Capone talks FROM PARIS WITH LOVE, TAKEN, and DUNE with director Pierre Morel!!
Published at: Feb. 1, 2010, 10:18 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
To the untrained eye, Pierre Morel is still a relatively new director, with his latest work FROM PARIS WITH LOVE, starring a bald and insane John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, being his third film as a director after the high-energy jolt DISTRICT B13 and last year's surprise hit TAKEN, starring Liam Neeson.
But if you're familiar with the works of Luc Besson, who wrote and/or provided the story ideas for all three of Morel's films, then you know that Morel has been Besson's frequent cinematographer and/or camera operator since THE MESSENGER: THE STORY OF JOAN OF ARC. Many of the film that Besson has had a hand in producing or directing (like a couple of the TRANSPORTER movies, TAXI 2, DANNY THE DOG aka UNLEASHED), Morel has been behind the camera finding kinetic new way of capturing some unbelievable action sequences He's also been a go-to guy for other films that shot in Paris, such as SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE, THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE, and BEFORE SUNSET.
But with the recent announcement that Morel will be taking over the reigns from Peter Berg to direct a new version of DUNE in the near future, he is officially stepping out from Besson's production umbrella and making his first studio film (with Paramount), and his long-term love of the material makes him seem to be the perfect director (and co-writer, according to our talk) of this material. But we were brought together primarily to talk about FROM PARIS WITH LOVE, an international action/spy film that throws one ugly cowboy of an American (Travolta) in league with a buttoned-down diplomat (Meyers) in a uber-violent explosion of, well, explosions, gun fire, and blood. Among other reasons, I love this movie because there's at least one character who just doesn't give a fuck who gets hurt or caught in his crossfire. And as much as I tend not to believe Travolta as a bad guy/asshole characters he's done in other films, he's doing something a little more complex in FROM PARIS WITH LOVE than it might seem at first. I'll have my review later in the week. For now, please enjoy my conversation with my new favorite Frenchman Pierre Morel.
Pierre Morel: Hello!
Capone: Hello, Pierre, how are you?
PM: I’m good. How are you? It’s nice to meet you on the phone.
Capone: Excellent. So where are you calling from?
PM: Right now we are in New York. We had the premiere yesterday in New York, and I’m still here.
Capone: Okay. Since I didn’t get a chance to talk to you about TAKEN--I did get to talk to Liam Neeson about it and that was a great conversation--but I’m just curious, looking back you have to be really pleasantly surprised and maybe even a little amazed to see how well that movie did just across the world.
PM: Oh, of course. We never expected that, honestly. It was really cool. I enjoyed making it, and we had such great fun doing it with Liam and we were very satisfied with it, both him and me I think. But we had no idea it would do so well. We had no idea. It was a pleasant surprise, and it kept going. It was like “Okay, we had a great opening weekend” and then the next one was better and so on and so it. [laughs] It was like “Wow!” That was a ride.
Capone: What about the film do you think people were drawn to? It’s a very small story in retrospect. It’s a lot different than the new film in that it’s just really about this father and daughter and reconnecting them. What do you think people were drawn to about that film?
PM: Maybe just that simple story. It just arrived at the right moment. You know what? When we opened it in the States, the [economic] crisis was hitting hard and maybe having that satisfying story that reminds you that the right man can do the right thing to save his family was something reassuring. So I think on top of the great performance that Liam gave us and the pace and everything, t is reassuring you know? Everybody’s worst nightmare is to be confronted with kind of situation. Everybody’s dream, if you are a young woman or you are a girl, is to have a father like this one. If you are a father, your dream is to be able to save your daughter if anything happens. As a father, I loved the movie, you know? Forgetting my filmmaker thing and just being like the standard viewer, as a father, I was like “Wow, I would love to be that guy.”
Capone: Some of the violence in that film, which I think it did shock people to a certain degree, but you could almost understand it and forgive it, because again he’s trying to save his family. In this new film, it’s completely over the top. It’s huge and it’s big. Can you talk about the difference? The scene in TAKEN where Liam shoots the woman in the leg to get her husband to talk, that really took a lot of people by surprise, whereas FROM PARIS WITH LOVE is like a whole movie full of scenes like that.
PM: It’s a totally different tone, you’re right. You kind of accept the violence in TAKEN, because he does that to save his daughter. And there’s one thing I’d like to point out, a lot of people saw it as a revenge movie, but I don’t think of it as a revenge movie. I think of it as a rescue movie. It’s completely different. He’s not going for revenge, he just wants to get his daughter back, and whoever gets in the way, well too bad. But you forgive him for being so violent, because he’s not killing good guys; he’s killing bad guys apart from the woman. He does it all to save his daughter, and there’s nothing more precious than that. It is a dark movie.
Now FROM PARIS WITH LOVE is a comedy. It’s a buddy movie or at least that’s the way I see it. It’s not a serious movie about terrorism; it’s about the relationship between those two guys, so doing some over-the-top characters and over-the-top violence and action was just the tone of it. It’s not supposed to be taken seriously. It really is the pure guilty pleasure thing.
Capone: I feel no guilt about liking the movie. The thing that made me laugh the hardest is, obviously John Travolta is a very funny character, but he represents everything that we as Americans are afraid people in other countries think of us. He is this American that comes into another country and just kills and destroys everything and just leaves a cloud of dust and blood, and that’s it. It’s the ugliest of the ugly Americans. Were you thinking about that when you were making it?
PM: Him being American doesn’t really count. The character is just like that, an over-the-top cowboy style, arrogant and everything you could want, but actually that’s his M.O. It’s a part of the character within the character, Charlie Wax actually may not really be like this. There are moments of emotion where you show that he is a human being, then he just acts like that crazy, completely ruthless guy, and I think it’s just fun. It’s not just specific to Americans man. Granted, we had American characters and a cast of American people, but it’s not about the American people at all. It’s just about funny characters.
Capone: I think most Americans are going to think it’s about Americans. That might almost make it better I think. To me, that just makes it funnier. It makes me laugh.
PM: [laughs] That’s cool. The opening scene with the customs guy still makes me laugh very, very much. Honestly
Capone: I don’t think there’s any question that you know how to direct an action sequence, tell me what you think about your style as a director of actors and of drama, because you certainly had some of that in TAKEN. How do you rate yourself as a director of actors outside from the action sequences?
PM: Even as an action director I wouldn’t rate myself. I don’t know. You would have to ask other people about that. Ask the actors. I don’t know, I just want to see things and hear things and be pleased. You know that your directions are right when you look through the camera, and you are having the fun and the pleasure that you expected. That’s what I look for. When I do a movie, that’s what I look for and how I get to that point by directions, I don’t know. You just talk with actors and give them the freedom once you have defined the character, give them the freedom to assimilate that and give purpose to some stuff and then put in some small details until you get the final result. I wouldn’t dare even rate myself. I’m not there yet. [laughs]
Capone: In terms of your relationship with Luc Besson, obviously it’s a long and prosperous one. How involved does he get at this point with you in terms of as a producer, or does he just sort of turn over a script to you and say “Go for it?”
PM: Exactly. That’s the kind of relationship we have. He’s giving me the keys to the car, and I give them back a year later, still working. It’s a great situation, actually. I wouldn't say he leaves me alone, but I can do whatever I want. We have very few discussions. There are always discussions in the beginning when we start preparing things like about the tone and how I see it and how he sees it. Then he hardly shows up during the entire shoot and in the editing room. He just shows up when I show him my cut, and then we do little trimmings. But I had the chance to be in that situation with him. He let’s me do my stuff ,and as long as he’s pleased with that, I’m happy. [Laughs]
Capone: Do you notice, just from working with him the most closely over the years, is there something about his style of directing that you see has rubbed off on you, or are there things that he does that you go out of your way not to do?
PM: It probably changes and has evolved over the years. I’m sure that by working with him very often as a camera operator or a DP, I probably took some of his habits at the beginning. But the more I go, the further I get away from his style actually, if ever I was in his style. I’m still a fan of his movies. I always have to figure it out with myself if I had the same script as he did, for instance, “How would I do it?” It would be totally different. Totally different, visually and everything, so I think there’s no connection. There was a connection very early in my career, but there was not more connection between our two styles.
Capone: Right. In your first two films as a director, you tried to make the action sequences not overblown, but very naturalistic and I think you tried very hard not to let them look choreographed. Even in this new one, although it’s a much bigger film in terms of the action, you like that sort of hand-to-hand, close-quarters thing.
PM: It depends. It has to be in phase with what the characters are supposed to be able to do. For TAKEN for instance, I felt like the action style made sense with Liam’s character. There was no way I was going--although itt was sometimes scripted like that--there was no way I was going to have him do a kung fu-style martial arts walking on the ceiling thing. It wouldn’t make sense. To be a very realistic, fast, close-combat, that was what those guys would have to do in real like. You would have to hit hard and whoever hits first is winning. You haven’t got to hit each other for hours, it doesn’t work like that. So I think it made sense to be realistic in that way.
For this one and once again, this one is a little more over the top, so we could afford to be way less realistic and be much more playful with that, I think. And also because it was John Travolta, I felt like doing a little homage to John Woo, one of the great action directors that I really worship and admire. That was a different approach really. It is more choreographed in a way.
Capone: I remember reading some interviews with you, I think it was when you were doing the rounds with TAKEN that you had mentioned that you at some point wanted to make a film that was not Luc Besson connected in anyway, and I think that was even before you had an inkling that DUNE was in your future. I assume that DUNE will not be anything that Besson has anything to do with?
Capone: How does that prospect hit you?
PM: It’s a way different experience. If I do DUNE, which I hope, it will be with Paramount, and I definitely will not have the same relationship with the studios that I would have with Luc. It’s just a different way to work and a different way to handle the production. I look forward to it. It’s just a new experience; you learn from new experiences. I look forward to that. Will I miss that freedom that he gave me, or will I replace it with something else? I don’t know.[laughs] We will see, but yeah the next movie, if it’s DUNE, will probably be without Luc, but we have other projects coming up together.
Capone: That’s good to hear. Where are you with DUNE? Have you started in the design phase?
PM: We are really super early in the process. We will start writing probably early in February, so we haven’t even started writing anything yet. Simultaneously then, we will do up some visual concepts and drawings and start scouting and seeing what is feasible and where we want to be at. But we are very early in there. It’s very very early.
Capone: Now I understand that you scrapped the script that Peter Berg was working with. And it sounds like you have a hand in writing the new one?
PM: Yeah. Oh yes. We want to find a very specific approach on the original material, which I am a huge fan of. I read that book like 10 times already. I’ll tell you a story actually, I first read it when I was 14 or 15, I guess, with the first volume of DUNE. A few months later I bought MESSIAH and then a few months later I bought another one, because I couldn’t buy the whole collection at once since I didn’t have the money for that. But I remember every time I would buy the next volume I was reading the previous ones.
Capone: You would start from the beginning and build up to the new one?
PM: Yes, so by the time I bought number six, CHAPTERHOUSE, I had read the first one six times.
Capone: I did the same thing with Stephen King’s DARK TOWER books. Every time I knew he had a new one coming out I would go back to the beginning and read again.
PM: Yeah, that's fun because you reenter the universe, you know? And when the David Lynch movie came out, I saw it and was like “Oh, I don't remember that.” So, I read it again, so that was like seven times, and since I got into it becoming a potential project I’ve read it three times already, so yeah 10 or 11 times now. Because I was such a hardcore fan, I don’t want to disappoint the fans. It’s touchy. I fully understand that it’s challenging and it’s touchy. I really don’t want to disappoint the guys who love the DUNE books as much as I do. I think the Peter Berg script that I had was a little bit too far away from what I think we expected, in my opinion. It was a good script, but it was not where I wanted to go. So we are starting again with another vision, and I think something that will be very respectful to the original material.
Capone: Are you working with somebody else on the adaptation, or have you not decided that yet?
PM: We have decided on a writer, which I cannot tell you today.
Capone: Ah, come on…
PM: It will be official next week.
Capone: Is it a writer who’s name we might recognize?
PM: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Capone: Okay. You mentioned the Lynch film, and obviously a lot of people like the film, Although as a faithful adaptation, as you said, it’s not. Are there elements from that that you think you will borrow from, or are you just going to start as if that one didn’t exist?
PM: Exactly. It’s not a remake of the movie, it’s a reboot of the book or whatever you might call it, but it’s not a remake of that movie and we aren’t going to take anything. I have two visions of that movie. I didn’t appreciate it as a fan of DUNE the book; but as a David Lynch fan, I actually liked it very much and saw it again and again. So the big issue I think or one of the big challenges is in a way because that movie actually--I wouldn’t say “polluted” everybody’s vision of the book, in a good way, you know what I mean? Everybody now--if you talk about Paul Atriede and the worms--everybody sees David Lynch’s images, and we have to erase that to be able to do something else. Do you know what I mean?
Capone: Yes, of course.
PM: So people don’t refer to the movie, but to the book or to those who haven’t read it, not refer to anything and just discover something new.
Capone: Are there certain aspects of that DUNE story that you are most excited about tackling as a filmmaker?
PM: It’s so complex that everything is interesting as a filmmaker. It’s a journey. I couldn’t pinpoint right now one specific thing. It’s a huge thing. Actually, one that’s very interesting is the feminine importance, the Bene Gesserit, the mother. It’s all about women actually.
Capone: That’s true, yeah. Back to FROM PARIS WITH LOVE for a second, by shooting in France, can you get away with a lot more in terms of the dangerous stunts than you could if you shot it in the United States, for example?
PM: I guess. I never had to tackle very much with the U.S. rules, but I probably would have more issues, yes. I think it’s kind of the same job everywhere. As long as you do things that are safe and ensure that the actors and personnel are safe, you can do whatever you want. The rule is one thing, the safety is the universal. “Is it dangerous? Yes, okay let’s do it a different way.” Now I never was so much familiar with American relations on that matter, but I do understand that it might be a little stricter, but I don’t know.
Capone: Did you still operate the camera yourself on this new film?
Capone: Liam Neeson called your style “controlled chaos.” Do you know what he means?
PM: [big laugh] I don’t know, but I’ll take it as a compliment.
Capone: He meant it as a compliment for sure. He sad it was an energy that he had never experienced on an action film before.
PM: I think what I like in still operating is that it gives you the freedom to change your mind and to adapt without having to wait for the other take and asking someone else to do it. When you first view the performance of the actors. If you feel like you should move a little bit or go tighter or whatever, you adjust immediately, and when you see that from the outside it looks like chaos and random, but it’s just a reaction to what you see and what you feel would be better. I guess that’s why I love keeping the camera in my hand, other than giving to somebody else. I can adjust immediately without asking for someone to do it and then lose time and lose the momentum. Maybe on the next take, the actors will do the action a little different, so it wouldn’t fit, so it just gives you that freedom.
Capone: I noticed just coming out in this country now, the sequel to DISTRICT B13 is coming out. Was there ever a discussion about you directing it?
PM: There was actually, and when they started production, I wasn’t available.
Capone: I figured it was the schedule.
PM: I can’t remember if it was when I was finishing TAKEN or if I was starting this one, but it was just a scheduling thing. I couldn’t make it.
Capone: So you sound like you aren’t even 100 percent sure though that DUNE is the next thing you are doing. It seems likely, but…
PM: With me? You never know. It’s a big thing, so you have to have the script right and then cast it and it’s complex, so I hope it is, honestly.
Capone: You tend to work pretty fast, but this one sounds like it’s going to take some time.
PM: [laughs] It's a bigger one; it will take a while. It’s a process I think.
Capone: It's very different than Luc handing you the script, and that part doesn’t take as long as DUNE clearly is going to in the script-writing process.
PM: Yeah, it’s a bit different. The Luc Besson approach makes it very possible, because it goes pretty fast, you are right. He has the script and he knows if we can do it now, “Okay, let’s go!” We jump into it. The studio process might be a little longer.
Capone: All right, thanks a lot. I’m looking forward to whatever you have got coming up. We saw DISTRICT B13 at Butt-Numb-a-Thon a few years back. That was my first exposure to you as a director and if kind of blew everybody away. Anyway, thanks a lot.
PM: Well, thank you. See you soon. Bye.
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