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Director Charles Shyer Talks About "Alfie"

By Fred Topel

Charles Shyer Alfie

Director Charles Shyer on the set of "Alfie"

© Paramount Pictures
Continued from Page 1
I felt like if I could just be really loose, I could tell the story any way I wanted, so I could do quick cuts, I could do freeze frames, I could take the color out, desaturate it, add it. Do anything I could to tell the story in the most graphic ways possible. I wanted to make a really graphic, visual movie. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do and it’s what I feel the most comfortable with. So I kind of just let myself go. I let myself be loose. I was confident enough to do that because my last movie was such a bomb that I figured I can’t do much worse.

You handled manic depression in a very classy way. How did you come up with that montage?
In the script, it was photo montage because I thought that would be a cool way of doing it, rather than doing a lot of melodrama. And then that kind of evolved into a kind of bit inspired by “The Thomas Crown Affair,” the original Steve McQueen/Faye Dunaway one [that] Pablo Ferro did the montage in. I felt that if we could do it visually and have the right kind of music, we could tell our story in a kind of graphic way. I didn’t want to be heavy-handed. I also thought a bipolar character translated visually brilliantly. Because the actions are so pronounced and so exaggerated that they lend themselves to really graphic visualizations. That kind of excited me. We had a lot of fun doing that although it was really hard to do. It took a lot of time to get it right.

Was it a matter of catching Sienna Miller in stills at the right moment?
Yeah, and then the organization of it all. It’s like moving things around. “This doesn’t go with that.” It was challenging to say the least.

Elaine Pope had the idea to do this remake and then you wrote the script together. How do you recognize a great idea?
I never wanted to do another remake only because, to be honest with you - this is not meant about you but [journalists] like you - critics and journalists who there’s rancor if you revisit a movie. You can go make “Oliver” as a musical or “Hamlet” or anything a million times, or do an opera, “Don Giovanni” again and again. But you do a movie and it’s sacrilegious. I don’t quite get the mindset about that, but for me, I thought it was a story that could be modernized in a really smooth way, and that it was a story that could be told to this new generation and have real meaning. I think this kind of new misogyny that has kind of risen up in our society, I thought it was something that was worthy of addressing.

How often have journalists hit you with that question now?
Well, they all hit you with it. But to be honest with you, I was more scared of England than America because “Alfie” is an iconic movie in England. I mean, on a level that you can’t almost believe. So I was nervous about how the English were going to respond, but they love the movie and that was really a shock to me. But, I don't know. Doing a remake never entered my mind until Steve Martin came to us with “Father of the Bride.” I never thought about it. And then we did that and we just suddenly found ourselves doing the sequel to that and the “Parent Trap.” I don't know, your career just evolves on its own and you just go with it.

Is this three act structure or more open ended?
It’s not a three act structure. It’s not a conventional movie. It’s a saga. I realized when we were on page 35, I started to realize, “Wait. This is not a classic three act structure. This is more a journey, more a saga.” And what it becomes is with each woman, when they enter the movie, it becomes a two-hander almost for each of those sections. So number one, you have to rely on really strong character writing, characterizations to take you to the end. And you also, because you have no backup, you better have those actresses be able to hold the stage with Jude all the way because it’s only them. It’s only Jane Krakowski and Jude, or Marisa [Tomei] and Jude, or [Susan] Sarandon and Jude. If one of them doesn’t work, that section of the movie doesn’t work.

You don’t have a subplot and all that other kind of stuff going on, so it was interesting. I liked it. I think it’s a bit, not wanting to turn people off in any way, but I think there’s a kind of European feel to the movie. I’m tried of everything being wrapped up in a perfect bow. I’m hopeful that maybe audiences are getting tired of it, too.

Will “Alfie” eventually be remade again?
I think it could be in another 30, 40 years, definitely. I think now they are beautiful companion pieces and I would package them together at some point even. I think Michael’s performance and Jude’s performance of the same kind of movie are really great together. So, it’s interesting.

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