Have you ever yelled at your interviewer?
Interview with star director Roland Emmerich : "That feels fake to me"
Emmerich is one of the most successful directors in Hollywood. He has directed blockbusters like “Independence Day”, “Godzilla” and “2012”. His war film “Midway” starts in German cinemas on November 7th. In it he tells of a battle between the Japanese and the Americans in the Pacific.
Born in Swabia, he learned his trade at the Munich Film School. In the 1980s he made science fiction films in Germany that were often torn up by the critics. However, the films were well received internationally, so that he was finally called to America. He has lived in Los Angeles since 1989.
For the interview at the Hotel de Rome, Emmerich appears with a T-shirt and jacket. After a few minutes he takes off his jacket, looks less official and chats in a singsong somewhere between Swabian and American slang.
He seems deeply relaxed, without airs, and talks stunned about his bad habits in the past: how he smoked constantly, even a cigar, on set. "Oh God, my cigar phase, what was I thinking?"
Mr. Emmerich, do you like working with chainsaws?
Not at all, I'm afraid of it!
The saws are a bestseller from the family company Solo Kleinmotoren, which your father co-founded. Was the foundation stone laid in Sindelfingen for your destructive films such as “Independence Day” or “2012”?
Well, that's a little more complicated. I think disaster films give a good impression of society: who behaves how to a danger, who becomes a hero, who a failure. For “Independence Day” I combined the genre with classic science fiction material. Aliens land on earth. We shot great scenes, destroyed the White House ...
In 1996 "Independence Day" became the most successful film of the year - and suddenly you became Hollywood nobility.
Since then the destruction has run through my films. But I don't like it when people call me the “Master of Disaster”.
The term sounds too good for you to ever get rid of.
I am afraid as well. "Anonymous" is my favorite work.
You shot the little film about Shakespeare in Potsdam in 2011.
It's about writing, about the fact that the pen is mightier than the sword. It was important to me to build the Globe Theater in the Babelsberg studio true to the original. There the actors stood very close to the stands - not like in this watered-down low building that stands on the Thames in London. That appealed to me. After all, I wanted to become a film set designer.
Originally, you were supposed to join the family business. What went wrong?
Nothing. Working in the company was too technical for me. I was interested in architecture and thought for a long time whether I should study art. That was too esoteric for me.
In the 1970s I couldn't imagine contributing anything to the art world that was considered avant-garde at the time. At the time, my cousin Renate was an assistant in textile design at the Stuttgart Art Academy. I went to class with her three times, but I didn't feel comfortable, and I couldn't do anything with the students either. I finally got an internship at Süddeutscher Rundfunk in Stuttgart through a connection from my parents. The presenter from the “Abendjournal” told me about the film school in Munich. However, she said that I should switch to directing in order to be accepted.
That was in the late 1970s. Her fellow students adored auteur filmmakers like Wim Wenders.
I found that boring. Not enough is happening for me at Wenders, not even today. I'm friends with him now, tell him that to his face too. But take a look at Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, for example. Something unexpected happens all the time! I also started with science fiction material at college and tried to introduce a certain style: I created smoke, used diffuse light, lit a bit from behind. I wondered why I didn't move the camera to a different point to make it look better. So automatically I became a filmmaker.
You made your first film “The Noah's Ark” as a student.
Even with funding! And it ran at the 1984 Berlinale. I then conceived my second film “Joey” in such a way that it had to be marketed all over the world because it was too expensive for Germany and the story too commercial.
Did you already have a megalomania back then?
Oh God, that was a bare calculation. By the way, at that time I actually used sprayers from our company.
As a product placement?
No, I was really good at creating fog with it. Or I remember the garden sprayers, which were suitable for moistening things.
Was your long-term destination already Hollywood in the mid-80s?
At first I couldn't imagine that. I had a lot to do in America in the 1980s because my film salesman for international sales was based in California. One day he heard about a producer who was looking for a director for an action film - and recommended me. Suddenly the phone rang: "Can you come over and talk to me and Sylvester Stallone?"
What was it like to meet the big egos straight away?
My first year in America wasn't a nice one. In 1989 I had to work with Joel Silver, one of the main action producers. We didn't understand each other at all. After blockbusters like "Die Hard", he thought he was infallible. Walked through town with several assistants in tow, each with a portable phone to their ear, and Silver then made three calls at the same time, screaming loudly. Everyone noticed that on the sidewalk.
And did you struggle with that?
Yes. The book was about the maiden voyage of a futuristic train. It rushes through a tube between two continents, and at the same time a man-eating plant takes control - a scientific experiment that went wrong. I think I'm the only director who ever said “no” to Silver and refused to make a movie. Six weeks before shooting started, I said to Joel Silver, “The book is crap.” In the end, he yelled at me.
Is Stallone still talking to you?
I have nothing to do with him, sometimes see him at a party, but we don't greet each other. He wasn't my type anyway. I have to thank my father in retrospect.
What has your father got to do with it?
He always listened to everything when I called from America. He advised me: “Don't even think about what the others are going to say about it. Follow your feeling. Sometimes it is more important which things you say no to. ”I took this advice radically to heart for several years.
And one project after another canceled?
Hollywood screamed after the first time: “Oh my God!” I was the biggest news in town. Three weeks later I was offered another stupid script. "Just write it around," said the producer. This became "Universal Soldier", my first hit. After that, I received all sorts of offers - and canceled all of them.
What pearls were there?
"Beverly Hills Cop III" with Eddie Murphy. A breakout movie starring Harrison Ford that ended up never being made. I'd rather make films that I develop myself than let myself be harnessed.
Your new film "Midway" about a battle in World War II was made in this way. As always without big names. Does the aversion to stars come from your early days in Los Angeles?
Well, we just ran out of money, the special effects were expensive enough. On the other hand, I like a war film like “Die Brücke” by Bernhard Wicki so much because normal kids played the roles. Sometimes superstars don't work. Tarantino has made a movie with the two biggest male stars right now, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. The film didn't make that much money.
"Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" has grossed 360 million worldwide at a cost of 90 million US dollars.
If it's true that stars bring a movie forward, it should have earned a lot more.
The Marvel films make billions for it. You once said: "I don't understand half of it because it's such a mess of effects."
My husband dragged me to Black Panther last year. I look at it and see black superheroes who have the technology of the future on their side, but are hiding in the middle of Africa. I ask myself: where were they during the Biafra crisis? Then why did the genocide happen in Rwanda?
It's just a fairy tale.
That doesn't make sense to me whatsoever. They can wear the most colorful costumes, it feels fake to me. Sorry
The most famous actors are considered A-List in Hollywood ...
Those days are over. In the late 90s, viewers realized they could have a good movie without two stars whose chemistry might not be right on screen. Think of "The Tourist".
The director Florian Henkel von Donnersmarck made the film with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. It was torn apart by the criticism and flopped. Why did Donnersmarck fall on his nose?
If you've made a good movie like The Lives of Others, stars will definitely want to work with you. Then you might fall for a script that a star like that might want to do. And only when you are deeply involved in the project do you realize that your two main characters may not have chemistry. The Donnersmarck was unlucky.
Can he ever gain a foothold in Hollywood again?
He just made a good film.
In Germany, enthusiasm for “work without an author” was limited.
It was well received in America. I found it interesting, when do you ever see a film about an artist that runs for three hours?
Didn't you get bored of this film - unlike Wender's works?
It's from a friend.
Every year "Forbes" determines how much actors earn. Action star Dwayne Johnson tops the list with an annual income of $ 89 million. Would you like to cast it?
For women, Scarlett Johansson is at the top with 58 million ...
... it's great. I once produced a film with her, "Arac Attack" ...
... she earns 31 million less. How honest is Hollywood about gender equality?
Not at all. It still takes some time.
Did Patricia Arquette's Oscar speech, in which she demanded equal pay in 2014, achieve nothing at all?
It was the breeding ground for the #MeToo debate. People were sorted out from whom one asked oneself: How do they get away with it for so long?
Do women have better chances behind the camera?
I sat with women directors two days ago. They complained bitterly how difficult it is to be taken seriously as a woman. I see that too: the studios are used to having a guy sitting on the chair.
Do you believe that the disadvantage of women in the film industry is a mere habit and not a structural one?
I don't think chauvinism has anything to do with it.
That's naive. Could it be that the white studio bosses fear for their power?
Many studio bosses are women. A woman rules at Universal, at Sony it was like that for a long time, and at Fox too. I could talk to them better. It's an ego struggle with men. They have a different demeanor.
Homosexuals are also part of the debate. A friend of yours, director Bryan Singer, has been charged with sexual assault.
Terrible what happened to him.
The magazine "Atlantic" reported on several cases. Among other things, minors have filed charges against him.
I think he never managed to get around properly. He surrounded himself with people who made me wonder: why is he hanging out with them now? In addition, he has to numb himself with drugs and alcohol when he is under a lot of stress - a double whammy.
Do you just think it's double bad luck?
He has been unjustly accused. Because the plaintiffs know how much money he has. The press calls him a "sexual predator", he is really not a predator. The studios dropped him, despite successful films like "X-Men".
Harvey Weinstein was ostracized very quickly after the abuse allegations became known.
Fast and good - this is how they should do it with Trump. He's in a bad position in Hollywood. Few actors support him, like Angelina Jolie's father: Jon Voight. He is considered an outsider and no longer gets a job.
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