Interview: Bernard Rose Matthew Hammond June 17, 2015 Editor's Choice, Interviews 1866 British director Bernard Rose’s new movie 2 Jacks hits DVD and download on June 29, and we’ve already given the movie a thumbs up here on Movie Ramblings. Starring Danny and Jack Huston, the film charts father-and-son film directors and their travails through the sordid underbelly of the Hollywood scene, loosely adapted from the writings of Tolstoy. To mark the release, we were lucky to get a chat with Bernard to talk us through the new film, as well as his work in the horror genre – past and present. Movie Ramblings (MR): Firstly, I wanted to ask what attracted you to adapting Tolstoy’s short story, The Two Hussars? Bernard Rose (BR): As you are aware, I have done a series of adaptations of Tolstoy’s short stories (Ivansxtc, The Kruetzer Sonata and Boxing Day) with Danny (Huston), and it wasn’t something we were looking for, but we both always wanted to do something with his nephew Jack. I’d read the story The Two Hussars and it comes from a very different period of writing for Tolstoy; the other stories I had adapted came from his late period, after Anna Karenina and his existential crisis, while The Two Hussars is a much earlier work, writing it before he wrote War and Peace, and as is filled with a youthful enthusiasm that curdled as Tolstoy got older. It’s a much lighter work, and its subject is nostalgia…it has this very unusual structure where half way through the story it jumps twenty years into the future. The story was written in the 1840’s, so he is talking about the 1820’s to the 1840’s, and to describe that difference to a modern audience, people have no idea…the world truly changed in that time with the industrial revolution and major political upheaval. However, it changed in the way that our world has changed too; and I thought it would be an interesting thing to do within a modern context, to show that difference in the generations and how things had altered, but do it in the way Tolstoy had back then, as if to say, that maybe that’s just something that happens to every generation and every situation. People always think that somehow twenty years ago everything was better, and people were more this or that…but they weren’t though, they were the same. MR: Exactly, people don’t change…the world moves around them. Humanity is always driven by the same impulses. BR: Yeah, I thought there was something universal about that, and I hadn’t seen done in a movie before. It was such an unusual structure to have the first thing being this glamourous, slightly fictitious past, and then suddenly this rather brutalised present, which almost seems obnoxious and vulgar, but in itself; it’s just how we view things. MR: Absolutely. When I first watched it, I didn’t expect the sudden jump in time, and found it quite jarring. But I liked the instant nature of it, and the way the sheer momentum revealed the repetitions between the two times, and the connections between the two eras and men. BR: Really, there are actually three movies here, two of which you see: the movie in the past, the movie in the present, and then the third movie happens afterwards when you compare the two. People say ‘well I like the first half of the film, but in the second half, he’s such an idiot.’ But…that’s rather the whole point. MR: It’s interesting to think about it in those terms, and becomes absolutely clear in the finale of the film where the two characters cross over. It’s all there in that image. BR: I was reading recently, there is scientific evidence that there were things that happened to our ancestors that affected their DNA, and therefore affect us directly in terms of how we react to things. And we are completely unaware of this because it is happening on a biological level. The idea that we do have memories from our ancestors becomes almost sort of genetically correct. MR: Exactly, to think about that in terms of the sense of legacy, and how that is build into us on an almost genetic level; the resonance of the past coming back and existing now is a fascinating concept. BR: We are a product of that, and I just thought it would be an interesting subject for a movie. Something I’d never seen. MR: In terms of the Hollywood setting, dealing with the film industry, was that, from the very beginning, something you wanted to look at on a satirical level? The characters going through the ‘bear pit’, dealing with all the different kind of figures, like the wannabe actresses, the producers hoping to buy their way into something…was that a central idea from the beginning? BR: Well, yes. Ironically in the book, the two characters (Jack and Jack Jr.) are actually cavalry officers, but the events in the book and the film are practically identical. It’s been a long time since I came to Los Angeles; I have actually lived here since 1991, through good times and bad, so I have a different view of it. It’s not just about the business and the way it affects the town, but there is this sort of glamorous, romantic air of disappointment that hangs over Los Angeles. People come here to fulfil their dreams, and almost none of them are ever fulfilled; and even if they are fulfilled, it doesn’t happen the way people think it will, because it can’t. Their expectations are unrealistic anyway. When things happen, it’s never the same, and sometimes when it’s happening, they aren’t even aware that it is happening. Like the character of Brad, the producer… the most disappointing, hurtful thing in his life is the thing that, twenty years later, he is still bragging about. And I think that is how people are, and there is something about that which is beautiful in a strange way. This film is a more distant and more nostalgic view of things. MR: And I really enjoyed that (the nostalgia) about the locations, in the first part especially. The sort of dream-like fantasy of what this world appears to be, and then the crushing reality that lurks behind it; it’s always present, but there is that romanticism. Now I think about it, it almost reminds me of the social settings of a Dickens novel, where you have this aggrandised idea of social mobility but ultimately, people are people, in all their joy and futility. BR: Exactly, and that’s why I liked the dichotomy between the setting, which is totally real and yet fantasised. The mansion we used for the big party is a real piece of Hollywood history, located by the old Hollywoodland sign, one of the original Hollywood mansions. Even in the casting, with Lydia Hurst (great-granddaughter of Randolph Hurst, daughter of Patty Hurst) and of course, Danny and Jack Huston (son and grandson of legendary director John Huston); these people are the real Hollywood royalty, but at the same time, in what they are talking and doing in the film, there is a sort of mundane nature to it, that I rather like. MR: Yeah, it kind of goes back to what you were saying about genetics and the idea of legacy. These people where the legacy is completely in of them, but it’s not a big deal…that’s them, that’s their life. BR: Of course. I mean, success is always very fleeting, even if it’s huge and you are winning the Oscar…you’re still older than your last movie. There’s always that sense of decay…Lynch does it perfectly in Mulholland Drive. MR: Mentioning Danny and Jack, their casting is works so perfectly in the film. Obviously you had a previous connection with Danny working on your other Tolstoy adaptations; was it from the very inception, the idea to find something for him and Jack to do together and this proved to be the perfect marriage of the right people and the right material? BR: Yes, that’s correct. I wanted something for them to do together, and of course they only have one scene together, but the influence of each other worked extremely well for the film. Somebody said to me, did they discuss mannerisms and stuff to connect each other? But no, they didn’t, they are just related that way. It heightens the connection between the two halves of the film, as they were very separate from each other, and other than filming in the same locations, feel very different, from photographic styles to costume. MR: Yeah, you definitely get, in the first half, a lot more that nostalgic and romantic image. Then in the second, there are traces of it still in the house they are staying at and the repetition of spaces, but the clearest example of the difference is in the almost nightmarish car ride towards the end of the film. BR: Yeah, absolutely. I was so lucky when we shot it that it was pouring with rain, which looked fantastic. MR: Oh, that wasn’t intended? It just happened and you took the initiative of the moment? BR: Yeah, it doesn’t rain that much, but when it does rain on Hollywood Boulevard, it gives it that Blade Runner look. MR: Yeah, it looks so amazing, and reinforces that descent moment for the character!Looking back at your career, especially your horror work with exceptional films such as Paperhouse and Candyman, how do you feel about trends in modern horror, and is there anything you would want to explore now? BR: Well, I have this new film coming out now, which is my adaptation of Frankenstein. It’s a modern day adaptation of the Mary Shelley’s novel, and basically the premise is that it’s all from the perspective of the monster. He’s been printed in a 3D printer and he doesn’t know who he is, what he is, and he wakes up in a laboratory, as a perfect but incomplete being. However, when he begins to slowly fall apart, they attempt to put him down…which he isn’t exactly happy about, and off goes the movie. Danny (Huston) is playing Victor Frankenstein, Carrie Anne Moss plays Elizabeth Frankenstein, and Xavier Samuel plays the ‘monster.’ We had a very successful premiere of the movie at the Brussels’ Fantastic Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix. So I am still extremely interested in the horror genre in terms of what can be done with it. The movie business has become so weird now; it’s in a period of transition because of everything moving online, and helped lead to the disappearance of the mid-budget film…so I think genre is a useful vehicle for finding an audience, and I believe there is an audience out there for genre films that are really challenging, which totally interests me. MR: Oh absolutely. As long as people are continuing to try and use genre intelligently, taking the tropes of genre and putting very interesting ideas within that formed structure, then hopefully challenging horror films can not just survive, but thrive. BR: I also like the idea of broadening what people consider a horror film. It doesn’t just have to be about the threat jumping out at you…it can be about the horror of ideas. MR: I was also wondering your perspective on the remake culture that expanded and burgeoned in modern horror cinema…how would you feel about any of your earlier works being brought back in a new form? BR: I think it’s inevitable. If something’s good material, people will always try and reinterpret it…and it’s always valid, otherwise you’d say why would people stop reinterpreting Hamlet? In fact, Paperhouse wasn’t the first time that novel had been filmed…it was done as a TV show in the early 70’s (Escape into Night). Nothing is the last time and it shouldn’t be. So I don’t have any problem with it, and I’d be very happy if someone remade Candyman as they’d have to pay me a great deal of money! * Laughs * MR: Perfect! Well, thank you so much for your time and the opportunity to discuss cinema with you. Good luck with Frankenstein, and all your other projects!