Six directors talk shop for the LA Times’ directors roundtable. John Horn is joined by Kathryn Bigelow (“Zero Dark Thirty”), Ben Affleck (“Argo”), Tom Hooper (“Les Miserables”), David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”), Ang Lee (“Life of Pi”) and Sacha Gervasi (“Hitchcock”) to discuss their films, working with actors and the fears of directing. You can watch the full video of the roundtable here. You can also watch THR’s directors roundtable.
On being attracted to the fear in moviemaking:
Ang Lee: I think being scared, fear, is our strongest emotion. Not even love. Fear is the No. 1 thing that tends to make us do the best thing. I don’t think we’re looking for the fall, but we just want to go to that edge. I want to feel like every movie I do, I’m like a virgin, doing it for the first time.
Tom Hooper: I felt when I was being drawn to “Les Misérables,” I was being drawn like a moth to a flame because I knew the possibility, the problem of getting severely burned was quite high.
Ben Affleck: Fear is the strongest of drivers. If you’re being chased by a bear, you run faster than when you’re going to your girlfriend’s house. This movie was a real challenge because there were these different tones. It had a much bigger scope. It had this resonance of geopolitics today, our relationship to Iran, as well as having this theme of storytelling that was kind of universal and important to me. And they all seemed so disparate. It was quite frightening.
Sacha Gervasi: The terror really hit me when I was in the rehearsal room and it was just me and Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren. He looked at me, like, now what?
On choosing projects:
Lee: I want to try anything, I want to touch my hands on as much as possible. In the beginning I had to struggle for that, I had to prove that I could do it. I think after “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” it seems like there’s an internal silver lining, one movie sort of leads to the next. So the next thing will make me jump onto the next and just waiting for whatever hits me.
Bigelow: There’s obviously a commonality between “Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark” to a certain extent. What’s interesting to me is a look into the intelligence community, and the women and the men, the professionals who have dedicated their lives, some of who’ve given their lives, for our safety. We know nothing about what they’re doing. So I guess it comes from a kind of curiosity and a tremendous sense of respect and responsibility.
On working with actors and crew:
Russell: The word “vibe” is very important. And if people get it, it’s like a song, and any director here is singing that song, and everybody dials into it. If you have 10 actors in a scene, they should all feel the song, and they’re all different instruments in that scene. Sometimes great direction is just no nonsense — just stop acting. I’ll even say that, “No acting, just cut the crap.” And sometimes that’s very liberating to an actor.
Gervasi: Tony Hopkins, after 16 hours of shooting, and he’s in a fat suit and makeup, wanted to go home. And on more than one occasion, I would say, “Tony, can we just do one more?” And he was like, “No, I’m going home.” And then, “One more?” And so we’d do one more take, and for whatever reason it wouldn’t be there. And Helen Mirren would then just come up to Tony and go, “Oh, darling, I screwed that up. I was meant to be standing here. Can you just give me one more?” And Tony would go, “Of course, Helen.”
Hooper: I think one of the great directing challenges is not isolating yourself in your obsession to get something right, so that the crew somehow feel outside it, and just think you’re some maniac who’s driving something that they can’t see. It’s a great challenge to actually explain your perfectionism. So that it’s not like you’re this perfectionist, and then other people just think you’re kind of obsessive, and to inspire everyone with the pursuit of that excellence if you can.
Bigelow: That’s the perfect analogy. Finally, at the end of the day, you have to elicit trust, however you get to it. But you can’t do it by asking for it. You have to earn it. Everybody has to earn it.