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Interview with Frank Darabont from "The Majestic"
by Rebecca Murray and Fred Topel


Director/Producer Frank Darabont on the set of “TheMajestic.” Photo by Ralph Nelson. Photo @2001 Castle Rock Entertainment and Warner Bros. Pictures.

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FRANK DARABONT (Director)
What is it like directing Jim Carrey?
Exhausting because he'll go as long as you let him. Exhausting, thrilling, because he is so committed to what he's doing and that was really a thrill. You feel like you are plugging into an electrical current with him. In this particular film, it was a new experience for him because he's never done anything where he's completely put aside every gimmick and trick he knows. Every instinct in his body is put aside and he has to develop a new instinct and realize that he can do nothing onscreen and be captivating. He's always been the performer and in this he really had to just be. It was a really interesting journey for him and I was really happy to be along on that journey with him. I was impressed by his courage in embracing this, in committing to it in the way he did. I'm really proud of the work he did.

Other people see him as a wacky comedian and you said you see him as Jimmy Stewart.
I did, and there is something seriously wrong with me (laughing). I've said this a couple times and people look at me like, “Huh?” I've always gotten this Jimmy Stewart kind of vibe off the guy. It was in “The Mask,” I think, when I first started getting this. In the quieter moments of that movie, when he's not Mr. Green Face, I was looking at him thinking, “Is he reminding me of Jimmy Stewart? Is there this sort of soul and sincerity that's trying to pour out of this guy that's reminding me of Jimmy Stewart?” Even his physicality, kind of the way he walks, always has given me that little vibe. So when I read this script, I thought, “Hey, this is really a love letter to Frank Capra. That's why I wanted to make this movie. I'm going to need a “Jimmy Stewart.” I'm going to need the guy to fill that role. Who can do that?” Then Jim came to mind. It was a little odd thinking, “Okay, is “Ace Ventura” going to be put aside in favor of this? I don't know, I'll ask Jim and see how he feels about it.” He was actually really hungry to do something like this. He was really looking forward to a project like this coming his way because he's been wanting to make that transition and go into a more genuine place. And, by the way, which worked in my favor, he happens to worship Jimmy Stewart. It's like the pinnacle of his profession as Jim sees it. It all dovetailed beautifully. There's a lovely synchronicity to the whole thing.

What is the relationship between you and the film's writer, Michael Sloane? How did this all come about?
I've known Mike since we were in high school together. We were in theatre arts class at Hollywood High School. In fact, we had a lot of people in this movie from Hollywood High. If you notice in the film, the studio where Jim Carrey works is called HHS Studios - Hollywood High School - because this was like a high school reunion. My production designer, my wardrobe designer, my set dresser, my writer, we had like 15 people from Hollywood High School who have gone into this business through the years and are very, very good at what they do. I gathered them all up for this one. I thought this was a great opportunity to work with them all. I've known Mike, like I said, since high school. We've been very good friends and each other's little critical response unit for writing. It's always important to have a few people that you can show something to that can read it and say yes, good, no, bad, indifferent - just a good critic. So one day he shows me this script and says, “What do you think?” I read it and I said, “I think I really want to make this.” It's ringing that bell, it's ringing that Jimmy Stewart bell, it's that love letter that I always wanted to send. Not just to Capra, but also to the movies. Not just to the movies, but also to simplicity, decency, how we conduct our lives. Not just that but also the notion that we can rise to an occasion and meet a challenge and become better than we are. It worked on so many levels for me. And so that's kind of how it came about.

You are a naturalized American. This movie catches the patriotic theme that's going on right now. How do you feel about that looking at the film right now, and not knowing all this when you shot it?
It's been a very odd sensation to shoot a movie and release it and have such a fundamental sort of cultural sea change occur, in between. I don't know honestly. It's not my place to judge my movies. It's for you and the audience to see how you feel about it, what you bring to it, or what you take away from it. I don't think that any of the issues that the movie deals with are particularly timely because of recent events; I think they are always timely. In a sense these issues are rather timeless. This stuff was going on in the 50s. I think asking ourselves who we are and who we should be and what we should be about, I don't think that should ever go away. We happen to live in a world with way too many distractions, in my opinion. We are all too content not to say who are we really and what are the ideals that this whole thing is based, this whole country is founded on. I've always found those particularly moving because I haven't really taken them for granted. I'm not from here. I was taken in by this country. Albeit I was a baby and I grew up here. Culturally I'm from a very different reality, a very oppressive reality, politically, culturally and every other way. From the earliest childhood, going to school in the first grade and learning about the Constitution and what this is supposed to be. I've always been kind of a true believer. Not blindly so, because there are always people in power who want to corrupt those ideas as embodied by the assholes who sat on the UWAC committee, the most un-American activity at all, right? It's been going on ever since, hasn't it? There's always somebody out there that wants to whittle away our liberties. There's always a Jerry Falwell who wants to make everybody his definition of a Christian. Which is rather un-Christian of him. They want to suppress thought, suppress expression. To hell with them all, I say. Hopefully that's what this movie is trying to get at.

You paid homage to some of the great, older films in this movie.
We were looking at what movies came out right at that time, right when the Hollywood Ten was going to jail. “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” of course, jumped right off the list for me. I have a vintage three-sheet of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” framed above my couch and have had for about 10 years at home. And also to be able to pay respects to a filmmaker like Robert Wise is really a pleasure, really a treat. I'm glad he's still with us. I hope he gets a kick out of seeing it in the movie.

You have a film within a film in “The Majestic.” Can you talk about Bruce Campbell, and letting him do comedic stuff that Jim Carrey wasn't doing in this film?
What is wonderful about this film is there is a scene, the Town Council scene, when they go in to ask for help from the town, everybody in that scene gets to be funny except Jim (laughing). I took perverse delight in having Jim Carrey play straight man to a room full of other actors. It was really funny. Same thing with Bruce Campbell. It was a real treat working with Bruce. I've really been a big fan of his since “Evil Dead 2,” where he was doing some of the most brilliant silent comedic film acting I've ever seen since silent movies. And he's got this wonderful “B” movie persona that he brought to this thing. I had the most fun I had on this movie shooting “Sand Pirates of the Sahara.” I watched every cheeseball “B” movie ever made growing up. If you really dug those movies, to get to make one as an adult is really a treat. It was fast, furious, exuberant, I actually shot about 5-6 minutes of the scene and I'm going to put it on the DVD so people can watch the whole thing.

Is the statue in "Sand Pirates of the Sahara" the real thing?
That is the real statue. Not the original one, but a direct replica of the same mold. Steven (Spielberg) was kind enough to let me pay that little homage to him. It was great fun to work stuff like that in. Indeed “The Raiders of the Lost Ark” idol, how cool is that? The fact that filmmaking is usually, for me, brain surgery. It's like, “Okay, let's do take 15. Okay, let's try to get the little nuances of the performances on camera. Make sure I've got every little bit.” “Sand Pirates” was like, “Was it in focus? Great, let's move on. Did the camera dolly bump? Who cares!” It was just great.

Do you have any other plans for the DVD?
There's a really terrific 25-minute “Making Of” thing that a young filmmaker, Constantine Nasr, just made that I just saw. It's going to be an HBO First Look and it's really good. And I thought, what the hell, we should toss that on there too if we have the room. I don't think I'll do commentary because I never have yet. I'm not trying to get people to buy the thing twice, but what I'm thinking of doing is, when I slow down a little bit next year when I'm not going to be in production, I'll actually have time to think about it and prepare something good because I never wanted to do commentary unless I can do something that didn't suck, like many of them do. I'm thinking of maybe doing a box set of my three movies I've done for Castle Rock for the end of next year. And really get in there and really put the effort in there and do the commentary right, put some documentaries in there. For “Shawshank,” there are a couple of fantastic documentaries I've seen by now that I'd love to try and work out a license with the BBC to use on the DVD. Basically do a really good package of everything you could imagine. I think for the time being, since they need the damn DVD press by mid-February, we'll put the movie on there, we'll put the trailer on there certainly, I'll try to get this “Making Of” thing on there and “Sands Pirates.” I think “Sand Pirates' really deserves to be on there because it's just so filling.

What makes this “Making Of” stand out?
There's a lot of sincerity in it. It's in a way, like the movie. It's not trying to shove anything hip or glitzy down your throat. You don't feel like you're being hit over the head with “You've got to come see this because so-and-so is in it!” It's just a really sincere piece that isn't just selling, it's actually giving you some nice insights - I think - into the process. In a way, a lot of those First Look things that they air feel like a big infomercial. This straddles the line between that and a good documentary. It's really good.

Is there a process for getting a 2-½ hour movie approved by a studio? Is there anything you have to finesse?
You have to kidnap their children and hold them hostage (laughing). No, Castle Rock is a - I've said this before and I'll always say it - Castle Rock is a very filmmaker-friendly place. I've had final cut on my movies since my very first one, back when they didn't have to give me final cut, they gave it to me anyway. They never want anybody walking away feeling like they got beat up by a studio who did something to their movie that they won't be happy with. No, I really don't have that problem. I'm very, very lucky about that.

Is this the shortest of the movies you've done?
Believe it or not, “The Shawshank Redemption” is the shortest movie I've ever made. It was 2 hours and 22 minutes, I think, without credits. This is a few minutes longer.

You'd never do a 2-hour movie, would you?
I'd love to! I seem genetically incapable of it. One of these days if I ever hit a 2 hour running time I'm just going to hang up my gloves and say, “I've done it!”

How did the casting of Jerry Black and Laurie Holden come about?
Jerry Black, Oh my God is he good! I just love him. He was not an actor with which I was familiar until he came in and read. He was brought in by Deborah Aquila, my casting director. He had just such a straightforward, honest, simplicity to him that I basically gave him the job in the room. I said, “ Whoever else is reading for this, call them and apologize because Jerry just nailed it.” I loved working with him. No-nonsense, he's just wonderful. And Laurie came about through Anna Garduno, another high school pal, by the way, who is President of Production of Dark Woods - my company - she made her living as an actress for some years and still goes to acting class because it gives her a lot of creative joy. She shows up one day and says, “I saw this girl in Larry Moss' acting class tonight that you've got to get to read because she's going to be your Adele. I'm telling you right now, she's Adele.” So we had Laurie come in and she was just incandescent and incredibly talented and then the poor girl waited and waited and waited while we went through the entire casting process. She's the first girl I met. She had to wait months and months, at least half a year, to see if she got the part or not. But she beat out a lot of people for this. A lot of people wanted to do this, a lot of heavy hitters, too. She just kind of beat the pants off of all of them. She's a real movie star for the best reasons. She's got enormous soul and talent.

From a director's point of view, what is it about acting coach Larry Moss?
I don't know. I'm going to have to figure that out one of these days. I do know that I became kind of a Larry Moss believer when Michael Clarke Duncan was going through the casting process, the audition process, for “The Green Mile.” Michael came in with a lot of sincerity as a person, and he really is a sincere, big-hearted great soul - I do love this man. His first reading was a little dodgy though. I don't think he'd learned how to relax and tap into who he really is yet. And that's a tough thing for an actor to do, it really is. That's one of the reasons I'm so proud of Jim Carrey in this movie, because he's finally done that. But there was something about Michael's essence as a person, I thought, “Well, the reading was sort of disastrous but let's give him another chance because there's something special about this guy.” I had him start working with Larry Moss based on Anna Garduno's suggestion. Every time Michael came back into the room, he was closer to that Academy Award nominated performance. He was more ready for it. He was more ready to be real. The sheer quantum leap that occurred with Michael was astonishing. He really owned that character by the time that cameras were rolling, he really did. He totally owned his talent. Now Michael had a lot to do with that because he was ready to do it, he was ready to lay it down. But Larry Moss helped, whatever the key was, helped unlock that in Michael and helped with Jim. Something about Larry gets people to be genuine, to trust that they are going to be enough. They don't have to try to be that, they can just be it.

The buzz is an Oscar again, surrounding this picture. Do you allow yourself to think about that?
Well, sure, why not? It's fun to think about. I've been nominated before. It is the thrill of a lifetime when it happens. I've made two movies before this and they've both been nominated Best Picture. That is the best thing in the world. That is better than winning no matter what anybody says. The fact that you - out of all the 300 movies made every year - that the people who are your peers in this field say they have five favorite movies this year, you're one of them. You can't tell me that doesn't feel like you just flew to the moon. It's amazing. Does it happen or does it not happen? I don't know, I'm not owed anything certainly. If it does I'll be flying to the moon again. If it doesn't, okay, it just wasn't the year for it. It wasn't the movie for it. As long as the movie does its job and delights the audience, that's really the most important thing. So all this buzz, hey, great, keep buzzing. I'd love it. I'd love to see Jim get nominated and I would love to see Martin get nominated. I tell you that. They just both rocked.

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