Whistle-blower’s carte blanche

In 1998, Hollywood outcast Mike Figgis felt comfortable about exposing the system, and he managed to find people who felt comfortable about exposing it. For his contribution to Faber and Faber’s Projections series of books, Mike interviewed a surprising number of people including A-listers such as Jodie Foster, Mel Gibson, Sylvester Stallone and Salma Hayek. He filmed these people for a British TV series titled Hollywood Conversations. It was aired on the Film Four channel. This was when it was a fairly obscure channel. Projections 10 is an overlooked book because it wasn’t written by one of Britain’s most filmmakers. There are so many golden nuggets of wisdom, so I will only impart a few from 14 of his 28 interviewees…

Elisabeth Shue: “I’ve always been fascinated with how some actresses do become successful so quickly. For me it was definitely a thirteen year process. I definitely wasn’t on my knees. Maybe it would have got me here much quicker. It was something that I heard about when I was younger – Beware of the casting couch. It never happened to me. But I think a lot of women do learn how to seduce, in a way, in order to get certain roles that are beyond their talent. As an actress or an actor, in some ways you are a prostitute, selling yourself, seducing people and hoping they’ll hire you. Five times a week you’re coming in and putting yourself on display. You have to be a good actor, but there’s also a level of seduction – which I didn’t get, and I think that’s why it took me so long. Women are definitely more vulnerable in wanting to please, wanting to be liked, wanting to be daddy’s little girl.”

John Calley: “It was while I was gone that Mike Ovitz appeared. I like him personally, he’s been a lovely supporter of mine. But his extraordinary gifts as an agent resulted in something that, thank God, seems to be fragmenting. I came back to a world in which fundamental decisions about the pictures we made were not being made at the studio. They were being made by CAA, driven by Mike, because he had become so controlling of the talent pool. So major decisions were being made by people who had no responsibility for the ultimate result of the decision. They’d be gone by the time the picture came out, for better or for worse, and it was your problem. When Ovitz got out of the agency business, that started to come apart, and I think that’s a good thing. It is not to say that leverage no longer exists, it certainly does – but not to the extent where it was heading to.”

Jodie Foster: “A lot of male actors secretly feel very demeaned by it because they feel like it’s a girl’s job – thinking about emotions, talking about emotions. You go in with the guarantee that in some ways you’ll be exploited for your looks. That’s much harder on male actors than it is on the women. Frankly, it’s part of women’s culture – to know that their face and their body are part of who they are, their appearance has everything to do with their relationships with the world. And I think guys aren’t really used to that. I think, to survive here, you need to be polite. I kind of believe that you get back what you give. I don’t tend to have actor friends – except for Mel Gibson, who is different from any other actor I know. He’s the funniest guy in the world – just a barrel of laughs. He’s likeable guy, and feels this need to be liked. He’s very polite.”

Mel Gibson: “You have to make a deal, and it’s almost unspoken, that you are going to be f#cked over at some point by people who you may have done something nice for. You can’t build a resentment about it. You have to let it go, you have to still try and love those people. Otherwise you’ll eat yourself alive here. I think it takes that kind of cockroach resilience to survive in this town. You can’t get away from certain attitudes and certain modes of behaviour that this town and this industry dictate. And now matter how strong you are when you come in with those convictions and a certain line of attack – you are going to be affected by this place. You’re going to be diverted. There’s a way of doing it without doing it. Once you understand it, well then you’re not afraid of it anymore, so you can just walk around it and through it.”

Rosanna Arquette: “I did a film with Hal Ashby, the last movie he made, Eight Million Ways to Die. They took it away from him, he never got a chance to see his movie. And, God, it was just so tragic to see this man. We had to go to a deposition, it was like going to court. They were asking if I’d seen his movies that had been less successful movies. Hal was such a great guy. I felt like they killed him, I really did. Because he was so hurt, so angry. I was very bitter and angry in those days. Talked about it a lot. You’re supposed to keep your mouth shut and not be honest. I got myself in a lot of trouble for saying when someone is an @sshole. I‘ve gotten a bad rap by leaving one agency, going to another. And the agency I left represents a director who’s directing a movie that I had a lot of interest in, so that’s gone. That’s happened to me quite a lot of times.”

Paul Thomas Anderson: “When I was seventeen, I wrote a short film called The Dirk Diggler Story, and shot it on videotape. I was completely immersed in watching porno in a horny young boy way but also in a film-maker’s way. I wanted to make movies and here were these terrible movies, but I also got off on them, they were so goofy and bad. Plus I lived in the San Fernando Valley, which is the capital of porn production. So it was always peripherally around me. There were warehouses near where I went to high school, some of them had signage, then there’d be one that didn’t, but it had a ton of expensive cars parked out front. So you’re thinking What the f#ck is going on inside of that one with no sign? It’s because they were making porno movies. Had it not been for video, I think more porn movies would have come closer to legitimate, traditional narrative stuff.”

Brooke Shields: “I mean, the things that went on, on Pretty Baby. One night, I was actually taken and put into a stairwell, and this one individual said to me You might not see your mother again. She was in a terrible car accident. You have to stay here for a while. And you know, I had trusted this man. I thank God that just prior to that, my welfare worker – this French teacher who was sort of assigned to me – had got a phone call. And I was made aware that the brakes had been cut on my mother’s car. She was coming to get me and the car went out of control, and she was instantly put in jail. She had just a little bump on her head. That morning she had called the Labour Board and said Are kids allowed to work 14-16 hour days? I was eleven, and I wasn’t getting the schooling in. I guess they took it as a big threat, because they were doing something illegally.”

Ally Sheedy: “It seems like the business is being run by people who don’t have any creative elements in them. It’s being run by accountants, lawyers and business graduates – people like Mike Ovitz. One of the heads of the agency I was working at said to me No one wants to f#ck you. I have friends who have slept with a lot of people and had relationships with married people who put them in better positions for work. They’ve gone to parties, met those soulless people. A lot of the people that I’ve met who are in positions of real power are frightening people. They’ve had to pay very big prices to get there. Elisabeth Shue was very smart when she asked you if the casting director could get out of the room. This third person standing there who’s got their own opinions – I don’t know where the Hell they come from, what are their credentials for standing there.”

Jerry Bruckheimer: “The studios are all here. Years ago, they were run out of New York – quite a few of them. At Warner Brothers, the main money people were in New York. They sent Jack out here to actually try to put together the studio, but it was really run from New York, as was Columbia and a lot of other studios. But it’s all changed now. That was more like the garment business in that you had to go to the banks to secure loans to run your slate of pictures. It’s a terrible business to be in if you’re a money man. But it’s no different than the real estate business where you sometimes are a negative cash flow until the property starts to create value for you in time. It’s the same thing with these film libraries, you look what the libraries have been selling for, what Universal sold for initially to the Japanese.”

Salma Hayek: “I really felt as if Hollywood made a very big effort not to let me in because I’m Mexican. You’re English, but English is what they look up to. Mexican is what they look down on. I mean, look at the immigration laws, the people that have it the hardest are Mexicans. They have a very specific image for Mexicans that I didn’t quite fit. They think we’re uneducated, unsophisticated and have no sense of style. I was up for a film, the director Walter Hill really wanted me, it was set on a spaceship. The studio said A Mexican in space? I came into business as a complete unknown to the American market, but the 32 million Spanish-speaking people in this country knew who I was, and they paid their $7.50. None of the films I’ve had an important part in have bombed. I am underpaid according to my level of popularity.”

Ming-Na Wen: “Your agent calls and says Hey, Ming, go in and make sure you wear something sexy. Wear a short skirt. You think This character is a secretary. She sits behind a desk. Does she require a short skirt? It’s weird when – as happened to me at one audition – I was asked to wear a short skirt, I went in, and there was a room full of women. The casting director, the director, the writers – all women. And they wanted to see me in a short skirt. I think it’s all about sexiness. If it’s not physicality, it’s power. It’s about your connections, or the car you drive, or the designer outfit you’re wearing. To me, that’s all sexuality – the package, the image, all of that. Sexuality is what turns you on. Because those things do turn a lot of these people on, they are sexual. That’s what drives them.”

Julie Delpy: “I’ve been really trying to figure out this thing about plastic surgery. How can you lose touch with yourself so much? I think it comes from slowly losing touch with themselves, what the real priority is. And it’s very easy in this town for this to happen because we are cut off from the rest of the world. So suddenly the priority is making it. So if making it means looking better, having bigger tits, going to parties, taking coke with some big producer…you know, things don’t happen from one day to the next. Slowly, people lose themselves. I think men do it as much as women. It’s more about class. Women, men, black, white, it doesn’t matter. It’s about where you are at in life. And people with power can, to a certain extent, take their souls away and make them into whatever pleases them.”

Jean-Jacques Beineix: “You should be expending your energy playing the game. Instead of that, you have to fight with the referee. The worst things I’ve heard about Hollywood, the most violent complaints – I haven’t heard them in France or in Englnd, but right here in this community. And sometimes I think My God, if I had said that, they would have deported me. My feeling now is that the system is a little bit like Detroit in the seventies. They keep making things that are obsolete, in a way. Big cars. But the audience is so much more fragmented than that, and the possibility of making films for a little niche is bigger than ever. So it’s interesting for me to see the inflation of the budget, the inflation of the stars, I think I enjoy watching it. I like it because it’s going to collapse. In flames. The bonfire of the vanities.”

Robert Newman (Miramax/ICM/WME): “It’s a flirty business – my wife is always amazed at the amount of kissing that goes on just at premieres. I guess, when you take it to the next step, and people are having dinner and drinking with one another – I think the lines get grossed in terms of seller-buyer, flirting-not flirting. Because the communication is all personal, trying to excite other people about your ideas, in a very social format. To me, it’s almost like drugs. If you’re not involved in any shape or form, you tend not even to notice what is going on in the next room. I would certainly discourage anybody I know from basing their decisions about who to be in business with on who will sleep with them. And I tend to be idealistic, I think talent will always find some natural level of recognition.”


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