INT: Tony Scott
Like it or not, Tony Scott is one of the few action directors with a distinct style. While most just quick cut their coverage, Scott designs moods. Sometimes it’s crazy DOMINO obscurity, others it’s CRIMSON TIDE claustrophobia. DEJA VU is not one of his avant-garde pieces. The time travel story is told more like TOP GUN or TRUE ROMANCE. It’s a crazy idea but the story unfolds like a classic suspense thriller. An ATF agent is simply looking for a killer… through time.
Known for his hyperactivity, Tony Scott is visibly disheveled sitting in one place for an interview. He talks fast and slurred, British accent melding words together. But he’s funny and friendly, perfectly open for talking about craft.
Is there a story behind Denzel Washington saying “Jesus” when he’s looking at Jim Caviezel?
I’ve got to tell you about that. Damn, you shot my story down. So, when Denzel does that car flip and ends up facing JC, as we call him, he went "Jesus." And nobody spotted it until we had it in our first cut, our first preview and there was this great roar from the audience. I thought, “Oh, we f*cked up.” With a science fiction movie, “Damn, we lost it.” And then everybody pointed out the fact that he was Jesus in The Passion. But Denzel just said it totally unknown, "Jesus… is dead ahead of me."
a pretty serious actor?
JC, or Denzel, both. Yeah. I didn't know what I was really looking for because it had, doing terrorists and you always tend to go archetypal, always tend to get too broad. So I always do a lot of homework. My homework is research and I started to read all the McVeigh transcripts after he was caught and BTK and these other guys and I honed in on McVeigh. I was looking for an actor and I had someone else in the back of my mind, another type of person in mind, and then JC came in and he sat with me for 2 minutes and I said, “Oh, this guy is… You see JC is Oerstadt, and Jesus.”
did you base the character on McVeigh?
No. I mean, I do my homework and I gave it to him and we pulled and pushed a little bit, and I found a guy in the bayou, actually we were scouting locations and this guy was walking around with these blue satin shorts. We drew upon his location, drew up on his boat and he snuck off inside the house and came back out and he had a .45 stuck. But these satin shorts were just hanging down, the shorts just kept dropping down and dropping down. This .45 was pulling it down. He kept showing me the gun the whole time. And I go, “Hey, how you doing?” He says, “How you doing? Get the f*ck out of here."
eventually ingratiated myself. I got back and had a DVD of him. It
turns out he breeds pit bulls for fighting, dogs that fight to kill
and he also brews crystal meth and gave his tape to JC. I gave it to
him for 20 minutes and unfortunately JC became that character. He
was still playing Timothy McVeigh but in terms of the accent, so it
took me a long time to talk him back off the ledge because dialects
it originally set in
You were set to go in fall of last year, but then Katrina happened. Did you have a fall back plan?
Immediately after it happened, I said, “Listen, the city’s going to recover. Let’s go back’ and I wanted to incorporate more post-Katrina into the story, and we did or I did, and then that got sort of shot down because it was detracting from the original story too much. But we did incorporate Jim's character into the Ninth Ward and, uh, but it's hard getting back there because people didn't want to go back there because of health insurance and all that stuff, but I had such a vision and such a fix on this city as this backdrop for this movie, so I didn’t want to let it go.
you kind of shooting two movies at once because you had the
surveillance stuff going on at the same time?
Yes, what was hard was that when we went into what I call the time lab or the main lab, when we run into the main lab, I had to construct that window so we shot what was 14 weeks. We shut down for two weeks while I constructed, had all the actors sign off on the script because they have to perform like a third actor. That window’s like a third person in the room so I had to build that window and they had to stay true to their words and perform with this actor. That’s tough because people, depending on what side of the bed they get out of, whether they’re hung over, depending if they’re in a good mood or bad mood saying, “F*ck it, I want to change things.” You couldn’t do it.
You've worked with a lot of these people before, can you talk about working with Denzel again?
I think as he gets older, he gets better, like a good wine, and he likes wine. And he's committed so he never drinks the whole time he’s actually shooting. He never had so much as a glass of wine. He stops and he lost 40 pounds of weight to do this movie so that shows you his level of commitment. There's a certain gravity and seriousness to Denzel and also tremendous likeability. He and I get on because we've done three movies together, and he trusts me and I trust him in terms of delivering the goods, and that trust comes out of research, so we do a tremendous amount of research, always find role models for his character.
We found a guy called Jerry Rubin for this, Man on Fire, a guy called Don Rosche. It’s easier for an actor because it's very hard talking to actors about how they should feel, how they should deliver the lines. Denzel [met] many cops, many FBI agents. All of a sudden, here he had this guy, and he was stunned when the guy walked in the room. He was white, Irish Catholic, born five blocks away from where Denzel was born in Brooklyn, and they hit it off like a house on fire, and he was stunned that this was the guy he was going to respond to. He was funny. Jerry Rubin, he was charming and funny but a real agent. He was a star on the ATF.
You’re doing an R-rated cut for the DVD. If you had your druthers which version would you prefer?
Being political? This one. Kingdom of Heaven, the long version was so much better. I don't like long movies, but the longer version was better. Storywise, it’s hard to make sense of it. You’ve lost the throughlines with the characters. Nobody does toga movies like my brother. In the history of movie making nobody touches him. Gladiator, nobody. Not even the older greats, nobody touches my brother in terms of capturing that atmosphere, that mood, that danger, that period.
Think of the opening sequence of Gladiator, with those guys in the woods with the Huns and stuff, it was fantastic. Look at Kingdom of Heaven, they’re attacking Jerusalem. It’s amazing. Ridley’s a master at doing that stuff. He loves doing it. It was so disappointing for him and for me that the movie got cut down, but it's the nature of the business. You get one screening a night, running at three hours as opposed to two.
Jerry Bruckheimer a hands-on producer?
No, Jerry’s great. He’s a brilliant producer because he gives input. I’ll say, “What do you think of that?” He says, “Weeeellll.” That’s all he’s going to do. He doesn't say no, he says "I'm not sure about…” And the fact that he says “not sure about,” it works on your paranoia. You think he knows something that I don’t know. So therefore you go and address it but other producers say, “You’re not going to do that and you’re not going to do this.” Jerry and I have done six movies together. Top Gun he was there like this. That was my first movie. Now he lets me do my own thing and if he's unsure about something he says "I'm unsure" and when he says "unsure," I go "oh shit." I’ve got to address it.
if you need him?
he’s always there.