Saturday, Oct. 12, 2002
Phillip Noyce came to town for the DIFF and brought two
very good films with him. The Quiet American, from
Graham Greene's 1955 novel, is about the friendship between a
British journalist and an American aid worker in
French-occupied Vietnam. The novel foretold American
involvement in Vietnam, and as America's executive branch
prepares for another colonial war, The Quiet American
seems "mightily relevant" again.
Rabbit Proof Fence is set in Noyce's native
Australia and tells the true story of three aboriginal
children who escape a government-sanctioned re-education camp.
Marty Mapes: Let's start
with Rabbit Proof Fence. You and screenwriter Christine
Olsen are also the film's producers. How do you handle filling
Remember that in this film we both had an allegiance -- a
responsibility -- to a real story, a real set of characters.
That superseded any jockeying that might occur between a
writer and a director or a producer and a director. Our task
-- and it was a sacred responsibility -- was to get that story
on the screen and to get that movie out to the audience. This
is not a normal artistic enterprise or even a normal
commercial enterprise because it's tinged with a sense of
responsibility to the story.
MM: So there weren't any
creative differences then between the producer and the
PN: Between me and me?
Sure there were. I wished I could have more money, but my
producer wouldn't let me [laughs].
MM: Did your production
have any problems with weather or child actors or anything?
PN: Yeah, there were a lot
of problems, but this was not a movie where people were
MM: What does that mean?
PN: Problems were just
there to be surmounted. It wasn't like a normal film, where
you employ people. We did pay everyone, it's just that
everyone wanted to do it. There was no place anyone
wanted to be except on that movie set. It wouldn't have
mattered what fence we found ourselves having to climb, we
would have climbed it. This was a group of filmmakers who were
determined to bring the story to the screen no matter what,
for whatever money. It wouldn't have mattered if we had [only]
a hundred thousand dollars, we still would have made that
MM: Let me ask you about The
Quiet American. Brendan Fraser was, I thought, an inspired
choice for the title character. Until now he's been sort of a
lightweight comic actor.
|[Graham Greene] was writing about the
nation's motivation for even taking on a Saddam
PN: I think every actor
brings baggage to every role they play. In Michael Caine's
case in this movie, we needed someone who the audience could
empathize with, despite the extreme and often alienating
actions he seems to take in the movie. We all know that
Michael Caine is a human being first and foremost, and we love
him because of his humanity. Brendan Fraser is best known as a
jokester, and that's probably ideal to play a character who is
much more than he's letting on. Because the audience has a
certain expectation, a la the Brendan Fraser character, and
they don't necessarily take him seriously when they first see
him. That's exactly what the story describes.
MM: The other question I
have about The Quiet American is why now?
PN: Well it wasn't a "why
now" because now is a different now. But now the film
has become mightily relevant. It was a film, when we made it,
that dealt with near-contemporary history, and now it's a film
that deals with the headlines that have been thrust upon us
every day, so it couldn't be more timely, at this moment in
world history. It's perfect timing.
MM: So no prescience on
PN: No, but I'm sure it
was prescience on Graham Greene's part. Back in the fifties he
wrote a novel that answered the questions that hadn't yet been
answered about the American-Vietnam conflict, and also in
defining one aspect of the post-war American political
personality which has endured to this day, that is the extreme
sense of responsibility for the rest of the world. He was
writing about the nation's motivation for even taking on a
Saddam Hussein, which is sold to us as -- not just because
Saddam might attack America -- but also that he is a threat to
the rest of humanity.
MM: When did you
start The Quiet American?
PN: It was shot straight
after Rabbit Proof Fence in February last year (2001).
The stories that The Quiet American has been on the
shelf for a year are mightily exaggerated. The screening that
took place on September the 10th, the night before those
attacks, was the first cut of the film. And as we know from
Gangs of New York, first cuts can often precede final
cuts by up to one and a half years. But in this case, the film
was finished in May this year (2002).
MM: Just to get to the
heart of this question, what did make you want to make
it in 2001.
PN: I did think that it
was a film that explained a lot to us that needed explaining
about the Vietnam-American conflict, but I also did feel that
the basic tenets of American foreign policy haven't changed
all that much, from December the 7th 1941. As America emerged
from that period of isolationism the sense of responsibility
has guided American foreign policy into some noble
enterprises, like landing on the beaches at Omaha, and into
some ignoble ones.