Salerno transcript

April 22, 1999; Salerno, Italy
**notes written and interview transcribed by Cynthia, edited by Renata

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 gallant... :-))

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 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/ Gibson's Hamlet?

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 to bull****")

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 secret dreams?

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 conference

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'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 nutters.***

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 fun together.**

**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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