Werner Herzog might be one of the most prolific film directors working today, having directed 56 films in a career that’s spanned over 45 years. He’s not resting on his laurels either now that he’s past the normal age of retirement, since recently, his name was attached to two very different projects from his norm: A police thriller with the familiar name of The Bad Lieutenant and an adaptation of Daniel Mason’s The Piano Tuner. When Herzog came to New York to promote his new Antarctica doc Encounters at the End of the World, ComingSoon.net asked him about his new projects.
One thing the German filmmaker wanted to stress and make clear is that his next movie The Bad Lieutenant starring Nicolas Cage is NOT a remake of the 1992 Abel Ferrara of the same name, a movie made famous for Harvey Keitel’s full frontal nude scene. (Incidentally, The Piano Tuner has nothing to do with Keitel’s other full frontal movie The Piano either, in case you were wondering.)
“No, it’s not a remake,” he told us quite adamantly. “You have to delete that from your memory, though we may not be able to delete it from public perception. It’s like I keep saying, ‘A James Bond film, the newest one, is not a remake of the previous one; it’s a completely different story.’ It only has a corrupt policeman as the central character and that’s about it.”
“You won’t be able to make it clear, because it will perpetuate itself,” he lamented when it was suggested that word might get out that this is a different movie. “Once a notion like this is out, you can never correct it. Of course, it’s very fascinating to work with Nicolas Cage, he really wanted me to be the director on this film. It can’t get any better.”
He brushed off our suggestion that he’s mainly famous for being a director who works outdoors or in the wild, which would make his next film more interesting, since it would set in the city. “I haven’t made everything out in nature. Some of the films that are better-known, but I realized recently in Torino, Italy, they had a retrospective of my films, and it was 55 or 56, and I thought, ‘Dammit, I made a lot.’ Only a small but rather significant part is out in wild nature, like in the jungle or Antarctica or in Alaska, but it doesn’t mean I have a total fixation of wild landscapes out there.”
When suggested that he might be able use the techniques he learned in those famous films to explore the concrete jungle in a similar fashion, he also disagreed. “You can’t do it in this project because there’s a very clear story that is written and there’s a certain urgency in the drives of narrating the story, so you have no real time to explore certain city spaces or cityscapes.”
The Bad Lieutenant is a top priority for Herzog right now, since the project came together very fast with a limited time in which he can get the film done. “‘The Bad Lieutenant’ has to be done during a window of opportunity for Nicolas Cage which is coming very, very soon, so I have to scramble to get pre-production done. In this case, financing was unclear and I thought it probably was not going to happen, and then all of a sudden, two weeks ago, I’m called, ‘Come immediately, we have to start immediately, because money is there, Nicolas Cage wants to have me as director.’ It was a fine moment, because I had a good negotiating position with the production company. They have been good in doing it from out of nowhere from one day to the next. Of course, we’ll have bumps in the road as always happens in movies. Don’t expect that I’ll be in the city and things will be easy. There will be some problems en route, and for all movies that have ever been made.” (It’s great to see that Herzog’s sardonic wit and cynicism is still alive and well.)
Waiting patiently on deck is Herzog’s own script for The Piano Tuner which he plans on tackling after finishing the police thriller.
At one point, there was talk about a narrative drama based on the life of Timothy Treadwell, the bear-loving explorer most famously captured in Herzog’s 2005 documentary Grizzly Man, but Herzog was skeptical of that movie ever being made. “I don’t think that’s ever going to happen,” he said when asked about his involvement. “I believe that Leonardo DiCaprio bought the rights and at that time, he thought that Treadwell was a true Prince Valiant who boldly defended the bears, but when DiCaprio saw my film, that was the end of his dream of doing the Prince Valiant version. You can’t outdo Timothy Treadwell as an actor.”
Look for our full interview with Herr Herzog sometime early next week. Encounters at the End of the World opens at New York’s Film Forum on Wednesday, June 11.