Interview: Buscemin on his Film

“Interview is the first film completed in a project called Triple Theo. Triple Theos aimbeyond creating three great filmsis to realize the vision of acclaimed international filmmaker Theo van Gogh, whose murder on November 2, 2004 was motivated by political and religious intolerance. Before his death, van Gogh (great-grandson of Vincent van Goghs brother Theo) decided to remake three of his Dutchlanguage films in English, in a New York City setting. All three films are intense character dramas created in a dynamic, stripped-down style using innovative, low-budget filmmaking techniques and a dedicated crew of collaborators.

Van Goghs murder impelled his longtime producer, Gijs van de Westelaken, and his American counterpart, Bruce Weiss, to approach New York filmmakers about bringing the plan to fruition. Director and actor Steve Buscemi was the first to commit to the project, recommending his friend and colleague Stanley Tucci, who also signed on, along with director and actor John Turturro. That all three directors are also actors is a testament to van Goghs ability to create rich characters and vivid dialogue. As Westelaken explains, The films all have a central and very universal theme: the battles between men and women. We are really touched that Steve, Stanley and John have come onboard this project to help realize Theo’s dream.”

Westalaken continues, With Theos death, we felt it would be a shame to let his unique language of filmmaking come to an end. In addition to the original Interview (2003), the two other van Gogh films selected were 06 (1994) and Blind Date (1996). For Weiss, these relationship-driven films epitomized Theos sensibilities, and would translate well. I think anyone whos ever been in a relationship can identify with something in Theos films. Whether the language is English, Dutch, French, it doesnt really matter. I think the themes are very universal.

Theo van Gogh and his longtime crew, led by Director of Photography Thomas Kist, developed and perfected a fast-paced, forceful method of using three digital cameras running at all takes, with one camera trained on each character in these two-person dramas and one camera capturing middle and master shots. Kist and other key members of van Goghs crew worked with Buscemi in the filming of “Interview.”

Next up in the Triple Theo trilogy will be BLIND DATE, directed by Stanley Tucci, starring Tucci opposite Patricia Clarkson. John Turturros adaptation of 06 will also be filming this summer. As with “Interview,” both shoots will employ Theo van Goghs camera crew and techniques. Triple Theo carries out one tragically lost filmmakers vision, while expressing the individual artistry of a trio of New York filmmakers.

Attraction to Project

“Interview” has been an unusual and interesting project for me from the start. I was moved by the producers commitment to Theo van Gogh, and intrigued with the idea of carrying out his vision, but I never would have taken on the film if it didnt capture my own interest as a filmmaker. I wanted to keep with the spirit of the original film, but also explore how we could make it our own.

I was the first to sign on to Triple Theoso I got dibs on “Interview,” which resonated with me the most. The original had so many elements that attracted me: the vivid characters, the tension and conflict, but also the cutting humor and surprise. I like it when the location becomes another character in the film, and Katyas loft definitely takes on that role, in Theos version and in mine.

Theo van Gogh

I didnt know Theos work before his murder. I knew of himprobably the family name made him stick in my mindand of course I was saddened and appalled when he was killed. Now that Im familiar with his films and his filmmaking methods, Im a great admirer of the intensity he generates with just a few powerful elementsthe man-woman interplay, a tight, simple plotline, and great dialogue. And I love the way Theo loved actors. That shows in his work. “Interview” was written for those particular actors. The original and real-life Katja, Katja Chuurman, really is a huge commercial movie star, and “Interview” gave her the chance to look ironically at that persona and at the same time showcase her acting abilities.

Comparing the Two Versions

I admired the rhythm of the dialogue in the originalthe way those two characters sparred with words and the momentum that created. But we found that it didnt always work the same in English, in the New York setting, so we had to create a different rhythm. The Dutch versionand maybe the Dutch language, the Dutch cultureis possibly more blunt. Plus Theos a bit of a surrealisthis “Interview” reminded me a little of a Bunuel film where opposing characters are trapped in a room with each other and mysteriously unable to separate. I guess Im more of a realist, and I looked for more of a justification for them being together for so long.

Using Van Goghs Technique

Theos Director of Photography, Thomas Kist, and his camera crew were part of the package of making the film. I was really intrigued with working with them and trying Theos methodthree handheld cameras at all times, one on each actor, one on a master or medium shot. Theo usually started by concentrating on the close-ups and working out to the master, which is more or less the opposite of how we tend to work here. It keeps the actors very much on their toes, and it was fun to try a new way of working.

Theos method helped avoid the look of a filmed stage play, which could easily happen with two characters locked together in a closed location. We were free to prowl around the loft, and the dynamics between Sienna and me could unfurl in a real-life, unbroken way. It wasnt improvisatorywe were scripted and rehearsed, and some shots were plannedbut using those long takes, with the camera on you at all times, really heightens the moment and creates lots of visual energy.

We rehearsed for two weeks and shot very quickly in nine nights. All that footage makes editing a challengepost-production took a long time. Using Theos techniques and crew was part of the homage, but it was liberating in a way to me as well. Its kind of like when you direct something like The Sopranostheres a structure you have to adhere to, and the challenge is to get creative within that structure.

Acting and Directing

I had to let go of control, somewhat, and really trust the camera department and my assistant, Doesjka van Hoogdalem, who had assisted Theo on the original. Between shots I would watch certain takes on the monitor and discuss framing and performances, but while I was acting it was necessary for me to let that go. I had faith in the Dutch and American crew to follow their instincts while I was on camera. It was a really nice collaboration.

Lead Characters

I couldnt play Pierre if I didnt find some kinship with him. I like him, even with his flaws. I love characters that are unpredictable. Pierre and Katya both have plenty of flaws, but theyre both injured beings, and they sense that pain in common. Thats how they get so intimate so quickly. Sienna Miller did a great job bringing Katya to life. She had fun with the character and brought a lot of humor as well as depth to the performance. I was really impressed with her commitment and talent, and she was also a joy to work with.