December 2002
25th Hour : An Interview with Spike Lee

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

Spike Lee directs Touchstone's 25th Hour - 2002 25th Hour : An Interview with Spike Lee

Spike Lee has been known to be controversial. His films, at times, offer many reasons for that belief. But to his credit, Mr. Lee isn’t afraid to speak his mind and that’s what’s amazing about his work. Some of his films are about issues that most don’t want to tackle. In his latest film, 25th Hour, one man decides to change to course of his life in one day. Raised in New York, and living here through the aftermath of 9/11 hasn’t stop Mr. Lee from shooting in his home city. In fact, he embraces it and all of the surroundings that some have politically avoided. In an interview with, Director Spike Lee talks about shooting this 25th HOUR in New York City after 9/11.

WM: This film was based on a book that was written before 9/ 11 and it could have been easy to not shoot the horrors of the aftermath, but you chose differently. Why so?

SL: Cause I am a New Yorker and a couple of studios had a chance to show stills of the WTC but they chose to punk out. The project was based on the bottom line. I don’t think they should fear the sensitivity of the movie going audience. I don’t think “Spiderman” would have made a nickel less if they would have kept those images in, but that’s their decision and on this film I was able to implement my decision and I would like to add that the decision regarding 9/11 was not a big decision. I made that in a millisecond. I knew I was going to do; I just had to think how I was going to do. That was a much bigger and harder decision because I didn’t want to offend anyone and we still knew there was a way to deal with it in a tasteful way but not run away from what happened.

WM: Did you think it was relevant to the story?

SL: Yes, we did not want to do something that looked like it was slapped on.

WM: One scene that will hit a nerve with the audience is the showing of the WTC site. The music to that scene also plays a factor in that scene. How did you come to making that decision?

SL: Thanks for the question. As I said before, I had to think “How am I going to bring 9/11 into the film?”. It could be with dialogue. It could be with little touches like the American flag, or by location. The idea is that Barry’s character is a Wall St. money guy and it would make sense that he could walk to work and he could conceivably lived close to ground zero. So I told my production designer to find me a window that overlooks ground zero. They went on locations scouting and found me pictures that were a mile away or a half a mile away. I went back to them and said that I want something better than this. We finally found an office in a building nearby. The space had been occupied by the Bank of Japan and abandoned after 9/11 and interesting enough, this guy from the building refused everyone’s request to shoot from there, but said yes to us. When I saw the pictures from his view, I knew this was the spot. The day we shot the scene, I told Barry and Phil that we weren’t going to cut. I said that we are going to shoot the whole scene and show the site from their view. We knew it would be powerful and Terence Blanchard’s score enhances that. Terence has been doing my scores since “Jungle Fever” and I told him I wanted the score to be a voice in this film. I told him that the score should have an Arabic Islamic voice. We used it in the beginning, the middle, and at the end of the film. We found this guy who sang on the “Eyes Wide Shut” soundtrack.

WM: As you shot this scene, how did your crew feel?

SL: Everybody was deeply affected by it. Jim Brown and I went down there one night. Jim had the cloud to get in because the site is restricted to most people. When we got there, the area was massive. At that point, they had pretty much cleaned up the mess and the shot you see at the end are the workers who are looking for remains.

WM: With this film, it seems like a dream cast of thespians. Is it easier for you now to get who you want?

SL: No, but I think that once you have a great script, and I don’t care who you are, as a director, no one will come if the script is poor. It was good timing. It worked out that everyone was just free and we got whom we wanted. We chose someone else for Anna’s part, but we had to get rid of her. So Anna came in to the film late and at a disadvantage but she picked up really quick.

WM: What do you feel about the Rockefeller drug laws and how did you want to approach that?

SL: I think that those laws have to get thrown out. There is no evidence that the Rockefeller laws have been any type of deterrent to drug trafficking. That’s one of the reasons I felt that the character Monty had to go to prison. He’s a drug dealer and he got caught with a lot of it. There are a lot of black and Hispanic people in prison all across this country who are doing more than 7 years and they didn’t have a piece of crack on them. So, it was definitely an imbalance. If you have 4 pounds of coke, you do more time than those who have more of something else do. That’s crazy.

WM: What about the rant that Edward’s character says through the mirror? Some people may think that it’s just like you to throw sometime like this in the movie.

SL: The lines were in the book. I also did a similar scene like that in “Do The Right Thing”. Let’s be honest, if you lived in New York, you would have some of those feelings about any one of those races. We named everyone. I think that it doesn’t necessary make you a racist or prejudice. It’s just part of living in NYC with all these different cultures combined and clashing with one another. But when you verbalize it, that’s something else. I’ll be honest, there have been times when I have been in a cab and I want to roll down the window. What do you want me to do? That’s what I love about NYC. Anyone that lives here will have a love-hate relationship.

WM: Can you get emotionally involved in a film without seeing it from a director’s view?

SL: Oh yes. I’ll give you an example of a film that made me emotional and I think is the best film I’ve seen all year. It’s “Bowling for Columbine.” That had an affect on me. Michael Moore is a great filmmaker.

WM: How involved was the novelist with the film?

SL: David Benioff wrote a great script and then I took it over.

Edward Norton in Touchstone's 25th Hour - 2002 WM: You have a way of bringing new faces to the screen. Can you talk about the casting of Tony Siragusa?

SL: I was watching a show on HBO called “Hard Knocks”, which is about what’s it like to be on a NFL football training camp, and it was funny and so was “Goose.” This guy was funny. When I was casting the film, I wondered who would play “Kostya?” I knew I wanted him. I knew he could act based on the show. So I called him and told him I wanted him to be in my film. He said “Alright.” He was worried because he had never done that before. I told him not to be nervous because he has the talent. I also have to give Edward Norton a lot of credit because I couldn’t always be there to teach him the ropes. When Edward had some time off, he would work with Goose.

WM: How was your relationship with Edward Norton?

SL: It was great. He definitely has opinions, but I respect that. A lot of ideas we had for the film was worked out during the 2–week rehearsal period. I did it then and didn’t have to worry about having the cast wait while we work out the kinks. We had it all worked out before we began principle photography.

WM: Does it make you angry when people say that this film may be more accessible to the media?

SL: No. Let’s be honest, we all know what the code word “accessible” means. If people really spent some time, beside “School Daze” and “She’s Gotta Have It”, my cast has always been diverse. Look at “Do The Right Thing” with Danny Aiello, Richard Edson, John Turturro, and John Savage. You have “Jungle Fever” with Turturro again, Anthony Quinn, and Michael Imperioli. Then there’s “Summer of Sam.” So I hope they will like this film and tell their friends.

WM: How much input did Tobey McGuire have on the film as one of the producers?

SL: He had a great input. His company found the book and hired David to write the screenplay. It was his initial intention to play the lead character Monty Brogan, but “Spiderman” came around and that changed everything.

WM: As the year is coming to an end, where do you see the state of black films?

SL: Well, I recently saw “Drumline” and thought that was great. What’s great about these films, Drumline,

Denzel’s Antwone Fisher and mine, is that there are out of the ghetto that black people are usually relegated to. I’m glad these films are made outside of these ghettos. My biggest concern is the subject matter of these films. I want us to expand from what we have been limited to.