Shootin’ It Out with Guy Ritchie


You might feel somewhat bad for director Guy Ritchie because in making such an intricate and complex film as Revolver, he probably now spends most of every interview explaining it to brainless movie journalists who just don’t get it. On the surface, it’s a crime-thriller starring Jason Statham in the duo’s third collaboration–it’s only Ritchie’s fourth movie since his 1998 debut Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels–but there’s a lot more philosophical thinking behind the story of Jake Green, an ex-con who gets out of prison wanting revenge on the man who put him there, the oddly named Dorothy Macha (Ray Liotta), who winds up in the crosshairs of two con men, played by Andre Benjamin and Vincent Pastore.

When finally had a chance to talk to Ritchie, he had probably spent most of the day explaining the film to anyone who chose to analyze or dissect it, and admittedly, we weren’t going to do the same thing, so much of our interview time turned into a discussion of various movies we’d seen recently (like Beowulf) or ones Ritchie was interested in seeing.

But hey, this is Guy F*cking Ritchie, the epitome of British cool in the same way that Quentin Tarantino is regarded here (but with a much cooler accent and a less grating voice), so if he wants to turn the interview back on the interviewer, who are we to question him for questioning us, right? Either way, Ritchie’s a shrewd and coy subject who has no problem embracing the Yiddish tradition of answering a question with another question in order to dodge anything thrown his way. I’ve interviewed Jason about five times in the last few years and every time I see him, I ask “When’s ‘Revolver’ coming out?” so I’m glad he’s done with that phase of his interview career. He has told me a few times about these chess matches between the two of you—they’re almost legendary at this point.
Guy Ritchie: Yeah, apparently we have some photographic evidence, too. We must have 100 pictures of different games that I’ve had with him.

CS: You guys were just playing chess and the ideas for this film just kind of evolved out of that or did you have other things that you merged into it?
Ritchie: I mean, golly, I’m not sure which came first, but chess just seemed like the natural illustration. I can’t remember how the process came around. I like chess a lot, it’s kind of a mystical game, too. It’s not an accident that there’s 64 squares and 32 pieces and all of those things fit into sort of mystical numbers and stuff, and each character represents a different aspect of humanity, so chess is kind of a mystical thing and I like it for that reason, and it’s infinitely deep, chess.

CS: He did say that you do tend to win most of the time.
Ritchie: Oh, he did? That’s unlike him. He likes to show off and pretend that he wins.

CS: How did you collaborate with Luc Besson on this? I know he produced it but he also has an “adapted by” credit on the movie, so what on earth does that mean?
Ritchie: I think that was just a technical necessity, the “adapted” thing, that’s all it was I think, in order to fulfill the tax thing we had to do in France or wherever it was to say it was “adapted by.”

CS: What does that mean though?
Ritchie: I don’t know. Who knows? Who cares?

CS: Was there any collaboration between the two of you?
Ritchie: Yeah, he liked it. I mean, he does still really like it. He couldn’t understand why no one else could understand it, but he was always very supportive.

CS: It could also be a Europe vs. America type thing, because there’s a lot of movies that do very well over there which leave Americans scratching their head.
Ritchie: Well, you know, en masse, they didn’t really understand this in Europe, so…

CS: Well, there you go. How has Jason evolved as an actor? He’s obviously done a lot more action stuff since the first movies you two did together. Did you cater this part to his strengths having known him for so long?
Ritchie: Well, I like him as an actor. He’s taken off as an action guy, but I like him as an actor and I like him to act.

CS: He’s able to show off a lot more range in this role though, so did you try to tailor the part more to what you knew he could do, especially since this is your first movie where he’s the lead?
Ritchie: Yeah, yeah. I’m pretty sure I can get certain things out of Jason, ’cause I know him well enough that he harbors it somewhere within him.

CS: Was Nathaniel Mechaly, who composed the music, one of Luc’s camp?
Ritchie: He was a French guy who someone in Luc’s camp introduced me to.

CS: Do you try to find and work with a composer even before editing?
Ritchie: Not really. That really… just once you put it all together, then you go through and that’s it. You just have a fish around to who’s around and who looks interesting.

CS: I just wondered because the editing is cut so tight to the music, so it would seem that might drive some of the editing.
Ritchie: No, that’s all after stuff.

CS: It’s rather vague where the movie is set, whether it’s in London or America, so was that a very deliberate thing?
Ritchie: Sure, it was a deliberate thing because I wanted not to be specific about any particular environment, that this was sort of a universal condition, as opposed to a particular condition, so I didn’t want it to be that sort of UK or America, but really that’s why I ended up in a pond somewhere in between.

CS: Is that something that evolved as the movie did?
Ritchie: No, it was always going to be that way, yeah, because I didn’t want it to be about a specific time or a specific place.

CS: The animation is kind of a new thing for you, too, so was that also something that was originally in the game plan?
Ritchie: Well, it was, because what we were going to do was originally, the other self was going to be illustrated by animation, and then we decided it was more efficient to do it in voice-over, but to a degree, it’s still a hangover from that, but I liked the animation thing. I kind of like the animated world, and I’m sure I’ll make an animated movie at some stage.

CS: That would be interesting, and you’re also getting into the comic book thing with “Gamekeeper” and that’s interesting that you have a comic book that’s now evolving into a movie. How are the two things informing each other? Was it always going to be a movie and you just happened to do the comic book first?
Ritchie: No, I mean the two are… obviously, probably the most successful movies in recent history are comic book originally, but a comic book is essentially really like a storyboard for a movie and that makes life much easier.

CS: So however the comic book is being drawn will inform the visuals for the movie?
Ritchie: Yeah, that was the idea.

CS: How closely have you been involved with the comic book? I know Andy Diggle’s been writing and he’s writing the movie also or you’re doing it together?
Ritchie: I’m not sure exactly who’s writing the movie. I don’t think Andy is, it’s not Andy, no.

CS: So basically, Joel Silver just picked up the rights and they’re going to do it, but that’s the next thing you’re directing?
Ritchie: No, it probably won’t be my next thing. I will end up directing it, I’ll be very surprised if I don’t, but it won’t be my next thing.

CS: So is “RocknRolla” completely done at this point and how are your feelings about festivals in terms of a place to premiere it?
Ritchie: Yeah, I don’t know, I don’t know. We might give Cannes a whirl, eh? I dunno, I’m not sure. I mean, we got distribution, so we don’t need to do that. We did it with Dark Castle, so it will go through Warner Bros.

CS: You’ve mentioned that you might want to do a sequel to “RocknRolla” so what about it makes you think you’ll want to do more in that world?
Ritchie: Just because I like that world, and I think that it’s just rich with characters and rich with narrative, so it seems like there’s more than just one movie within it.

CS: That deals with Russian mobsters in London?
Ritchie: That’s just one of the aspects of it, one of the aspects, yeah. It deals with contemporary England, so it’s all the ramifications of contemporary England and the money that’s come there and by its proximity in the world, why it’s become what it’s become.

CS: Did you happen to see David Cronenberg’s movie about Russian mobsters in London?
Ritchie: Oh, no, I didn’t see it. Have you seen it? Any good?

CS: Yeah, I saw it in Toronto. Some people loved it, some people thought it was just okay. I liked “History of Violence” a little better.
Ritchie: Oh, I liked “History of Violence.”

CS: After doing “Lock, Stock” on your own, you did “Snatch” with Sony/Screen Gems, so was “Revolver” more a way to go back and do a movie on your own terms without a studio?
Ritchie: Yeah, because listen, it’s going to be a hard movie to get money together on with something like “Revolver,” innit? I mean, wouldn’t you think so?

CS: I don’t know. It’s your first movie in five or six years, you’re working with Jason and you’ve returned to the crime genre.
Ritchie: Yeah, but it’s still kind of tricky, right? It’s not overtly commercial.

CS: But is that dangerous that people are considering it “tricky” and “hard to understand”? Do they have to know that ahead of time before going to see the movie?
Ritchie: I would have thought so, yes. I like people to know that they’re going to get into something… actually, it’s not that hard, but it is tricky.

CS: It’s layered, and I think you can get different things out of it.
Ritchie: Yeah, I mean how did you get along with it?

(Note: One should know that there’s only one thing more vexing than being assailed by a publicist after a movie screening to get your opinion and that’s to suddenly be asked by one of your favorite filmmakers what you think of their latest movie in the middle of an interview.)

CS: I think I did pretty good, but the stuff at the very end kind of lost me when you had the interviews with all the philosophers. I was just appreciating it as a con game with a twist and probably wasn’t thinking of it as intellectually as others have.
Ritchie: Okay, but then did that make you think that there might be more to it than that?

CS: Yeah, I did, but then the movie was over, so I knew I’d probably have to watch it again to get all of that.
Ritchie: (laughs) Okay. Well, the idea is that you watch a different movie when you watch it a second time.

CS: Absolutely, I can’t tell you how many movies I loved the second time that I didn’t get at all the first time. I mean I just saw Francis Ford Coppola’s new movie “Youth Without Youth” which is WAY out there and not necessarily in a good way.
Ritchie: So I was reasonably accessible?

CS: Sure, compared to Coppola’s movie. There’s a writers strike going on here, which I’m not sure if that affects you at all.
Ritchie: Is that still going on that strike? Does it look like it’ll come to an end?

CS: Every day, it’s something different, like they say it’s going to be over soon and then someone else says it’s not.
Ritchie: No, it doesn’t affect us.

CS: One of the things is that beforehand, a memo did the rounds which had your name attached to a remake of “The Dirty Dozen.” I’m not sure if you knew about it, but was it something where someone just threw your name on there in hopes that would happen?
Ritchie: No, no, I was interested in doing “The Dirty Dozen,” I was interested in doing it and maybe I’ll still do it.

CS: What would you like to bring to a war movie? That would probably be another departure for you, I’d say.
Ritchie: Yeah, well I like it as a genre. I have a sneaking suspicion that once I get into war, I’ll be there for a little while. I reckon (I have) more than one war movie in me, but I’d like my next movie to be a war movie.

CS: The original movie had such an amazing cast, so would you try to do a movie where you have a cast on that par of today’s actors?
Ritchie: Yeah, I think so.

CS: A lot of people have been looking forward to seeing this movie since it’s been so long since your last one, so what movies do you look forward to seeing?
Ritchie: Well, funnily enough actually, I was quite excited about “Beowulf,” I have no idea why. I’m kind of into Viking movies, so I was kind of attracted to that, and I liked what he did with “The Polar Express” in terms of its look, so I suppose I was excited to see that. What else am I excited to see? Actually, there’ve been a few movies. (Guy’s handler tries to remember the name of it.) “Old Country for New Men” or whatever it’s called. How did you get along with that?

CS: Oh, it’s great. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like that movie.
Ritchie: Yeah, that’s what I hear.

CS: Have you read the book yet?
Ritchie: No, not yet.

CS: Well don’t read the book until you see the movie, because it’s more interesting that way. I’m glad I saw “Beowulf” in London because I think that was a better place to see it.
Ritchie: How did it get along here?

CS: I think it did okay opening weekend, but hasn’t really caught on here because people see it as that boring British poem they were forced to read in high school.
Ritchie: It’s quite an impressive movie. Everything about it was quite impressive.

CS: (trying to get back on track) So do you have any regrets in terms of anything in terms of how “Revolver” was received in Toronto? Did you feel you had to change it a lot after it debuted there?
Ritchie: Not really, no, I don’t think I have any regrets. No, I mean, it depends. If you catch me when I have a hangover, I can probably say I do, I’m just not hung over so…

CS: When you talk about wanting to do war movies, while “Revolver” is a very different movie, it is getting back to the crime genre of your first two movies, as is “RocknRolla”
Ritchie: Yeah, it is.

CS: So do you think the war genre is the next phase in your career as a filmmaker?
Ritchie: Yeah, probably. I might end up making another ten movies about crime, but yeah, I want to make a war movie, so…

CS: Are you looking at directing any movies from other people’s scripts at all?
Ritchie: Sure, oh yeah. ‘Cause it just takes too f*cking long to write.

CS: Have you done that at all? Sat down with another writer and tried to do something?
Ritchie: Yes, I have actually, I have.

CS: How was that experience?
Ritchie: A lot easier, yeah.

CS: I think that’s it for me, but hopefully we’ll see you in less than five years.
Ritchie: Oh, yeah. Now the idea is two movies every three years, so what’s that? Six years, four movies, so we’d like to have four movies in six years from now.

CS: In six years, we’ll see how that’s going, and hopefully we’ll talk again for “RocknRolla” next year.
Ritchie: You will see it next year, I’m not exactly sure when.

And here are a few of the more intelligent things Ritchie said about the premise behind “Revolver” earlier for those looking for more insight into the movie than our chat:

CS: Do you feel that you’ve brought some level of spirituality or mysticism to the world of gangsters with this movie?
Ritchie: I think different words mean different things to different people, so some people call the path of getting away from one’s self spiritual. Other people don’t and they call it intellectual. One is the Freudian school of thinking, there’s the Jungian school of thinking, one’s about finding God and one isn’t, so I’m not sure if one necessarily has the handle on truth, there’s just different words for essentially the same thing. I suppose in this film is what Sam Gold represents—and it is a coincidence that Sam Goldwyn picked up the movie incidentally—he represents a collective hallucination which some people call Satan and some people call the devil, some people call the false sense and some people call the Ego, but it’s essentially the same thing, it’s the dark side of our natures that has a very sophisticated way of seducing us with a different accent or a different voice and then a different guy the comes to punish us for the very thing they seduced us.

CS: You’ve worked before with Jason but the pairing of Andre Benjamin and Vincent Pastore was an interesting one, and they’re both very distinct personalities, so how did those two guys come together in your mind?
Ritchie: I think I saw a poster of Vinnie in a Sean John campaign smoking a cigar on Sunset Strip, and I just liked the image and considering I’d seen him in a few of the “Sopranos” things, I just fancied him as a character, and Andre because of his music videos and what he was drawn to creatively and I sympathized with what he was interested in creatively.

CS: Once you figured out that they would play the loan sharks, did you mold the characters to their personalities?
Ritchie: Sort of, yeah.

CS: A lot of your fans are probably wondering why it’s taken so long for this movie to come out in the United States.
Ritchie: Well, I think partly because people didn’t understand it. It’s not “Snatch” and if you liked “Snatch,” you’re not going to necessarily like “Revolver.” The movie itself is a tricky movie to make because the mind, by its very definition, doesn’t want to understand the premise that you are ultimately your own worst enemy. It’s an unattractive premise to the mind, so it’s a square peg in a round hole. I found the concept so attractive because I’m interested in cons, and once I found that the mind works in the same way as a con man works than I’m afraid that the premise was too good for me to ignore.

CS: Is Jason’s character meant to be a sort of Zen monk seeking enlightenment in your eyes?
Ritchie: Not necessarily. It’s a funny thing, because I know very little about zen, but the little that I do know, which has been post-film, there seems to be correlations within that, but I think the traditions of the more mystical things like zen, they all point towards the same direction, pointing towards getting out or away from one’s self, so there is a uniform ubiquitous philosophy on the self is the source of all psychological suffering. I’m not revealing anything new. That’s just the way the world of thinking has always pointed towards in that direction, and I supposed I just try to be more efficient in saying that your mind won’t understand it. I think we have a line in the film, “Your mind will not accept a game this big.”

CS: Have you ever conned anyone or been conned?
Ritchie: Well, yeah… golly… I only have to think about this for a second, because adverts are based on the con. They’re trying to make you buy products that you don’t need and how do they do that? They appeal to an aspect of your nature that makes you feel as though you’re going to feel more whole if you have that. The whole of society is based on cons. There is nothing that is not a con. When you present yourself to your potential significant other, you come up with a whole litany of what you think she will find attractive in order for her to seduce her, and you’re essentially conning her. The whole world of marketing is conning. It’s an interesting question because we don’t realize that adverts and the whole marketing world is based on cons. I admire the fact that it is a con because I’m interested in cons, but that is the situation, so am I being conned? Permanently and we’re all being conned permanently, but what aspect of our mind is so interested in being conned? There’s obviously an aspect of our mind that is game for the con, that wants to be conned, that wants to fall for it, but it’s also the aspect of our mind that’s not interested in truth.

Revolver opens in select cities on Friday, December 7.