This Christmas sees the opening of The Gambler. Cinedelphia had an opportunity to sit down with director Rupert Wyatt and ask a few questions about the art of film making and his process of directing.
Cinedelphia: In the original movie (the 1974 James Caan movie of the same name), the focus is more on the addiction of gambling whereas in your version, the focus is a lot more character driven, focusing on Wahlberg’s character. What was it about the original that drew you to this project?
Rupert Wyatt: It wasn’t the original Toback screenplay that i was drawn to, I was working more from the William Monahan screenplay. I didn’t come to this from the viewpoint of remaking the original, and by that I mean emulating the original. I never set out to do that. That film is fiercely personal; it’s a film written by James Toback, directed by Karel Reisz that’s a study very much in addiction. There’s autobiographical elements in there from James Toback’s life, all of which mounted to something that was not appropriate for me to get into and remake. William (Monahan) clearly felt the same way, so when he was given the brief of taking the notion of “what does it mean to be a gambler?”, we came at it from a totally different perspective. We live our lives in such a way that we make choices that amount to gambles and that kind of “win or lose” society that we live in where the places in-between are less recognized and less aspirational. I think that’s what we were looking to explore.
C: As a film maker, do you feel like you have to fight the fight of what you want to see in your movies vs. what the audience and the studios want to see? Is this something that you have to constantly struggle with?
R.W.: I think as a film maker, your job is to serve the very best film that you believe and I don’t believe in conflict always being a bad thing; it can be really constructive. When a studio is spending, in the case of big blockbusters, one hundred million to two hundred million dollars on something, it’s well within their rights to say what they want. It’s their movie, they’re the ones who are running it like a business. As a film maker, the whole reason why they employ film makers, I think, is to get the perspective of what really matters for that movie. Provided that you do that in a respectful and honest way, I wouldn’t want a director to simply do everything that he was told to do. I’d want to be challenged. I think that sometimes you can lose really key battles that unseat the movie, but as long as you end up winning the war, then you’re okay.
C.: Then that’s the duty of the film maker, then, to win that war?
R.W.: Yeah, and win it not through ego, but to serve the movie and to listen to the people around them. There are many times when people that…nobody works in the movie system and is stupid, there are a lot of incredibly intelligent people in the studio system who are really savvy and really know what they’re doing on many levels. There are also people in the studio system that don’t necessarily know movies as well as they know the business of movies. They know what sells really well, more than i might. What happens is you get a lot of ideas and suggestions thrown at you and it’s your job to filter them. There are times when powerful people on the projects I’ve worked on have thirty ideas and twenty of them were terrible, but ten of them were really good. You just have to figure out which ones were which in your opinion. And try not to get fired.
C.: You mentioned that you had a favor for the anti-hero. Given that, what was it like having Mark Wahlberg, a widely liked actor who plays “champion” style roles, playing the part of a degenerate gambler?
R.W.: It’s interesting. It allowed us a way into the character that we wouldn’t have had access to if we cast some other actor who was less empathetic or less of an everyman. Mark is very much an everyman, that’s part of his appeal. He has a certain kind of accessibility that most people can latch on to with him, he’s very open. The fact that he’s playing a guy who’s much more closed down gave us an opportunity to be more empathetic with the character. That said, I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing or not; Mark, for me, tapped into different aspects of his personality. He’s led many different lives, he’s come from a very different background from the place where he is now. You know, he’s been to prison and stuff. Anyone who has lived a life like that, there’s going to be a darkness to them, a reserve to them. He was certainly tapping into that, which I found really interesting.