The Irish director of My Left Foot and In the Name of the Father chats...
How were you first introduced to Susanne Bier’s version of Brothers, which you then remade? Funnily enough, I watched it in my house on tape. I thought it was rather good, and when I heard they wanted to remake it I thought I could do something different with it. I liked the idea of the main character being put in a place beyond life and death, where whatever choice he makes is going to be wrong.
What appealed to you about the original?
Well, the brothers having a fight appealed to me. Sibling rivalry in general – I know a bit about that. The family story too. The ability to say something about post-traumatic stress was interesting.
Was Susanne Bier on hand to talk about it?
No, I couldn’t get in contact with her. I tried. I got in contact with the writer, Anders Thomas Jensen, and any changes I made I ran by him. He was helpful. Anything I said he seemed to like. I heard Susanne liked the movie, but I haven’t heard what Anders thought of it.
Where did you set Brothers? It’s not obvious from watching it. The weird thing is, I didn’t set it anywhere. When people asked me where it was set, I said ‘California’, because I didn’t want anyone to do accents. Having a voice coach wandering around the set saying ‘accent, accent, accent’ drives me nuts.
One of the producers of Brothers said in a news article that the fact the film involves the war in Afghanistan is not important. He said Tobey Maguire’s character could have suffered in any traumatic situation. Do you agree with that? More or less. He’s saying that for the purposes of, you know, trying to make the story sound more universal and not specific towards Afghanistan. Yet, I don’t think Tobey Maguire would have been as affected if he’d been in a car crash or something. We’re in a war where there are no rules. Choosing heroic suicide or life – it’s a hard choice. Suicide bombers I’m not in to. I think it’s a bit of a cop out.
Where the Afghanistan scenes filmed on location? No, we had a few shots from people we knew in Afghanistan who’d done them more or less on their phones or a camcorder. We shot the rest in New Mexico.
What research did you do for your portrayal of the Afghan militants in the film? We just read up as much as we could about the Taliban really. And a little bit on Al-Qaeda. But, at the end of the day, it’s an imaginative thing where you’re taking an idea and just running it. I mean, are they stereotypical Al-Qaeda guys? I dunno. I dunno. Movies are like religion: they’re not logical. You can believe if you want to believe, and you don’t have to believe if you don’t. So, it’s all about what Coleridge called ‘the willing suspension of disbelief’. So, if you want to disbelieve, it’s a very easy process.
Would it be fair to say that Brothers and your last film, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, are very different types of film to all your previous ones? Do you plan to go back and make more small-scale dramas? Right now it’s difficult. I’d say I want to make them, but if I was making them I’d ditch all artifice and make them with a camcorder. In that way, you have a chance for success. But once you’re in the $35 million bracket, you’re in to factory production. We make movies like we’re making Ford cars. We have 300 people on the set, and that’s not sustainable with a business, that’s essentially like a cottage industry. Apart from Working Title, it’s a cottage industry. When we talk about the Irish and English film industry, it’s rubbish. No, there’s only two film industries: America and Bollywood. The French a little bit too.
I hear you’re set to remake Kurosawa’s Ikiru? Yeah, I don’t know if I could do that. I love the movie. It’s difficult because the bureaucracy is different in Japan, a bit more French or English, even. But I don’t know if there’s that level of bureaucracy in America.
So you’d set it in America? Yes, I think so. Everything now needs to be seen through the prism of America.