DÉJÀ VU - Q&A with director Tony Scott
British-born director Tony Scott is one of the masters of the modern action film. His credits include TOP GUN, CRIMSON TIDE, ENEMY OF THE STATE and MAN ON FIRE, movies that have reinvented the boy's own genre of filmmaking through breathless pacing and a technical virtuosity and gloss derived from Scott's apprenticeship in advertising. The director's latest thrill ride is DÉJÀ VU, which marks his sixth outing with uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer and third with actor Denzel Washington. Washington plays agent Doug Carlin of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who is assigned to track down the perpetrator of a catastrophic explosion on a New Orleans ferry and complains that for once in his life he'd like to catch someone "before they do something horrible", not after. By tapping into a top-secret government project that exists on the outer edges of modern physics, Carlin gets the once-in-a-lifetime chance to do just that and attempt to prevent a crime that has already happened. An intriguing blend of science fact and what-if fantasy, DÉJÀ VU also features some of the cutting-edge action sequences that are one of Tony Scott's hallmarks. The director talked to us about getting up every morning at 3 am and what he learned from his mother.
Do you have an easy way off summing this film up?
No, not at all. Usually I do come to interviews prepared to explain what a movie's about in one line. This I couldn't tell you. The heart of it is a love story, but it's a love story where the two protagonists aren't even in the same room together for the first two thirds of the movie. It's also got terrorists, technology, lots of different things and different aspects.
How about the film's title? What does that mean to you?
It's interesting because you ask people, "What does déjà vu mean to you?" and everybody has a different interpretation. I looked it up in the Oxford English Dictionary and it said it's an uncomfortable feeling of being in a moment or place where you've been before. And that word, uncomfortable, was a real driving force in the movie. Throughout the film Denzel finds these clues that don't add up, has this sense of I've been here before, I've seen this before.
Do you have any interesting experiences of déjà vu?
My wife has déjà vu all the time. As I'm getting older my memory is starting to fade a little bit, so it's hard for me to say. I'm struggling to differentiate between déjà vu and memory loss [laughs].
The plot of the film depends on the possibility of being able to change events in the past. What do real-life scientists have to say about that?
My whole goal in this movie was to make it science fact, not science fiction, and I did tremendous amounts of research. Dr. Brian Greene, who was our advisor on this film, is a professor of physics at Columbia University and he's sort of the American Stephen Hawkins. I mean, everything you see in the movie, all this cutting edge technology is real because I want people to come out at the end and say, "Well, if they haven't done it tomorrow, maybe they can do it by next Friday."
Surely you have to cheat a little bit?
Yes, but what's interesting is, take a movie like ENEMY OF THE STATE and the way we envisaged the possibilities of surveillance. We fudged the rules and we told everyone it was 80 percent truth and 20 percent fiction. In fact it was the other way round, but what we predicted in ENEMY has now come true. Look at Google Earth: you can go online and you can get a satellite picture of your house. And the military version is much more sophisticated than that. They really can see through walls, which is something we use in DÉJÀ VU. So, give it a few years and maybe everything else in DÉJÀ VU will be possible as well.
Do you expect your actors to do as much research as you do? Is Denzel Washington now an expert on quantum physics?
[Laughs] Well, we do have a similar work ethic. Denzel does a huge amount of homework and that's why I love working with him. He spent a lot of time on this film with Jerry Rudden, who's a retired ATF agent, just learning his trade craft, who he was, how he walked, how he felt and so on, and you watch these things become part of a performance: certain mannerisms, ways of laughing, a smile.
One of the other stars of the film, Jim Caviezel, is best known for playing Jesus in THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. On the heels of that, you cast him as this really heinous terrorist. Was that on purpose?
I'm perverse enough to love it! I did a lot of research about Timothy McVeigh and other terrorists and I just got this picture in my mind. Caviezel came in and sat for about thirty seconds, and I thought, he is the guy. Unfortunately, Denzel had one line in the movie which we overlooked till we had a first screening. It's when Denzel spins the car around and is face to face with Caviezel and he said, "Jesus!" That line got a big laugh from the audience, so it had to come out.
You're one of the directors responsible for pushing the envelope on action films. Do you ever worry that audiences have seen it all, that there's just no new way to shoot a car chase any more?
Well, we have a very original car chase in Déjà Vu: a chase scene that's taking place four days in the past and simultaneously in the present. But it's not about a new way to shoot it, it's always about the concept. It's like love scenes or action shootouts - what makes them original is an original thought or idea behind them, not the angle of the camera.
DÉJÀ VU was the first film to shoot in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Did that make for a difficult production?
It was pretty hardcore emotionally. It was like an atomic bomb had hit and I think we were all knocked sideways. But we adapted the script to post-Katrina so it didn't sidetrack us. I think it was actually easier because people were really impressed that we would come in and were grateful, so they helped us more. Also before Katrina 500,000 people slept in the city at night, and when we started scouting there were just 60,000, so I think it was much quieter, which made it easier in terms of getting around and closing off sections of the city and streets. And I'm glad we shot there. The city was very important to me because it's like a third character in the movie and a great backdrop.
You've been successful in Hollywood for a long time now. To what do you attribute that success?
I love what I do, but I never take it for granted. I wake up every morning, bolt upright, waiting for the bubble to burst, thinking it might be over. I'm also very disciplined. I get up at three o'clock every morning I'm shooting to do the day's storyboards and I get to bed at eleven o'clock at night after the shoot.
Have you always been like that?
It's a discipline I got from my mother. My dad was an absolute sweetheart but my mum was a killer. She was 95 when she died; she was a miner's daughter, just five foot. She was an inspiration in terms of her tenacity and her strength, mental and physical. That's definitely where I get the strength to do what I do.
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