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Roman Polanski Interview by Le Figaro: Misses Hollywood and Nicholson, Wants to Do Film About Aging

Photo of Jacob Combs By Jacob Combs | Thompson on Hollywood December 1, 2011 at 5:42PM

The French newspaper "Le Figaro" sat down for an interview with director Roman Polanski, whose new film, "Carnage," based on Yasmina Reza's French play "God of Carnage," was released in France yesterday.
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Roman Polanski
Roman Polanski

The French newspaper "Le Figaro" sat down for an interview with director Roman Polanski, whose new film, "Carnage," based on Yasmina Reza's French play "God of Carnage," was released in France yesterday.  Below is a translation of their Q and A.

Sunday, October 23.  Roman Polanski sits in a small room at the Plaza Athénée.  He is dressed in a jacket and open-necked shirt, visibly comfortable at a meeting of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA).  An hour of conversation has passed regarding his new film, "Carnage," based on the play by Yasmina Reza.  Smiling and attentive, the 78-year old filmmaker discusses his career passionately and with tongue-in-cheek humor.  Only one topic is off limits: his recent trouble with the law.

Le Figaro: What made you want to bring Yasmina Reza's play "God of Carnage" to the screen?

Roman Polanski: The fun that she brought to the play and the face that it satirizes conventional bourgeois values of political correctness and shows the hypocrisy of politeness masked behind fake smiles.  These four characters, which are initially so courteous, turn out to be monsters in their own way, ready to jump at each other's throats.  I have two children aged 18 and 13 and I've found myself in the same position as the protagonists of the film.  I know what it's like to get word from a school or other parents and then trying to alleviate the situation…

LF: How did you approach filming "Carnage"?

RP: With each film, i need an artistic challenge so I don't get bored!  I like to tackle challenges.  On this film, it was telling a story that takes place in real time and in a confined space.  When I was a teenager, I was really struck by Laurence Olivier's "Hamlet," with its strange castle full of stairs, terraces and corridors, and also by Carol Reed's fabulous "Odd Man Out" with James Mason.  It's a film with such a strong impact that I often tried to imitate it later.  In fact, my first film, "Knife in the Water," was filmed on a boat with three people.  So I wasn't afraid of the constraints of a confined space like an apartment.  I find it really exciting, in fact, even if it isn't easy.  I can't think of an example where the director didn't cheat.  Like in Hitchcock's "Rope!"  Not here.  There is no blackout.

LF: How did you choose the actors?

RP: Jodie Foster was the first one cast.  Then I met Kate Winslet to discuss the film and there it was.  It turns out I have the same agent as Christoph Waltz, who had expressed a desire to meet me.  It was during my sabbatical year, during my arrest.  I was working on the script and it seemed like a good idea.  I thought it'd be more interesting to meet him than the police chief in Bern.  As for John C. Reilly, he was chosen last, because it was a tough role to assign.  I was really lucky to have four actors of such acclaim.   Not only because of their talent, but because they're very well understood.  There wasn't any animosity among them, which isn't always the case.  They have a great affection and respect for each other.  None tried to be the star.  It helps.

LF: What was the process like?

Since we were working from a play, we had the text to start with.  It was clear after a few rehearsals that it was working well and we didn't have to do anything else.  So I let them do what they wanted to.  Of course, I gave them notes and told them what I wanted.  They picked it up very quickly and suddenly everything went smoothly.

LF: You've gone through a lot of trials in your life.  Do you ever wish things had been different?

RP: I don't rehash the past.  It's my baggage.  That's all.  I accept things as they are.

LF: Should an artist suffer for his art?

RP: I don't know.  I don't think so.  Some experience is helpful.  "The Pianist" was a film that I could make with my eyes closed because I had lived it and everything was still alive in me.  But I consider myself more a craftsman than an artist.

LF: Did you have nostalgia for Hollywood?

RP: At first, yes, for certain things.  By being there, you have more immediate connections, since you can meet people for lunch or dinner.  It's not like that here.  But that may be an advantage after all!  Film is universal now.  The same methods are everywhere.  I do miss my friends from there.  I see them every two or three years when they visit Paris.  Like Harrison Ford.  Jack Nicholson I see less often than before.  But I saw Adrien Brody, not long ago.  Nate n' Al's,  I miss it.

LF: What do you think of new film technologies?

RP: They're great tools.  You can do what you want with almost no limits.  I use them extensively.  In "Carnage," there are 400 digital effects, including everything you see through the windows.

LF: Twenty-five years ago, you had thought to bring Tintin to the screen.

RP: I quickly abandoned the idea: actors and natural settings could not work as well as comics.  Steven Spielberg is perfect for it, because the technology has allowed him to transform human beings into cartoon characters embedded in settings that reflect the real world.

LF: Future projects?

RP: I would love to make a film about aging that would take place before the war.  It would follow the stages in the life of a woman who would not have at her disposal the resources of today like cosmetic surgery, creams and pills.

This article is related to: Directors, Interviews


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.