||Brad Anderson, director of The Machinist dropped by and we used it as a good excuse to quickly question him!
The Spinning Image (TSI): Christian Bale’s performance has just staggered people wherever you’ve taken the film – how much direction did you give him regarding the huge weight loss we see on screen?
Brad Anderson (BA): Well it was written in Scott Kosar’s script that the character was literally described as ‘a walking skeleton’ – a man who has literally been consumed by his own guilty conscience. When Christian and I talked about the script he was so enthusiastic about the project and the character, that I just assumed that he was going to try and lose some weight. However, when he showed up in Barcelona I was also quite freaked out! I really didn’t think that he’d go the extreme that he did, losing, I think, about 63 pounds. I think he even lost a little more whilst we shot the movie. So it wasn’t really a condition of making the movie that he lose the weight but it was clear that he would have to lose some weight. But he went way beyond what I expected him to do…and I really respect his commitment to the roles that he plays. I mean there were moments when we were concerned for his physical health for sure but in the end he made the right choice because it makes the character’s journey in the film that bit more compelling. He looks like he’s right on Death’s Door, having been literally torn apart by his guilt.
TSI: In American Psycho Bale famously stayed in character off-screen in a total Method performance, was this the case on your film?
BA: Well he did to the extent that he kept the American accent (Bale is British), and thankfully he wasn’t the sort of brooding, paranoid character that he was in the movie!
TSI: So he didn’t shut himself away in his trailer…
BA: Well he was very shut way but I think it’s his way of staying in character to a degree. But I also think he was far more detached because he was absolutely exhausted y’know? He didn’t have a lot of energy, so he would hang out in his trailer and try to regain energy for his next take.
TSI: He then probably went and supersized himself at the end of the film!
BA: Well I was saying to someone yesterday, Christian’s personal hell was being in Barcelona, surrounded by some of the best cuisine in the world, and not being able to eat any of it for three months or whatever. The moment that we wrapped however, he made a beeline to the best restaurant! I think he put the weight back on pretty quickly though, I think in about 2 months or so, because when we did the re-shoots of him that appear at the end of the film he had put it all back on.
TSI: The Machinist is obviously a very original piece of work, but were there any particular films or directors that inspired you visually or thematically?
BA: Well of course I think you could say that there were certain directors that were haunting the set! Hitchcock being the pre-eminent presence. I mean Scott Kosar the writer and I both felt that we were channelling a Hitchcock film in a way, through the music, the Bernard Herrman score, the look and the feel. We wanted to make something that felt weirdly timeless, like it wasn’t about any particular place or time, and had a very old-fashioned feel to it. I mean I love Hitchcock’s films, and even Anna Massey, who plays the landlady in our film was in a Hitchcock film, Frenzy. I mean when I make a film though it’s not like some sort of homage or I’m not trying to reference other films that I admire. But just the nature of the material and the nature of Scott’s script made it obvious that there were going to be certain influences that were going to be greater than others like Polanski as well, with the whole sort of notion of the lead character’s paranoia. From literary circles the likes of Kafka and Doestefsky were big influences on Scott Kosar’s script. It really is a type of crime and punishment-type story. When we were discussing the film we really were using those writers as reference points. Visually I was going for something that was very austere, very simple, and very pure in a way, and I didn’t want to clutter the movie in that way. I mean we shot the film in Barcelona, as you know, so we were in the unusual circumstance of having to replicate some sort of quasi-American city in Barcelona. It was our intention to make it obvious that it was an American place, but you’re not too sure what city exactly or where it is.
TSI: In that respect it’s similar to ‘the city’ in Se7en…
BA: It’s a generic kind of city. Originally however, the film wasn’t going to be shot in Barcelona at all it was going to be shot in LA, but we couldn’t get the money together in America.
TSI: You use a desaturated colour-scheme in the film…
BA: Well I wanted a look that was sort of drab, so that the look of the film should match the protagonist’s fatigue.
TSI: When you were preparing this project did you do any research into insomnia? In the film we’re told that Christian Bale’s character hasn’t slept in an entire year – is that even possible?
BA: Well, apparently. Scott did some research into it and apparently there are cases of people not having slept in literally ages. What they do is they have ‘micro-sleeps’ so I could be talking to you but my mind would be completely shut down and I would be sleeping. In the film Christian’s character isn’t able to differentiate between what’s real and what’s not, and that connects with the audience, who aren’t sure either. I mean the whole movie has a kind of strange, fantastical quality to it anyhow.
TSI: You’ve been lauded elsewhere for your bravery in naming a lead character Trevor…
BA: (laughs) Well I think Scott was going for some sort of play on Trent Resner. In England Trevor is a common name is that right?
TSI: Yeah it’s like a builder’s name…
BA: Yeah well in America it’s associated with a wimpy little name like uhh, Tim or something.
TSI: What’s next for you?
BA: Well I’ve got quite a few pictures in the works but nothing definite. I’ve got a film I’m developing over at Warner Bros. called Lucid that’s going to be a very dark, paranormal thriller. I’ve also finished writing a musical – a very different type of thing.
TSI: Is it going to be a dark musical?
BA: No, it’s going to be a really colourful, bright musical set in Brazil in the 1960s. It’s going to be all about the growth of Basanova and Brazilian jazz. I mean the films I’ve done have all been very different and this one, if it actually gets made, will be another new chapter.
TSI: Do you see yourself working outside the Hollywood system in the future?
BA: Well thus far I haven’t done a studio film per se. Doing things independently gives me the freedom to make the film that I want to make – that way I don’t have a lot of undo influences on me. And that’s what every filmmaker wants. The flip side is that you have to be willing to work at a much lower budget-rate, and make compromises in other ways. I am very eager now though to try and do a much bigger studio film.
TSI: Do you worry about box-office receipts and opening weekends?
BA: Well no, not really. I’d much rather make a small film that starts slow and grows big by word of mouth than something that burns bright for a while then dies a swift death. To me, word-of-mouth and reviews are important. You know, to the studios, reviews don’t even matter, it’s all about the marketing. Reviews are just a petty nuisance on occasion to them.
TSI: In an ideal world, how would you like to work?
BA: Well rather like Christian Bale, I’d like to flit from big-to-small films. I mean if you look at Christian, he’s gone from this tiny movie to Batman, so I’d like to do what he’s doing and make small, independent films followed by big, studio ones. I mean Christian Bale doesn’t see himself as a movie star, he sees himself as an actor. It’s about the craft. And I feel the same way about the films I make. You know on a studio film you come in and you’re a hired gun, it’s the producers that are probably pulling the strings.
TSI: Is there any director whose career you particular admire, who influenced you growing up?
BA: Well most of my favourite directors aren’t actually alive but of the current batch I rate Steven Soderbergh’s career very highly. I like the way he makes really daring, interesting films as well as those that make a lot of money: those that are both critically acclaimed as well as doing really well at the box-office. He’s also a director that crosses genres he’ll do a sci-fi movie like Solaris and then he’ll do a caper flic like Ocean’s Twelve. I love that ability not to get boxed-in as ‘the guy that does thrillers’ or ‘the guy that does rom-coms’.
TSI: Many actors and directors have little ‘hit-lists’ of people they want to work with, are there any actors you’d be particularly keen on working with?
BA: Well there’s a lot of people I’d love to work with, but they’re not all ‘big-name’ actors…
TSI: But presumably the funding for The Machinist must have been far easier to get once Christian Bale was on board?
BA: Well no, actually, that’s what I would have thought but it wasn’t the case at all. I mean Christian’s name means to the industry ‘great actor’ but it doesn’t guarantee a big box-office draw. But even with Christian’s attachment to the project there weren’t exactly people knocking on our door. The first creative decision for me from a casting point of view isn’t like ‘is this person going to open the movie’ it’s more like ‘who’s the best actor for the role?’ I mean I’m not naïve about the business and I want my films to succeed at the box-office but if that’s ever at the expense of making a really good film then I wouldn’t to compromise that.
TSI: There’s an awful lot of hype about this film on the internet, do you feel the pressure of expectation?
BA: Well no, I’m excited about it. I think we were really lucky that Christian got the Batman part because it’s certainly helped us from a marketing perspective, and given us far more exposure. I mean thankfully Christian is really supportive of the movie, and has said what he can to promote it. So we’re really riding a little bit of the Batman buzz. To me the best way to release a film, and this goes against all logic, is to have a stealth release pattern to it, where you sneak it out, and the word of mouth grows until suddenly it becomes talk of the town, as opposed to the other way where everyone’s panting with expectation. When you see a film like Memento, which I hope will be a good template for this film, which has a great buzz to it, and was a very cool brain-teaser-type movie, that’s what I’d like our movie to be. I think Christopher Nolan is a really interesting director. I’d love to work with an icon like Al Pacino. I would have loved to have worked with Brando too…
TSI: I think you might have struggled to persuade Brando to play Trevor Reznik…
BA: (laughs) Yeah that would’ve been tough.