Guy Ritchie: Getting Ritchie
Madonna may be a pop icon, but generally speaking not many people consider her to be a great or even good actress. Her filmography is heavy on critically panned flops. At the very bottom of the barrel is the Razzie-winning Worst Picture, Swept Away, a remake of an Italian film directed by the Material Girl’s then-husband, Guy Ritchie. Ritchie, who ended up winning Worst Director that year, defended his leading lady in an interview with Movieline magazine when the movie was about to be released.
Q: How is your remake of Swept Away different from the original?
A: The first one was political and appropriate to the time. This is more about ecological issues, which seems to be a political agenda we all felt strongly about. In the original, the lady was a rich bird from Milan, with a rich husband from Milan. They were obviously Catholic. The fisherman was just a poor communist fisherman. Mine is about a rich American drug conglomerate governor who has brought his wife on the make to exploit nature. The fisherman is a fisherman, after all, and his livelihood is threatened by overfishing, chemicals, greed. That is our template.
Q: This is the first film you’ve made in which there is a romance.
A: Yes, but I hope not in the traditional sense. I never fancy making a film where the woman is redundant and gorgeous. I wanted to make her tough. So it’s not a traditional love story. I mean, she takes a thrashing. She does take a bit of a kicking, which should make some people rather uneasy. But the film is essentially about getting what you need, not what you want. That can lead to some politically incorrect actions.
Q: The original was pretty sexy–these two roll around on the beach together. Does yours have that?
A: It does. But I just get so bored of romances being predictable. I like the idea that this was so edgy. You almost couldn’t get away with this film now. You can get away with wiping out the entire population of Somalia because they are the enemy, but you cannot slap a woman. There is something interesting about that, not that I’m advocating slapping a woman. But it is a much hotter potato dealing with a woman who needs a slap.
Q: This is a complex character for Madonna to play because she goes from being a woman in control to being controlled. How do you coax that kind of performance out of her?
A: She knew where we were going and I was aware of the pitfalls that someone like her could fall into, where with any other actress they wouldn’t give a shit. Because it is her, the critics are going to be tougher. I was very aware of that.
Q: Describe one of those pitfalls.
A: However you slice it, it’s Madonna. It’s hard for people to digest that they are not looking at Madonna. Once you deal with someone who is rather controlling from the offset, who has a larger-than-life personality, at least you feel comfortable from that position. Then you can slowly transform that personality.
Q: This is not a cakewalk, in terms of what you put your wife though. Does such an experience place a strain on a marriage?
A: Funnily enough, it didn’t. We got on very well during the whole process. It was just work, she acted very professionally. I was very happy. Outside of that, it just made it all rather convenient because you could talk about things over dinner.
Q: Madonna is known for being a perfectionist. Who asked for more takes, you or her?
A: We struck a happy balance. She trusts that I’m not going to make her look like a twit. I trust her in that I know she’s going to memorize her lines.
Q: How do you explain her film career?
A: Some of the films that she’s done, they were essentially meant to be small pictures. Studios ride on the fact that she is Madonna and that they’re going to get a lot of publicity because of who she is, and turn what is essentially a small picture into a commercial picture. Which it wasn’t meant to be. Then it ends up being rather embarrassing for everyone.
Q: Why do you think people have been so critical of her acting?
A: She is a very capable woman. She is a very capable actress. She pays attention and she has heart and soul. What goes against that is the fact that she’s Madonna. That works against her, in terms of people digesting her work. Truth is, if she wasn’t Madonna, no one would ever say, “Isn’t she a terrible actress?” You can’t really blame people, it’s just the way we’re designed.
Q: The British press was hard on her performance for the London play Up For Grabs.
A: It was so fucking…I was there on opening night. Tell you what, however you slice it…I’m not biased, genuinely not. I know when she’s doing something that is not very good and I know when she is doing something that is good. She was just magnificent–there was no question–on opening night. She was magnificent and there’s no one that was going to say anything different apart from these begrudging critics that were going to kick the shit out of her. I don’t know what the fuck she would have had to do for them to give her a round of applause. As someone trying to be objective, this was a very, very good performance. If it was anyone else, they would have said it was a very, very good performance. They haven’t been cruel, but it’s fucking begrudging. It is something that has to be taken into consideration. But she doesn’t read the papers and so she doesn’t know and so she doesn’t care. She doesn’t want to do a bad job, she cares about doing a competent, very good job. She wants to do everything she does very well and she does do that well.
Q: You’ve mostly directed men. Is there a different set of muscles you have to use to direct women?
A: Not really. Truth is, I am a guy’s guy and I like doing guy things. I’m more drawn to that. But I’m heterosexual. I love ladies and I’m interested in that kind of stuff, too.
Q: Martin Scorsese is married and female characters were never his strength. I’m not casting aspersions on your sexuality or anything…
A: I understand what you mean, it’s a sensible question. I didn’t find it challenging in that respect. Ladies are ladies, I deal with them in the respect of how I understand them.
Q: Was part of the reason you cast Adriano Giannini as Madonna’s lover because he’s the son of Giancarlo Giannini, who starred in the original Swept Away?
A: I looked at a whole floor of Italian actors and I picked Adriano because he looked right. I had no idea who his father was and it wasn’t till we were on the plane ride over to the shoot when someone pointed it out. The only thing about that was it seemed a bit cute. But he was by far the best we saw. He’s very capable, he’s a man–the quintessential Italian lover. He’s got a good body, he’s funny, he’s a great actor.
Q: It was reported that John Turturro was going to play the part. What happened?
A: I was interested in John Turturro for the part of the captain of the ship. And he never called me back.
Q: You have a thing for in-your-face movie titles. You were almost forced to change Snatch because it’s a sexual reference in the U.S. What happened to Love, Sex, Drugs and Money, which was going to be the title of your new movie before you went back to Swept Away?
A: After making the movie and reflecting back on it, Love, Sex, Drugs and Money was just the wrong title. I do like a title that doesn’t mince words on what the movie’s about. Those elements are within the movie, but it’s not a good reflection of what the movie is about. Swept Away is a nice title and it’s a fair reflection of what you’re going to get. It is essentially an angry love story.
Q: Snatch was an impressive film, partly because of the cast. How did you get Brad Pitt to star in it?
A: Brad was just a big fan of the first one, and so he was up to do something.
Q: Most directors lucky enough to get Brad wouldn’t dirty him up, cover him with tattoos, let him get his brains beat out and make him speak in an accent no one could understand.
A: I did have a few phone calls from Sony, as they were looking at the rushes. They thought they had hit the jackpot, the fact they were getting a low-budget movie with Brad Pitt in it. Then they couldn’t identify him or understand what he was saying. But it was too late, I was already shooting the movie by then.
Q: Was Benicio Del Toro also a fan of yours?
A: Well, Benny was still buzzing away underground. I was a big fan of his and wanted to get him in there.
Q: Snatch was a large ensemble comprised of both experienced actors and relatively new actors. How did you direct both classes in the same scene?
A: I create a relaxed atmosphere in a roomful of men. There is a different vibe going on than if it was a roomful of women.
Q: A lot of European directors who make a splash with a film like Lock, Stock get drafted for big Hollywood films, often losing their way. But you haven’t made that big film yet.
A: There were a lot of things I salivated over, just because I loved the idea of spending $100 million. Then I calmed down, decided to sit by, see how the game was played for a little while. I’d like to make big movies. I’m only doing small ones at the moment because it seemed like the right thing to do. That will change.
Q: Why did you turn down Charlie’s Angels?
A: I don’t necessarily regret not getting involved in that one. I’ll tell you a film I did like, which I was up for. I don’t know if I would have gotten it, but they sent me the script. It was Ocean’s Eleven. I really liked that movie. It was sassy and it wasn’t trying to be anything other than what it was. It was simple. And it had a strong identity.
Q: Do you prefer to create your own projects the way you have so far?
A: I do. It’s the less lazy thing to do and I’m petrified with becoming lazy. It’s very hard work, writing scripts, and it doesn’t come easy to me. But I think it’s probably quicker to write your own script than to read those by other people. As a writer, you have a vision and when you’re directing, that’s an extension of the same vision. If you’re just directing, you never had the vision in the first place. You have a visual vision, but not an oral vision. You need to marry the two together. Lock, Stock was the first script I did, an extension of a short film I’d made. I only got into screen-writing because I tried to get writers to write something for me so I could direct, and no one would. I was forced to sit down and write one myself.
Q: I’d heard rising through the ranks to become a director in England usually takes a long time, but you never even went to film school. Was yours an accelerated path?
A: I was a runner for a year and then I was a director. Usually, you do it that long and figure out what department you will be going into. I knew what department I’d be going into and didn’t want to go that way. Film school seems to be getting replaced by music videos. That’s nice, because you have an infrastructure of mates who are all coming up the same way. And you have to hustle. Music video is a hustler’s game.
Q: Are you next going to make Siege of Malta with Anthony Hopkins and Robert De Niro?
A: That will probably be next, I’m dancing around in the middle of it now. It’s funny those actors should be mentioned, because I haven’t gotten around to casting it yet. They sound good, though. It will be a higher budget and it is certainly ambitious. I’ve spent over a year with this script and it just keeps moving. But it’s important to me that my movies make the money back. There’s a balance between making something stimulating, making something that has some form of moral code and something that makes money. And that challenges me.
Q: Does the stress ever get to you?
A: A priority of mine is to always have a good time. I don’t want to make this a chore for anyone. I feel very privileged to be in the position I’m in. I feel we should all have a good time doing what we’re doing. The people I work with are all good chaps and are very accommodating, which makes my life easy on the set. We just jolly along in this very organic atmosphere. That is evident in my films, there’s a lot of jollying going on.