Oliver Stone was going to keep the good stories to himself.
When the Oscar-winning filmmaker of Platoon, Wall Street, and JFK began talking to author Matt Zoller Seitz (The Wes Anderson Collection), Stone told Seitz, “I’d like to concentrate mainly on the work because someday I’m going to write a memoir.”
“But then as soon as we started talking,” Seitz says, “he began telling me all this personal stuff about his childhood, his parents, his experience in Vietnam, and all these anecdotes related to people he knew during his career.”
Thanks in part to Stone’s candor, The Oliver Stone Experience is just that: an experience. Published this week by Abrams Books ahead of Stone’s 70th birthday Thursday and the release of his new political thriller, Snowden, opening Friday, the book is a 480-page, “jagged, free-associative sensory assault,” as Seitz puts it, packed (like any good Oliver Stone movie) with scrapbook and movie memorabilia, a map of Vietnam, autopsy photos of President Kennedy, typed screenplay pages, scribbled screenplay notes, yellowed newspaper clippings, and new essays by filmmakers and critics. For all the noise, Stone’s voice, as heard via a series of interviews with Seitz, comes through loud and clear and, save for the occasional blacked-out redaction, unfiltered.
“He didn’t have any editorial control over the book,” Seitz says. “He actually asked me to draw up an agreement stipulating that he would have no financial interest in or editorial control over this book because he said, ‘That’s the only way I feel I’ll be able to be honest with you.’ And that’s an extraordinary thing.”
We spoke with Seitz this week, and asked him to react to some of the honest Stone moments that honestly took us by surprise.
1. Stone is “hurt” when branded a “conspiracy nut.”
To be clear, the surprise here is not that Stone is human, but that he admits it, over and over again through the course of the interviews.
“He was very frank about being misunderstood, feeling unappreciated in some ways,” Seitz says, noting that the filmmaker is stung by poor reviews and bad box office.
Stone is especially sensitive to the conspiracy-theorist reputation that became part of his persona after the releases of 1991’s JFK and 1995’s Nixon.
“He’s a pretty good sport about it, but he feels like it set him back. I think he thinks that JFK —the reaction to JFK — stereotyped and damaged him in some way, and it was only because JFK was a big hit [grossing $205 million worldwide in 1991] that was nominated for [eight] Oscars that he was able to continue after that,” Seitz says. “If that movie had not been a big success, that would’ve been the end of him.”
2. Stone has very strong opinions about his actors.
Stone says Meg Ryan, who played Jim Morrison’s lover, Pamela Courson, in The Doors, “was not bad in the part,” but observes of a scene in which Ryan “covers her [breast] right away” that “she was trying to be Meg Ryan, to keep that image.”
On his Alexander leading man, Colin Farrell, Stone says, “There are times he’s not as good as he could’ve been.”
When revisiting Wall Street, he says he made “the original mistake”: “[Sean Young] would’ve been better in Daryl Hannah’s role.” Elsewhere, he says he wishes Cameron Diaz of Any Given Sunday was around for the 1987 movie. “If only Daryl had Cameron Diaz’s sense of humor, her career would’ve gone far,” he says.
Val Kilmer, Stone says, “was not easy” on The Doors production, running up “huge massage bills every day,” and telling Stone at the wrap party, “You don’t know how to direct.” Stone adds, however, that he’d do the film all over again with Kilmer “in a second.”
“He is pretty candid about that stuff,” Seitz says. “He’s a very honest guy, sometimes to a fault. I joked with him it seems you have to issue an apology every couple of months.”
“Actually, he was much harsher on studio heads and financiers,” Steitz adds. “He has a long memory when it comes to people who he feels have screwed him over. You know, I do, too.”
3. Stone really doesn’t hold back when talking about Charlie Sheen.
“I think the thing that jumped out at me the most [was] his admission that he thinks he was mistaken in latching onto Charlie Sheen,” Seitz says.
Stone cast Sheen as the filmmaker’s alter ego in his 1986 Vietnam drama, Platoon, and as the naive stockbroker in 1987’s Wall Street. The hot-button films made both Sheen and Stone name brands. But a Robert De Niro-Martin Scorsese-style partnership was not in the cards. In the book, Stone says he thought Sheen had “wonderful movie star potential,” but was “definitely more interested in money” than in being an “authentic and honest” actor, like Sheen’s father, Martin Sheen.
“Probably every director has actors who disappoint them, experiences that have disappointed them,” Seitz says, “they just don’t talk about it.”
4. Stone calls Jennifer Lopez J.Lo.
This is a minor surprise, but it caught our eye: In the book, when Stone is talking (admiringly) about casting Lopez in 1997’s U Turn, he says, “J.Lo had just been in Money Train…”
Until we read that sentence, we hadn’t stopped to consider that, one, non-media types referred to Lopez by her nickname, and/or, two, non-media types said the nickname out loud.
Watch the trailer for U Turn:
The funniest thing about Stone’s J.Lo moment is that it caught Stone’s eye, too.
“He asked me when we were going over the book…, ‘Can we change that to Jennifer Lopez? I feel like it’s disrespectful to call her J.Lo,‘” Seitz says.
Seitz won the point.
“It’s like, she calls herself J.Lo. I’m sure it’s fine,” Seitz says he told Stone.
5. Stone was not on cocaine when he wrote Scarface.
It’s fair to say drugs come up now and then in Stone’s story. He won his first Oscar for his screenplay for the 1978 drug-smuggling drama Midnight Express. He made the trippy The Doors and the even-trippier Natural Born Killers. He was arrested in 1999 for driving under the influence, and in 2005 for driving while intoxicated. And, yes, he wrote the screenplay for the cocaine-happy 1983 remake of Scarface.
Still, Stone insists, he wrote the latter “completely sober.”
“The research was done stoned,” Stone does admit.
At one point in the book project, Seitz says Stone “expressed some trepidation” about the amount of drug talk. “I’m worried people are going to read this, and go, ‘Oh, Oliver Stone, the drug guy,'” he says the filmmaker told him.
Seitz’s says his response was to turn to the section of the book that reproduces Stone’s 2012 High Times magazine cover.
“And he actually shrugged and lowered his head, and went, ‘Oh, all right,'” Seitz says.
In the end, Seitz says, Stone is what his he: a 1960s-informed filmmaker, with the “mentality of a Dennis Hopper.”
“He’s never been a slick corporate filmmaker,” Seitz says. “And he still isn’t. I’ve never met anybody like this guy.”
Watch: The Cast of ‘Snowden’ says Oliver Stone was only one who could’ve directed the film: