Sidney Lumet: interview
Over six decades and 45 films including ’12 Angry Men‘, ’Serpico‘, ’Network‘, 'The Verdict' and now 'Before The Devil Knows You‘re Dead', director Sidney Lumet, 83, has extracted some of the great performances in American film
What was special to you about the script for ‘Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead’?The emotional outpouring that had to take place from the actors – the movie is pitched so highly. It’s wonderfully acted.
Is there a scene that you’re particularly proud of?There’s a scene where Philip Seymour Hoffman breaks down: that went into an area I wouldn’t have dared hope for. It has to be extremely painful for him, because there’s a tremendous amount of self-revelation going on.
Do you let your actors ad-lib or do you prefer to stick to the script?It depends if it’s good or not. Even among the brilliant improvisers, there’s always a limit to what the departure can produce. Often the result is a lot of self-indulgence.
Did that apply when you worked with Brando on ‘The Fugitive Kind’?Brando was completely faithful to the text. He didn’t depart for an instant. He had an enormous respect for Tennessee Williams and what he could create.
Do you ever wish you’d done more acting yourself?No. How’s that for a fast answer? And I have nothing more to say about it. Just no.
Please?You know, it’s very painful acting. Because you’re exposing yourself all the time. And something in my own psyche just found that not a great deal of happiness was coming from it.
Do you think great acting comes from exposing your soul?Always. Always. It’s for real. And you’re putting what’s deeply private up there for everybody to see. That’s what makes it painful.
Was that true of Al Pacino in ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ and ‘Serpico’?Ah, totally… Stripped himself down. And not only that, in those days he had to stay in the state that the scene demanded that day. In other words, if it was a scene in which he was losing control, he had to stay out of control for the whole day. That had to be agony for him.
Which current actors would you love to work with?Oh God, there’s gotta be 20 I could name. De Niro, Streep… I wanna work with Angelina Jolie. Oh, she’s a terrific actress I think. We’re very fortunate, because most of our stars are very good actors.
So why don’t great actors always get great roles?Very often, if they’re not doing interesting roles, it’s because they’re not picking them. Because they are out there. I mean, Bruce Willis is a terrifically talented man. And I think he’s doing dopey movies now. I wish he’d do something a little more in line with his talent.
So why doesn’t he?I don’t know. I don’t know the man at all. For many years he did a television series and that, for sure, can wear you out. So maybe he’s just tired, I don’t know.
Where do you find the energy to keep making films?Don’t ask me – I don’t know! I’m just so grateful that it’s there. When you talk to anybody who’s gotten a lot of work done in their lives, the word that they keep repeating over and over again is luck. That’s part of the answer.
Does it ever bother you that you’ve never won an Oscar for directing?I… think… if anyone were ever bothered by that, they’d be such a horse’s ass. How much more can you ask for than the job itself, which is wonderful, which has terrific pay, which is wonderful, great health benefits from the union, which is wonderful? I mean – my God! – what more can one ask for?‘Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead’ opens on January 11.
Author: Jonathan Crocker
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