French director talks about The Green Hornet and tackling Hollywood
Michel Gondry made a name for himself in the ’90s as one of the best music promo directors in the business, working with the likes of Björk, Daft Punk and The White Stripes. He broke into cinema in 2001 with false-start oddity Human Nature, following it in 2004 with a film scripted by Charlie Kaufman, the adored Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Since then, the French director has made documentaries (Dave Chappelle’s Block Party), dream doodles (The Science of Sleep) and a broad comedy about filmmaking (Be Kind, Rewind). The 47-year-old’s latest film is Hollywood buddy comedy The Green Hornet, starring Seth Rogan, Cameron Diaz and Christopher Waltz, out in cinemas this week.
Should people be surprised that you’re making The Green Hornet, a superhero movie for a studio? I always wanted to do something for a wider audience, but always from an outsider’s perspective. My last film, Be Kind, Rewind, with Jack [Black] and Mos Def, had a schizophrenic aspect to it, so it was both broad and leftfield. Some people were put off by it. But its subject is like an indie movie; it’s about communities and the politics of making movies – the idea of people making their own fun. There are people who want to beat me up when they see it, but I’m proud of it. The UK was its best audience – UK audiences seem more willing to follow my wild experimentation than the US and France.
Did you have to suppress any instincts for The Green Hornet? Yes, I did. And there were other people suppressing them too! That was the negative part, but in a movie like this where so much money is involved, if someone in a suit tells you they like it, then they really like it. If they don’t like it, they’re going to tell you to your face, and there’s no being polite or anything. Of course, I couldn’t do all the crazy stuff I had in mind, but I did a good amount of it. I remember when I was doing my first film, Human Nature, it was produced by Spike Jonze. We were friends and I appreciated his help, but I was reluctant to take advice. I would often do the opposite. Sometimes, his ideas were amazing, but I felt I had to defend my autonomy.
The Green Hornet is a big-budget studio film. Will we be seeing the usual Gondry touch? Will you break the fourth wall again? I think you’re going to see my touch on two levels. One is the relationship between Seth Rogan and the guy who plays Kato, Jay Chou. They have a very friendly and humane relationship. Also, you’ll see my touch in the parts of the film that are told in flashback or as a dream sequence. In terms of breaking the fourth wall, I don’t want to do that too much, because it’s hard enough to make people forget that they’re watching a movie, so attracting attention to the fact would just be silly. The Green Hornet is in UAE cinemas now.
Always the baddie
Christoph Waltz notches up his second bad-guy role in The Green Hornet, playing Russian gangster Benjamin Chudnofsky, following his Oscar-winning role as Colonel Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. His third and fourth baddies are not far off, with parts in forthcoming movies Water for Elephants and The Three Musketeers. But who else has fallen victim to studios’ penchant for typecasting?
Alan Rickman Most famous for unsavoury characters such as Hans Gruber in Die Hard, Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, silver fox Rickman is said to be fed up with being asked to play villains.
Christopher Lee Lee is part of the old-school generation of baddies, kicking off with roles as Dracula and Frankenstein in the ’50s. He moved on to play the devious Saruman in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Willy Wonka’s cruel father in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Joe Pesci Pesci is the most villainous-looking of the lot (we know: book, judge, cover). He scared plenty of 10-year-olds in the Home Alone series and was magnificently creepy in Goodfellas and Casino, though his recent role alongside Helen Mirren in Love Ranch was widely panned.