|Anthony Minghella - Truly, Madly, Talented
|by Erin Free
After working principally in British TV and theatre, writer/director Anthony Minghella tasted cinematic success early with his heart warming cult favourite Truly, Madly, Deeply. He got momentarily caught up in Hollywood's wires with Mr. Wonderful before being showered with Oscars, critical raves, box office success, and even an episode of Seinfeld, for his seminal romantic epic The English Patient. Now with The Talented Mr. Ripley, Minghella adapts another difficult book, works with a dynamic young cast (Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett) and sweats it out waiting for the announcement of this year's Oscar nominations. FILMINK's Erin Free caught up with Anthony Minghella on his whirlwind trip to Australia.
Impeccably attired in blue blazer and pressed jeans, Anthony Minghella is first glimpsed in the interview hotel suite checking out the poster for his latest film, The Talented Mr. Ripley. He points to the bottom of the screen and starts laughing good-naturedly. "I've just noticed this rating. What are adult themes? And what is medium level coarse language and violence? Is that not as good as high level coarse language and violence? What do you have to do to get those ratings? I'll have to try a bit harder next time I suppose."
His lack of familiarity with the vagaries of the Australian censorship board aside, Anthony Minghella reveals himself as a highly articulate, deeply committed filmmaker whose charm and affability are somewhat at odds with the earnest, intensely complex nature of his last two films. And he has a special fondness for Australia.
"Australia was the first place where I ever received an award, which was the AFI for best foreign film for Truly, Madly, Deeply. I was so happy about that. My producer told me a week after we'd got the award. I was so disappointed that I couldn't accept it. And it feels odd for me because I haven't seen that movie since I made it. I have no idea what that film is like. I feel haunted, no pun intended, because wherever I go in the world there are these Truly, Madly, Deeply fans. I have a great nostalgia for it, and for the simplicity of it. I made that entire film in probably the time that it took for me to scout the locations for Ripley. It was like a secret making that film. I had no idea what I was doing. I've become much more obsessive about making films now, and maybe that's not a good thing."
After The English Patient, now Ripley, and with the upcoming filming of Charles Frazier's lauded American civil war novel Cold Mountain, Minghella is famous for his classy adaptations of richly layered, complex books, though he doesn't necessarily seek them out. "I have no sense of what kind of material sticks with me. And if I did, I think it would be ruinous because the minute you start to have some plan or design for things, the enormous folly of that becomes immediately apparent. I like the mystery of why I fall in love with particular pieces of material. Nearly everything I've done I've stumbled into. When I was having trouble financing The English Patient, I was marooned in Italy, and I was in a mess that could have gone on forever. I was speaking to Sydney Pollack, who is a great friend and mentor, and he said you should do something else. He said he'd just acquired the rights to The Talented Mr. Ripley, and asked me to write the screenplay. After working on the script for three days, I decided that I didn't want to give it back to them."
But the complexity of the novels he adapts gives Minghella a type of freedom not afforded by more simple, straightforward material. "You have to make sure that the projects you choose are rich enough and complex enough to sustain you creatively for three or four years, and to instil excitement in the people you have to work with. The more complex the book is, the more original the screenplay will be. If it's an obvious book, there's less and less room for the filmmaker. And I don't want that. I'd rather write my own films in that case."
The stateliness and textured visual composition of Minghella's films are what have made him famous, but it's also something that quietly tears at his vision as a filmmaker. "I do have a great yearning to do something that is less elaborate than these films. I love the meticulousness of the work, but there's also an anarchist in me that wants to go out with a camera and some actors and produce something in a few weeks rather than in a few years. You can look at some films and see that the director's obsessions have made the film paralysed and stagnant. I love Stanley Kubrick but when you look at Eyes Wide Shut, the compulsion for the perfect frame has paralysed the filmmaker. I can see elements of that in myself with a growing anxiety about each shot, which isn't altogether fruitful. I'm a great admirer of the Dogma films and of what they're doing."
Despite their big budgets and elaborate design, Minghella's films remain deeply personal and uncompromised, which is surprising considering that his last two films have been released by Miramax, the indie powerhouse studio headed by the Weinstein brothers, two of the most creatively involved producers in the business. "They are extremely supportive, and actually helped me get Matt and Gwyneth. I have a very intimate relationship with them, which comes with all the wrestling that that involves. I'd be happy if they were involved in every project that I made. They're very involved in the sense that they're very present, but I don't find them hands-on in the filmmaking process at all."
Even Gwyneth Paltrow, the reigning princess of all things Miramax, was a choice made by Minghella, and not the rambunctious studio heads. "Gwyneth is the best that she's ever been in this film. Her acting is so delicate and fragile, and very undervalued, I think. People are always looking for the bells and whistles in a performance. They look for the virtuosity, but I look for the candour and modesty of it."
With such an excellent, and varied, group of actors, the director's casting methods flipped from performer to performer. "Philip Seymour Hoffman, I just called him and asked him to be in my film. I'd seen his work and I didn't feel I had any need to meet him. I just felt absolutely convinced that he would be right for the role. He can do anything really. So that was just done on the basis of a telephone call very early on. I met Cate for a drink in London just before she was about to do Elizabeth. We agreed that she would do the part, and that was very early in the writing process. It was the same for Gwyneth. I was floundering with the script, but I knew that it would help me if she was involved, and she agreed. So the film started to grow around these two women.
"With Matt it was different. And I think that it was the best decision that I made in the whole of the film. I didn't know who he was when I started casting the film. He'd only done Courage Under Fire when I cast him. I'd actually been offered a very small role in Good Will Hunting as one of the analysts, and I read the script and I wondered 'Who are these two young guys?' I couldn't do the acting role, but I was very intrigued about the whole film, and regretted not doing it. Harvey Weinstein showed me a rough cut, and I saw Matt's work and met him, and he gradually fell into the film. Casting to me is so odd and interesting. So I go from talking to Philip Seymour Hoffman on the phone to a more involved process. Most of the cast were unknown when they came on board. I think it's catastrophic when the weight of the casting unbalances the film. I'm more interested in creating a world that isn't defined by public personalities."
The process of casting and performance mirrors the entire process of filmmaking itself for Anthony Minghella. "I think everything to do with movies is an odd combination of serendipity and timing. But sometimes that works against you. I think we've really had to shoulder the burden of what sort of role Gwyneth is going to play, or what sort of role Matt is going to play. I hate the idea of the audience being disappointed, which is why the film poster is designed to pull Matt away from Gwyneth, so audiences won't think that it's a film with Matt and Gwyneth getting together. The bottom line is that they're movie stars because they're great actors. Casting is one of the things about filmmaking that is very visible. Writing and directing are very invisible. Nobody can really see what you're doing in your head. Casting is something that everyone can have his or her say in. In filmmaking, it's sometimes the most difficult place to maneuver."
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originally posted: 02/15/00 02:58:02
last updated: 02/15/00 13:28:09