Ridley Scott Won’t Let Age Or Pandemic Slow A Storytelling Appetite That Brought ‘House of Gucci’ & ‘The Last Duel;’ Napoleon & More ‘Gladiator’ Up Next
EXCLUSIVE: As his House of Gucci cast premiered the awards season entry in Europe in concert with the 100th anniversary celebration of the fashion brand, Ridley Scott stayed back in Los Angeles. Glimpsed through the limited lens of a Zoom call, Scott obviously lives well. But he’s quick to say that where he’d rather be is the getaway home in France where he suddenly finds himself at the center of a fledgling winemaking business that manufactured its first batch of reds and roses from grapes grown on his estate in Provence. He shares the place with wife Giannina Facio, a driving force as producer on House of Gucci along with Scott, Kevin Walsh and Mark Huffam. And you might remember her as Maximus’ wife in those Gladiator flashbacks as Russell Crowe’s character was dying.
“I didn’t want to get into it when I bought this manoir, this jewel of a place 29 years ago,” Scott said. “It had 23 acres of vines but I used it as a holiday house. Then by accident, somebody said, ‘you know, your grape is excellent, you’ve made a very lucky purchase.’ Now, everyone thinks our rose came out the best.” I tell him that fellow iconic director Francis Coppola also fell into winemaking when he bought his first Napa Valley vineyard as a vacation home, and now makes more from grapes than from The Godfather, Scott said, “Francis has what, 1000 acres while I have 100. I am thinking small and letting it grow slowly, because I am too busy.”
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When it comes to films, Scott never thinks small and this year’s bumper crop marks as ambitious a two-year period as any director, especially one turning 84 at month’s end. In his last Deadline interview when he directed the Best Picture nominee The Martian, Scott said his refusal to slow down is explained simply. He’d rather be out in the world somewhere shooting a movie than walk his spaniel. Scott’s two films this fall show that his storytelling ambition and ability to move seamless between genres is sharp as ever, and even more impressive given Hollywood and the world shut down during the global pandemic for much of the process of making both films.
Scott began the fall with The Last Duel, a fact-based #MeToo tale set during the Middle Ages. The wife (Jodie Comer) of a knight (Matt Damon) said she was raped by a politically well-connected scoundrel squire (Adam Driver), and the knight brings his appeal for justice directly to the king. Told Rashomon-style in three acts, The Last Duel culminates in a bloody mano a mano battle that was the final sanctioned fight to the death in France.
‘House Of Gucci’ Trailer: First Look At Glitzy Crime Drama Starring Lady Gaga & Adam Driver
Coming November 24 from MGM is House of Gucci, a star-studded film that begins as patriarch brothers Aldo (Al Pacino) and Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) confront who’ll lead the family business. That pits their sons Paolo (Jared Leto) and Maurizio (Adam Driver) as rivals, the latter bringing into the fold his voraciously ambitious new wife Patrizia (Lady Gaga). By the end of all the backstabbing, lawsuits and power grabbing that ensue, the family’s stake in Gucci went from 100% to zero; Aldo served a jail stretch for tax evasion, and Maurizio was found dead in a pool of blood in the marble and mahogany lobby of his tony office. Robbed of her status as a Gucci when her husband kicked her to the curb for serving as the catalyst for the family implosion, Patrizia was tried and convicted of hiring the hitman who killed her estranged husband. The Becky Johnston & Roberto Bentivegna script has light moments, and there are remarkable performances all around including Driver, Pacino and Leto, capped by a murderess turn by Lady Gaga that shows her Oscar-nominated turn in A Star is Born was no fluke.
Scott has as strong a film resume as any director alive. Is this the year that he finally gets a Best Director Oscar, denied him the year Gladiator won Best Picture? Here, he answers all questions before heading back into prep on Kitbag, another period epic about Napoleon’s tempestuous love affair with Josephine that drove him to distraction as he tried to conquer the world.
DEADLINE: You have been working on House of Gucci since 2006. You were going to direct it, Leo and Angelina were circling, there was Wong Kar-Wai, and then your own daughter, Jordan. What made you keep at it so long, and why now?
RIDLEY SCOTT: Oh, what do you think? It’s Giannina, my wife. She has made four movies. She’s a lot slower making movies than I am, but she has pretty good taste, and she got her teeth into this thing. She’s partly Italian and lived in Italy for seven years, and I believe she might’ve been there in her middle to late 20s when the murder of Maurizio Gucci happened. This was shocking, like having the Prince of Whatever assassinated. The murder occurred six years after the divorce and so it almost felt random. In between, clearly there was a form of harassment going on, which I think he tried to ignore and avoid. That probably made her more and more obsessive about having to settle the matter. Quite what the matter was in her own mind, no one knows, except she made a horrible judgment. If you marry a Gucci, you are not necessarily a Gucci. Except by name. Gaga put a very nice spin into that. She felt that she was a woman being ignored in terms of her perceptions and cleverness. Maybe she had business acumen, but the more she tried to engage at an intelligent level, it became intrusive, and that starts the irritation. When irritation starts with both sides, it gets worse, and what happens is the abscess festers and develop into hatred. And that’s what you have in the movie.
DEADLINE: You could have presented this as more of a murder mystery, but the marketing puts it right out there that Gaga’s Patrizia is hiring a hitman to kill her estranged husband. What was the strategy behind that?
SCOTT: Well, don’t get it out of proportion. Don’t say it’s a murder mystery. It’s not.
‘House Of Gucci’ Unveils Character Posters Of Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Al Pacino And More – Photo Gallery
DEADLINE: There is so much backstabbing among the Guccis, it could have been done that way…
SCOTT: I didn’t want to make it into a thriller drama because it’s not. I saw it more as a satire. Satires are frequently examples of the ‘like.’ This might be likened to Medici or Borgia. So, suddenly I thought, you know what? This is a satirical view of a 20th century family that has gone into a self-destruct mode by…you want to put a simple word on it, but you can’t. I don’t think you can say it’s greed. I think from the Gucci point of view, they wanted to protect their name. That became hard when two time bombs came into the story. One was the character Paolo Gucci. It’s wrong to say he was a loose cannon because he believed he was talented, and the problem is, they didn’t, and they did not want his name on the brand. So, right there you have a crack in the armor. You’ve got Maurizio finding out that his uncle had been making cheap knockoffs and selling them all for a very high-end profit. I mean, in those days, $400 million is a lot of money. Today, I think $400 million is still a heckuva lot of money, but when you look at Jeff Bezos, or Apple, these are two and a half trillion dollar companies. So, it’s gone grotesque; it makes no sense whatsoever. They can’t measure their genius by that amount of money. It doesn’t make sense, right? They found a window with a genius item [holds up his cell phone] and I think the fucker who made this has fucked up probably this entire millennium new generation. So, with this, you think you’re a fucking genius, right? If I asked a 20-year-old, what’s 12 times 12, they can’t tell me. They have to get onto the fucking calculator mode on this thing. Maybe this is simplistic, but I am very concerned about the next generation.
DEADLINE: One of those moments came when Maurizio and Patrizia are outraged about Gucci knockoffs, and when they vent their discovery to Uncle Aldo, he sets them straight with a reveal that puts him in danger. While these newcomers to the business think they know what’s best, he tells them Gucci is secretly making these knockoffs which creates a big profit margin. Secretly mass merchandising and discounting your upscale product, while charging the upper crust big prices in tony showrooms is deceptive but shrewd. Why shouldn’t a woman in a blue collar home have a Gucci bag she can afford? My question: why is it that people either born into or marry into a dynasty they didn’t build, believe they have all the answers?
SCOTT: I think two things. First, [Aldo] should’ve declared that money. He didn’t. That’s his first mistake, and as you know, the IRS on revenue, if they start to find there’s a problem, they’ll go after you. So, that was naïve that he had kept dark black records of profits and he hadn’t declared them. He hadn’t declared the profit because he didn’t dare because he knows his family would’ve disagreed with that and said, this is not correct, and therefore you are bringing down the company, you know? So, that was the first thing, and secondly, I think when a generation takes over a company, it can…what’s the saying? The father makes the company and the success, the next generation brings the company down, and if you’re still surviving, a third one struggles to bring it back up to the surface. That’s a generalization but I think there’s an element of truth in it because the dangerous thing about having offspring who are from a group which is very wealthy is, it’s nearly a disadvantage. Unless you recognize and acknowledge the advantages it’s giving you. So, respect that. Do not disrespect it, and do not assume that you’re a genius because your father was really clever. Because usually dad started with nothing and has certainly grown something, and you never witnessed what that took. It’s a bit like kids being frustrated that they’re not stars when they watch a rock and roll band in their mid-20s, not realizing they fucking worked at it in the garage since they were probably 11, and then did all the shit and dirt and filth and crappy venues and things, and that’s how it happens. They don’t experience that…apprenticeship. What has happened to apprenticeship?
DEADLINE: Bruce Springsteen said you need to put in 10,000 hours of not being good before you’re any good.
SCOTT: Picasso said it’s 10 percent talent and 90 percent hard work. Do it constantly, and then it can be, “Oh, my God, that was quite good.”
DEADLINE: You and your late brother Tony built RSA and Scott Free, and you’ve got family members coming up. How do you manage having everyone know their place, and that you are boss?
SCOTT: Well, my oldest is older than you, and my second one who’s running the company is older than you, too. My daughter is 42, has just written her next film, and I’m still shocked at what a good writer she is. God, I wish I could write like her. Jordan is probably not interested in being a hands-on person as part of the corporation. She’s just passionate about making movies. The middle one turns out they have a very good brain in terms of perception, adjustment, balance, and Jake is already now starting his next movie in January with Daisy Ridley, and he just did this year a great documentary on Oasis. It’s a good one. He actually did some of the first videos with Oasis. So, they’re all busy, and the key from my point of view is being in constant contact. I have already called my daughter today, and I’m giving her notes on her script because I can read it and use my experience to help. I don’t write, but I’m quite good with writers. I’ll say you’re going on a bit, you’re rambling. It’s bit like writing a book, where a great book editor is quite valuable.
DEADLINE: Sounds like you don’t have a Paolo Gucci in the bunch, at least the one we see in the movie who fancies himself a gifted designer, and his father and uncle think he has no talent…
SCOTT: No, thank God. But God bless him because if Paolo was anything like Jared Leto, he was really a sweetheart.
DEADLINE: Al Pacino and Jared Leto’s scenes as Aldo and his son Paolo are often quite humorous, but really touching as well. Seeing Pacino with a clueless and resentful family member whose talent doesn’t match his ambition conjures images of The Godfather with Michael and Fredo Corleone. And then there is Patrizia’s relationship with the TV fortune teller Pina, played by Salma Hayek, who becomes her confidante and secures the assassin to murder Maurizio. A lot of levity here. Did you feel that would help make the story of marital disintegration and corporate backstabbing more palatable?
SCOTT: No. I’m actually quite a funny guy. When I did Thelma & Louise, the writer, she told me she was shocked that I made it into a comedy.
DEADLINE: Callie Khouri won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for that film…
SCOTT: And I really think she probably didn’t like the movie because Callie is a very serious person. I just saw it as quite amusing, which evolved into an epic final journey, and their ending was a statement of where they felt they were. You have three acts, and it doesn’t have to be all serious. The master of this was Kubrick. He decides he’s going to make a film about the end of the world, and he gets into it and realizes it’s so fucking ridiculous that the political platforms that meet and set us all on fire when we don’t even know they’re talking is fucking insane. I think that’s where we are today because we really want to get on with our lives and do what we need to do, and hopefully, the people we vote for don’t fuck it up, and mostly they do.
Venice Review: Ridley Scott’s ‘The Last Duel’
DEADLINE: You just worked with Adam Driver in The Last Duel, and given his height and physical resemblance, you can see why he makes a terrific Maurizio. But this movie hinges on Patrizia’s social climbing and ambition and the consequences of her being cut out of that Gucci clan. How did you settle on Lady Gaga? She got an Oscar nomination for A Star Is Born, but that was in a musical venue she knows so well. This is different…
SCOTT: Yeah, she can certainly fucking sing. Wow. If I’d been doing this 40 years ago, it would’ve been Elizabeth Taylor. Patrizia looked like Liz Taylor, and she was small, and her husband was 6-foot-4. Adam Driver’s 6-foot-fucking-4. It’s almost like Adam is the straight man and Patrizia gets all the laughs, but you need the straight man for the laughs to work, and her evolution is a shock, when she steps across the line, certainly as you get into the end of the first act, and you start to sense that this may be going somewhere I didn’t expect. Now, I believe when she set eyes on Maurizio, she knew he was a Gucci. Define love. Does love come with the trappings of a crown? She was 23 or 24, and she wasn’t a gold digger yet, but she was getting there. I had a funny feeling that if your father’s in transportation in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, do you think he’s connected in Italy? I don’t want to say it, but it’s feasible. On the perimeter of connected? How could he not be? So, she moved in kind of flashy circles where aristocrats love to fuck around at that level, don’t they? Have you noticed that?
SCOTT: They love to fuck around with the bad boys, don’t they? And so, I think she was always on the lookout for a special boyfriend, but I think what was surprising was, Maurizio was so polite. She had never been treated with such respect, and so, at the bar when he meets her, he [introduces himself] and says ‘Maurizio, Maurizio Gucci.’
That is when they meet, he is behind I said, don’t say Gucci. Let her discover in the newspaper who he was. Let her be impressed by the fact he’s so polite and so nice, and say I’ll make you the drink, but charming, and can he dance? No. I mean, he’s also very honest. There’s nothing worse than a guy who can’t dance, pretending he can. Nothing worse. There’s no way I will go near a dance floor, and my wife is Costa Rican. What can I tell you? I look like a fucking idiot, right? So, it’s best not to dance. So, that’s how it started, and then their relationship evolved.
I think Adam is maybe one of the finest actors we have today. Because he moves from being a bad boy in The Last Duel where my investment in the orgies in that film was done for a reason. It showed a social order that at these houses of great wealth and privilege, post-dinner wouldn’t be a cigar and cigarettes and some brandy. It might be, let’s adjourn to the bedroom and anybody who comes in the bedroom had better partake in what’s going to happen, an orgy. That was quite common. So, that’s the investment in that, and therefore because Adam is playing a guy who was used to this state of play, who assumes that any woman will faint and fuck him and do what he has to do and open her legs and that’s it. And where he got it wrong was…he even says it in a sentence. He says, in awe, to Ben Affleck playing Pierre, he said well, were there objections? He said ‘well, she’s a woman. Of course she pretended to object. Of course she objected. She is a woman.’ That’s the way he put it. You go, what? One wonders how much we’ve learned historically from where we are today.
DEADLINE: I mean, that’s a, you know, that’s another fair point, but you know, the interesting thing is, you know, Adam Driver as Maurizio, he starts out as somebody who basically doesn’t want to be part of the Gucci clan, really. He’s a little bit estranged from his father, and then he ends up the embodiment of exactly what he seemed to stand against. Patrizia and her father took him in, even after he said, I have nothing, I have been disinherited by my father. Once back in the Gucci fold, Maurizio embraces wealth, spending the company into the ground. Did you see Patrizia as the catalyst for the ruthlessness toward his family that was to come?
‘House Of Gucci’ Trailer: First Look At Glitzy Crime Drama Starring Lady Gaga & Adam Driver
SCOTT: No. I think what she saw was a franchise which everyone had respected at the time for its design and its style, going off the rails because it was made accessible by cheap knockoffs for people who could afford to pay for cheap knockoffs. Believe me, I know a lot of wealthy people who would pay for cheap knockoffs today. Why are you going to pay $20,000 for a handbag when you can actually get it for $200 and it’s exactly the same?
I think she had business in her mind. I think she felt that she had acumen and style, and she even tried to design some jewelry for the line herself, much to the embarrassment of the Guccis. They were embarrassed by the fact that she suddenly got in very quickly with a line of her own, and she overstepped the mark very fast. Her assumption that marriage will give you everything is not true. There are a couple of moments in between, but he said, it’s my family name, and she said, mine too, sweetie, pointing at the ring. Right there, the jug was cracked and it would never be repaired. She called him a cretin. Because he’s a nice guy, he says, don’t call me cretin, sweetheart. She says, I didn’t call you cretin; I said, don’t act like a cretin. She keeps putting a foot in her mouth, and he gradually adjusts into deep hatred, and in doing that he realizes she’s dangerous to his plan, because he was not being left 50 percent of the Gucci empire by his father.
He’s then approached by his uncle, who is corrupt, who says, let me run the company, and you come to New York and I will show you the ropes. What he doesn’t tell him is, I’m doing knockoffs, which is highly illegal and would bring the company to its knees. So, Maurizio is suddenly invaded with all the problems of running a corporation that he’s never been trained to do because he didn’t want to. He wanted to be a lawyer, right? So, it’s all there. Don’t misunderstand him. I always got amazed that people thought that Joaquin Phoenix was an evil man in Gladiator, because he killed Russell [Crowe] at the end. They forgot the scene which was maybe the best in the entire movie, where his father said you will not be Prince of Rome. And he gives him a beautiful speech and scene, saying, which older, wiser man will take my place? It’s crushing. Don’t forget those scenes, right?
DEADLINE: I saw that character as bad, through and through.
SCOTT: There’s a lot of shit in there. It’s a toboggan ride. No one’s totally bad, and no one’s totally good. Is Frank a bad guy? Yeah, but Frank had the balls of a fucking rhinoceros to go drive around Vietnam when the war is happening, and do a deal with the Chinese to bring heroin directly back into the US.
DEADLINE: In the caskets of slain U.S. soldiers…
SCOTT: Is he evil? Yeah, but fuck me, he should be a politician. He’s so brilliant, right? So, it’s a double-edged sword.
DEADLINE: What most surprised you about Lady Gaga and the work she put into this character?
SCOTT: Oh. I mean, I work like a fucking demon, but she and I were really very good for each other because she keeps up. She’s on everything. It became more and more enjoyable because, singers can be a bit fragile. This is a big movie, and some singers have not made that transition. They make it in music, they do it quite well. I’m not going to name singers, but when a singer goes onto film, they can evaporate. Somehow, they haven’t got the presence. Not her. She’s right there, and she knows the camera. She’s used to that, from being a performer on stage. Have you ever seen one of her shows?
DEADLINE: Not in person.
SCOTT: Well, you’d have to go to Las Vegas, but it’s like that. And then there is the jazz show she does with Tony Bennett, who loves her like a dad. But this other show is from an entirely different universe, and the Las Vegas crowd flocks to see her. So, she’s a multitalented, multifaceted producer, really, apart from being a performer. My hat came off to her, because I could see she knows exactly what she’s doing. And I know exactly what I’m doing. It was a very good marriage. She loved the fact we moved like lightning. We did the film in 42 days, and came in $5 million under budget.
DEADLINE: How do you shoot a big film in foreign locales, so quickly?
SCOTT: What she loved was because she’s used to being on the boards, on stage, what I tried to do with actors is…and I’m the only one who does this, which is bizarre…I shoot a minimum of four cameras, all the time. It means that a scene, scheduled for a day or two days will be done in half the time. A scene scheduled for a day, I’ll be finished at 11 o’clock. A two-day schedule, I’ll be finished on the first day. So, right there we start catching myself up and getting ahead of where the schedule was. The key of why this was done by me was, when an actor is supporting another actor off camera, it’s up to them to be very supportive and act up a storm for them on camera. Well, what you’re doing is you’re using up your juice. You’re telling the joke again and again. Now, I’ve gotten to be a two-take Charlie. I’ll say, “You want to go again?” They go, “No, we got it.” I say, “Good, let’s move on.” But the people who have to do it 90 fucking times? The person off camera is dying. And by the time [the camera] comes around on him, he knows he is done, and it’s a bit flaccid. So, I devised this as a norm to save the actor, keep them fresh. And she loved that. So did Adam Driver. So did Al Pacino, who is the master of 90 takes. I said, I only want to give you two takes, but if you want more, I’ll give you four. And he was honestly one of my best experiences I’ve ever had.
DEADLINE: He is a warm patriarch until you cross him. Particularly touching are his scenes with Jared Leto, who so disappears into this role that I found myself trying to figure out the actor playing Paolo. This guy is movie star handsome, and yet it seems the last thing he wants to show off.
SCOTT: He wants to hide in the character. I produced on Blade Runner 2. His character was blind, and he played his scenes that way. He goes way inside, and conceals himself inside the part.
DEADLINE: He created many of the lighter moments in the film, but doesn’t take you out of a narrative building toward murder. How do you thread that needle?
SCOTT: Well, you just have a cautionary note that says, don’t allow the comedy to overtake the drama. And so he plays it dead straight. We don’t have a lot of information on Paolo, but Paolo looked like that, and he was very weird, talked with hands like a lot of Italians do. There was enough information for Jared to dig into and find out who he might be.
DEADLINE: Did he like your two-take rule?
SCOTT: [Nods]. Making this movie in 42 days is just a bit slower than TV.
DEADLINE: Members of the Gucci family have been critical of House of Gucci, even though they haven’t seen it. They are no longer associated with the company, which is owned by Kering, whose chairman/CEO is Francois-Henri Pinault. He happens to be the husband of Salma Hayek, who plays an important role in the film as Patrizia Gucci’s confidante and fortune teller. How helpful was this connection with the man who controls Gucci in helping you make this film?
SCOTT: I’ve known François for a number of years through my wife, who’s had a 20-year friendship with Salma. That’s how I met him. I warned him this was coming up the pipe. He says, “OK.” I said, “No, I want you to read it.” So, he read it. I kept my fucking fingers crossed, and he wrote back one note. He said, “Hey, Ridley,” and then he wrote, “sensational.” That was it.
DEADLINE: Wow. And your follow-up?
SCOTT: Can I use the word Gucci? François is probably maybe the biggest, one of the biggest art dealers in the world, and you don’t just buy art and not know what you’re doing. He’s a very, very astute and sensitive man. So, I think when he gave me a fundamental thumbs up, it means that he got it and he knows its use and most importantly, it’s artistically acceptable for him.
DEADLINE: Gucci celebrating its centennial during the launch of this film seems fortuitous. They certainly aren’t running from you…
SCOTT: There was like a fashion shoot…On Hollywood Boulevard the other night. It reminded me of Blade Runner. I was on the street actually with him, and we’re opposite the Chinese [Theatre], and then this music was blasting out, and maybe 400 models walk out of the Chinese, walk down the far side of the street for about a quarter of a mile, turn around, came back up the other side. So, in a way, you get a fashion platform. It was a very good way of doing it.
DEADLINE: You seem like you have the visual sensibilities to be a fashion designer. You are knocking down big movies one after another, moving seamlessly from one genre to the next. How is it you didn’t direct until you were 40?
SCOTT: Well, I did make one little movie before that which cost 65 pounds, which will barely buy your breakfast, and it’s now at the National Theater. It’s got a little guy in there who was 15 and it’s called Boy and Bicycle. I was 21. I wrote it. I managed to borrow a camera. My brother Tony was the little actor, and what neither of us realized, was that he and I were preparing life’s plan together. Just him, and me. I storyboarded it of course, and planned it out. I’d say to him, get me a pack of cigarettes, and make it quick, and that was what we did, and he was the actor on camera. And he ended up doing Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, Man on Fire, all that stuff.
DEADLINE: That last one is such an underrated film.
SCOTT: Denzel, man. He’s the best, one of the best out there. I only worked with Denzel once, but it was quite an experience. I loved him to death because he’s so fucking committed. It’s just what I like about Russell. He’s so fucking committed.
Jodie Comer Is Ridley Scott’s Choice To Play Josephine Opposite Joaquin Phoenix In Napoleon Bonaparte Pic ‘Kitbag’ For Apple Studios
DEADLINE: You started and then stopped and re-started The Last Duel in the pandemic. You directed House of Gucci, and you have Kitbag ready to go with your Gladiator star Joaquin Phoenix and Last Duel star Jodie Comer. All while we had a modern day equivalent of a worldwide plague. What’s the biggest challenge you had to overcome to make this kind of showing during that difficult period?
SCOTT: You don’t do the job if you don’t like stress. You have to embrace stress. So, nothing compared to one of the most stressed times for me, trying to work out fucking Black Hawk Down on the streets of Salé. Which was teeming with people. We finally took over the neighborhood, and I got 11 cameras turning at once. Storyboard was crazy but we have a battle plan every morning, and then after the battle plan has set in, all the 11 cameras are around all talking about what we’re going to do, and I do this with a great cameraman called Sławomir Idziak. When I say, do you want to do it? He said yeah, I only work one camera and I hate sunshine. We ended up in fucking Morocco with 11 cameras, and he nearly had a fucking heart attack, but my God, he did a great job. My God. But there I was super stressed, but you learn to deal with it. I hope I answered the question. You can’t let it get to you. You can stew in it or not stew in it.
DEADLINE: You were squarely into filming The Last Duel when the pandemic hit. How did you make the most of the down time?
SCOTT: We edited pretty quick. You can only do this with a great editor, and I’m working right now with probably the best editor in the business, Claire Simpson, and so, when I’m shooting, she’s already cutting. I don’t sit back and say, don’t touch a frame until I’m ready. You’ve seen all that bullocks and it’s ridiculous. In fact, what a director should…if I was teaching, I’d say separate yourself from what you’re doing. Let someone run with the ball for a bit, if they’re good, so then you can see what you’ve got, and you can step back. You need to step back. When you paint, the thing you’ve got to constantly do is stop and step back and look at what you’re doing. If you don’t and you get too detailed, you go oh, fuck. I fucked it up. You have to constantly step back, and so, in filming or writing, you’ve constantly got to step back.
DEADLINE: So you don’t preside over that process?
SCOTT: When they’re mixing, I don’t even see it. So, they’ll mix it and go…they’ll say we’ve mixed a reel. When are you coming to see it? So, by then, I’m clean. I go in and I watch it, and then, wait a second. I’ll say there, there, there, there. When you sit in the room mixing, all that happens is the film gets louder and louder, but if your ear closes down, you think was that loud enough? It’s very important but it’s a matter of who you are. You create your own method.
DEADLINE: You will next shoot Kitbag, with your Gladiator star Joaquin Phoenix, and Jodie Comer, who played the wronged woman in The Last Duel and will portray Josephine, whom Napoleon was obsessed with. Why them?
SCOTT: Well, I think you got to land on a talent. When I chose Joaquin for Gladiator, everybody wondered why. I chose him because of a body of work that was so special and so personal. I also found that he was a very fragile kind of guy at that particular point, and I wanted to capture the fragility which would give me that scene with the father, Richard Harris, saying I’m not going to give you the big job, dude. Sorry about it. He is elegant enough to contain his rage and say, what older, wiser man can do this instead of me? So, it’s almost Shakespearean, and I think, you know, Joaquin can do anything. So, when he then does something like Joker, there are moments in the Joker that I’ve never seen before. There are reactions in the Joker which are silly. You can’t just say they’re not evil. They’re coming from a damaged soul. And that’s what I’m looking for: What will Joaquin’s version of Napoleon be? He will be the painter of his own portrait, and I’ll be there to monitor it as best I can because that’s what I do. I make sure I cast great. If I cast great, half my work, there’s that part, for me is done on the day, and after that I’m tagging along as their partner. Meanwhile, I’ve got a few other things to think about as well, right?
And oh, Jodie Comer. I became the biggest fan of Jodie because I kept watching Killing Eve, which I think was always fantastic. The interplay between her and her nemesis, Sandra Oh, was so comedic and marvelous. I just watched every show after that. Then I watch her evolve into this kind of Russian vernacular. She’s genius. I think she can do anything. So, I want to be in her painting class.
DEADLINE: Stanley Kubrick is one you hold in such high esteem that you credited his 2001: A Space Odyssey for inspiring George Lucas’ Star Wars, which led you to drop the film you were going to make and find Alien. He had an epic Napoleon film he wanted to make it right after 2001 when he was at the peak of his powers. He couldn’t do it. How are you able to?
SCOTT: It was birth to death, the entire story of Napoleon Bonaparte. I think what Stanley would’ve done is made the whole fucking thing, birth to death, and then he’d reorganize the whole fucking thing once it was all on cinema.
DEADLINE: He did recut several of his films after they were released.
Venice Film Festival
SCOTT: I also think the script was too straightforward. There was no dimension in the story. Mine, I developed it. I had this idea of saying what I want to do next is Napoleon, and I usually choose what I want to do next anyway. Sometimes something falls in front of me, and The Last Duel was that. Matt Damon called me and said we got this thing we want to do. Are you interested? You’ve done the duel already with The Duellists, but this is a different. He told me about it, and I was in. and I got a screenplay in about six weeks. Sorry, what was your question?
DEADLINE: I was asking what you learned from Kubrick’s approach to Napoleon, and it seems like you’ve broken off a piece of the story instead of taking the whole bite like Kubrick did.
SCOTT: No, you can’t. You’ll bore the ass off of everyone. Have you ever watched Waterloo? Holy fuck. That’s just doing one battle. I’m sorry, Sergei Bondarchuk. You’ve got to be very careful in battle films that you understand what’s going on. Otherwise they very quickly wear out and get boring. I don’t care how majestic it is. I don’t care how many uniforms you got. It gets boring. Napoleon had about 61 battles. Bondarchuk tried to do it with one. You can’t tell Napoleon in one either, because we’re meeting him at the end of his life as a leader, and he would go on another six years after Waterloo when he was in prison on Saint Helena. I feel you can’t do Napoleon in one battle. So, I narrowed it down to this. Almost always, the best films are driven by the characters, and we’ll come to superheroes after this if you want, because I’ll crush it. I’ll fucking crush it. They’re fucking boring as shit.
DEADLINE: Your main gripe about superhero movies?
SCOTT: Their scripts are not any fucking good. I think I’ve done three great scripted superhero movies. One would be Alien with Sigourney Weaver. One would be fucking Gladiator, and one would be Harrison Ford…
DEADLINE: Blade Runner…
SCOTT: They’re superhero movies. So, why don’t the superhero movies have better stories? Sorry. I got off the rail, but I mean, c’mon. They’re mostly saved by special effects, and that’s becoming boring for everyone who works with special effects, if you’ve got the money.
DEADLINE: Your take on Napoleon?
SCOTT: I narrowed it down to what was so needful of Napoleon to this woman, and what became so needful for this woman to Napoleon Bonaparte. Why this connection? You can’t say sex because sex wears out, right? That would be way too simple. By the time he set eyes on her, she was already a courtesan, which means she was definitely a high-end lady in the courts where she was on the lookout for the next guy who had enough money that could cope with her.
But also, she was vulnerable, which was key. She was mid-30s, and she knows beauty doesn’t last forever, and she knows she had to find something in her life to give her some kind of sense of permanence. Napoleon is very interesting because we think he might’ve been, and I don’t want to use the word because it sounds too simplistic, but slightly dysfunctional, very lacking in social graces, and it’s certainly a bit like one who doesn’t think things absolutely through, but just goes for it. Actually, he sounds like me. I just fucking go for it. I don’t give a fuck what happens, but he just goes for it. Christ, that works. That Napoleon is a very interesting character we’re building. In fact, I’m seeing Joaquin in an hour. We’re talking about how we dare waltz with an accent, and you can’t do that. You’ve got to find the rhythm. Like, in Gucci you find the Italian rhythm.
DEADLINE: You aren’t a stickler for accents…
SCOTT: In The Last Duel, there’s no French accent. That would’ve been a disaster, and yet, it’s all French. Who cares? Like, shut the fuck up, then you’ll enjoy the movie.
DEADLINE: You continue to line up the directing projects. I’d revealed your Gladiator sequel focusing on Lucius, the young ruler Maximus saved by killing his uncle Commodus. At the time, Peter Craig was on it, but now your Kitbag writer David Scarpa is on it.
SCOTT: Oh, it’s been written. It’s already been written. We have a good footprint, a good, logical place to go. You can’t just do another Gladiator type movie. You’ve got to follow…there’s enough components from the first one to pick up the ball and continue it.
DEADLINE: The last one won Best Picture, one of five Oscars. What is it about that Gladiator world that warrants a return?
SCOTT: First of all, I love doing period films. I love the research. I love to create sort of smells of the period. I think what we did with the first Gladiator…I don’t like being critical of other things that have happened before, but I wasn’t the biggest fan of Hollywood Roman epics, honestly. They felt artificial and so, when I was asked to consider a script, the script was not very good. But the person who gave it to me said, I want to show you one thing, and he picked up an illustration, this is true, it’s called For Those About to Die by Gérôme. He holds it up. It’s a picture of this big painting of the Coliseum, and in the corner there is this guy, about to tuna fork this poor bastard. He’s got this thing in his neck, and he’s looking up for permission to kill. I went, bloody hell, that’s never been done properly before. Never. I said, I’ll do it. He said you will? I said yes. Did you want to read the script? I said no, and we went off and hit the ground running around the table, and evolved the new material.
DEADLINE: One image?
SCOTT: It’s one image that got me. It was the smartest thing to do, for them to show me an image because I’m an image man. I went oh, my God. Yeah. What a good idea. I’ll do it. That was it. To be fair to the writer at that moment. There was a lot of work to be done on that script, and we reworked it.
DEADLINE: I recall you telling me of a lunch you had with Clint Eastwood about how much you loved Rawhide. Is a Western on your wish list?
SCOTT: Oh, my God, I’d love to do a Western. You know when I mentioned that to Clint, he’d forgotten he’d done fucking Rawhide.
SCOTT: I said I watched this show called Rawhide on TV. He said, really? I said, you were in it. He said really? I said yeah, you were playing a guy called Rowdy Yates. He went ‘oh, fuck.’ Well, that was 60 years ago, man.
DEADLINE: You got a Western in mind?
SCOTT: There’s a couple of Westerns that circle the wagons. I think Kevin Costner had the right thing going where he wanted to respect what has happened to the Native American. I’d like to go down that route because the Western should be about the wilderness. I love the wilderness, going that far back. Jeremiah Johnson was another I’ve watched several times with Bob Redford. That was a story of evolution, how a man comes in to try and make his way in an unforgiving territory, and fundamentally, people who didn’t quite understand why they were there. But they weren’t bad people. You’ve got to sort that out. Who did what to who, and it’s a massive case of xenophobia, right?
DEADLINE: Is there like a dream project that you are building towards?
SCOTT: No. I haven’t seen it yet.
DEADLINE: But it won’t be a superhero movie because you’ve done three of those.
SCOTT: Harrison Ford was one superhero but everyone was confused because he got the shit beaten out of him at the end by the other superhero, who they thought was the bad guy, but turned out to be a good guy. I think that’s pretty cool.
DEADLINE: Thanks for being so generous as always, and good luck in this Oscar season with two movies worth boasting about.
SCOTT: Thank you very much. You bring out the worst in me.
DEADLINE: I take that as the highest compliment.
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