You really did manage to capture the tone of the films from that period, from the look down to the pacing.
Thank you very much. We kind of emulated "All the President's Men" with the CIA stuff, and Cassavetes -- in "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" he had a great seedy LA feel. We had a lot of different references for the Iran stuff -- "Battle of Algiers," from that to "Missing." "The Verdict" had a wonderful sort of moral ambiguity that I wanted to bring. But I think the '70s were the high point of American realism in cinema and it's been something that I've been really drawn to: this quest to make it real rather than entertaining.
One of the ways you did that was by having the six actors who play the fugitive American diplomatic personnel, live together in period garb before production officially got underway...
That is one of the things…I think people often sort of roll their eyes at actors who become directors, imagining that they're dilettantes or unserious. I think it's a great advantage, because all the actors I know have a lot of affinity for other actors. They have empathy for them and spend a lot of time scrutinizing performances and moments in performances -- to see how and why they work. And as an actor you intuitively know sort of how you would like to be treated, that you'd like to have set that's relaxed and comfortable.
It's sort of my fantasy to do an exciting preparation for a movie as an actor. Once I got the chance to direct, I wanted to create that for the actors that were in the movie. So I created this opportunity for them to live together on the set, with the period details -- magazines, newspapers, books, record players etc. -- so they could get totally immersed in it. I wanted them to improvise, and I wanted them to be able to improvise in the 1970's, which they wouldn't be able to do without a really strong foundation of knowledge about the period and about a sense of the period.
It took them a little bit of cajoling to get them to give up their iPhones and to wear their wardrobe and sort of give up a week of life. But actually, after some initial questioning, they got really excited. Tate Donovan was really skeptical -- he wanted to take a yoga mat in. So we had some back and forth about whether or not a yoga mat was appropriate for the period. He was like, "Yoga was a huge movement in the '70s!" I was like, "I don't think your character was involved in the yoga movement."
So anyway, once he got into it he was thrilled. He was actually great and kind of the leader of the whole thing. I think it worked. I didn't ask them too many questions, I didn't do anything specific. Ultimately it created a kind of bond with them where they sort of went around as a unit, which I think would have happened. They had a sense of what it was like to be tied up together.
Also it's really hard to fake intimacy, knowing someone really well. The hardest thing to do is to get past that invisible forcefield that we have around us that we use to make sure people stay out of our personal space. You have to sort of force yourself to break those barriers. That's why I wanted them to be together so much.
Is that why you cast Matt Damon in your upcoming film?
Well, I'd be lying if I said I cast him, because we sort of came up with the idea to do the movie together. It's like I cast him, he picked me as the director -- you know, we basically agreed on the role. But I do think there's something to be said for knowing someone really well, if for nothing else then you can just cut to the chase and not beat around the bush.