THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE - Q&A with director JONATHAN DEMME, actor LIEV SCHREIBER, producer TINA SINATRA and co-screenwriter DANIEL PYNE
Movie Interview by Neils Hesse
Tina, most people say that this was your dad's best film apparently he thought so himself, so did you have to get permission from him?
TINA SINATRA: Essentially the rights reverted to the movie reverted to him as part of the deal that he had when he made it and so we re-released it in 1987 and it was a hit in the video market. Still it was only after I saw how people reacted to it that I thought it could be remade and my dad agreed but I didn't have to get permission from him.
Tina, in the other film, Frank Sinatra, your dad did called SUDDENLY there was a similar theme to this one, what attracted him to such films?
TINA SINATRA: He was a political animal and he believed in making sophisticated movies.
Daniel, for you as the writer what was the primary challenge?
DANIEL PYNE: It was to make it successful but also to rethink it, to replace it with something as visceral as the cold war. It is a great story that has literally updated itself. The other challenge was keeping up with John and his constant brainstorms.
Mr Schreiber, what was your awareness of the movie?
LIEV SCHREIBER: I was the only one who admitted to seeing the original and I loved it and Lawrence Harvey was great as Raymond Shaw and so of course I was intimidated. It is a very exciting story that can be retold many times. I would not be surprised to see another remake in 10 years. The script seemed to reinvent it altogether and I liked that.
Jonathan, apparently Angela Lansbury who was in the original hated the whole idea of a remake, was this a barrier to the production?
JONATHAN DEMME: Angela Lansbury did not say anything negative about the movie and we were confident that everybody liked the new approach to it and she was officially contacted to come and see the movie. The last thing I heard was that she was going to see it but I have not followed that up. When the film came out there were a couple of negative reviews, there was one particularly negative one from the Washington post who gave it a half star out of 5, but when I read it all he had done was criticise it and then proceed to do a review of the original film which I thought was not the right way to do it. This proved that some people would immediately say it was sacrilege even though they had not seen the finished product.
This is for all of you. Would you say that the film is contentious? Considering the legend that it was withdrawn after the assassination of JFK?
TINA SINATRA: I never felt that way and if someone asked me if I was part of an anti-American film, I would say that I am part of an entertaining film that is two hours of fiction with some truth.
DANIEL PYNE: I didn't feel like it was becoming a how to film, the details of say incest and the Oedipus complex should not cause someone to go out and do it.
LIEV SCHREIBER: There is a real danger of being afraid of incendiary issues in Hollywood, avoiding things of substance and power by dwelling too much on the possible outcomes. This film is purely designed to make a compelling political thriller but in a non-partisan way.
JONATHAN DEMME: The notion that visualising a successful assassination attempt was going to be a big part of this film was something that I had to keep repeating to the film executives, especially that Denzel Washington was going to shoot Meryl Streep with a high powered rifle. All this film does is perhaps make you question your leaders and that is a good message.
TINA SINATRA: The novel is now about 50 years old and there is speculation that Lee Harvey Oswald saw it two weeks before the JFK incident.
Tina, considering your famous name does it actually make it harder to get projects done?
TINA SINATRA: When I was an actor the doors opened but if I proved to not have sufficient talent they quickly closed again. As an agent and as a woman it is hard but that is probably because they assume that I know shit about the business no more no less.
Jonathan, the presence of Robyn Hitchcock in this film does that hark back to your youth and you dabbling in music?
JONATHAN DEMME: Not really, he is great, charismatic and I thought that the film would benefit from that energy, which it obviously did.
Jonathan, how did you manage to assemble such a perfect cast and do you think it would have gone ahead without the two big stars Denzel and Meryll?
JONATHAN DEMME: It all fell into place with Denzel and he was already signed to the project, then when it came to casting the Raymond Shaw role I met so many great actors but I liked Liev the best and then Meryll signed on and with that quality we were able to get many other great supporting actors to flesh out the film.
Being election year, did it disturb the release dates for the film?
TINA SINATRA: It didn't bother anyone so we just carried on.
JONATHAN DEMME: I thought it would be out after the election was done but then it was pushed forward so we had to rush everything. We have had a good reception in America we've made into the editorial section, so that is a good result for us.
Daniel, in the course of research did you find out a lot of new things about mind control?
DANIEL PYNE: Well originally I was flying by the seat of my pants but then I came across electrical experiments that covered epileptic treatment and experiments that made people believe that they had actually seen Warner Bros cartoon characters so it proved to very possible.
Liev, what was it like to work with Meryl and Denzel and were there any other scenes that we did not see that play up to the incest subtext?
LIEV SCHREIBER: Meryl gives a tremendous amount of herself and she is very good especially when we would have coffee breaks it was obvious that she was very collaborative but at the same time her lines just seemed to flow effortlessly. Denzel has incredible hyper focus and when you go with him there it is an incredible place to be.