April 22, 1999; Salerno, Italy
**notes written and interview transcribed by Cynthia, edited
Linea d'Ombra - Shadow line
- is an independent film festival heavily influenced by the British
cinema; every year the jury of the festival awards a prize to
an outstanding actor or director for his artistic merits. Last
year it was Ken Loach, for example, two years ago, Peter Cattaneo
and Robert Carlyle. The festival is connected with a small but
very lively school of performing arts and Kenneth seemed very
happy to answer the students' questions and share a little of
his knowledge in this way. With him, on the stage, there were
Richard Clifford, Gerald Horan and Jimmy Yuill and they added
short answers with Ken to a couple of questions - Gerald is incredibly
cheerful and funny, too :-). During the entire meeting Kenneth
was completely at ease, relaxed and he sat down...
The first question is also
a sort of introduction to Kenneth and his work. (I've snipped
out all the compliments, the "I'm so happy to be here"
"You're the greatest thespian in the world" - we know
that he is a well-mannered gentleman and Italians are often too
Why did you decide to start
your film career with Henry V?
Well, I started with Henry for
many reasons. During my childhood in Belfast my only knowledge
about acting and actors was based on movies and tv shows; I was
fascinated by the Hollywood style and I always found every single
detail of a movie interesting. My family in Belfast were complete
strangers to this kind of world and I had the opportunity to
act for the first time only at 16, during a school show, and
at that point it seemed pretty impossible to me to become...you
know... a movie star. But it was a little more simple to become
a theatre actor, even if my parents considered this a very strange
world, maybe dangerous for me and my sexual orientation...(laughs
all around) One of the things I love most in theatre is the live
experience, the strong feeling of warmth you experience, like
in a big family - the complicity, the friendship and the natural
passionate feeling you have with your public. But my main frustration,
in the first ten years of my career, was how expensive going
to theatre was, expecially for young people. So, at 27, I began
to find all the connections between the movies of my formative
years and I felt the desire to make this work available to a
larger public; I wanted to give the experience learned in theatre
to the cinema. I still remember the first day of filming on Henry,
the sense of excitement because this impossible dream - my dream
of acting in film - was finally real. And, although my first
love is theatre, I feel that my instinct is in film. I've tried
to transport into my films the sense of wonder I felt in my childhood
and also the strong, supportive feeling of a real stage company.
What's the difference between
the American way of making movies and the European one?
That's an interesting question;
the European moviemakers are more interested in telling a story,
with a strong script; instead, American producers prefer developing
a powerful idea, with a careful choice of actors with a name,
or for a certain targeted public - and often the script becomes
unimportant. I don't know if it's happening in Italy, but in
my country there's this excessive interest in box-office results.
Even my parents are concerned about charts...(laughs). This is
dangerous for the possible release of art movies, for the production
of small non-commercial movies.
Is there any difference between
directing Hollywood actors and classically trained actors?
I think there's no difference;
all actors are very insecure, but open and sensitive and creative;
and this is important, because if you are an actor you need to
be vulnerable. I've found famous actors scared to death about
their skills, and newcomers very self-confident - but I love
to work with both, because they both have the courage to experience
deep feelings and terrible emotions. Sometimes with famous actors
you have some problems with their established reputation and
the fear of trying different parts; with your friends (large
smiles from Gerald, Richard and Jimmy) you have this instant
quickness during reharsals, and a great common sense of humor
- but every actor is special in his own way. (Gerald added "the
only thing very special in our work is money" - big laughs)
Why did you decide to direct
two films about Hamlet?
When I started to write the script
of In the Bleak Midwinter I didn't know if I would be able to
direct a complete, extended version of Hamlet. And I love comedy,
it was fun to use all my friends and laugh about our manias and
defects; humor helps to bring about a better rapport between
fellow actors, in theatre it's very important to have this kind
of confidence (closeness). We made this movie with a theatrical
technique, with only a week of rehearsal and four weeks of shooting
- but every part was written thinking about the individual actor
and his particular skill or fear or peculiarity. I wanted to
make a comedy about Shakespeare, because often Shakespeare is
funny and humorous and optimistic, even if we always have this
tragic impression of his works. When I filmed the four hour version
of Hamlet, this constant facing the theme of death had the result
of making the actors in the cast react hysterically - cracking
up with laughter and jokes at the worst moments - and from this
point of view I think the two films are deeply connected and
interlaced, they are both part of a long period of my life obsessed
with Hamlet, the twenty years I spent playing Hamlet everywhere,
in theatre, radio, cinema...
What do you think about Zeffirelli/
I think Zeffirelli is a particulary
gifted director of Shakespeare; we have completely different
visions of Hamlet, but he had such a great ability of portraying
his own version of this play. I appreciated Mel's performance
for its simplicity, and also Glenn Close for her powerful, heartwrenching
way of playing Gertrude. And Paul Scofield is one of the greatest
actors who ever lived.
Did you have the opportunity
to improvise with Woody Allen?
Well, when you act Shakespeare
you think it is pratically impossible to change a single word;
but with Woody's script it is the same...(laughs) His screenplay
is very fixed, and it was really strange for me to play a script
written by and about Woody, including those tics like...(and
he started to stutter in woodinesque style, really amusing :-))
But do you like improvisation,
in theatre and in movies?
It's interesting; both Woody
Allen and Robert Altman permit their actors a certain amount
of improvisation. But Woody doesn't like you have too much contact
with the screenplay and your part; you should just play the part
as it is written and maybe add interjections like "Ok, well
well". With Altman it is completely different; you can learn
your part and find something completely different on the set.
For example, in Gingerbread Man, I had a short scene with my
two children at a pet show and a page of script to play - a very
simple and intimate scene. The day of this scene I reached the
set and found that everything was completely changed: they had
closed an entire street of Savannah to traffic, there were 500
extras, a huge boat was on the river. So I said to Robert "What's
happened to the pet shop?" and he said me "Too boring"
(laughs all around, Ken has used a perfect, annoyed American
accent) So he told me "Go to the top of the street, and
walk with the children in front of the camera and...let's pop
up! (at this point the poor translator was a little perplexed
and Ken specified) Let's improvise. And so it was; I suppressed
my panic, got the children up and down the street, playing with
them like a real father.... Of course, you are scared to death
most of the time, but it's very interesting to experience. During
this film we improvised almost all the scenes, in parallel with
the written screenplay, but in the the final cut he used only
10% of all the improvisation and only the very best. Sometimes
it seems a chaotic way of working, but he adores actors and it's
always a real pleasure to work with him.
Most of the time you have
made your Shakesperian films after you have acted (in the plays)
in the theatre. Do you think is possible for you to make Shakesperian
movies without having experienced the live performance?
It's very helpful to have the
play under your skin, but I found it very interesting to play
in Othello even though I hadn't played Iago in the theatre. It's
more dangerous and more exciting to experience a part without
a long preparation - but in any case I'll be forced to play parts
I haven't played in the theatre considering how long I've been
away from the stage... ( a big, lovely and definitive smile)
**At this point someone asked
about Macbeth and all the English fellows on the stage seemed
really embarassed (upset).**
Ken: In my country it is better
not to name that play. But, if you want, say "Scottish play"
- **and he politely refused to answer this question.**
How do you manage to direct
and act together and who is your formative director?
For me it's a unique experience
to act and direct at the same time; even though it's very difficult
to look objectively at your own perfomance. Regarding Love's
Labour's Lost, I tried to look at my performance every day, trying
to be brutal and honest about my limits. Sometimes I see my performance
and I say - this director is not very helpful to his actors...(laughs).
So, often I'll ask Richard and Jimmy to help me and stop me when
I'm exaggerating... and they are always very happy to do this.
(laughs) The very important thing, anyway, is that when you act
and direct together, you have no means and no time to disguise
yourself. (Renata's note: I think he means "no opportunity
With regard to formative actors
and directors, I have so many. It's dangerous to have a single
hero, because you risk is putting too much emphasis on a single
concept or way to see and feel things. But if I must choose,
I wish to remember a great and underated director, Sidney Lumet,
whom I've always found very inspiring. He also wrote a book...I
don't remember the exact name...maybe Making Movies...or Making
Pictures...full of great advice for young producers and directors.
A generous book, generous in technical information about how
to tell a story and direct various kinds of actors with different
skills - a milestone for everyone wants to learn the visual art.
I love directors and actors with a great experience and enthusiasm.
By making all those movies
do you feel you have completely realized your most profound and
I have so many dreams in my life,
and I have realized the greater part of them. It's strange and
maybe silly, but for us, for example, it was a dream to visit
the Costiera Amalfitana and now here we are..(giggles all around,
especially from the Salernitani) But seriously, the impossible
dream is to make the perfect movie and the more experience you
have the more you recognize that it's impossible to realize it.
More experience allows you to know how much you don't know...(laughs,
Ken gesticulates a lot when he talks, but in a fluid and elegant
way, not really like Italians. Ah, at this point he literally
perched himself on the stool, with his legs pulled right in -
he looked like a kind of charming young owl! [poetry overtakes
our Cyn ;-)]) ...and this is very depressing.
End of questions from the students and beginning of the press
What do you think of Shakespeare
in Love? Is it believable for you?
**at this point Kenneth smiled
so warmly that we felt a sort of melting all around - so, if
you don't like this movie, it will be a little disappointing
for you to know that...**
Oh, I liked this film so much,
so light-spirited, and the love for theatre it shows. A warm,
compelling experience, which shows us exactly the spirit of the
theatre and what it means to work in it - more or less the same
thing we did with In the Bleak Midwinter. And I very much loved
that it allows people to know Shakespeare and his time - or maybe
a little, picturesque part of it - without a high cultural profile...
Shakespeare is not a fashion,
we know, Shakespeare is an evergreen - but there are times when
he is more appreciated than ever, like for example in the last
five years. Why, in your opinion?
It's a hard question to understand
why now, why in this moment. Maybe it's something related to
the end of the millenium. Maybe we are scared about a possible
end and we are searching for the right things - the eternal questions
of being human, and Shakespeare has written a great many of the
answers. Or maybe it is only a celebration of the great achievments
of arts and literature, like in a final parade. After all he
is a dominant icon of our culture. But the important thing with
Shakespeare is that he talks to the human heart; you can always
recognize his characters as friends and you can see yourself
in his plays.
What do you find of yourself
in Shakespeare's plays?
Good question. Many things. In
Love's Labour's Lost the desire to be in love, for example -
and the silliness we have when we are in love...(laughs) I think
in this play Shakespeare is an observer of human beings in love.
Particulary men - the silliness they have when they are in love
(Gerald at this point comments: at this stage (in life) it is
a common fault... great laughs and Ken.. "yes, it keeps
one young...) I think people recognize in Shakespeare that he
felt as man what he wrote as an artist - men are eager to find
love and are unable "to live" love (and Gerald, more
and more electric (lively) "but only in the play, of course",
laughs all around) Everyone has direct experience of this.
Why did you chose to make
Love's Labour's Lost as a roaring thirties musical?
(Ken smiles and says "Ask
Richard, it's his cup of tea" big laughs all around and
Richard - a lovely man, I must admit, I had a short conversation
with him while waiting for Ken and he is adorable - explains)
Well, it's a comedy, a lively comedy with a flavour of melancholy.
It was perfect for the middle of the 1930s, when people felt
that an entire world was ending; watching this film you have
the impression that the characters are having a good time, and
that they get on together, but that there is a sort of menace
in the air.
Ken resumes speaking:
I think making Love as a musical
explains perfectly this escape from reality. Musicals were the
type of movies which were so popular before the Second World
War, because they were a sort of escape from the Great Depression
- it was an historical period not so different from now, you
know. For example there's this strange sensation in the air that
something will happen on 1/01/2000... but who knows?
***(Taking advantage of this
commentan idiot journalist asks the worst possible question that
you could put to poor Ken)***
Speaking of the millenium
and imminent disasters - what do you think of the war in Kosovo?
(Suddenly Ken is serious, very
concerned) It's...such hard subject for an interview...it's terrible,
a biblical cathastrophe. We must only hope that it will never
happen again - no more, no more (yes, he said that two times,
slowly, really sad). And even this killing in America - the kids
in Denver - it's also incredibly depressing, and sad and terrible.
Such a waste of...I don't know. We have some responsibility to
our public - and one thing we are trying to say with our little
film: try to love. Try to make people happy. Try to be happy.
Happiness, love are so rare and so necessary.
If you could meet Shakespeare,
what would you want to ask him?
(Laugh) I don't know. Maybe I'd
apologizefor not paying him the copyright on his plays... ;-)
I wasn't able to find his agent.
So, this project on Mac...
**Ken interrupts, shouting, "Scottish
Play!" - and Gerald and Richard started laughing like two
No, sorry, really - I know it's
stupid, but in my country we are superstitious about... this
play. I prefer not to answer, really... (a sigh up towards the
ceiling, patient but umovable...)
Working in Hollywood must
be very amusing and interesting, but maybe a little divergent
from your real goals?
If you have your objectives clearly
in mind and know where you want to go, it can be purely a privilege
and a pleasure to work in Hollywood. It's not true that all Hollywood
films are commercial or crap. It's an industry, of course, but
a good industry. The best thing to do is choose the writers and
directors with whom you want to work. For example, I agreed to
work on this film, WWW, because the director was Barry Sonnenfeld
and because Kevin Kline, my dear friend, was in it. Of course,
I could have directed ten Shakespeare films with the budget of
this film... it's so packed with special effects - but I like
playing villians. They're more fun.
**At this point the moderator
asked Gerald, Richard and Jimmy a collective question, about
why they felt close to Ken, and all three answered the same way:
we have the same roots, we're working class people (proletariats,
in Italian) who never thought we could act in the theatre, but
Kenneth made us realise we could, that it was right to do it,
that acting wasn't only for the children of actors or the middle
class. As well, when he directs you feel clearly that there is
an actor in him who understands you and supports you and is on
your side, and this allows you to work with ease and calmness,
especially on Shakespearian texts. People perceive this sureness,
this simplicity and clarity and are able to love Shakespeare,
and feel close to him. We consider ourselves a large family and
we three are only a small part of this family - and the irrepressible
Gerald: "A family which like all families tends to get bigger
or smaller, sometimes" - and above all we have a lot of
**The interview finished at this
point; there was applause, Ken bid farewell with deep bows and
big smiles and went on to do interviews with various local and
national TV networks.**
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