American, The: Interview with director Anton Corbijn

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Anton Corbijn is the director of "The American," starring George Clooney. The film, set in Italy, Is being released by Focus Pictures on September 1.

Following the success of his award-winning first feature, the drama Control, director Anton Corbijn was deliberately looking to work on a new film centering on as different material as possible. He reveals, "I started reading thriller scripts. The theme of The American, of a loner trying to find redemption from the deeds he's done, interested me – as did the tension and the romance in the story. Here was something I saw could be not only suspenseful but also thoughtful.


A new filmmaker

"My career for over 35 years has been as a portrait photographer; filmmaking is a new adventure for me. I'm still finding my voice. I feel that where The American does parallel Control is in the idea of trying to change one's life; how can you maybe make good after doing wrong? Can you overcome things that might be in you which define you?"


Childhood inspirations and influences


Music – both motivator and subject in Control – was a key inspiration to Corbijn in his formative years. A certain genre of movie was as well; he remembers, "I haven't seen all that many movies in my life, but Westerns have long made an impression on me, starting with – in childhood – Rawhide [the 1960s TV series starring Clint Eastwood]. The look, the stories, the morality of movie Westerns always attracted me. Although The American is not actually a Western, it is structured in that genre; a stranger comes to a small town and connects with a couple of the people in it, but his past catches up with him – and there is a shootout."


Italy, the character


For Corbijn, the question of just where to film in – as called for in the script – Italy was critical to pre-production planning. He reflects, "The surroundings had to be a character in the movie. I had a clear idea of how the landscape should look, and I wanted to use towns and villages as a back lot." Accordingly, the filmmakers were loath to attempt "casting" another country instead.


Working with George Clooney


It was on April 6th, 2009 that Corbijn was meeting with Clooney to finalize the latter's plans to produce and star in the movie. Corbijn remembers, "We discussed our shared hope that filming The American would help to boost the region economically, what with the money spent during production and the finished film encouraging tourism in the future."

He adds, "This is a character George hasn't played before; it's always interesting when an actor finds something new. He's so good with dialogue, and in this movie he is playing a man of few words who is always on the lookout and constantly in a state of tension.


"The fact that George is always on-set, not wasting time in his trailer…people might not realize how much having your lead actor be ready for you benefits a director's shooting schedule. It is a great bonus that he thinks not just about his own role, but about the film as a whole and about the other actors. His sense of continuity amazes me, and when we got stuck on something he would always volunteer a solution.

"He is a serious actor yet keeps everyone entertained on set, so cast and crew enjoy his company, and he takes pleasure in the work. He's so good at keeping everyone motivated; the one joke I tried to make fell flat. George also knows how to deal with the attention he gets in public with charm and grace, which was invaluable when we were shooting in such small villages."


A well-received cast and crew


Corbijn was impressed by the cooperation that the cast and crew received all across Italy. He remarks, "The townspeople were honest and hard-working, with a mountain mentality and not a city mentality.

"In Italy, there is a lack of hierarchy amongst the crew. Everybody is either friends or related, so the atmosphere is like that of a family."