The Importance of Being Ready
Mainichi Weekly Online, 20 July 2007
Q: You have been involved in more than 35 films and directed 12. How did you become involved in The Magic Flute?
A: A man called Peter Moores is a great patron of the arts in the U.K., and he had a sort of vision to produce great operas sung in English. The Magic Flute is originally in German, and he had a vision also to make The Magic Flute as a film. So it was all very specific, he's been sort of investigating the notion of doing it for the last 25 years. And they had spoken to other people, other directors, I think. Richard Attenborough was involved one time, Roman Polanski was involved one time. Eventually it came to me, and they said to me, “How would you do it? How would you make it? What world would you set it to? What kind of vision do you have for the film?" So I gave them four or five pages of my ideas, and they decided to do it. And for me, the invitation to be involved with an opera was so surprising that I was very excited; I am not an opera aficionado. So it was a very exciting and new departure.
Q: Why did you choose to set Mozart's original during the First World War? Do you think it needed a change?
A: Well, the original is very loose in the way it describes its setting; it's probably one of the world's most popular operas and it has been set in many different places. It was once set on the pretend moon. It needs a director or a producer to have an organic vision for it. My feeling was that the opera had much conflict in it, and it had an epic dimension. So the idea of the First World War is so vast, so sad and so full of beautiful poetry as well. Somehow, the epic qualities of the Flute, of romance and passion, and hatred overcome by love, war overcome by peace, could be presented as an adventure and entertainment on an epic scale full of excitement, romance and about finally achieving love and peace. It is sounding rather like a cliche, but that's what I was trying to do.
Q: Like your Oscar-winning Henry V, there are a lot of battle scenes. Do you enjoy these kinds of scenes? What is your stance on war?
A: I am essentially anti-war. But it is, of course, a fascination that mankind can't seem to stop being at war. There are so many paradoxes in war; it is both exciting and awful. It's a very dramatic situation. It's the most intense version of conflict, and it also produces rawness of emotion; it makes life and death so precious and so important, the weight and the gravity to once hold the experience of living moment to moment. So I found it a fascinating subject. For instance, with the first scene of The Magic Flute, you see two things, which can be wonderfully glorious and exciting to begin with. You're with comrades, bonded, you're in wonderful uniforms, you believe you have a great cause, and then the battle begins, and the truth is that many people die very quickly. And it becomes the absolute opposite; people are covered in dirt, they are covered in blood, the landscape that was beautiful has been destroyed, and so I feel strongly the need to be reminded of that. I'm interested in scenes like this because they remind you of the grim reality of war.
Q: According to your biography, you left Belfast when you were 9 to escape the Troubles. Do you think your experience of the conflict there influences your battle scenes?
A: I think it makes me aware of how easy it is for people to hate, rather than to love. I think it's a very exciting time in Northern Ireland right now. Politically, a massive, massive shift has occurred, and ancient hatreds have been put aside. I think an awareness of conflict and the need to resolve, the need for peace was very much part of my background. And this film certainly is about the need for peace.
Q: Apart from the story itself, are there any references to Mozart's age in the film?
A: Not really, we pretty much ignored that, and I felt the freedom. There are so many versions of The Magic Flute; it is the most popular and wonderfully loved opera. There was another very fine film of the Flute by Ingmar Bergman. I was encouraged to be as imaginative and as original and as different as one could be, and I decided to take that opportunity.
Q: What is your motto in life?
A: A good question. A hard question. It sounds like a cliche, but there is a line from Hamlet, at the end, where he says, “The readiness is all." In that context, it's probably about being ready for death, but I think - it's a motto for me - it's about trying to be open in life, be open to experience, be open to situations and to people. And be ready, be ready to be surprised, sometimes be ready to be disappointed, be ready to be excited and be ready for anything. But be ready for things to change. Be active and positive. I suppose another way of saying the same thing would be: “Anything can happen, enjoy it."