Roman Polanski on Carnage, Hollywood and future project

If the name Roman Polanski doesn’t ring a bell, he is the auteur behind some classic films like, Cul-De-Sac (1966), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Pianist (2002), and The Ghost Writer (2010). His latest film, Carnage, which is starring Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Rielly is based  on Yasmina Reza’s French play, God of Carnage hit the theatres yesterday in France.

The French newspaper, “Le Figaro” had the chance to sit with Mr. Polanski  for an hour long interview regarding his latest film, Carnage, where the 78 year old film-maker ardently discusses his career. Thanks to Thompson on Hollywood for getting the copy of this interesting Q & A in English, in which one topic is off limits, and that’s Mr. Polanski’s trouble with the law.

Carnage synopsis:

When some roughhousing between two 11-year-old boys named Zachary and Ethan erupts into real violence, Ethan is left with two missing teeth. Zachary’s parents, Alan and Nancy Cowen (Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz), meet with Ethan’s parents, Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly), to try to smooth things over. However, what starts as a cordial meeting among adults descends into finger-pointing, tantrums and insults. Based on the play “God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza.

Le Figaro: What made you want to bring Yasmina Reza’s play “God of Carnage” to the screen?

Roman Polanski: The fun that she brought to the play and the face that it satirizes conventional bourgeois values of political correctness and shows the hypocrisy of politeness masked behind fake smiles.  These four characters, which are initially so courteous, turn out to be monsters in their own way, ready to jump at each other’s throats.  I have two children aged 18 and 13 and I’ve found myself in the same position as the protagonists of the film.  I know what it’s like to get word from a school or other parents and then trying to alleviate the situation…

LF: How did you approach filming “Carnage”?

RP: With each film, i need an artistic challenge so I don’t get bored!  I like to tackle challenges.  On this film, it was telling a story that takes place in real time and in a confined space.  When I was a teenager, I was really struck by Laurence Olivier’s “Hamlet,” with its strange castle full of stairs, terraces and corridors, and also by Carol Reed’s fabulous “Odd Man Out” with James Mason.  It’s a film with such a strong impact that I often tried to imitate it later.  In fact, my first film, “Knife in the Water,” was filmed on a boat with three people.  So I wasn’t afraid of the constraints of a confined space like an apartment.  I find it really exciting, in fact, even if it isn’t easy.  I can’t think of an example where the director didn’t cheat.  Like in Hitchcock’s “Rope!”  Not here.  There is no blackout.

LF: How did you choose the actors?

RP: Jodie Foster was the first one cast.  Then I met Kate Winslet to discuss the film and there it was.  It turns out I have the same agent as Christoph Waltz, who had expressed a desire to meet me.  It was during my sabbatical year, during my arrest.  I was working on the script and it seemed like a good idea.  I thought it’d be more interesting to meet him than the police chief in Bern.  As for John C. Reilly, he was chosen last, because it was a tough role to assign.  I was really lucky to have four actors of such acclaim.   Not only because of their talent, but because they’re very well understood.  There wasn’t any animosity among them, which isn’t always the case.  They have a great affection and respect for each other.  None tried to be the star.  It helps.

LF: What was the process like?

Since we were working from a play, we had the text to start with.  It was clear after a few rehearsals that it was working well and we didn’t have to do anything else.  So I let them do what they wanted to.  Of course, I gave them notes and told them what I wanted.  They picked it up very quickly and suddenly everything went smoothly.

LF: You’ve gone through a lot of trials in your life.  Do you ever wish things had been different?

RP: I don’t rehash the past.  It’s my baggage.  That’s all.  I accept things as they are.

LF: Should an artist suffer for his art?

RP: I don’t know.  I don’t think so.  Some experience is helpful.  “The Pianist” was a film that I could make with my eyes closed because I had lived it and everything was still alive in me.  But I consider myself more a craftsman than an artist.

LF: Did you have nostalgia for Hollywood?

RP: At first, yes, for certain things.  By being there, you have more immediate connections, since you can meet people for lunch or dinner.  It’s not like that here.  But that may be an advantage after all!  Film is universal now.  The same methods are everywhere.  I do miss my friends from there.  I see them every two or three years when they visit Paris.  Like Harrison Ford.  Jack Nicholson I see less often than before.  But I saw Adrien Brody, not long ago.  Nate n’ Al’s,  I miss it.

LF: What do you think of new film technologies?

RP: They’re great tools.  You can do what you want with almost no limits.  I use them extensively.  In “Carnage,” there are 400 digital effects, including everything you see through the windows.

LF: Twenty-five years ago, you had thought to bring Tintin to the screen.

RP: I quickly abandoned the idea: actors and natural settings could not work as well as comics.  Steven Spielberg is perfect for it, because the technology has allowed him to transform human beings into cartoon characters embedded in settings that reflect the real world.

LF: Future projects?

RP: I would love to make a film about aging that would take place before the war.  It would follow the stages in the life of a woman who would not have at her disposal the resources of today like cosmetic surgery, creams and pills.

Official film trailer: Carnage

Carnage hits the big screens in New York and Los Angeles on December 16, 2011.