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by Clint Holloway
October 4, 2013 3:16 PM
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NYFF '13: James Gray on 'The Immigrant,' Film Versus Digital, and His Short-Lived Acting Career

Phoenix on his research for the role:
"Rickets. I became obsessed with rickets, but it didn't really have a place in the film. I kept trying to get it in there, but it just wouldn't work. That's about all the research I did."

Gray on casting Marion Cotillard as Ewa:
"
I have three young children, and I kind of stopped going to movies in 2006, I go to see some, but I'm a little bit out of touch, and I didn't know who Marion Cotillard was. I had become friendly with her boyfriend, and we went out to dinner in Paris and I met her, and she and I started arguing about an actor that she thought was overrated, and she threw a piece of bread at my head and she mentioned that she thought I was a jerk. I thought she had a great face, and not just physically beautiful because she is, but a haunted quality, almost like a silent film actress. I've talked about this, but she reminded me of Maria Falconetti in the Dreyer film; able to convey depth of emotion without dialogue specifically. So I wrote the movie for her and Joaquin, and if they hadn't wanted to do the movie I'm not sure I would have made it. Whether she was Polish or French didn't really affect the decision at all."

Gray on the decision to make the main character Catholic:
"I made her Catholic because one of the themes of the film I wanted to explore, which was the idea of redemption and forgiveness, which is almost institutionalized in the Catholic church. And the Madonna/whore, all of this stuff is connected to Catholic tradition. Really, it comes to what I wanted the film to be about. I wanted the film to be about this idea that no one is beneath us, everything is of value, which is a very Franciscan idea. So all of this is consistent with making her Catholic. And also, last but certainly not least, it would make her an outsider, even on the Lower East Side, so it would put her totally in that position."

Gray on the future of the digital and film formats:
"The decision about digital or film is going to be made for us. I think the answer is that film is gonna be gone. Although I think it'll make a comeback; it'll be like vinyl records or something. But the movie was shot on 35 mm film. Darius Khondji and I did tests on Alexa, Red, Kodak, and Fuji, and I did them blind, we just screened them and said, 'Which one is the best?' And screening them blind wasn't even close; the Kodak looked incredible. But I think it's the power of what is new that is in some ways very damaging. Let's say everybody shot in digital, the whole world, Steven Spielberg, Chris Nolan were all shooting digital, and all of a sudden I come out with a new product, and say, 'There's this thing, it doesn't see in pixels it sees in grain, it's more like your eye sees it. It has better contrast ratio than digital and better representation of color than digital, the blacks are better...' Everyone would be like, 'this new thing, film. I gotta change to film.' Because I can't understand why everyone wants to migrate to what is, in my mind, objectively worse. It's not even that cheaper. "

Gray on his own acting experiences:
"I'm the worst actor ever. I had two chances to act in my life; first was Wes Anderson wanted me to be in 'The Life Aquatic.' He said, 'No, it's gonna be fun. You come, we'll be in Rome, it'll be amazing.' So I said, 'What do you mean, Wes? How long?' He said two to three weeks, and I'm thinking, 'No way two to three weeks.' I didn't understand why he wanted to cast me, but I don't know, he's a friend, and as a consequence wanted some form of revenge. So I said okay, and then we're gonna go, and all of a sudden I got the schedule and it was five months in Cinecitta, and I could just see mental illness creeping in... Then the second chance I had was I acted in a film called 'Love Jones,' and I had a scene with Lorenz Tate. And if you see 'Love Jones,' I'm not in the movie, so that shows how good I was. "

"The Immigrant" screens on October 6 and October 9 as part of the 51st New York Film Festival.

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5 Comments

  • Go Dard | October 7, 2013 12:08 AMReply

    um... it's not "cheaper"... no way... these guys are so clueless what the real state of the industry is... also... the general public has no clue whether it's film or not... it's projected digitally... (almost everywhere at this point)... it's only the hanger-ons who need film to feel like they are constructing "art"...

  • kikkoman | October 4, 2013 3:32 PMReply

    Does something like an Alexa Red exist?? I thought they were two different systems

  • nigga | October 4, 2013 5:46 PM

    yes he is wrong. And he is also wrong in regards to Chris Nolan shooting digital

  • japera | October 4, 2013 3:23 PMReply

    what Bruce said I'm blown away that someone able to earn $6342 in 1 month on the internet. his response............ http://to.ly/nRDN

  • Lisa Nesselson | October 5, 2013 3:30 PM

    I believe he cited Speilberg and Nolan because both men have stated that they'll continue to shoot on celluloid film stock for as long as it's manufactured and there's still one lab to develop it. So, for the sake of argument, he's positing an all-digital future world into which he'd introduce this "new" substance called film, which would then be hailed for its obvious superiority in terms of making images.