from his son and his closest ally tends to be the bottle. But things change when he meets Dina Delsanto, a once celebrated abstract painter, whose can no longer paint like she once could due to crippling arthritis. While this premise might seem predictable on the page, Schepisi enthuses that the work of screenwriter Gerald DiPego takes it in some interesting directions.
"In some stories like this, there's a familiarity. But the brilliance of what Gerald has done is he's made all that original and different. He's taken the unexpected path with it at all times, and I think that's what attracted me," the director said, adding that the film is much more than just a romance. "I like people who are struggling, trying to get somewhere, trying to move forward in their life so it's not just a love story [where] two people meet-cute and fall in love," he explained. "It's a good human story about trying to overcome life's foibles and difficulties and finding someone who can help you do that as well. It's the whole approach that's different."
"Words And Pictures" patiently developed over five years, but as the saying goes, good things come to those who wait, and Schepisi was fortunate to land both Owen and Binoche in the lead roles. "They both apparently wanted to work together, and that was a good start," he said about his actors, who got on famously while on set. And not only that, they both brought with them performances that saw some unique talent and traits brought to the big screen.
"We got lucky. Juliette Binoche is a fabulous artist, and she does all the painting in the film. She's got a history of doing good art, and a lot of it is portraiture and that was good because that's what the character in the film did, but because she's got this physical impediment and can't paint the way she used to, she has to find another way to paint," Schepisi shared. "So Juliette actually had to go on that journey. She had to try and find another way to express what she does."
And as for Owen, fans of his work can expect a whole new side to the actor in this movie. "Clive he has a quite a diversity of work behind him, and sometimes you see him as an action star. But if you go back to his earlier pictures, and some others as well, he really does great performances in drama," the director explained. "He's not necessarily so much in comedy as I'm aware of but I think you'll see a very, very different side to him in this film. It's an extraordinary performance that you may not expect to see."
All told, it not only looks like Schepisi is once again doing something new and he's enabled his two actors to do the same. As for what's next for Schepisi? He's got some projects brewing but he hints his next effort might be coming together soon, and should it all fall into place, he'll be traveling down yet another cinematic path he's yet to explore.