Inside Man: An Interview withDirector Spike Lee and Producer Brian Grazer, continued
by Wilson Morales
WITH THIS MOVIE OR SOMETHING WHICH WOULD SELL ITSELF WITH THE NAMES?
BG. I don't think it's about taking a chance. I mean, I think what we try to do is make a thriller, a very effective thriller, that has this red herring, this sort of extra component that helps it transcend the genre in some way. But I think we're gifted by having these tremendous actors and I think that having these actors — whether it's the one sheet or the 30-second spot or the trailer — that's a virtue that we're embracing. And people of course
all know that Spike Lee is a master filmmaker, very, very effective filmmaker, and they learn that it's Spike. It's not that he — he's chosen not to be in front of it in that way, but it's very quickly realized. I think it's a word of mouth film. I think it will do well
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT SHOOTING RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE WORLD TRADE AND THE IMPACT OF SHOOTING THERE?
SL: Well anytime anyone ventures down to the Wall Street area, you see the presence right away. There are certain streets where the barriers come up from the street. You can't just walk in front of the New York Stock Exchange and take a picture. So it was evident. We didn't want to hit 9/11 on the head, but there was a scene where Denzel and Jodie are standing in front of a mural and also the whole thing with one character in the film who's one of the hostages who's suspected of being from the Taliban — so we had these things there.
NOW WHAT WAS THE ORDER OF SUCCESSION IN TERMS OF HOW THIS FILM EVOLVED? AND HOW CASTING CAME ABOUT? AND SHOOTING IT HERE BECAUSE I'M SICK OF SEEING TORONTO AS NEW YORK.
BG. It's a script that we bought with no director involved at the time. It was a script that we bought 5 or 6 years ago, and to my knowledge I think it's the only script that Russell had written. But it just seemed to work rather seamlessly as a thriller that is almost like a souffle in a way. And then after I got it, my partner Ron Howard wanted to direct it, and he became very excited and we thought of doing a draft together, but he became a available because he was going o direct this movie with Russell Crowe, Cinderella Man, and I Ron and I also have this pact with each other as partners that I won't save things
for him. Because we both started at the same time, same place, and I just won't wait a year for any director to be available. No matter how good that director is, I just won't wait a year. So I opened it up, and of course I thought of Spike. He wasn't available at the time, and I flirted with other directors.. But they just didn't get it the way — what they were interested in wasn't what I was interested in. And that's one of the fundamental ingredients as to how I would partner with a director. And alone the way, Spike and I talked about several different films, and he came to my office to discuss a film other
than Inside Man, and he said, 'by the way — it was almost like behind his back —
I've read this script and this is what I'm here for' — it was kind of this surprise moment. He said, 'I read this Inside Man, and I['m very taken by it, and I'd like to make this film.' So immediately I was extremely attracted and thought, let's go do this thing, in my mind. However, over time, 10 or12 years, Spike and I have sort of kind of tangled with one another and the master filmmaker part wanted to work with him, although he's so strong as a filmmaker, I thought — wow, I don't know if I can — I'm scared of him a little bit — I don't want to get in a fight or anything. So I always had that sort of apprehension — I don't want to get in a fight with Spike Lee. And what happened is — so we talked about the film and its creative merits, Inside Man, and in my mind I'm thinking — god, I have to — I don't want to not do this with him —± what should I do. We walked to the elevator, he uncharacteristically grabbed my wrist and looked me square in the eye, and he said — Brian, trust me, this will be a great film, it will be a great experience, and it will have a good ending. And in that moment, I said — let's go make this film. And from that point on, the experience has been absolutely stellar. We didn't agree on every single thing, but we would talk about it. Spike broke the tie every single time, as he is the director, but there were moments when I could actually e mail him on the set and say, would you try this? And he'd say, yeah, let me give it a shot or I did try it or I don't know if it will work. But it was a great collaboration, and I can't wait to work with him again. It was just an amazing experience.
SL. So once I grabbed Brian's wrist, then it was — gotta get a cast. Ironically, Denzel was supposed to do a film with Brian that didn't happen, and because that film didn't happen, he was left — you know, when you're like Denzel, his calendar — I hope I'm not speaking out of turn but he's getting $20 million a film, so he's like — alright, doing this film . . . this film, this film. So when this film fell apart, he said — I've got this block here. That's when he did Brutus in Julius Caesar. But the run of the play wasn't the run of the window, so he still had time after the play ended. So I gave it to Denzel. He said, Spike, I want to do this, but you've got "x" amount of time. And then also simultaneously, I'd been speaking to Clive about another film. He came aboard, and on a whim, we sent it to Jodie and she liked it. And we were on our way.
BG. As a producer having worked with Ron Howard to Curtis Hanson, Oliver Stone — I've worked with so many different directors — Spike is a joy to work with because he's able — he knows all these actors, and if he doesn't know them, they know him and he can just call the actor directly and say, take a look at this and give me a call. And that was tremendous, so not only could Spike assemble this cast which of course includes Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe, Chiwetel Ejiofor from Dirty Pretty Things, he can call them directly and they can give him very quick responses, and often the answer is absolutely yes, and with the surprise of course Jodie Foster because one would never guess she'd want to play this sort of surgically antiseptic kind of fixer person, like an assassin. But she absolutely wanted to work with Spike, and play this role.
BRINGING SOCIAL COMMENTARY INTO HIS FILMS, CAN YOU SPEAK ON THE SCENE CLIVE OWEN HAD WITH THE PLAY STATION AND THE BIN LADEN SUBTEXT YOU HAD WITH JODIE AND THE ENDING?
SL. Well, as a parent and hopefully as a responsible human being living in the world today, I'm not happy with a lot of this glamorization of gangster rap stuff, also these video games, so this was an opportunity to get something really quick — it doesn't stop the story, but just a little boom-boom-boom and then we just moved on. I loved that line that Clive gives: I've got to speak to your father about the game. So we found this small outfit that does animation and we thought up the most horrific things we could think of — and the sad thing is someone's probably going to make a game out of this too. Take that as inspiration.
CLIVE OWEN, DENZEL AND JODIE ALL SAY YOU HAVE A SPECIAL WAY IN WHICH YOU SHOOT. TO WHAT WOULD YOU CREDIT YOUR ABILITY TO DO THAT?
SL. I would just say that you have to — Number One — you want your film to look good and stuff like that. But if the actors aren't giving their best performance, you're behind the hole. And for actors to exert all their energy delivering lines off screen is a drag, so you shoot with two cameras, so actors are never off screen. They're always on camera. They love it. It goes faster like that, you just get better performances if you don’t have to be off screen. If you're in a room and several people are in the room and they don't get aroundto your closeup — end of the day the previous eight hours you've delivered all your lines off screen, I don't care who you are. You're dead. Actors love it.
Not necessarily the DPs because they got to light both ways, but the actors love it. I'm not the only one. Other people do it but some directors think it compromises the lighting too much but I work with DPs who know that going in. This is the way we're going to do it. So they understand.
SPIKE, CAN TALK ABOUT YOUR NEXT PROJECT, AND HOW MUCH OF A CHALLENGE IS THE KATRINA FILM GIVEN THERE'S STILL NO CLOSURE ON THE STORY?
SL. That's a very good question. It's something I think about every day. My first documentary, Four Little Girls, was about the bombing of the Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. We did that film 20 years later, so for the most part the story would have been told. But for this documentary we're doing on Katrina for HBO, it's called When The Levees Broke, every day there's something new. This story is constantly shifting and changes. It is a challenge. I'm thinking about it all the time.
WHEN DO YOU EXPECT THE DOCUMENTARY TO COME OUT. THERE WAS TALK OF THE ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY.
SL. Yes. Aug. 29 on HBO.
ARE YOU WORKING ON ANY OTHER PROJECT IN THE NEAR FUTURE?
SL. Well, my good friend here, Brian . . . I'm going to be directing a pilot for Brian and CBS called Sharks starring James Woods. Start that very soon. It’s about a lawyer in Los Angeles.
BRIAN, IS ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT GOING TO BE PICKED UP?
BG: For Showtime. They definitely want to do it and we're just sort of working
INSIDE MAN opens on March 24th. 2006
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