Tony Scott Interview, Director, Deja Vu

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

Movies Online recently sat down with director Tony Scott at the Los Angeles Press Day for "Déjà Vu," starring Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Val Kilmer, Jim Caviezel and Adam Goldberg.

Tony Scott brings with him to "Déjà Vu" a well-deserved reputation for being not only one of the most accomplished, but also one of the hardest-working, directors in Hollywood. Famously, his vision is so specific and well-crafted that he wakes up every morning at 3 AM in order to draw his own storyboards for the day, mapping out every inch of every action scene before anyone else is even awake. Yet, typically sporting his signature pink baseball cap, khaki shorts, and Cuban cigar, Scott is also renowned for making the non-stop pace of an action-thriller feel effortless to the cast and crew. Most of all, Scott is highly regarded for his unique ability to generate visual excitement and dramatic fireworks on the screen.

Says producer Jerry Bruckheimer, "We felt that "Déjà Vu" had enormous drama to it because of what takes place around the love story." The film is wholly unlike the usual run-of-the-mill Hollywood thriller and Bruckheimer loved that. "The idea that you can bring somebody back to life again is a wonderful concept. This story is risky, it’s entertaining and it’s romantic. And by bringing in Tony Scott to direct, we knew it would be filled with exciting action." Bruckheimer knew that Scott would bring his distinctive panache with visceral thrills to the film – but also something more.

"Tony, Denzel, and I had all worked together on "Crimson Tide,"" says Bruckheimer, "but Tony and I hadn’t really done a love story together since "Top Gun." "Déjà Vu" presented those same elements of action and drama, but with the underpinnings of a beautiful romance tinged with incredible mystery. This was just the project to reunite us."

Sums up Bruckheimer, "Tony brings the amazing scope of his artistry to every visual aspect of a movie. That is why you hire Tony Scott. He is a great storyteller who is extremely dedicated to his craft. We both had the same goal for this film: to take you away for two hours so you can forget about everything else and just get lost in the magic on the screen…and when those lights go down you are in another world, the world of "Déjà Vu.""

Here’s what Tony Scott had to tell us about his latest movie and the challenges of directing an action-thriller-love story that involves time travel and the mystery of déjà vu:

Question: So what kind of film did you set out to make?

Tony Scott: Science fact, not science fiction. All my movies, you know, before I come to these interviews, I say ‘what's the one-liner on the movie.’ It's impossible to tell this movie in one line because it's about many different things. It's a love story, it's terrorism, it's a little bit of science fact not science fiction, and it’s a little bit of time travel, but the center of it all is really the love story. So that’s the hanger.

Q: When you got the script, what was something in there that attracted you or were you attracted just immediately to the material?

TS: I was attracted because the script was a great script. I was frightened of it because I'm terrified of science fiction going wrong. You can so easily get...with this type of material if it goes a little bit wrong it goes drastically wrong. That's what excited me, I always get off on trying to do something different. I always get off on the challenge and the challenge is making it work. I was terrified it wasn't going to work, right up until now. Right up until the first screening. Because you just get one bad laugh somewhere in the second act and you're in trouble [laughter].

Q: Was the movie always set in New Orleans?

TS: No. It was set in Long Island

Q: Why did you change the location?

TS: Because I always take a script and try to do my own thing with it. Put my own tone on it and my own twists and turns, even though I’m still staying with basically the same script. But as I did science fact versus science fiction, the original draft was much more pure science fiction and Long Island, I thought, was a little... it lacked the emotional. It was a little cold to me and I'd never been to New Orleans and also people kept saying to me, "Go and look at New Orleans.’
 
I spent one hour there in June and I said ‘I don’t want to shoot the movie here [Long Island] because it's [New Orleans] more like Europe, it's more like Madrid or Paris or Mexico City. And I thought, for me, the city was like a third character in the movie. This is a city which is in a time warp you know. So it felt like a great third character.

Q: Did you shoot different endings?

TS: Nope. Just one.

Q: The original one?

TS: The one that was in the first script.

Q: Did you consider going with an accent for Denzel’s character?

TS: No, but I did with Jim [Caviezel] and that was very difficult, extricating him from that accent because I do a lot of homework, and I always find role models for my canvas and I give those to my actors so they have a great point of reference. I've got a great one for Denzel and I had one guy in mind for Jim, for JC as we call him, yeah. Unfortunately I gave him this tape and there's this guy from the bayou who breeds pit bulls as fighting dogs, and he also produces crystal meth and he had the broadest accent. I only gave it to him for half an hour and I couldn't get him off of it after that.
 
He always had Jim's... he was doing the bayou, doing the New Orleans bayou. It's a dangerous accent unless you've really got it right you know. He's got the best ear. You should ask him to do an impression of Chris Walken. He's brilliant! Tell him, ‘Tony says do a Chris Walken impression.’ He's got the best ear but it's still very hard you know, and the general public are very sensitive to whether or not an accent is manufactured or real.

Q: Was Denzel attached before you were?

TS: No.

Q: Did you bring him in?

TS: Yeah.

Q: Just from your work before?

TS: Yeah, and it’s funny you read scripts and you know, there’s lots of actors out there that I’d like to work with, but I read the script and said, ‘That’s Denzel.’ You know, it’s funny. The first ten pages in and I said ‘this is the guy for the role’ because he brings a gravity, a seriousness, and people like him.

Q: Jim's character has a lot of references to Timothy McVeigh. Trying to get into all the government, you know, the military, and never being accepted not even by the right wing. Is this something that's important to you? To sort of point out that terrorism is everywhere? It’s also domestic, not just...you know, America is sort of in a state where they look abroad...

TS: I always do a lot of homework, as I say, for my movies and I do a lot of research, and I looked mostly at the transcripts from McVeigh when he's kidnapped, when he's taken. BTK and a couple other guys and I really focused around McVeigh and I gave the highlights from those transcripts to Jim.
 
So I give this to my actors. This is the way I'm thinking: no matter how much you talk, unless you get specific, you know, it's sort of an abstract area, trying to define characters…other than if you're a real guy. Like for Denzel, we finally got Jerry Ruden (?) who became Denzel's role model. But for Jim, a lot of it…well, the tone of the character came from McVeigh.

Q: But is it important for the nation to sort of focus on you know another sort of terrorism that still exists in this country. Is this forgotten? Because it's been quite a long time since Oklahoma City.

TS: Right, Um, I wasn't making this movie as a political statement. It is fiction and we are aware of Timothy McVeigh and we're aware of the Muslim terrorism, but that was in the script when I actually got it. I liked it sitting in that way, but I did my homework and I gave my homework to JC.

Q: I've got some very specific filming questions. You did HD dailies instead of... ?

TS: Yes.

Q: What's the advantage in doing that?

TS: Um, HD dailies, you know I think HD is going to become... you know it's going to overtake film very shortly, very soon, very shortly. The advantage is I can look at it on a much more controlled environment. You know, on a screen while the lights are set up and running. An archaic projector being projected... and so it's faster, it's more mobile, and I think it's really the reason we did our outputs on high-def.

Q: I loved the look of the film. Can you just talk a bit about post [production]? Do you like that part of the filmmaking process? You know, how involved are you with all that?

TS: I love post. I love every aspect of movie making; most of all I love shooting because it's the most scary, frightening part of your life but it's the most exciting. That's what I get off on the most, you know. I think a lot of directors don't like shooting because they get too scared. I get off on it and actually in post production I love post as well. I felt a little cheated on this. I'd have liked a little bit longer but our schedule…we kept on the same schedule but Katrina happened so we lost 4 months in there.

Q: So how long was post?

TS: Post was 19 weeks, I think. That's fast for a movie like this.

Q: 19?

TS: Uh huh. There were great people in post in terms of Company 3 which is my colorist...but most of it, what you're responding to, is done in camera. So we did what's called a bleach bypass process, which means it increased the contrast and de-saturated it a little bit. I felt it was right. It was a very different process from what I did...my style is all indicated by the story and by the characters. "Domino" was bounty hunting on speed so that was like wide open. "Man on Fire" was a study in paranoia and betrayal, so that was a different style yet again. Where this one I think is a much more subdued style by nature of the story and the characters. But it's still got a richness and a power which I thought the story had and I thought New Orleans had and I thought all the characters had.

Q: Could you just talk a little bit about all the surveillance footage? Was that all treated in post? It is pretty impressive all that kind of stuff.

TS: The stuff on the screen?

Q: Yeah.

TS: Actually we shot all the surveillance footage, as you call it, before but we shot that stuff on HD so when you see a finished print you'll see it's much more luminous and it's much more three dimensional. What I did, I shot the big screen in HD and the screens around I shot in normal video so there's a separation as a way of actually identifying this screen as being different from the others.

Q: This is your third movie with Denzel Washington. Can you talk a little bit in general about what your relationship is with him, what he brings to the set on the first day of the shoot, and specifically in terms of this particular movie, Déjà Vu, what his particular way into the story was?

TS: I’ll answer the first day on the set brings a lot of fear and a lot of anger. The first day like I do, like everyone else. [laughs] And especially a movie like this one because this is a dangerous movie. It's not like "Man on Fire" which is a little more cut and dried. This is dangerous creatively and Denzel trusts me and I trust him in terms of him delivering and him seeing me deliver with material like this. This is my third movie with Denzel and I think our strength is that we have a very similar not just work ethic but work program. He loves research and he applauds the fact that I go out and find guys for him to look at as role models.
 
Whether we actually role model that particular guy, it enables him to get his information and feel in touch as well. He's done many cops or field agents or FBI and it's always difficult saying "well I think the guy should be a little more like this or the hair cut should be like that" When you've got a real guy there, it all sort of falls into place. Once you're in agreement with who the character is through this real person standing here, it makes life that much easier.
 
And I do that for my characters...I did it for Val, I did it for Gavin, Brian Green was Adam's role model. And I got Brian to …that whole thing that Adam does…that exclamation with folding the paper, we videotaped Brian Green being Adam. It's good because there’s all these guys who don’t know this world so this way you can give them that information and feed them this food.

Q: They say that the great movie stars…you can see them thinking on screen without dialogue. You have generally a very visual approach. Do you see that in Denzell…this ability to take the audience through his eyes into what he’s puzzling over?

TS: As Denzel gets older, also in terms of my time with him, the three movies [we've done], he lets a lot more sit back inside and he communicates the same with a little less coming out. I think his experience with Gene Hackman on "Crimson Tide"… Denzel said to me, ‘Only two actors have ever stopped me in my tracks when I've been delivering lines. That's Gene Hackman and Dakota Fanning.’ [laughter] He said, ‘They’re the only two actors that have ever made me go ‘Goddamn!’ And all of a sudden I recognized the moment in time when it happened with Dakota because he just mid-sentence, in the middle of the scene, stopped dead and said, ‘I’ll see you in a minute.’

Q: I thought this movie was really well edited. Can you talk a little bit about working with Chris Lebenzon? You’ve done a lot of films with him.

TS: Eight movies with Chris.

Q: Eight?

TS: Mm Hmm.

Q: So what is it that he brings to it?

TS: Chris started on "Top Gun" with me and what Chris does is he’s a very mature, seasoned editor and most of all, Chris is very astute in terms of story, character, pace and momentum. This is a very different movie from the other movies I've done with him.
 
The last three are different… Domino was like ‘I'm going mad’ [laughter] but in a good way. I loved it, it was fun. But Chris is...my first cut with Chris was two hours and fifteen minutes and that’s rare on a movie with as much footage as I shot but he's very astute in terms of knowing me and knowing what is needed to fulfill a scene or a character or that section of the story.

Q: Are you like Ridley? Do you shoot a lot of coverage?

TS: Yeah but I use a piece of every... people think it's a sign of insecurity but I think my films move quickly and they move quickly because I use a piece of everything. There's always a piece of every setup that I shoot in the final product.

Q: Was he on the set with you down in New Orleans?

TS: No. I would have liked him to be there but it's a waste of time in a way. Because when you're shooting a movie, the hours you keep are ridiculous. I get up at 3am in the morning to do my story boards and I'm on the set at 6am and I get to bed at 11:00, 12:00 at night and you’re doing that for like six months, two months of [scouting] and then the actual shooting. So it's hard to find time for editors, but he knows me so well. It's right arm, left arm. His taste is very similar to mine; that's why I love working with him.

Q: Did you and Jerry go back and forth on "Numb3rs" and "CSI" and talk about whose TV show is doing better?

TS: No, we barely had time to talk about Déjà Vu. Jerry is a busy guy. He’s flying. This is my sixth movie with Jerry. He's become the TV king...whatever he touches turns to gold. He's amazing, isn’t he? He astounds me. Jerry has just got this uncanny knack of whatever he touches, blossoms.

Q: How involved are you in "Numb3rs?"

TS: I was very involved in terms of the early stages and getting the pilot up and running. I worked on it with my editors, Skip Chase in the original pilot. We repositioned it because in the original pilot wasn't quite what we wanted. I'm not gonna screen it, you know. And I’m doing s show of my own called "Homeland," which I'm hoping to be directing the pilot in January.

Q: What's that about?

TS: That's about terrorist infiltration in the US. So it's very topical.

Q: More terrorists?

TS: Yeah, but this is about the 'other' terrorists.

Q: So you’re not done?

TS: No, I’m not done. No. (laughter)

Q: Can you talk a little bit more about New Orleans? I think at one time we talked about "Domino" and you were in the midst of the back and forth with Disney and I think at one time you were actually, I think Variety or somebody said you were actually taken off the project for a bit and you stuck to your guns and you got it shot it in New Orleans the way you wanted to. Why was that so important? Well, first of all is that recap basically accurate and if so, why did you so want to do it there?

TS: Well, It's sort of semi-accurate in terms of what happened, in terms of me leaving and staying on the movie. I think most directors are real passionate about it. I thought, as I said earlier, I think New Orleans is a third character. It’s a very important city in the placement and the background was a very important color for this movie and that's why I fought to stay in New Orleans. And it is. It's very romantic, it's beautiful, it's strange, it’s more like Madrid or Paris. It's more European than American and I loved that feel for this particular story. And it's a city in a time warp which felt very apt for this particular story again.

Q: What's the status of Jesse James [the Brad Pitt movie]?

TS: Jesse James, um to be honest I don't have my head hard down on this but I think we're releasing on the holiday weekend at the beginning of the year.

Q: In February?

TS: Yeah, but it's great.

Q: In New Orleans, did you shoot before and after Hurricane Katrina? How did Katrina affect the shoot for Déjà Vu ?

TS: No, I was there a month before Katrina and I spent about an hour there and I said, ‘I want to shoot it here.’ Then Katrina happened and then nobody wanted to go back because of health and insurance and stuff, and Jerry and I managed to persuade the powers that be to let us go back. I mean they made me look at other cities which I rejected, but I won't tell you what those cities were or who those other cities were.

Q: How many special effects are there in this film? It seems like there’s tons.

TS: Um, to be honest with you there's a... most of it is done in camera but I use a great special effects team called Asylum. So, for instance, if you look at the ferry explosion, the ferry explosion was for real, but then I got sailors on this different ship jumping into the water. You know, stunt men all in flames and stuff and lots of it had to be comp-ed in.

Q: Were they in LA?

TS: Yes. No, No, that was all in New Orleans. Oh, the company is. Yeah, the company is in LA., but we shot everything in New Orleans. But I'm trying to think what real special effects. Most of it is in camera. But you know it was a tough movie in terms of getting things right, balances right in terms of off screen and in relation to the light and the main light and stuff, yeah. So there's a lot of what I call clean up in terms of special effects. I mean brilliant clean up. These guys are the best in the business, young guys, Aussies. Actually they are Aussies and Guatemalans. And they're the best in the business!

Q: They're called Asylum?

TS: They're called Asylum.

Q: But don’t you have your own company? The Mill?

TS: Yeah, we did. The Mill. But in terms of The Mill, we went a little bit sideways in terms of movies and they’re doing very well but more in commercials. We’re still on the board but we let them do their thing.

Q: Thank you, Tony! Great Job!

TS: Nice seeing you!

"Déjà Vu" opens November 22nd.

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