And what about the amazing performances of the actors caught in the disaster? Everything has got to be in the imagination of the performer. I believe in research, but I’m also a firm believer in using the instincts that are in your body and soul—or your stomach—or wherever they reside.
What is the challenge for you of remaining relevant as you get older? Uh, what?
Unless you never thought about that! Now, what was that John Ford thing? Ask him a big question, and he would go, “Cut!”
Well, do you have those thoughts of struggling for control and respect as you get older? You know, that’s a very difficult one for me to answer. I think that would be easier for someone else to evaluate about me, rather than myself, because I don’t think of it in that way. I think everything to me is spontaneous. As with Unforgiven, I like a script right away. But I said, “I’d like to do this when I’m older.” So I stuck it in a drawer for 10 years. Other projects just come to me, like Perfect World. Whatever. So I have no real rhyme or reason. I wish I could give you some pseudo-intellectual answer. Maybe if this was a fake French cinema class, I’d have to fake something! But I’m not the person to ask about that. If I started evaluating myself, I’m afraid that I would not be able to think intelligently about every project and the various meanings thereof.
Do you feel directors lose their touch as they get older? Well, I was always shocked. I knew Frank Capra a little. I spent some time with him at June Lakes, where he lived in the summertime. He was always so bright, so I wondered, “Why isn’t this guy still working?” I also knew Billy Wilder somewhat, and he had stopped working in his 60s. And I thought, “Wow, here’s a guy who’s bright and lived well into his 90s and didn’t work.” I never could figure that. I always figured that your best years are at a point where you’ve absorbed all this knowledge. Now maybe they just didn’t keep up with the times or they picked story material that didn’t work. You can have a few pictures that don’t do so well. Hollywood is very fickle; they kinda move on. But there’s that Portuguese director who’s over 100 years old and still making films. I plan to do the same thing!
What about working with children and those twin boys in Hereafter? The interesting thing about child actors is that kids are natural actors. They’re wonderful actors. The thing is, kids are acting all the time. They’re imagining things [that] are happening, and they can get very vivid. But unfortunately they get organized into acting, and you’ve got those stage mothers there telling them what to do. I’ve watched many times directors trying to undo bad habits that have been instilled. So when I looked at young kids for this picture, I picked the two that were the least experienced. In fact, they had no experience; they had never been in a film before. They said they had been in some grammar school plays, but I doubted that! They had the faces, and with these kids, I just figured that I could pull things out of them, without them knowing it, so they didn’t have to get in there and act like something else that they weren’t. But kids are like animals! They’re good for one take and that’s it. Their attention; they go off into another journey inside their head. They get bored, but that’s just the way it is. It all just comes together, and it’s amazing that any of it comes together! I guess that’s why I’m still doing it. I’m always amazed that this is kinda working. It’s always a surprise. And I’ll say, “Let’s not think too much about this. Let’s just go and roll with it.”