Film Scouts Interviews

"Strange Days" Press Conference
at the 1995 New York Film Festival

by Henri Béhar

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QUESTION: What did you aim to do with this new film?

KATHRYN BIGELOW: It's a difficult question to respond to briefly. When James Cameron brought me the script, which I developed with both Cameron and Jay Cocks, I wanted to make it a thriller, an action film, but with a conscience, and I found that it had elements of social realism.

QUESTION: How do you feel about the film coming out on the trail of the O.J. Simpson trial and verdict?

KATHRYN BIGELOW: The script was written way before; the two events are merely coincidental. I might actually call the material prescient to a certain extent. Maybe that's why it's important for me that it be on screen.

QUESTION: Was the Rodney King incident a direct inspiration for the scene where Angela Bassett gets beaten up by [rogue, of course] cops.

KATHRYN BIGELOW: James Cameron came up with the story about ten years ago. When he brought it to me four years ago, Rodney King had just arrived, I was involved in the clean-up of L.A. and I guess it was part of my experience. Once we started working on the script and decided to keep the story in LA, we had to be truthful to that environment and decided to honor that event. It's part of the social realism I was talking about earlier.

QUESTION: The villains in the movie are both cops. What's the thrust of the piece--that there are bad cops but basically the System is okay?

KATHRYN BIGELOW: Not that we didn't think it through, but we did not mean to indict an Institution. I don't believe the "system" is outside of us that we just observe from a distance. The "system" is us. It is composed by individuals. What it comes down to here is two individuals that have grossly abused their power.

JAY COCKS: For me, this film is about a city, and about a time that might happen. It's also a movie about movies, about life at arm's length, about watching and being watched... I was working with Kathryn on a project called "Company of Angels"; when Jim left "Straight Days" to do "True Lies", I continued to work on this with Kathryn. I'll tell you, life is in high gear with those two. We'd act out the characters, back and forth, but they are all Cameron's creatures.

STEVEN-CHARLES JAFFE: It was a very difficult shoot, all seventy-seven nights of it. You need to be passionate about it... The film was also very difficult to prepare, and the City of Los Angeles was very cooperative. Except for the subway. We have a great subway system in L.A.: it's one and a half mile long. They only allowed us four hours a night. But Kathryn was so well prepared that what would have taken another director several weeks to do, she did in a matter of days.

KATHRYN BIGELOW: For the POV scenes, i.e. the scenes where the camera IS the character and sees what the character sees, we had to built a camera which could "see" at night, and 360 degrees. Actually it was a stripped Arri, that weighed eight pounds.

QUESTION: Why cast a British actor in the lead (Ralph Fiennes, of "Schindler's List" fame) then erase his accent--and do you think his American accent works?

KATHRYN BIGELOW: A) I think the accent does work. B) The character was always meant to be American of undetermined origin. We felt it was important for him to have some neutrality as to his background. Ralph Fiennes was cast before "Quiz Show" came out. I think he's capable of virtually anything, and we needed to achieve at once complexity of character and fluidity.

QUESTION: And Angela Bassett?

KATHRYN BIGELOW: Angela Bassett was there from the beginning. The character came from James Cameron. I sent it to her as a treatment, she responded and accepted immediately. Couldn't see anybody else in the part: she's strong but also sensitive and vulnerable.

QUESTION: The movie taking place at the turn of the millennium (December 1999), would you call it a science-fiction film?

KATHRYN BIGELOW: It's a plausible near future. The science-fiction elements are basically the technology. But it's a character-driven piece, therefore closer to a "film noir". I'd call it a hybrid.

QUESTION: Did the film always have a happy ending?

JAY COCKS: I wrote a scene where Ralph and Angela go to the ComÈdie FranÁaise and... Kidding. No one wanted to end it with someone's face in the gutter, sort of "Now that you've seen the abyss, I'll kick you over." We all insisted on the possibility of hope... [But Kathryn] is the only director in the world that would let her leading man faint at the end.

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