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|Catherine Hardwicke's house in Venice Beach, CA. February 7, 2002. Hardwicke, production designer for Three Kings, talking with Russell, director of Three Kings, Flirting with Disaster, and Spanking the Monkey. In April, Russell will be honored by New York's Museum of Modern Art.
DAVID: Can I have some toast? I can smell that somebody's got good toast going.
CATHERINE: I smell it, too. It's coming from my neighbor's house. I've got bread that my dad made.
DAVID: What did he make it out of?
CATHERINE: Um, hopefully wheat, raisins, nuts, and stuff.
DAVID: Yeah? How long has he been doing that?
CATHERINE: Since I was a little kid. And he made homemade yogurt, too.
DAVID: What's your mom's best dish?
CATHERINE: We always ate really healthy. Nothing out of a can or package.
DAVID: Do you have peanut butter?
CATHERINE: I've got some ...
DAVID: You've got bad peanut butter!
CATHERINE: Actually, I got that for your son when he came over with Janet one time.
DAVID: Aw. That's so sweet, you bought unhealthy peanut butter for my son. Do you like food shopping?
CATHERINE: I don't like shopping at all. I don't really like any domestic activities.
DAVID: I love food shopping, but I never considered it a domestic activity. I just like having lots of good food in the house all the time. Can I have a banana?
CATHERINE: Of course. There's a quote by a famous writer, something like, "There's usually only three or four great lines in a film." Do you buy that?
DAVID: I don't believe in great lines, that whole cineaste thing. The movies I love have nothing to do with great lines unless they happen organically, and they're indistinguishable from the fabric of the movie.
CATHERINE: Yeah, yeah. I love that. I bet you outline a lot when you write.
DAVID: Yes. You want peanut butter on your toast?
DAVID: Aw, shoot. I didn't slice the bread thick enough.
CATHERINE: I was wondering about something that I struggled with when I was writing my script. I wanted to hang out with real people who aren't writers and aren't film people ? real humans.
CATHERINE: How do you meet real people?
DAVID: I think that all people are real people. They're all interesting psychologically and spiritually in terms of the bargain they've made with reality.
CATHERINE: Can you elaborate on that?
DAVID: The way that they've decided to act and to be in the world, what they feel scared of and how they treat other people, how they conceive of themselves, what blinders they decide to put on and whether they put them on or not. If there's a timeless self that transcends who they are or if it's very concrete ? "I am this person and this body and all I care about is what I do here."
CATHERINE: In your films, you seem interested in removing the blinders. Like with the Gulf War in Three Kings.
DAVID: The Gulf War was presented as a very sunshine-y reaffirmation of our military. The media really tried to take the death and carnage out of the war while it was televised. But it ended up a big mess.
CATHERINE: How does it pertain to what's happening now?
DAVID: When we went in, in 1991, we amassed one of the biggest armies ever assembled, half a million soldiers. And we engineered all these alliances. Then we left in place the corrupt order in Iraq that created the whole situation to begin with. Muslim terrorism is a reaction against the Arab dictatorships and their messed up, undemocratic societies ? a situation which our oil relationships helped to create. On 9-11, people said, "Oh, God, why are they doing this to us? We're just a nice country."
DAVID: The answer is we helped set up the mess in the Arab countries. Why? For oil. Twenty years ago Jimmy Carter was all about the electric car and solar panels and Jackson Browne and "Running on Empty" and "Let's not depend on foreign oil." Then Ronald Reagan came in and said Jimmy Carter was a pansy, and you know, "Drive a Cadillac and be an American and don't worry about it."
CATHERINE: "We're the most powerful country"
DAVID: But we have a history of supporting corrupt dictatorships all over the world that breed poverty, repression, backwardness, and anger. I'm surprised terrorists haven't emerged from Latin America to threaten the U.S. in a big way. I would certainly understand their reasons. Though I think nonviolence is always a much more effective way to fight for a cause.
CATHERINE: You've always been interested in politics.
CATHERINE: That's what you were into before film, right?
CATHERINE: What role does political rebellion play in creativity?
DAVID: I think the society that is secure in its openness ? including all forms of imagination and dissent ? is the best. To me, that means an ongoing swirl of dialogue and questioning and experimentation, rather than rebellion. I think rebellion can be exhausting to a society ? the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement probably distracted and destroyed as many artists as they created. The backwards attitudes that provoked those protests caused us to waste a lot of creative energy.
CATHERINE: Do you like "messy" creativity?
DAVID: I like messy art when it's inspired.
CATHERINE: Like what?
DAVID: I think Eraserhead is amazing ? and it's kind of messy. I like a lot of the Dogma films too.
CATHERINE: What else?
DAVID: The stream of weird playfulness that I have with friends and family. It's totally messy but totally safe.
CATHERINE: Yeah, that keeps the creative well flowing.
DAVID: And it's generally more fun than having to work on a schedule or budget.
CATHERINE: I've participated in a lot of that at your house.
DAVID: And at your house. Like when we did that weird acting exercise that got very emotional at the party.
CATHERINE: Or playing Vampires with the kids. And the speed poetry is fun where everyone writes a line without looking at what comes before, then passes it on.
DAVID: James Merrill wrote a lot of good poems using a Ouija board.
CATHERINE: What part of making a movie is the most fun?
DAVID: Probably writing and editing because you don't have to rush and you don't have to get up early. Greg Goodman and I now want to make production as relaxed as possible. We've sort of had it with the stress of the intense shoot.
CATHERINE: Are you at all interested in action films or children's films?
DAVID: Since I'm a father, I probably watch more children's films than grown-up films these days. Right now we're very into The Bad News Bears. It's so great to see a film about losers in America. I'm sure it would never be made now, with the Little League coach constantly drinking and smoking. I think Bad News Bears has probably delivered thousands of kids from the oppression of winning and improving, and all of that. Walter Matthau is so rumpled and fantastically depressed. I can't think of anyone else like him now that he's gone. Can you?
CATHERINE: How about William Macy or Spike Jonze?
DAVID: Why Spike Jonze?
CATHERINE: Because he looks so sad sack.
DAVID: [laughs] I'm sure he'll be happy to read that.
CATHERINE: But doesn't he look like a sad sack?
DAVID: I don't think so. Bill Murray is probably the closest thing, actually.
CATHERINE: I used to be madly in love with Bill Murray.
DAVID: Like a crush from afar?
CATHERINE: Yeah, like that. Not true love. By the way, do you believe in true love?
CATHERINE: Can you elaborate?
DAVID: You want me to elaborate?
DAVID: It's impossible to talk about this without sounding like a greeting card, but I will anyway. It beats anything and transcends anything and it doesn't die. It's not romantic love like we're always hearing about in rock songs or movies it's the love you feel when you have all these people in your house and it's good. Or you go out and connect with people in any number of ways, difficult things and fun things. Or like in a marriage or friendship when, in addition to the fun you have, you go through unpredictably painful and difficult things. And you find that you're bigger than you ever imagined you could be.
CATHERINE: Can you put that in your movies?
DAVID: You get that in movies by creating characters you love. Pretty soon you begin to put things into movies that you love, instead of just things that are traumatic, dramatic, or scary, you know?
DAVID: By the way, I haven't done this as much as I intend to, in making movies.
CATHERINE: Are you late? Do you need to go to your thing?
DAVID: What time is it now?
CATHERINE: What time does it start?
DAVID: Yeah, I gotta run. It's at 4:15. Damn.