I recently had a chance to interview one of the most luminary directors of our generation, Oliver Stone. He was in town to talk about his latest film,World Trade Center, but we also got around to why he gave in on the version of Alexander that was released, Bill O’Reilly, his image as a director, and what his next project will NOT be (the Internet rumor mill proves incorrect again).
He walked in, sat down, and looked at the cheese plate in front of him. Stone shook his head ruefully, “I’m not a cheese eater anymore. I’ve turned against the French.” Bye bye cheese. That’s the way it goes when you’re Oliver Stone, big-time director of JFK, Nixon, Any Given Sunday, Platoon, Wall Street… well, you get the idea. He’s directed a lot.
How much of this World Trade Center is completely factual?
Oliver Stone: Well, we have dialogue between people that we don’t know, we have ghosts too. There’s some dramatic license because you’re taking 24 hours and condensing it into two.
Is this a patriotic film?
Oliver Stone: I hope it’s viewed as a film about people, It’s about America in many ways because it was America that was attacked but if the movie grows the way it should it’s a larger story. It’s about the human heart, survival, how we’re all in it together.
What makes this an Oliver Stone movie, where is your trademark on it?
Oliver Stone: That’s a tough question to answer. I view myself as changing every picture. This was what it was; there was not a lot of moving camera shots because of the nature of the story. The idea was to concentrate on the lighting throughout the day, darkest when the story is at its bleakest, as hope fades within the families.
The story deals with couples who are very rarely together on screen, was it tough to direct something like that?
Oliver Stone: Yeah, imagine at the beginning of this process talking to the actors and telling them they were going to be heads in a jar. But no, I wanted to keep it in the Hollywood tradition of a driving narrative, so you could say each of the four actors occupies a quadrant of the movie.
Why did you decide to tell this story?
Oliver Stone: I decided to because I don’t think we really know the story. We have so politicized 9/11 that we’ve lost track of what the story is. What struck me when I read the script in late 2004 was Ah-ha, I’ve never seen this. It was so fresh and true. It wasn’t like we had to make it up. There were parts that during the screening people thought we had made up, but they were true so we had to re-cut the cards to show people what they were watching was true. It was also the script. My agent read it and said I can’t get this thing out of my mind, I don’t know if it’s going to make a dime, I don’t know that I can even get it financed. I read it and had the same reaction. It was so right on and the irony is I couldn’t get the fucking job; it was another six months before they finally gave it to me.
Can you talk about the set used on this one?
Oliver Stone: We built it in the old Howard Hughes hangar. Complicated build because of the access. Walking on rubble for an hour is exhausting. I don’t recommend it; well actually maybe we could turn it into a great new aerobic exercise. We could bring people down to a rubble field and make them walk for an hour, maybe make some money.
How much of a collaboration are your projects?
Oliver Stone: Well it’s not a full democracy because then it would be like the United States Congress. You’d be having God votes every day; you can’t do it that way. But I love working with writers on real subjects. This movie was a technical nightmare to make; I can’t even begin to tell you. Plus all the calls I had to make, where were you, what were you doing? All the equipment alone, all the shit that was going on. And I had to remember it all and change it all when people remembered something else. Even in Vietnam (Platoon) I knew I had to make that movie because I was beginning to forget the details. And everyone sees different points of view too. I did pledge an oath of loyalty to do the movie within the confines and move beyond the clichÃ©s. We all paid attention to details.
Are you frustrated with still being the “conspiracy director”?
Oliver Stone: I feel like a butterfly that’s been pinned. No, I pride myself on keeping at it. I’ve been destroyed a few times, Nixon was painful, Heaven and Earth was a tremendous setback for me because that was a lot of work, a lot of energy. Alexander was probably the biggest visible blotch. Only in America and England I should say, it was top 20 abroad which was significant for me.
Why didn’t you just release the director’s cut of Alexander originally?
Oliver Stone: I think I had the attitude of â€œFuck it.â€ I didn’t want to fight that battle anymore and I did feel it was a structurally correct version.
Did you feel any qualms about being one of the first directors to tackle a 9/11 movie?
Oliver Stone: I’m glad that Paul Greengrass made his movie. I think it helped break the ice, I think it was an excellent movie. This subject matter should be done in different styles like Vietnam, there’s room for six or eight movies about this that could be very effective. But I’m glad he (Greengrass) helped break that ice though I feel we have a more traditional Hollywood movie here where you get an attachment to four characters.
Is your next project really Son of the Morning Star as listed on IMDB?
Oliver Stone: That’s not my next project, that’s an old internet factoid, I guess they want me to do that.
Did you make an effort not to stand out on this project?
Oliver Stone: Yeah, I would have been embarrassed had I stood out. It would be the wrong thing for me to get in the way of the movie but I would say that about every movie I’ve been involved in. I really feel like I’m a chameleon with every movie. I think the problem is I’ve been outspoken politically between the movies and they confuse that with the movies. If you look at JFK and Nixon they defy type. Nixon was attacked by the right wing but it was actually very empathetic towards the humanity of Nixon. JFK was neither left nor right. It’s a question mark, a radical question mark. I consider myself an independent. These political things came about because we live in this climate and it’s hurt the movies, no question. But I have a right to speak out as you do.
This is an apolitical movie though right?
Oliver Stone: Yes. It’s about the day, their feelings. It was like Platoon in that sense, we didn’t talk about LBJ there.
Is it worth fighting the right wing talk show hosts who have already made up their minds on this one?
Oliver Stone: I can only say see the movie, I don’t know what to say there, I’ve been a boogey man for them for years, maybe they’ve forgotten about me by now.
Have you been invited on the Bill O’Reilly show?
Oliver Stone: I’ve been invited many times, yeah. Many people tell me it’s a really difficult format to be heard in; I think they ring a bellâ€¦
And with that the publicist rang a bell on Ollie’s time with me. We’ve also already reported on a third director’s cut of Alexander click here (also obtained in this interview). World Trade Center opens nationwide August 9th.
Be sure to stay tuned for the rest of our World Trade Center interviews coming soon and check out 8 clips from the film right here