Our resident Studio Plant (who hates it when I call him that), has landed a plum interview for us at Eclipse. He sits down with the great Ridley Scott. I had a chance to watch him direct a scene for the Television show Numbers last year and it was pretty surreal watching him work. He’s the Executive Producer of the The Andromeda Strain. You can read Scott’s fabulous interview after the break.
QUESTION: Why did your production company decide to get involved in The Andromeda Strain?
RIDLEY SCOTT: We do quite a lot of television. There is a show called Numbers which is now in its fifth year. I think it is one of the smartest shows on television. Somehow we get away with a mathematical equation every week. There has also been The Gathering Storm with Albert Finney as Churchill, RKO 21 and we have just finished Churchill At War with Brendan Gleeson because Albert said he did not want to do Churchill again. But Brendan has turned out to be a very, very good Churchill. This year we also did The Company, which is fundamentally The Good Shepherd. So we do for television things that would not necessarily fly as a feature film. For instance why would you necessarily think that Winston Churchill would be commercial? The opinion five or six years ago was that audiences did not like history films, but now I think that is changing rapidly. We are so short of good stories that a lot stuff is now addressing history and fact is always much more stranger than fiction. I am a history buff and I love to re-examine things.
The Andromeda Strain was one of the films that got my attention way back when – as did On The Beach and The Day The Earth Stood Still, which are all classics. I think they have just re-made The Day The Earth Stood Still. So we thought that The Andromeda Strain would make a great mini-series. At one point we thought of it as a film but people were not so interested and there were contractual things with the studio. So we decided to make it as a mini-series. I have mentioned the three most interesting films – The Andromeda Strain, The Day The Earth Stood Still and On The Beach – that would address science fiction…prior to 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the films that opened the door for me. Those three films were done almost at the peak of the Cold War, so when you are talking about things like alien invasion that is clearly a metaphor for our insecurity at that particular time when we were worrying whether the Russians would come or if they would drop the bomb. That paranoia was held in place for almost 30 years.
Today The Andromeda Strain seems just as potent because there is a combination of things – what we have done to our planet and global warming. Under that massive heading there are questions about whether we have really done it or whether it is reversible or not. Then there is what have we done to ourselves politically, religiously, economically. We have really messed up in several measures…and fundamentally a lot of it is greed. So that is where my science fiction comes from because we don’t watch it, very quickly we are approaching what would have been under the heading of science fiction is becoming fact. The worst will happen!
QUESTION: The timing does seem right for this version of The Andromeda Strain because it makes you think this is all possible?
RIDLEY SCOTT: Entirely and not only that, the more uncover about the environment…. At one stage I was going to something called The Ebola which would examine the ‘big daddies’ that suddenly come for no reason out of nowhere, descend on a community, wipe out 90 to 100 per cent, stay for a few weeks and then, inexplicably, go. I got very close to making it with Jodie Foster. I went to this place in the Carolinas called USAMRIID, which is a military facility, which is a seven-acre laboratory – SEVEN ACRES! – Which apart from anything else protects the health of the military wherever they are and also monitors world health and conditions. When something kicks in, they are usually the first out there – I bet they are circling Burma right now – waiting for some terrible outbreak of something. It is almost like a military task force of doctors, which can tell a nation that they are coming in to control the outbreak. The film’s thesis was the more we rip down rain forests and disturb places that have not been touched for millions of years, we are going to uncover things that have been dormant. Ebola was a dormant thing that was believed to have come from a cave in Kenya. Also it is not irrational to believe that from time to time small particles land on Earth. Thank God they are not big ones. These particles burn up as they enter and they are tiny pieces that are probably not worth thinking about – but what kind of bacteria are they carrying?
QUESTION: There are even Biblical references when an infected soldier screams that it is the end of days. So there is a suggestion that man has ignored God’s warning?
RIDLEY SCOTT: The way the Celtic nature takes me means that I tend to look towards the interesting and dark side of things and the dark side of things frequently go hand in hand with the truth. Right now I own two Prius cars and an SUV Lexus – I have no other cars – and I am gradually getting myself into the position of being sensible in every possible form because I think we may have done it! People say I am so depressing, but I am not depressing, I am being factual. And it might not be your children’s children – you might see it yourself. There was a newspaper article about how a guy would look after himself and his family in a heartbeat when things suddenly change. It is simple…you go home at night in January, the worst possible time of the year, there is a storm and all the power goes out. Have you got candles? Have you got matches? No, you are going about in the dark at the entire mercy of when the lights might go back on. It is THAT simple. So I am systematically thinking about the next 20 years and beyond…making that cottage entirely solar or using wind power.
QUESTION: Michael Crichton – who wrote the original novel The Andromeda Strain – is such a prolific writer. Are you a fan of his work?
RIDLEY SCOTT: Yeah he has always got these great notions. He comes up with the key to the engine and he also has these great ideas that are closely linked with fact. He takes fact and stretches it just a little bit to make it almost fantastical. Most of the things that he has thought up are happening or will happen. I think a lot of scientists sometimes look to the very best of the best science fiction thinkers. We were talking about replicants and replication 25 years ago [in Blade Runner] and then 12 years after Blade Runner the Senate made application to genetically replicate sheep. What they wanted to do was start cloning what would be the perfect animal for consumption. So if you can replicate a sheep, you can replicate a human being. Science fiction frequently is a visionary notion that actually is probably definitely going to happen.
QUESTION: It seems that in your version of The Andromeda Strain you have kept many of the same themes that were in the Robert Wise 1971 film?
RIDLEY SCOTT: It is such a classic, so why change the engine! Mikael Salomon directed this and it is the second thing for the company. He did The Company and did that so well and so creatively that I asked him if he wanted to do this. He is now going to do a film for us. The writer is starting the script now and it is under the heading of Oceana and it deals with what we have done to the ocean and that the ocean has rights.
QUESTION: You directed Blade Runner and Alien, which are seminal science fiction films. Why have you not done more science fiction films?
RIDLEY SCOTT: I am going to do one. I waited for a book for 20 years and I have got the book. I am not going to tell you what the book is but that film is going to probably be written within the next month. That will definitely be what I do next after Nottingham, the Robin Hood film that I am doing now in England.
QUESTION: Are you working with Russell Crowe again on the Robin Hood film?
RIDLEY SCOTT: I am, I just finished with him and Leonardo di Caprio on Body Of Lies, which is now going to be called A House Of Lies. It is pretty good, I am very happy with it. In Nottingham Russell is the Robin Hood figure.
QUESTION: Your work with Russell Crowe has been brilliant.
RIDLEY SCOTT: Well it makes life a lot easier if you know each other. You can cut the crap.
QUESTION: Russell Crowe has said you are very gifted and you obviously feel the same about him?
RIDLEY SCOTT: I know that he is gifted. There are a lot of good actors out there but very few gifted ones.
QUESTION: Are you still planning to make Blood Meridian?
RIDLEY SCOTT: We got it down as a screenplay and the problem is that it is so savage. But that’s what it is. If you did it properly it would be an X-certificate. But you can’t apologise for the violence and you can’t quantify the violence and you shouldn’t try to explain the violence. It is what it is…an exercise in brutality, savagery and violence. For the most part it is probably relatively accurate. It shows the flipside to Dances With Wolves of how the United States was probably taken. It was taken by the throat.
QUESTION: Do you still manage to get home to the UK as often as you would like?
RIDLEY SCOTT: I am still what I call a UK resident. But I have done four films in North Africa so I am never here. But I do love London and that’s where I am right now. But I don’t get here as much as I should or could.
QUESTION: Do you have a favourite place in London?
RIDLEY SCOTT: Hampstead, I live there.
QUESTION: Why have you decided to make another film about Robin Hood?
RIDLEY SCOTT: I think it is a challenge in the sense that with a few exceptions they were never any good. So it is wide open to be made properly.
QUESTION: What were the circumstances that led you to re-cutting an extended version of Kingdom Of Heaven?
RIDLEY SCOTT: You can get gradually adjusted in a lengthy production when you start to preview it. Previews are purely a guidance system, a tool and no more than that. The danger, when you take a high budget movie and preview it and the previews are not as good as they should be, is that you start to think that the film may be too long or it’s this or that…You can start to tear away what you had. It happened with me when I did Blade Runner. I think Kingdom Of Heaven was the last time it will happen because now I will not cut them. One has to be one’s own critic. After all I am just about as experienced as just about anyone on the planet right now at making movies.