Arena magazine (UK) - February 2005


The Player

Interview by Paul Croughton


(Please note: this is just the word-by-word interview. The whole article is much longer.)

How did you learn about Howard Hughes?

To begin with, all I knew was that he was locked away in a hotel room, wasn't able to communicate with anyone, ate candy bars, pissed into jars and had Kleenex boxes on his feet. But after reading a book about him when I was 21 I became fascinated. I discovered this young tycoon, a pioneer of the 20th Century. He was a daring aviator, a film producer who became a one-man studio system and took on the censory boards. His compulsions, his women, his money, obsession with power, his need to succeed, it's all fascinating stuff. He was America's first billionaire, by the way.

He also got hold of some pretty special women - Katherine Hepburn [Cate Blanchett], Ava Gardner [Kate Beckinsale].

Oh buddy, he was the bees's knees. He was the unparalleled, unmatched Casanova of the 20th Century.

And he wasn't even a film star.

That worked to his advantage. He was able to do things much more on the DL [down low] than somebody in the public eye. He stashed 20 bungalow girls at the Bel Air Hotel. Twenty actresses who he kept on payroll at his beck and call for years at a time: the man was a maniac.

So how did you get involved?

I brought the script to the director Michael Mann and developed it with him. He'd just finished doing Ali and said, "I'm not really into doing a biopic right now, who do you want to bring it to?" I'd just done Gangs of New York with Mr Scorsese and loved working with him.

You don't call him "Mr Scorsese"?

No, I call him Marty, but that sounds pretentious in an interview. When I hear someon else say "Marty" it kinda gives me the quivers. So I call him Mr Scorsese. I brought the script to him. What attracted him was that he had this great complex character. The prevalent theme in every film he's ever done is a great arc in a character.

What's the difference in approach between Spielberg and Scorsese?

I thought Marty, more so than Steven - now that I'm using their first names - was going to be this tyrannical, dark, brooding, really intense, difficult man to deal with. But he's honestly a huge fan of movies that got to direct. He's giddy about what he does. It's so contagious. I just thought that he was going to be scary. Steven I thought was going to be this power-hungry tycoon of the movie industry, and he's the same way. The reason they're successful is that they're both film nerds that got to make movies and live their dream.

You're a bit nerdy too. You collect film posters, right?

Nerdy things, man...

So how come these nerds get to be so famous?

They love what they do, they love the world of film. They're film historians, professors. I see people in this industry who get into it - I don't want to say for the wrong reasons - but they haven't done their homework, they don't have the same passion. And it translates in the work they do. Their choices once they're successful seem to become less and less meaningful.

Is that why you haven't done that many films since Titanic?

I don't want to waste my time doing a rehash of something that I've seen 100 times before. I want to be part of movies that have an emotional impact and an artistic integrity. I'm sure every person you interview tells you that their new project is "so important, blah, blah, blah", but this is honestly a movie that I want people to come and see because it's a throwback to classic films of the Thirties and Forties. It's got every element that a Casablanca or Citizen Kane has - not to compare it to those movies but it's got those central themes, characters struggling with their own identity. It's fabulous.... Okay, enough gloating about the movie !

Looking back on the aftermath of Titanic, what did you learn about yourself?

I just said to myself if I can get through this weird Fellini-esque time in my life I'll be a much stronger person. And I think I am. Seeing yourself on the cover of a magazine every week can turn artists off the main focus of what they want to do. It was really surreal. All of a sudden I was this other thing. I don't want to say that I had no intention of that happening, but I had no idea that it would be to that degree. It was a fluke to be in the most successful movie of all time.

How did you handle the attention?

I did whatever I wanted because I wasn't going to become a hermit. I rebelled against, I suppose, what you should do, which is to hide away.

Your manager was telling me earlier that he's been in the car with you when you're playing chicken with photographers. Is that your way of telling them you're not going to just "take it"?

Kind of, yeah. You adapt your circumstances and I'm not going to become a victim of it. People say, "You wanna go to the mall, you wanna go to a theme park? Oh, you can't do that," and I'm like, "No, I'm going to go."

If you did, what would happen?

I'd get recognised and people would come up to me. I shouldn't say this but I don't really have security anywhere, ever, and I don't really stop myself from going to anywhere.

But you'd have half the state coming up to you?

That's why I wear a baseball cap a lot.

Did the "Pussy Posse" thing get out of hand?

It was all an exaggeration of the press. I didn't do anything weird or illegal or that crazy. It's still great, I've had this group of friends since I was 15 years old. We're doing the same things we've always done.

You hang out with the same people?

All the same lot...

Even David Blaine?

No, not David Blaine. We're not close anymore. That happens in anyone's life.

What are your thoughts now on the recent American election?

Bush won, you know? I publicly went out for Kerry, because I believed that he would have been a better President, but the people have spoken to some degree and Bush is now going to be our President for the next four years. I went to 11 different states, gave 25 different speeches and tried to galvanise the youth vote because I honestly felt that could have changed the election and brought somebody into office who would have been better for our country and better for the world. Only 17 percent, or something like that, of the youth went out to vote, unfortunately it wasn't enough.

Did you take it personally?

Not at all, it's the best that you could do, you know? I really felt passionate about Kerry. He had the best track record on what he would do for the environment. I wanted our country to pave the way and join the Kyoto Protocol like Russia has, and reduce our carbon emissions to slow down global warming. Bush is someone who gives in to corporate interest, to big oil companies. He's not an environmentalist. That's what I focused on in all of my speeches. I didn't want to talk about health care, ot the war in Iraq. I wanted to say that I'm someone who will be affected by Kerry's tax bracket - I would lose money if he came into office - but I care about the environment and I hope you do too.

A lot of celebrities made their anti-Bush sentiments very public....

I read some articles that said clebrities shouldn't have gotten involved in the election, but I honestly think if it wasn't for people like Puff Daddy, Brad Pitt, me or Mary J. Blige who went out and spoke then the election wouldn't have been that close. It is our responsibility to people who look up to people like us, as citizens of the country, to let them know... But it's done now. I don't really want to talk about it. Although I think I just did. At great length...

There's a line in The Aviator where you say to Cate Blanchett, "Don't you talk down on me, you're a movie star, nothing more !" Do we give too much importance to film stars?

I honestly don't think that we do. I don't mean that we deserve more respect, because we don't, but people enjoy seeing actors in movies, and maybe there are certain things about their lives that people try to emulate. But on the flip side, with all these huge tabloid publications we're looked on as kind of funny jokes in a lot of ways. People love to see tabloid stories, and I love it too. I read all that stuff because it's entertaining, it humanises movie stars and makes them just like everyone else, which we are.

But when you put on some weight a couple of years ago you were always in the tabloid mags, didn't that bother you?

Of course, everyone gets pissed off.

But you still go out the next weekend and read it?

Yeah ! As long as there's a human interest in it it's gonna happen anyway, so you've got to just accept it. The only thing I wish was that the paparazzi was a little bit less vivious and people's lives weren't threatened by these maniacs who literally stalk people. We have very fortunate lives, actors, but it's just a human right's issue at a certain point: when you're with your grandmother and three cars are trying to back you down into an alley, you feel like you're threatened. But there are a lot worse problems in the world too.