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BERESFORD, BRUCE : Double Jeopardy

Out of work for two years, Bruce Beresford took on a mainstream thriller, Double Jeopardy, and turned in a commercial hit, much to his relief, he tells ANDREW L. URBAN.

Q: I wonder whether you could summarise the experience you had, making Double Jeopardy, because it's such a different film for you.
A: Well, it came about in a funny sort of way, you see, because I'd spent about 18 months trying to set up a film called Our Country's Good, from a play that was in turn adapted from Tom Keneally's novel, The Playmaker. I was doing it with Merchant Ivory - we got the money for the film but we couldn't get any actors to be in it. So finally my agent called me and said 'you've got to quit that Australian film, you're not going to cast it. I'm going to send you a thriller script.' And I said, oh, I can't do a thriller, I've never done anything like that. He said it was a good script, and he sent it to me - I was in Oxford, England - and I read it. I called him and told him I thought it was actually a good script…unusual and interesting, but I don't really think I'm the right person for it. He said, 'well, the studio wants you and you've got to face the fact you haven't worked for two years, you haven't earnt any money - So, I flew to LA. . . .

Q: As you say, it wasn't something you'd done before…
A: No, but in a way that was part of the attraction - it was interesting to do something I had not done. I had nothing against thrillers, in fact a lot of my favourite films have been thrillers. I just had never come across a script I particularly wanted to do. Yes, so it was quite exciting; and at that point Jodie Foster was attached to it. I met with her a lot of times and we went through the script a few times. She said to me once, when we were having . . .not an argument, we had different points of view over something, and she said, 'We'll have to do it my way, I'm afraid.' And I said, Why, Jodie? And she said, "Because I'm so intelligent. I'm such an intelligent person that there is no point in disagreeing with me because I'm always right.' I thought she was joking, but she wasn't! [laughs] She had this extraordinary opinion of her own IQ. Anyway, she fell out of the project, because she got pregnant, and we had to recast. That's how Ashley Judd wound up in it.

Q: So what do you feel about the film now it's finished?
A: Well, in some ways it's a less personal film than many others I've done, but you see I got burnt so badly with Paradise Road, which was a very personal film and I'd spent a long time on it. It had been far and away the worst reviewed film I'd ever made. As my agent said, 'after the complete and utter disaster of Paradise Road, I think you should do a straightforward Hollywood movie - you had your heart in that one and it was a total fiasco!' And this is all true. That was another reason for doing a studio movie. . .

Q: But do you accept that Paradise Road was a fiasco?
A: Yes. Yes.

Q: Can you see why?
A: No, I can't see why, but I accept it. I think all those people couldn't be wrong - there's far too many. I mean we didn't get a good review anywhere in the world. It must be that bad. . . it must be.

Q: But you never felt that it was?
A: I never felt that it was but I accept that it was. It's like that with a lot of things: I accept that The Piano is a masterpiece. I don't see it, but so many people have told me it's one of the greatest films of all time, I'm prepared to accept it.

Q: And how do you feel about Double Jeopardy?
A: Well, I think it's quite an enjoyable thriller. My agent was right; it's a good commercial film, often quite funny, with a rather engaging if implausible story, moves along quite well and audiences love it. It was a Good Thing to have done!

Q: Where does this leave you now as a filmmaker; what drives you to make movies?
A: Well, I really want to make films about things that obsess me personally, and characters and stories that obsess me personally. Now, I didn't feel that sense of personal commitment with Double Jeopardy . . . but I do with the next one, and it's now easier to do the next one, I must admit. True, it's a small budget film about Alma Mahler, the wife of the composer (Gustav), called Bride of the Wind, and we're shooting it in Vienna in March. It's not for a studio, but as low as the budget is, if I hadn't had the success with Double Jeopardy, I wouldn't have been able to get even that much [laughs].

Q: Does this tie in to your love of and interest in music? And why her?
A: Yes, it does. She was a composer, too, and she was an extraordinary person. When Mahler died she was only in her 20s. She subsequently had a long affair with a painter, she married Walter Gropius, one of the greatest architects of the century, then she married Franz Worfel, the novelist - and she innumerable other lovers. She wrote two autobiographies which are actually masterpieces of dissembling but interesting all the same. Virtually all her husbands and lovers wrote about her, so there's a wealth of material about her. She was a famous beauty, highly intelligent, a very gifted concert pianist. . . and had an extraordinary social life at a time of great political turbulence, at the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A fascinating, strong willed, strong minded person, at a time when women were not as outspoken as they are today.

Q: So it's a character study….?
A: Yes.

Q: With someone unknown?
A: Phrrrr…I don't know. I'm doing some screen tests in Los Angeles with three or four actresses. Again, it's been hard to find people even to read the script. It seems to be hard to get actors for historical films. A casting director in London told me they don't want to do them (historical films) at the moment.

Q: What do you think is the audience market for this?
A: Look, obviously the market is important, but in a sense it's got to come behind my own commitment to the project. I've had passions for other projects that everybody said were completeley worthless, and I was right. Like Driving Miss Daisy; everybody said, 'There's no point in making this film. You've got an old man and an old lady talking in a kitchen. Who's going to watch that?' Well, they were all wrong. It made a fortune - but I was passionately committed to it. In the case of the Alma Mahler film, apart from what I've told you about it, it's very sexy . . . and it's a good story about a very, very interesting, unusual and brilliant group of people.

Q: What we are talking about here is the absolute essence of filmmaking which you can't put in a recipe; it's not what the story is, but how it's told.
A: Exactly - you can make an interesting story about anything. Take this program of yours, Front Up: there's a good film in every one of the subjects, you're absolutely right. It's how it's done, the approach. . . any film really is a director's view of the world. And that view of the world can be very interesting, like Bunuel or Bergman.

Q: What about your view of the world…now?
A: I'm not conscious of mine! I just like to keep working but I never sit down and analyse it all.

Q: OK, but what do you think is the most important element in making what is essentially a biopic?
A: Well, to do anything, it is to have a point of view about the people; I think you have to know exactly who they are and what they are thinking and why they are doing what they do. You may not be right but you must have a point of view about it, because then you can explain to the actors 'she's doing this for this reason…'

Q: Does that make you something of a de facto psycho-analyst?
A: Well, in a sense - I like to work out exactly why people are doing things….of course I want the actors to contribute, God, they're playing the roles. Some directors make movies - very good movies - basically about design, and structure and cutting.

Q: How did you approach a film like Double Jeopardy?
A: [laughs] well, more in the conventional way. I did go to a lot of trouble to make sure it looked good and moved quickly. I went to an enormous amount of trouble, though, to cast all the minor roles - much more than they usually do.

Q: And did you enjoy the process?
A: Oh yes, it was great fun. I did have a bunch of very good actors.

Q: And you had money. . .
A: We had a lot of money; that makes a difference! You can say we want this and we want that, and they all say yes, Bruce, and rush off and do it! The film cost about US$40 million which these days is not outrageous, and we came in on budget and on time. In fact the studio has offered me other projects since, but they weren't scripts I particularly wanted to do.

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