I kind of want to start with your imprisonment in Ireland `in 1975`. If you’re uncomfortable talking about it …
No, not at all … Um, well, it was at the start of the Troubles, and I was involved, like most of the youth in my neighborhood and around Belfast, in sort of a faction of the IRA and a political party that was a faction of Sinn Féin, and I was driving a guy across Belfast, he was, at the time, was carrying a gun, and there were four of us in the car, and when you were caught in that situation, everyone `got` collective punishment. And so, I ended up doing three years in Long Kesh, which then became the Maze prison. So, it wasn’t — I didn’t ever feel it was particularly much different from the kind of, the bulk of the people who were involved in the rebellion at that time, or the war. Um, obviously, it kind of defined the stuff that I wrote, initially … With `Jim` Sheridan, we wrote three movies in which I drew heavily on that experience.
Almost right out of the gate, with In the Name of the Father, you got the Oscar nomination. I was wondering: What kind of work rolls in?
Well, you get, we were getting offered all sorts of prison movies and justice movies and this and that … Suddenly you’re the flavor of the month and you get bombarded with ridiculous kind of stuff … I remember going to a nightclub … with Sean Penn, and, like, every felon in the place would come up to me and say they’ve got a story.
With the second nomination, was it any different? Bunch of Rwanda stuff?
Well, lots of Africa stuff. Like, pretty much a lot of the political movies that are out this year. I got offered Kite Runner, and Charlie Wilson’s War. And so, you’re slotted into a category. Which is fine. I mean it’s different, with — after Hotel Rwanda, the directorial thing became a consideration.
Can you imagine what’s going to come your way after `Reservation Road`?
Every suicide movie that was ever `conceived`. But I tend to, now, I pick my own stuff. I try to develop the stuff myself, and not be at the behest of what `they offer`.
You have, first of all, these four extraordinary actors, and they all have to be functioning at this really frayed emotional level the entire time. I wonder: As a director, do you do anything when the cameras aren’t rolling to kind of lighten the mood, or do you try to keep it intense? Or, do you do nothing?
I mean, just out of — yeah, I don’t deliberately try to lighten the mood, but I don’t take it that seriously. I mean, Joaquin kind of half-complained about it — but he didn’t really — that I was always making jokes and he couldn’t get serious, you know? And it then became infectious, where I was sort of, something would come into my head, like a one-liner or something, and I’d be about to say it, and then he’d know I was about to say it, and I’d stop myself, and then he’d be, “No, come on, get it out.”
I know this is something you’ve talked about already, but I thought it was so interesting: the 9-11 metaphor `in Reservation Road`.
With this, it wasn’t even a moral tale, it was just the mood of the country seems to fit into the nature of the story, and I was anxious to get to that. Sure, because I feel — a lot of people feel — that the disastrous state of where we are at the minute has to do with this whole, not just the notion, the temperament of revenge by the American people after 9-11, but how that’s been manipulated now. This whole thing of creating monsters to justify dubious political or military objectives. I mean, Ahmadinejad is now being compared to Hitler, you know what I mean? He may be a fool, he may be stupid, he may be clever about manipulating the Iranian people, but he’s not Adolf Hitler, you know? That for sure I know. •
Dir. Terry George; writ. George, John Burnham Schwartz; feat. Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Connelly, Mira Sorvino, Elle Fanning (R)