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Asif Kapadia
Rob Greig

Asif Kapadia: ‘Maradona looked at me and said, ‘‘You’ve got a nerve asking these questions’’’

The filmmaker behind ‘Senna’ and ‘Amy’ talks to us about his new Diego Maradona documentary and where he keeps his Oscar

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

He made Formula gripping even for non-petrolheads with ‘Senna’ and burnished Amy Winehouse’s rep with the heartbreaking, Oscar-winning ‘Amy’. For his next trick, documentary-making alchemist Asif Kapadia turns tabloid footballing baddie Diego Maradona into the subject of an unmissable human drama.

What made you want to make this doc?
‘I’m a football fan and I remember at film school thinking how great it would be to make a film about Diego Maradona one day. It took a long time to come about, but [eventually] it felt right because I’d made films about two brilliant people who tragically died young and this was different – Maradona was still alive. I’m at a point in my life where I’m thinking about what happens when you get old, and this is a film about these genius kids who grow up – or do they?’

Did you ever worry you’d stepped over a line in your interviews with him?
‘There was a moment when he looked at me and said, “You’ve got a nerve asking me these questions… but for that I respect you.” But once he’s in the right mood, he’s a very good storyteller. I’d have loved to have hung out with him in the ’80s. I mean, I would have been terrified.’

A still from Asif Kapadia's ‘Diego Maradona’

Do you think Maradona’s life would work as a feature film?
‘It could, but the football bits always look clunky. And I don’t think there’s anyone out there with his body shape. You look at him and think: How could you be the best footballer in the world?’

This doc feels cinematic straightaway. It opens with this car chase like something out of the ‘Bourne’ movies.
'"The Italian Job", the "Bourne" movies or "The French Connection". It's just this mad journey.'

Are you thinking about feature films when you’re editing?
'Those are my references. When [Maradona] arrives in the Napoli stadium for the first time it's this "Gladiator" moment – it's like he's going into the Colosseum – but there's a quiet shot near the end where he's on his own at a party in Naples and no-one says a word. He's It's like Bob Hoskins in "The Long Good Friday" thinking that he might have blown it.' 

How do you know when you’re done on a doc like this?
‘It's good to either run out of money or run out of time. We tried to finish the film last year but it was too long and we had to make some tough calls. The film was 45 minutes before he got to Naples. With "Senna", his story had so many subplots and arcs that kept pushing the narrative forward, so it could have been longer; Maradona essentially has the same cycle everywhere he goes: he's a great hero, he does something amazing, it all goes a bit wrong, ends in disaster, he leaves. The cycle continues wherever he goes. We decided to just tell the big one: Naples.’ 

What’s been the afterlife of ‘Amy’ for you?
‘These films are really tough when you’re making them – “Senna” too – but the dream is they live on. These two people were amazing and the films are now part of their story. Three weeks ago, Alain Prost was in the press bad-mouthing me because of “Senna”. I’m like: You’re four-times world champion! It still bugs him. With “Amy”, the dream was to change her image. When I googled her while we were making it, all I’d see was a series of awful pictures of her. I wanted to google her one day and see her looking beautiful.’

Where do you keep your Oscar?
‘It’s in the office. It’s not anywhere flash – I’m not putting it in people’s faces. One day we’ll finish the house and I’ll find somewhere to put it.’

‘Diego Maradona’ opens Fri Jun 14. Read our review here

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