Exclusive Interview: Director Brian DePalma talks his new film, Passion, the Carrie remake, and more!
Growing up with a heavy diet of movies, one of my all-time favorite directors has always been Brian De Palma. From his early sexually-charged thrillers like DRESSED TO KILL and SISTERS as well as his epic gangster flicks SCARFACE and THE UNTOUCHABLES, his work has always left a major impression on me. His films were daring and sometimes wildly unconventional especially the campy greatness of BODY DOUBLE.
With his latest thriller PASSION, he puts the focus on two very strong women in the form of Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams. During a phone interview with the acclaimed director, we talked about the new film and what it takes to titillate a modern day audience. We also chatted about SCARFACE and what exactly he thinks about the upcoming CARRIE remake.
It was an unbelievable honor to speak to such a legendary filmmaker. Keep your eyes out for PASSION which opens August 30th in select theatres as well as iTunes and VOD on August 1st. And please keep an eye out for the spoiler warning below!
Itís great to see you back doing what you could say is an erotic thriller. I guess thatís a fair assumption. Do you think itís harder for audiences to connect to those movies now? You just donít see them made very often anymore.
Oh, the problem is itís done on cable and in pornography, so we canít compete with that stuff, nudity and being explicit. We have to find other ways to titillate the audience without undressing people.
It did seem that with PASSION there is a little less of the undressing, but more of the kind of psychological play between the two ladies.
Very much so and it wasnít like the girls were unafraid to undress. They played it in all kinds of different ways and I used what was most affective. This is a movie about women, for women. Explicitness is something that I donít think works as well in this genre.
I can see that. Well, you could call this more of a thriller, I think. This is a very manipulative game and sex is only a minor detail.
Yeah. Itís a mind-f*cking type of movie. Itís a manipulative kind of movie. The girls are twisting and turning each other and the audience throughout the whole movie. Itís basically a murder mystery and youíre trying to keep the audience off balance and keep them guessing right up until the very end.
The original film was called LOVE CRIME. What was the inspiration, the attraction, to take it on and turn it into a new film and bring it to American audiences?
Well, the producer ended up seeing the French film in Toronto and it was approached by a lot of American companies to buy the rights and he said ďWell, thereís so much interest in this, I should just do it myself.Ē He was the buyer of the movie and he contacted me through my agent, sent me the movie and I thought, ďWow. This could be a lot of fun and I can see what I can do to make the mystery work a lot better.Ē
Yeah. How about the casting? I have to say, Iím a huge Noomi Rapace fan. I think sheís phenomenal. Was she always your first choice or did you see a ton of actresses to find the one that fit?
Well, we explored a lot of people. Again, it comes down to scheduling problems and the right couple together at the right time. I happened to be in New York where I ran into another director who was talking to Noomi about his movie and he said, ďYou gotta see some of her Swedish movies.Ē Of course, I was very familiar with her work and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO movies and I looked at her other Swedish films and thought, ďYikes. This is something.Ē So, we approached Noomi and she read the script and wanted to do it. Fortunately she had just finished a movie with Rachel (McAdams) and they liked working together, so she talked to Rachel about it and brought her on board.
How important is it for the two main actors to play off each other and actually like each other in person?
Very important! They had a whole way of dealing with each other and on the day it could go anyway that it happened in the moment, which is the best stuff that youíll catch on film. They were constantly twisting and turning each other all the time and it was extremely effective.
Yeah, there was great chemistry between them. It was fun to watch.
Yeah, itís a lot of fun to watch.
A lot of your films in the past, especially the thrillers, you generally have a male protagonist, or at least, a male heavily involved in the action. Here, this is a really feminist film, in a way.
Itís all about women. In the original movie, Noomiís assistant is a male, but I changed that to a woman who was in love with her and then we have our ballerina. The movie is all about women.
Do you enjoy working with women more than men? Youíve worked with many amazing women in the past.
Yes. I love working with women. I love to photograph them. I like dressing them up and I like to undress them.
Itís like a painter who likes to paint nudes. Itís just something thatís fascinating in its visuals to me and a lot of my movies are about following women and their characters. Itís always been a fascination for me.
You wrote the script. Were there things that you thought you needed to change other than making the male character from the original, the assistant, a female?
This movie is very different - the whole unraveling of the crime and with Noomi taking those pills, so you never really know if sheís dreaming or not or if something actually happened. The original movie, there were about four or five clues that tie Noomi to the murder and then theyíre explained why theyíre not tying her to the murder. So, there were lots of flashbacks in the original that I thought were a little ponderous, so I tried to simplify that right from the start to show what really ties her to the crime.
What is the process when you take a film and make it into your own? What are the steps that make it a De Palma film?
I donít really think about that. Itís a lot of problem solving. You take from the original film, which you like, and when you say, ďWell I canít reveal the murdererís identity when this character is killed, unlike the original film. So, Iím not gonna show that. Well, where is she? In the original film, sheís in the movie theater. In this, I put her in the ballet because thatís something that I always wanted to put in a film. I wanted to juxtapose the ballet with the murder, but thatíll evolve. And I was fortunate enough to find a very talented ballerina who had done the ballet in Germany and we were able to get the rights to reproduce it in our movie. All these things sort of make the movie and I could use this split screen idea to make the audience think that Noomi is at the ballet by using that trick and ultimately revealing that sheís not at the ballet, but sheís really under the scaffolding by Christineís house.
I love when you use split screens. Itís one of my favorite things you do in your films. The way you use it to tell a story is fascinating. Have you always liked using that, especially in a film like this?
Well, itís a technique, one thatís very effective. I tried to use it in CARRIE to show the destruction of the prom, but something that I realized is that itís not good for action. Split screen is not good for action and I consequently used very little of it. When we looked at it, I said, ďThis is not working.Ē So, I removed a lot of split screen from that sequence, but itís kind of a meditative form. A kind of form to show a lot of juxtaposition and itís a slow form. Itís a form that you have to allow to really sink in and it worked quite well in this movie. Using the ballet as this sensuous act between these two dancers and, kind of like a magic trick, youíre looking at one side of the screen when something really sinister is going on on the other side. When you can catch an audience off guard a little bit, thatís quite good.
END OF SPOILERS
Now, what did you use to shoot this on?
Film. We had a very accomplished cinematographer that really knows how to light and photograph women.
Do you like working with digital at all?
Well, this was all shot on film and it was ultimately released digitally, like most films released today. Theyíll always end up in some sort of digital release, but you have to get with the way it is going. Digital, of course, is just getting better and better and pretty soon, every theater is going to be digital and there isnít really going to be any processing of film anymore.
Youíve remade this film, but how do you feel about your movies being remade? The new CARRIE, for instance?
Iím fascinated to see what Kimberly (Peirce) does with it. From the beginning of her career, we used to hang out in New York together and she called me up and we talked about the film before she started it and I had lunch with her when she was on a publicity tour and she got a really good cast. Iím looking forward to seeing it.
I like the fact that in your work you still focus on the slow burn and it seems like a lot of filmmakers today donít do that. They want to keep the action going. Do you ever feel like you need to move on and just do a film with quick cuts and all that?
No, I think thatíd be a big mistake. After seeing these big action films, it feels like an endless drumming. After a while, everyone says, ďPlease, stop! I canít take this anymore!Ē The sequences are too long, theyíre not carefully thought out and with all choreography and in all action sequences you have to have a slow build up in order to go fast. You need to be quiet in order to be loud. Thatís sort of a basic thing in all art forms, whether it be music or film.
Itís refreshing to see some filmmakers staying on that level and really trying to tell a story.
Well, itís not rocket science. These structures have been around a really long time and although they may be very successful when the movie comes out, I donít know if people are going to be talking about them, ten or twenty years from now.
Looking back on your past creations, what are you most proud of?
Thatís an impossible question that nobody has the answer to. It changes as you get older. I recently did an interview with Oliver Stone and we looked at SCARFACE, and he was quite taken with the performances of the actors and that reminded me of when I saw SCARFACE in the theaters after it had been revived around fifteen years ago. I remember being astounded by the performances.
I agree. I think more credit should be given to Michelle Pfeiffer. She really stood out for me.
All of them. I just sat there transfixed as a movie-goer going, ďWow. What a cast!Ē
Thatís still an iconic film today. I walked into Universalís House of Horrorís and they have a zombie Scarface. Iím not kidding. Itís brilliant.
(Laughs) Aye, aye, aye.
Well, it looks like weíve run out of time, but I have to say I love your films and theyíre a big inspiration and one of the reasons why I love movies so much today.
Why, thank you. Itís good to be an inspiration.